50 All-Time Favorite New Uses for Old Things
New uses for old things give used-up items—think antiques, empty containers, office supplies, and more—a new purpose. These repurposed items get a second life, and clever upcyclers have new cool gadgets, gizmos, and decorations, plus new ways to solve daily problems. Old things can be found in home offices, kitchens, craft rooms, and more. Upcycling ideas for these things just take a little creativity, a little patience, and a fresh perspective.
Putting old things to good use is a favorite pastime at Real Simple. The Real Simple version of upcycling reuses old things, sure, but it also puts standard tools such as colanders, toothbrushes, and more to work in new ways. With these new uses, every item in the home can have fresh potential, and the need to buy a brand new tool for every minor issue lessens slightly.
Some new uses for old things solve particular problems, like trash can smell, while others use old things—think combs or rubber bands—in dynamic ways that cut down on plenty of annoying little issues. Out of hundreds of new uses for old things, the upcycling ideas for repurposing household items here are some favorites. Put them to the test around the house, and prepare to be amazed by what old things can do.
Picture Frame as Vanity Tray
Repurpose an old frame for a vanity tray that’s pretty as a picture. Place a piece of colored paper or fabric inside as a finishing touch.
Twister Mat as Tablecloth
Protect the dinner table during a kid’s party, so right-hand-red Kool-Aid spills and left-hand-blueberry pie blobs don’t become permanent features.
Toothbrush as Corn Cleaner
Use a clean toothbrush to remove stray threads of silk from freshly shucked ears of corn. The bristles will lift them away quickly and efficiently.
Colander as Ice Bucket
At a party, stash ice in a colander set on top of a bucket or a bowl. Water will drain out, and guests will get only the solid stuff.
Cardboard Roll as Hair Clip Holder
Stop searching high and low for hair clips and elastics: Store them tidily on an empty TP tube.
Cardboard Coaster as Gift Tag
Pick up interesting cardboard coasters at restaurants and bars you visit along your travels. Punch a hole near the edge, thread some ribbon through, and voilà: homemade gift tag.
Chalk as Moisture Absorber
Tie up a few pieces in cheesecloth and store them with your good silver to slow any tarnishing.
Vegetable Oil as Shoe Shiner
Vegetable oil will put a shine on leather shoes. Use a damp cloth to remove any dirt, then run a soft cloth with a drop of oil over the surface to (literally) add polish.
Matchbox as Sewing Kit
Tuck a few needles, pins, and thread into a matchbox for an instant sewing kit.
Drink Carrier as Condiment Kit
Cart condiments to a backyard barbecue. Slot flatware, ketchup and mustard in the compartments for easy transport.
Cassette Case as Cord Corraller
Have an old cassette case hanging around? (Oh, you know you do.) Coil iPod earphones and tuck them in to keep wires uncrossed.
LifeSaver as Birthday-Candle Holder
One of readers’ all-time-favorite ideas: the LifeSaver as birthday-candle holder. (Candies in the original rolls provide the best fit―LifeSavers sold in big bags are larger and don’t work as well.)
Tissue Box as Plastic Bag Holder
Forget unruly plastic bags that seemingly regenerate under your sink. An empty tissue box keeps them neatly corralled and ready for use.
Shower Cap as Shoe Travel Bag
A giveaway shower cap becomes the perfect wrapper for shoes when traveling, preventing them from dirtying clothes packed in your suitcase.
Return-Address Sticker as Possession Labeler
Brand anything as yours―books, binders, Tupperware, a stapler―with a return-address sticker.
Window Decals as Drink Markers
Decorate (and distinguish) wine or water glasses at your next get-together with removable window decals.
Courtesy of reader Linda Winterhoff of Williamsburg, Virginia
Soap Case as Camera Protector
A hard plastic soap case is the perfect size to protect a camera stashed in a carry-on bag.
Courtesy of reader Amy Deml of Little Falls, Minnesota
Mitten as Sunglass Case
Put off-duty winter mittens to work as protection for summer shades.
Plastic Bag as Paintbrush Saver
A supermarket bag, tightly secured with a rubber band, will keep a brush (or roller) moist for a day or two in between painting sessions: the end of dried-out bristles.
Use Rubber Bands to Keep Clothes on the Hanger
No more worries of camisoles, sundresses, and other slippery garments slipping off hangers when you wrap the ends with rubber bands.
Binder Clip as Key Chain
A binder clip serves as a key chain/money holder you can clamp to your waistband for a purse-free morning walk.
Ribbon as Old Lamp Shade Reviver
Pretty ribbon revives an old lamp shade. Apply a thin layer of glue and press on each piece of ribbon, matching the ends neatly.
Mouse Pad as Trivet
Save a countertop with an old mouse pad turned trivet. (Make sure it has a nonplastic coating.)
Aluminum Foil as Paint Tool
No more oops! moments when painting, if you cover doorknobs and hardware with aluminum foil.
Hair Straightener as Clothing Iron
That straightening iron works on more than rambunctious hair: Use it to press between buttons, where a regular iron won’t fit.
Plastic Bags as Knee Pads
Gardeners can go easy on their jeans with homemade knee pads. A couple of plastic bags tied on keep them grime-free.
Contact Lens Case as Medicine Holder
When traveling, eliminate clunky bottles for nonprescription meds from your purse by popping the pills into a contact-lens case.
Note: This is not a childproof method for storing your pills. Don't try this if you have small children who rummage through your purse.
Towel Rod as Cleaning Supply Holder
Assemble a spray-cleaner arsenal by installing a rod in the closet or underneath the sink and then hooking the bottles onto it by their triggers.
Hair Elastic as Flower Arranger
A clear hair elastic binds blooms together for a better arrangement in a wide-mouth vase. Stretch the elastic around the stems, then let the flowers fall naturally.
Ketchup Bottle as Pancake Batter Dispenser
Make no-mess pancakes with the help of a ketchup bottle: Pour in batter, then squeeze out precise portions.
Rubber Bands as Glass Holder
Rubber bands give little fingers a better grip on a chilly or slippery glass.
Popcorn as Eco-Friendly Packing
Why pack with Styrofoam peanuts when you can pack with popcorn (plain and air-popped). No air popper? Be sure to cover the item with a plastic bag.
Eyeglasses Case as Manicure Kit
An unused glasses case makes a convenient storage spot for nail files, clippers and other manicure essentials while on the go.
Cardboard Tube as Extension Cord Wrangler
The cardboard tube from a spent roll of toilet tissue is a wonderfully simple tool for keeping extension cords tangle-free.
Wine Box as Shoe Storage
Warehouse your shoes in an empty wine-bottle carton wrapped in pretty paper.
Lemon as Stain Remover
A lemon works to remove tough food stains from a plastic or light-colored wood cutting board. Squeeze on the juice of one half, rub it in, and let sit for 20 minutes before rinsing.
Plastic Bag as Cookbook Saver
Avoid batter splatters and flour dustings on a cookbook by wrapping a plastic bag around everything but the page you’re using.
Bobby Pins as Ironing Helpers
Slide bobby pins onto a hem to hold pleats in place as you iron them.
Play-Doh as Sparkler Holder
Stick a sparkler in Play-Doh, then light it up. The container protects hands from flying sparks, preventing burns.
Courtesy of reader Peggy Gilchrist of Zanesville, Ohio
Turkey Baster as Water-Changer
Change dirty water in a flower vase by using a turkey baster to suction up the liquid without disturbing your arrangement. Add fresh water directly from the tap.
Cork as Door Quieter
Silence cabinet doors that slam with cork sliced into thin disks and glued onto the inside corners.
Plastic Easter Eggs as Snack Containers
Give Easter eggs a year-round use (and save on resealable bags) by filling them with snacks like crackers or Cheerios.
Plastic Bags as Plant Pot Filler
Cut down on the amount of potting soil needed by crumpling plastic bags to fill the bottom of a deep pot (just be sure that you don’t cover the drainage hole, if there is one).
Napkin Holder as Bill Arranger
Organize bills―arranged in the order in which they need to be paid off―in an unused napkin holder.
Paint Chips as Place Cards
Fold the strips in half and prop them up as place cards, writing each person's name on a shade that suggests her best qualities (like "Inner Glow" or "Delicate Peach").