PHOTOGRAPHS BY LAURA MOSS ✷ STYLING BY SARAH CAVE ✷ STORY BY DANNY SEO
I’ll admit it. It’s hard for me to resist peering into trash cans, recycling bins, and junk piles at the thrift store. I always look and wonder, Can I upcycle this into something cool?
I’ve been upcycling—the art of transforming literal trash into cool treasures—ever since I was a kid. And through a few books, many TV segments, and several stories here on the pages of Naturally, we’re constantly looking for fresh and fun ideas to transform junk into jewels.
For me, upcycling should also be easy and the end result should look pretty darn good. So an upcycling all-star project means it involves a minimal amount of crafting skills, and uses tools and materials you probably already have.
Here are some ideas that are my go-to favorites. They’re fun to craft with kids. They also help with chores around the house (check out the fire starters!). I’ll even whip up a few when I’m simply feeling the need to unplug and just make something with my hands.
Garden Hose Basket
It’s nearly impossible to recycle an old garden hose, so why not upcycle it into a handy (and weatherproof) basket instead? It’s the cutest way to pot a plant outdoors.
Old (but clean) garden hose approximately 10’ in length
10-15 white plastic 8-inch zip ties
Coil the end of a garden hose to create the base, using zip ties every 6 to 8 inches to bind adjoining pieces of hose together. Once you achieve the base size you want, start coiling the hose up and around to build the actual basket, adding more zip ties as you go to secure it. When you get to the top of the basket, use the remaining hose length to create the handle and zip- tie it to secure it to the basket. This may take some practice, but there will be no need to use scissors to cut the hose whatsoever; you’ll just need them to trim the zip ties so the finished look is clean and simple.
Ugly silk flowers can look diamond-encrusted with the power of just two simple ingredients: water and Borax.
Spring-colored silk flowers
Borax laundry booster
A plastic container (this is from Chinese food takeout)
Using florist wire, attach a single stem of a silk flower to a chopstick (or twig if you don’t have any chopsticks). Drop the stem, bloom down, into a clean plastic container, such as a soup container saved from takeout. Make sure that when the chopstick rests on top of the container the flower is not touching the sides or bottom. Remove the flower and fill the container with very hot tap water. Stir in 5 tablespoons of Borax; mix until it is completely dissolved. Drop the flower back into the solution, and leave it somewhere where it will be undisturbed for at least 24 hours. After 24 hours, lift the flower to find it crystallized. Repeat the process to crystalize all of the flowers in your bouquet. Allow the flowers to air dry on a towel and arrange.
To be clear, this is not candy at all. It looks like chocolate. Thanks to silicone molds, they’re shaped like chocolate candies. But they taste nothing like chocolate. It’s just a fun way to upcycle old crayons into a new shape to draw, sketch, and play with! You can also use silicone molds that make gemstone-shaped crayons, too.
Red, blue and brown crayon pieces
Silicone candy molds
Vintage or leftover chocolate candy box
Rummage through old crayons and peel off the paper from red, blue, and brown crayons. Place pieces inside the silicone mold and melt in a 300° F oven for about 15 minutes, or until they’re completely melted. Remove and chill inside the refrigerator for an hour; pop out and arrange inside a chocolate box.
Festive Wine Bottles
Old wine bottles rummaged out of the recycling bin can be made into festive vases in just a few minutes. If left unadorned, wine bottles filled with flowers would look more downcycled than upcycled, but with the addition of durable and easy-to-work-with duct tape, it takes on a whole new look.
Glass wine bottles
Duct tape in a variety of colors
Cut pieces of duct tape into whatever shape you like—such as squares or rectangular strips—and place them all over the bottle in a random, flurry pattern.
Egg Carton Fire Starter
If rubbing two sticks together doesn’t do the trick, here is a housewarming gift to get the fire roaring in the fireplace, backyard fire pit, or BBQ grill. To use, just tear off a section, light with a match and toss into wherever you’re trying to ignite some warmth.
Cardboard egg cartons
Break up some old candles and place them inside an old saucepan; place that pot inside a larger pot with about 1 inch of water and simmer until the wax is melted. Shred dryer lint and place the small pieces inside each compartment in the egg carton. Pour hot wax into each compartment. When the wax is cooling, but still warm, insert a 1-inch wick in the middle of each one. To use, just tear off an egg carton compartment, light, and place wherever you want the fire to roar.
T-Shirt Fabric Bowls
This is a great idea for upcycling those cute t-shirts the kids have outgrown into little catchall bowls that have big personality.
Colorful cotton t-shirts
Mod Podge glue
Metal mixing bowls
Plastic cling wrap
Choose various sizes of metal mixing bowls, and turn them upside down. Wrap them with several layers of plastic cling wrap. Cut pieces of t-shirts into circles that are large enough to cover the whole bowl, but don’t touch the table or work surface. Liberally apply Mod Podge glue to the front of the t-shirt and drape over the plastic-wrapped bowl. Apply more glue on top and allow it to dry for about an hour. Add another layer of glue; let dry overnight. When completely dry, remove the t-shirt and peel off the plastic from the hardened fabric bowl. Use your fingers to crimp the edges if desired.
Sand Glittered Leaf Place Card
This is a fun way to use items you can find at the beach or even in your own backyard. And the best part? It’s all free.
White craft glue
Collect leaves from the yard and press them in between pages of a heavy book. Press and dry them for a full week, until they become flat and sturdy. Use white craft glue to spell out a guest’s name onto the leaf; sprinkle white sand on top. Shake off the excess and allow the place card to dry.
Wine Cork Fire Starter
Here’s another idea for a fire starter that’s a winner—and a cinch to make.
Real wine corks
91-percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol
Glass jar with tight-fitting lid
Fill a glass jar with genuine wine corks (no plastic ones!), packed in as tightly as possible. Pour in rubbing alcohol until it reaches the top of the jar. Screw on the lid and allow the corks to soak. When the corks are saturated, you can pull one out and light it to start a fire in the fireplace—or save them for the summertime backyard grill.
Color-Blocked Reusable Tote Bag
This is a fun way to make an inexpensive reusable bag a little better looking and a lot stronger.
Duct tape in various colors
Reusable tote bag
Flatten the reusable bag so the sides collapse and you’re working with a flat piece of fabric. Run a strip of duct tape (starting at the top) across the front with about 3 to 4 inches of tape, overlapping the sides of the bag. Carefully place the duct tape pieces around the bag so they adhere to the sides in a clean, even pattern. Repeat with a different color of tape until you reach the bottom. Flip the bag and repeat the whole process again on the other side, making sure the ends of the tape meet or overlap the strips you adhered to the front. Be sure to press the tape down firmly for a smooth, flat finish.