50 All-Time Favorite New Uses for Old Things

Ketchup bottle as batter dispenser
Photo: Mark Lund

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.

01 of 50

Picture Frame as Vanity Tray

Picture frame used as a vanity tray
Sang An

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.

02 of 50

Twister Mat as Tablecloth

Twister mat used as a party tablecloth
James Baigrie

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.

03 of 50

Toothbrush as Corn Cleaner

Toothbrush removing corn silk
James Baigrie

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.

04 of 50

Colander as Ice Bucket

Orange colander holding ice
Aya Brackett

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.

05 of 50

Cardboard Roll as Hair Clip Holder

Monica Buck

Stop searching high and low for hair clips and elastics: Store them tidily on an empty TP tube.

06 of 50

Cardboard Coaster as Gift Tag

Coasters used as gift tags
Thayer Allyson Gowdy

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.

07 of 50

Chalk as Moisture Absorber

Dinner set on a table.
Monica Buck

Tie up a few pieces in cheesecloth and store them with your good silver to slow any tarnishing.

08 of 50

Vegetable Oil as Shoe Shiner

Vegetable oil and patent leather shoe
Burcu Avsar

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.

09 of 50

Matchbox as Sewing Kit

Matchbox filled with sewing supplies
Mark Lund

Tuck a few needles, pins, and thread into a matchbox for an instant sewing kit.

10 of 50

Drink Carrier as Condiment Kit

Six-pack box used as a condiment holder
Beatriz da Costa

Cart condiments to a backyard barbecue. Slot flatware, ketchup and mustard in the compartments for easy transport.

11 of 50

Cassette Case as Cord Corraller

Headphones in a cassette case
Mark Lund

Have an old cassette case hanging around? (Oh, you know you do.) Coil iPod earphones and tuck them in to keep wires uncrossed.

12 of 50

LifeSaver as Birthday-Candle Holder

Cupcake with a candle held by a LifeSaver
Beatriz da Costa

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.)

13 of 50

Tissue Box as Plastic Bag Holder

Tissue box filled with grocery bags
Beatriz da Costa

Forget unruly plastic bags that seemingly regenerate under your sink. An empty tissue box keeps them neatly corralled and ready for use.

14 of 50

Shower Cap as Shoe Travel Bag

Shower cap used to protect shoes
Thayer Allyson Gowdy

A giveaway shower cap becomes the perfect wrapper for shoes when traveling, preventing them from dirtying clothes packed in your suitcase.

15 of 50

Return-Address Sticker as Possession Labeler

Book labeled with return address label sticker
Mark Weiss

Brand anything as yours―books, binders, Tupperware, a stapler―with a return-address sticker.

16 of 50

Window Decals as Drink Markers

Pitcher and glasses decorated with window decals
Anna Williams

Decorate (and distinguish) wine or water glasses at your next get-together with removable window decals.

Courtesy of reader Linda Winterhoff of Williamsburg, Virginia

17 of 50

Soap Case as Camera Protector

Camera in soap case
David Prince

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

18 of 50

Mitten as Sunglass Case

Mitten as a sunglasses holder
Sang An

Put off-duty winter mittens to work as protection for summer shades.

19 of 50

Plastic Bag as Paintbrush Saver

Paintbrush wrapped in plastic bag resting on open can of paint
Kana Okada

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.

20 of 50

Use Rubber Bands to Keep Clothes on the Hanger

Rubber bands wrapped around the ends of hangers
Quentin Bacon

No more worries of camisoles, sundresses, and other slippery garments slipping off hangers when you wrap the ends with rubber bands.

21 of 50

Binder Clip as Key Chain

Binder clip as a key chain and money holder
Charles Maraia

A binder clip serves as a key chain/money holder you can clamp to your waistband for a purse-free morning walk.

22 of 50

Ribbon as Old Lamp Shade Reviver

Lampshade decorated with ribbon
Antonis Achilleos

Pretty ribbon revives an old lamp shade. Apply a thin layer of glue and press on each piece of ribbon, matching the ends neatly.

23 of 50

Mouse Pad as Trivet

Mouse pad protecting a kitchen counter
Sang An

Save a countertop with an old mouse pad turned trivet. (Make sure it has a nonplastic coating.)

24 of 50

Aluminum Foil as Paint Tool

Foil-covered doorknob protected against paint
Quentin Bacon

No more oops! moments when painting, if you cover doorknobs and hardware with aluminum foil.

25 of 50

Hair Straightener as Clothing Iron

Straightening iron and dress shirt
Kana Okada

That straightening iron works on more than rambunctious hair: Use it to press between buttons, where a regular iron won’t fit.

26 of 50

Plastic Bags as Knee Pads

Woman wearing plastic bags as knee pads
Kana Okada

Gardeners can go easy on their jeans with homemade knee pads. A couple of plastic bags tied on keep them grime-free.

27 of 50

Contact Lens Case as Medicine Holder

Pills stored in a contact lens case
Frances Janisch

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.

28 of 50

Towel Rod as Cleaning Supply Holder

Towel rack used as a toiletry organizer
Aya Brackett

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.

29 of 50

Hair Elastic as Flower Arranger

Hair elastics binding flowers in a vase
Gemma Comas and James Merrell

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.

30 of 50

Ketchup Bottle as Pancake Batter Dispenser

Ketchup bottle as batter dispenser
Mark Lund

Make no-mess pancakes with the help of a ketchup bottle: Pour in batter, then squeeze out precise portions.

31 of 50

Rubber Bands as Glass Holder

Juice glass with rubber bands
Kathryn Barnard

Rubber bands give little fingers a better grip on a chilly or slippery glass.

32 of 50

Popcorn as Eco-Friendly Packing

Box packed with popcorn and gift
Formula Z/S

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.

33 of 50

Eyeglasses Case as Manicure Kit

Manicure kit in a glasses case
Kirsten Strecker

An unused glasses case makes a convenient storage spot for nail files, clippers and other manicure essentials while on the go.

34 of 50

Cardboard Tube as Extension Cord Wrangler

Extension cord stored in toilet paper roll
Monica Buck

The cardboard tube from a spent roll of toilet tissue is a wonderfully simple tool for keeping extension cords tangle-free.

35 of 50

Wine Box as Shoe Storage

Shoes stored in a wine bottle carton
Antonis Achilleos

Warehouse your shoes in an empty wine-bottle carton wrapped in pretty paper.

36 of 50

Lemon as Stain Remover

Woman cleaning a cutting board with lemon
Rick Lew

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.

37 of 50

Plastic Bag as Cookbook Saver

Cookbook protected by a plastic bag
Kana Okada

Avoid batter splatters and flour dustings on a cookbook by wrapping a plastic bag around everything but the page you’re using.

38 of 50

Bobby Pins as Ironing Helpers

Bobby pins bolding pleats in place while ironing
Lucas Allen

Slide bobby pins onto a hem to hold pleats in place as you iron them.

39 of 50

Play-Doh as Sparkler Holder

Play-Doh holding sparklers
Aya Brackett

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

40 of 50

Turkey Baster as Water-Changer

Vase of flowers and a turkey baster
Amy Wilson

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.

41 of 50

Cork as Door Quieter

Kitchen cabinet with wine cork cushion
Gemma Comas and James Merrell

Silence cabinet doors that slam with cork sliced into thin disks and glued onto the inside corners.

42 of 50

Plastic Easter Eggs as Snack Containers

Snacks stored in plastic Easter eggs
James Baigrie

Give Easter eggs a year-round use (and save on resealable bags) by filling them with snacks like crackers or Cheerios.

43 of 50

Plastic Bags as Plant Pot Filler

Flower pot stuffed with plastic bag as filler
Kana Okada

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).

44 of 50

Napkin Holder as Bill Arranger

Bills organized in a napkin holder
Mark Lund

Organize bills―arranged in the order in which they need to be paid off―in an unused napkin holder.

45 of 50

Paint Chips as Place Cards

Paint chips as place cards
Aya Brackett

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").

46 of 50

Plastic Straw as Stem Extender

Bouquet of flowers in a vase
Mark Lund

Boost a meager bouquet to new heights by inserting short flower stems into plastic straws to give them greater stature.

47 of 50

Shower Hooks as Storage

Handbags stored on shower-curtain hooks
Burcu Avsar

Shower-curtain hooks provide sturdy storage for heavier items, like purses.

48 of 50

Cooking Spray as Snow-Shovel Assistant

Liberally apply cooking spray to both sides of a plastic or metal shovel before clearing away snow, and ice will slide right off instead of building up.

49 of 50

Magnet as Tweezer Holder

Tweezers in a medicine cabinet
Sang An

Stop tweezers from going astray by installing a magnet on the inside of the medicine cabinet and they will always be at your fingertips.

50 of 50

Lollipops as Cocktail Stirrers.

Lollipop in cocktail
Monica Buck

Give cocktails extra pop with lollies in complementary colors subbed in for stirrers.

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