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The Art of Upcycling

Posted on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 at 12:15 pm under Play Hard.

Green living includes reducing, reusing, and recycling. Don’t forget the fourth ‘r’: repurposing. Repurposing, also known as upcycling, is a means of taking something old and making it new again by turning it into something else.

The term was first coined in the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The authors claimed upcycling maintains or improves the quality of material.

Many of us upcycle out of necessity when we need something in a pinch, but can’t seem to find it.  For instance, we wrap gifts in newspaper or turn an old jar into a cup. But as our awareness to take responsibility for the earth heightens, upcycling turns from a trend to a way of life.

In fact, one company in Phoenix, AZ, started designing and building prefabricated living spaces out of old shipping containers. Upcycle Living isn’t your average pre-fab home manufacture. These trendy, chic living and workspaces are not only green, but also quite spectacular.

Upcycle Living Phoenix

A home addition created from upcycled materials (Upcycle Living, AZ)


We are such huge fans of upcycling and encourage you to find new purposed for the old things around your home. Check out some of our favorite upcycled items found around the web:

cup and saucer upcycle

Cup and saucer turned bird feeder and bath

water bottle into newspaper holder

Water bottles turned magazine rack

old tshirts turned dish towels

Old t-shirts turned into crocheted dish clothes

toilet paper rolls turned into seedling

Toilet paper rolls turned into seed garden

tea boxes turned herb garden

Tea boxes turned into a window garden

shoe box turned into cell phone holder

Shoe box turned into charging station for electronics

mason jar turned soap dispenser

Mason jar turned into a soap dispenser

can lanterns

Old cans turned into lanterns

ladders turned bookshelf

Two ladders become one bookshelf

old hats turn into lamps

Vintage hats turned into lighting

dresser doll house

An old dresser turned into a doll house

If you are looking for a little upcycling inspiration, take a peek at Upcycle Magazine.

The Big Question:
What are ways that you repurpose items around your home?
  • Katyd05

    I like to give Items that we no longer need away for free or I try to find a creative way to make it into something usefull :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000342377317 Stephanie Sekellick Kelsey

    Crafts with the kids! Egg cartons rule…

  • Amstelma

    I love repurposing stuff. I reuse Holiday cards and make them into invitations. You just cut off the pictures and print on the back. they look like postcards. I also make old wine bottles into candles. We even made some into outdoor lights. We took battery operated string lights and stuffed them into the wine bottles and placed them along our yard for a party. If you use different colored bottles, you get a really pretty look. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000834320669 Diana Stanhope

    We have used dryer lint to make clay. (I can give you the recipe) I have also made lovely Christmas trees out of baby food jars. I’ll hunt down a picture and share it on you r wall.  

  • LauraSanders

    Use old t-shirts to make new clothes! They can be repurposed with ribbons and lace to make new shirts, be made in dresses for little girls, be made into scarves or aprons- the possibilities are endless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Shamarah.Prince Shamarah Dawn Prince

    I take my girls clothing they have out grown and we make quilts out of them each year.. they get to chose one to keep and the rest of the quilts go to the local womens and childrens shelter… Upcycling AND helping out the needy teaches my girls a lot of life lessons!!

  • Julia Prue Potvin

    I am a quilter, so I “re-purpose” old clothing, blankets ect., for “scrap quilts”, wool coats for “primitive” table runners,wall hanging’s,purses,dog beds…. buying material has out grown my budget, & the local church thrift stores have “bag sales” to clear out store now again,(what doesn’t sell goes to landfill”, the money goes to help the community suppers, so it is a win, win for us both. Also have a great button collection to add decorative touches.

  • arkieclowns

    Use everything until it’s not reuseable.  Old towels become dust rags – then rags to wash the car or sweat rags working in garden – then used on oily things like on lawnmower repairs or working on car saving on having to use disposable one time used paper towels.  By the time it’s “garbage” it’s not able to be used for anything and served many purposes than it’s original use. 

    • http://twitter.com/GourGanics Gourganics Salsa


  • Kathleen Walsh

    We have used old clean panty hose to make braided rugs. Instead of throwing away bandaid boxes,cereal boxes,cookie boxes, etc. we use them to give to the grandkids for playing store.Much less expensive than buying toys!  Empty clean jars are great for putting shells in that you get when you go to the shore!  I use cookie tins or any other tins that food items come in to collect my change in that I save for a rainy day! Pens and such go into pretty mugs! So many uses for so many,many things!  I could go on for awhile!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752806303 Molly Adams

    I try to save all the plastic things I would recycle and make them into scoops, or reuse creamer bottles for sugar holders. Today I cut the bottom of a juice jug to scoop my chicken’s coop clean!! Also, when clothes are old and torn and ready for the trash, we turn them into dust rags to clean the house. This may not be upcycling but I even dry out my paper towels! I use old shoe-boxes to keep samples and little gifts in, and repurpose all my old cosmetics cases. I like to make fun things out of ordinary items, as well. You can turn tennis balls into a key-holder by cutting a slit in it and placing it on the wall next to your door, just stick the keys in the little “mouth!” Also, I like to make bracelets and jewelry out of things you can find almost anywhere, like tiny rocks with holes in them, or bits of string! Those are my examples! Y’all are so cool, LesserEvil!

  • Danielle murgia

    We use old clothes that can not be risen anymore into rags to clean around the house. Also, one time, while teaching my students about Abraham Lincoln we up cycled toilet paper tubes and paper towel tubes and an old fridge box to build his log cabin. ( log by log). Then the got the joy of painting it. When we were done, another class used it as a prop in their play about the pilgrims and the first thanksgiving.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=877650620 Ray Berger

    Anything that I have that can be re-purposed will be, Coffee Cans, tin Cans, even broken glass to make a mosaic picture.   old carpet that was ripped up for new wood flooring, I used pieces of it for runners, and used carpet for throw rugs, rug runways, bathroom throw rugs.   old pots that are beyond practical use in the kitchen gets used over a campfire, nothing is trash until is cannot be used for any other use,  paper gets reused for starting grills, firepit fires, paper mache stuff.  old clothes are used for rags,  or given to goodwill.   papertowel and toilet paper tubes are used to put plastic bags in to keep them out of the way and put away.

  • mj

    Haaaaa………..my son grew up and as I was cleaning his room, I came across a giant bag of his little league t shirts, his cub scout and boy scout scarves, his practice football jerseys, his christmas jams from when he was 3, his superman sheets as well as his “SUPER TONY ” shirt we had made.  What a bonanza!   My niece had just startedd quilting, so I gave her a project: Make me a patchwork quilt!   And I handed her the bag.  It is absolutely a treasure.  this quilt is now the blanket his son sleeps under.  I also take christmas cards and make them into nametags for gifts. I use water bottles to put milk and juice in for our little toddler.  The ones with the pop top to drink through.  We recycle paper, aluminum, plastic.  We collect aluminum cans and take them to the no kill shelter for them to cash them in.

  • Chounsell75

     I always take my kids outgrown clothes to the local thrift shop.  

  • patti lee sipp

    I have a basement bedroom with a very small window, I used recycled widows with prints of the great out doors to make the room feel more opened. Used a dorm size fridge for a cabinet for storage and re-purposed old shelf for under the edge night stand.

  • Sarakate25

    old tshirts into skirts, bags and totes

  • Barb

    Love the idea about the top of old water bottles to seal packages once opened!  I heard that one online a few days ago!  I also love to find things cheap at yard sales like old canning jars etc. for decorating.  I have a favorite old tin watering can I found for a flower vase!  When the kids were young we’d take old crayon stubs and melt them using molds into new shapes!  I try to re-purpose old food by making soups or big salads using up left overs.  Toilet paper and paper towel rolls become mouse and rat tunnels for my daughters pets or craft supplies for Sunday School.  An old ripped pair of panty hose can be great for wiping off those awful white streaks you get on your dark shirts from deodorant.  When you can’t find that mysteriously missing tube sock, use the odd sock to hold your plastic grocery bags (if you use them), just cut a hole in the bottom and pull them through.  Hang in the laundry room for easy access for cleaning out the cat box etc.  I love the idea I saw for turning old computers into fish tanks!  On my list of to-dos.  I’d love to win a pair of shades!  I really need them to go with my LesserEvil shirt here in Sunny South Florida!!!  Great post!

  • judy s

    My daughter likes to do arts and crafts…so nearly EVERYTHING has another purpose.  However, I was so proud when I found out she was saving all her “little” and short pieces of yard to crochet or tie together to make cat toys for the cats up for adoption at the local shelter.  She had nearly 2 grocery bags full for the cats and kittens.

  • Shirley

    I love to keep the front of greeting cards and use them as book marks….they really do make beautiful bookmarks. We always donate the clothes our kids grow out of and pass along the toys they no longer play with. I never throw away the ribbon that are on the balloons that are bought for different occasions ……we always re-use the ribbons. Would really love to win and try some different varieties of Lesser Evil snacks! That would be awesome!

  • Jennifer Dysart

    I use metal cans as holders for office supplies, glass bottles for beads, and I reuse some plastic food containers a tupperware. Plastic bottle bottoms painted to make fairy lights because they look like flowers!

  • http://twitter.com/GourGanics Gourganics Salsa

    Did you know that tobacco is a great way to kill grubs in your garden. Grab a bunch of old cigarette butts, add water and let soak for 24 hours, then spray with a feeder such as a miracle grow feeder (this does the proper water/nicotine ratio) and let in sit on your lawn for a day. DO this when no kids or pets will be on the lawn at least overnight, because this is a toxic application. Then water your lawn as usual and you won’t see those nasty Grubs anymore! 

  • Tammie McGinnis

    Any grocery bags become bags to clean litter box or small trash can bags.  We recycle everything we possibly can.  Rain water for plants, etc.  I love the ladder as book shelves idea, it’s beautiful.

  • Pingback: The Art of Upcycling | ReStore

  • Urban Flowerpot

    The shoebox/cord suggestion is the one of the WORST ideas I’ve ever seen and have been trying to track down the source since seeing it on Pinterest. These boxes are flammable so suggesting people put power strips and electricity in them? bad.

    Our housefire wasn’t caused by that but it’s made me a lot more aware of what is at stake:


    I hope you will remove this image/idea.