28 April 2021 (updated)

Upcycling: The Creative, Clever, and Eco-friendly Hobby

Looking for a new hobby that's fun, cheap, and good for the environment? Not only that, it may just be the way you create an eclectic new piece of decor or furniture for your home! Read on to find out all about this DIY activity.

What is Upcycling?

Think of it as a combination of "upgrading" and "recycling." Upcycling is taking old objects and using creativity to change, adapt, and repurpose them into new, functional, or decorative pieces.

Fortunately, you don't have to leave home to feel like you're creating something new for your space! "Upcycling" is a great way to take materials you already have and repurposing them into something new and creative! It's cost-sustainable, reduces waste, and it's fun! If you become an expert, you may even be able to create a facsimile to a high-end product. From furniture to clothing, these ideas for repurposed items are sure to keep you busy.

What are Some Upcycling Ideas?

The key is imagination! Take an everyday object out of its typical context and think about other ways you can possibly use it. Does it have spaces that could hold plants? Could it be transformed into an eclectic lamp? How could that heavy, decorative object be turned into a bookend? How could that bookcase be made into a play kitchen for the kiddos? Old stuff has so many possibilities to become an upcycled masterpiece.

1. Upcycle Clothing

Fabric can be a great material to use when looking for a DIY project because it can give texture and color to any project. If you're not good with a sewing machine, some projects can even be no-sew. When I was a junior in college, I couldn't afford much in terms of apartment decor. So, naturally, it turned into a craft challenge. I bought a walking stick from an antique shop and cut some old bed sheets and clothes into strips of fabric. I tied the fabric to the walking stick, attached some twine on each end of the stick, and hung it from my wall for an easy DIY wall hanging. It got all the compliments from my friends. Some companies are even dedicated to selling fabric products that are exclusively upcycled! Check out Looptworks!

If you're good with a sewing machine, give an old clothing piece new life by re-purposing it for one of your kids. Check out this project from Esther Louise Photography! She took her favorite dress and re-purposed it for a summer dress for her toddler! Simply adorable.

Photos by Esther McFarland

2. Upcycled Accessories

An upcycled accessory like a scarf, piece of jewellery, or headband is nice because it can often require a lot less material than a whole piece of clothing. Also, they can be an eclectic and fun conversation piece! Check out these simple, DIY headbands. You only need three things: A plastic headband, a scarf or fabric, and a hot glue gun! Check out LessPlasticLiving to see the tutorial!

photo and idea by lessplasticliving

3. Upcycling Jewelry

There are no limits on the things you can suspend in resin, including repurposed jewelry, flowers and twigs, sprinkles, small toys, book pages, the list goes on! You could even ModPodge paper or a picture to the inside of a bottle cap and fill it with resin. If you want something a little less complicated, take some pretty scrap fabric and cut it into two identical earrings, maybe a leaf or a teardrop shape!

Upcycling For Your Home

4. Furniture

Check your attic, garage, or storage for any furniture that's outdated. Talk to your friends and ask if they have any old furniture they're putting on their curb. Check thrift stores, yard sales, and antique shops for bargains. You can also check Facebook marketplace or other apps where you can buy/sell secondhand goods. Whether it's an end table, desk, dresser, or coffee table, upcycling furniture can be a great way to fill your free time.

5. Flower Arrangements

Once you have a good base for a flower arrangement, you can reuse it, again and again, to rotate with the seasons. In this example, the base is made with rolled-up pages from an old magazine, which creates a cohesive, creative frame for the beautiful flower arrangement.

You could make this at home by rolling old magazine papers into tubes and coating the paper with glue. Get a shallow plastic bowl or plate and attach the rolled papers to the bottom with even more glue. Once your container is dry, secure a piece of floral foam on top of the plate. Arrange with your choice of fake or fresh flowers and foliage (or even a mix)!

A floral arrangement made with recycled paper

6. Tips for Upcycling Windows

Aged windows are one of the most versatile items to repurpose, and I love their rustic look. My parents glued sea glass to the window sections, creating a mosaic that filtered the sun with beautiful colors in our sunroom. The partitioned sections lend themselves to a clean, geometric vibe. It can make a cool picture frame, key rack, dry-erase board, chalkboard, shadow box, or display case.

If you're looking for an eclectic piece for your home, turn an unexpected object into a clock face. You can buy a simple clock at craft stores that you can mount onto any project!

Pallets are a versatile and easy-to-find material you can upcycle, especially if you're looking for something to transform into a country-chic piece.

7. Mason Jars and Kilner Jars

Photo by the thecraftpatch

Nothing says country-chic like Mason jars and Kilner jars. There's no shortage of creative ways to re-use them. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

  • toothbrush holder
  • plant hangers
  • salt and pepper shakers
  • makeup brush organizer
  • coin bank "travel" jar
  • kitchen/pantry storage
  • sewing kit with a pincushion lid
  • tissue dispenser

8. Upcycling Mirrors

Mirrors can also be fun to repurpose! I once collected about a hundred similar-looking seashells on the beach, glued them around the rim of the mirror, and sold it on Etsy! If you have a lot of the same or similar objects, gluing them around the edge of a mirror can give it a fun, unique vibe that adds a touch of personality to your decor.

My seashell mirror creation

If the objects need to be more cohesive, grab a can of spray paint (I'm a fan of gold) and spray all the objects before you glue them to the edges. This can be anything from kid's toys, small figurines, twigs, rocks, paper, or anything that most represents you and your style! Make sure they're securely fastened with hot glue or mosaic glue.

9. Plastic

Since plastic is a material that takes hundreds of years to break down, why not re-use it for something new, creative, and functional? A two-liter bottle makes a great starter planter for seedlings or a plastic bottle bird feeder. There are so many consumable items we buy that can easily be re-used, so use your imagination!

How Do I Upcycle Furniture?

The key to upcycling furniture is making sure you have all the materials you need before you start. There's nothing worse than realizing mid-project that you'll have to make a trip to the craft store or home improvement store.

Also, be sure to properly prep your piece beforehand. Whether that means giving it a good wipe-down to clear away excess dirt or cobwebs, or removing an old finish with a sander. Wooden pieces like end tables, coffee tables, dressers, and hutches can be easier than couches and chairs because they don't require any re-upholstering.

Make sure you match the era of the piece of furniture with the style of upcycling. If it's a 1950's midcentury modern table, don't paint it with pastels and distress the paint for a shabby-chic look. Instead, paint it with a bold color or a geometric pattern as a statement piece.

Kids Can Upcycle, Too!

While the kids may not be ready to use the sander, start them with easy projects that they can do with little to no assistance. Use old macaroni to make a necklace or adorn a picture frame. Find twigs and leaves and turn them into a collage. Use pasta to make a self-portrait! There are so many arts and crafts you can do using old materials you already have around the house or outside!

Finding Your Next Upcycling Project

It's the perfect time to start your next DIY upcycling project with materials you have at home. Don't forget to think out of the box! Share your ideas and creations with your friends and family on FamilyApp! Who knows? It may inspire their next project!



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