Before the pandemic hit, the popularity of Maria Kondo’s minimalist approach to decluttering became popular. In 2018, it was found that 25% of adults wanted to embrace a minimalist lifestyle. As the pandemic hit, the “Great Declutter of 2020” hit. People were decluttering and a lot of those goods were going to landfills or thrift stores. 

In 2018, 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste was generated, and only 69 million tons were recycled. 146 million tons of solid waste ended up in the landfill. It’s a lot.

There was another movement that started, though it wasn’t always as obvious. People discovered the joy of upcycling. Instead of throwing something out or giving it away, it was repurposed and given new life. Upcycling is a game-changing way of decluttering your home without increasing the amount of trash going to a landfill.

What Is Upcycling?

Upcycling is a process where you take older, unnecessary items that would otherwise end up in trash or recycling bins and reuse them to create something more valuable. It’s also known as “creative reuse,” which is pretty apt as that’s what it comes down to, you’re creatively reusing something.

Upcycling and recycling are often compared, but they’re not the same. With recycling, you’re taking an item and bringing it to a center where it is processed and broken down to become a new round of raw materials that are reused to make new items. That’s where upcycling and recycling are similar, but all similarities end there.

With recycling, you bring items to a facility where they’re sorted and sent to factories to be melted down, broken down, etc. Those materials are then sold to manufacturers or companies for reuse. In upcycling, you’re combining items by yourself to create something you or someone else would find extremely valuable.

Easy Upcycling Projects for Beginners

How do you get started with upcycling? If you’re new to it and need help getting started, here are some easy upcycling projects.

Magnetic Baby Food Spice Jars

If you have a baby or know someone who does, collect the baby food jars and lids. While baby food jars may be recyclable, the lids rarely are. Instead, wash them and let them dry. Use a glue gun to secure a heavy-duty magnet to the top of each lid. 

When you’re at a bulk foods store, bring a jar with you and have the staff weigh it. Fill the jar with the spice you need. Secure the lid.

When you get back home, you can use the magnet to store that spice bottle on the side of your refrigerator. You have an air-tight way to store spices, and they’re out of the way on the side of your fridge.

A Dresser Entertainment Center

Your old dresser has two broken drawers. While four of the six drawers work fine, the two broken ones make it useless. Before you throw it away, remove the two broken drawers and take off the bottom and sides. Once you have the drawer front, spray paint it any color you desire and use Liquid Nail to affix it to cover the gap where the drawer fits. 

Paint the rest of the drawer fronts and dresser, if needed, and let it dry. That dresser is a great entertainment center, and the drawers that do work can fit your games, movies, product manuals, remotes, and extra cables.

Hide-a-Key Rocks

Do you have some old pill bottles lying around? They’re often hard to recycle because of their size. Use some Liquid Nail to glue a rock to the top of the lid. Put a key inside the bottle, place the lid on it, and dig a small enough hole for the pill bottle. The rock sits on top of the soil and looks natural, but you have a key for emergencies.

Pallet Gardens and Compost Bins

When you order a ton of an item like wood pellets, the bags come on wood pallets or skids. They’re impossible to recycle with a curbside hauler, and you may not be able to fit the full skid in a smaller car or SUV.

They make great gardens with the slats helping you form straight rows for your seeds and seedlings. If you’re using the garden for vegetables, fruit, and herbs, make sure you have pallets that haven’t been treated with chemicals. If they have, use those pallets for flowers. 

Fill the skid with garden soil and add your seeds or seedlings between each slat. The slats provide proper spacing, and they also help keep weeds from growing between rows.

You can also take four skids and secure them with wiring and angle brackets along the bottom skid and on each of the three sides. Leave the fourth side open. Add vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, cardboard scraps, leaves, and grass clippings to the center. Turn it over now and then to keep it aerated as it breaks down.

The added benefit to composting is that you keep plant-based food waste out of landfills. Plus, you’ll have nutrient-rich compost to use in your gardens.

Tire Gardens

Do you have bald tires that you haven’t put into your car to bring to a recycling center? You often have to pay a disposal fee. Turn them into cheery raised garden beds for flowers. Spray paint the tires in a variety of bright colors and fill them with garden soil. 

Add flowers and make sure they have room to grow. The tire keeps the roots and flowers contained to that tire, but the blooms spread out and leave only the colorful side of the tire showing. 

If you want to block grass and weeds, before you fill the tires with garden soil, lay them on top of flattened cardboard boxes. The cardboard breaks down and kills any grass or weeds located below it.

Tips for Upcycling Clothes

Clothing is one of the toughest items to recycle. If you’re lucky enough to live near an H&M store, they do accept recycled clothing and offer a discount voucher when you do. Thrift stores may accept clothing. If anything is stained or ripped, however, it goes into the trash. In a landfill, it can take cotton up to a year to decompose. Leather takes up to 50 years. Polyester and other synthetic materials can take up to 200 years.

Instead of throwing ripped or torn clothing away, consider upcycling it. Turn used clothing into squares of fabric for quilters to use when making quilts, tote bags, and patchwork clothing. You can turn a larger shirt into pillow covers. 

An old t-shirt makes great dust rags for cleaning up. You can also sew up one side of a t-shirt after cutting off the sleeves and neckline, cut slits for airflow, and enjoy having reusable, machine-washable produce bags.

 Turn the long sleeves of a dress shirt or sweatshirt into a draft stopper for a front door, basement door, or garage door. Simply sew up one end, fill it with cat litter or packaging foam, and sew the other end to seal the filling inside.

Here’s one more idea for upcycling clothing. Turn it into reusable gift bags. When you give a gift, your friend or family member can take that bag and use it to give it to someone else.

Upcycling doesn’t have limits. Use your imagination and creativity and dream up new ways to use everything you’re about to throw away. You’d be surprised how useful some items can be if you stopped to think about what you need and how an item could be repurposed.