Upcycling and recycling used items is one of my passions and something I do frequently. Thrift stores, consignment shops and garage sales are just a few places where you can find items to repurpose. In this post I am going to give you some awesome tips on what to look for, and some ideas on how to use the items you find.
Upcycling, recycling, repurposed; what does that mean and what’s the difference?
These words are thrown around all the time and in ways mean the same thing, however there are a few distinct differences. Let’s go over them.
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. This process usually involves breaking the product down and making something else with it.
Some examples include: changing glass, paper, cardboard, metal, plastic, tires, textiles, batteries, and electronics into something else.
Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value. The keyword here is TRANSFORMING.
I love transforming things! There is something so fun about taking an item that is normally used for one thing and using it for another purpose.
Some examples include:
Taking a wool sweater, felting it down and making mittens from them. The sweater was originally used as clothing to keep you warm, and the new product is still clothing, but now it is used to keep your hands warm. Another example would be to take a piece of furniture and changing the paint color or even altering its size or shape.
Repurposing is simply using a product to serve another purpose. Some examples include:
- Tin bucket as a plant pot
- An old tin mug normally used for drinking and using it to put paint brushes or pencils in.
- Using a metal garden rake to hang jewelry on.
- A wire bike basket to store and display magazines.
What are the benefits of recycling, upcycling and repurposing?
- Keeps the Earth beautiful
- Conserves natural resources
- Saves money and energy
- Reduces harmful greenhouse gases
Although there are small differences between each of these processes, they all share a common goal of being environmentally-friendly. Upcyling and recycling will not only save you money and save the planet; you can add some cute authentic style to your wardrobe and your home.
Here are a few ideas and tips on how I go about upcycling and recycling.
BE SURE TO WATCH THE VIDEO FOR SOME GREAT UPCYCLING IDEAS!
It’s pretty obvious that you can take a used piece of clothing and instead of throwing it away; you can either give it away or sell it for someone else to use. On the flip side, instead of buying new clothing, you can purchase used clothing at a lower rate and save it from being put in the landfill.
Thrift stores, consignment shops and yard sales are all great places to shop for used clothing.
- Look for stains, holes and strong smells, and avoid these items.
- Check the fabric content. I personally avoid clothing that you have to dry clean.
- If you need a pair of shorts, you can always cut off a pair of pants and hem them. (It really is quite easy to do) I have an old tutorial that shows you how. I will be recording a new tutorial soon, so watch out for that.
- Look for unique style and colors of clothing. (The knit shirt in the photo above, has the cutest grommet snaps)
- Thoroughly clean items before wearing.
USING CLOTHING FOR FABRIC
What? Yes, I do this all the time. You can simply take an item of clothing and cut it up and make something else with the fabric. Some examples:
- Take a t-shirt and make a pair of baby leggings or a knit skirt out of it.
- Shrink down a wool sweater and make slippers, mittens or even a poncho.
- Deconstruct a pair of jeans to make a patchwork quilt.
- So many things you can do with upcycled clothing.
- Check out my upcycled t-shirt video HERE .
- The bigger the item of clothing, the better. Depending on what you are making, you are going to get more yardage of fabric if you buy the XL or XXL (if you’re lucky).
- Check fabric content. If you are making a felted wool project, you’ll want to at least have 70% wool. Get more tips on that here.
- Large dresses and skirts have a lot of fabric yardage.
- Check clearance racks at stores for new clothing as well as used clothing. I buy a lot of nice new clothing that are on the clearance rack to make other things with. It can be cheaper than buying new fabric.
- I recommend getting a large bin to put clothing you will be using for fabric and label the container so you don’t get them confused with out of season clothing.
- Thoroughly clean items before disassembling for sewing projects.
- Here are some more ideas for upcycled jeans.
HOW TO GET RID OF THRIFT STORE SMELL
Add 1 cup of white distilled vinegar to your normal wash cycle, either hot or cold water. It will freshen and deodorize all of your clothing in your normal wash. If the clothes still smell, repeat. It may take a few wash loads to clear some smells, but it does work. (No worries, your clothes will not smell like vinegar once they are dried).
Baking soda is a great way to get rid of smells everywhere. (This is obviously okay for cotton and polyester, but you may want to do a patch test with other fabrics, such as rayon or cashmere sweaters.).
- Lay the clothes on a towel or sheet, then sprinkling baking soda all over the clothing.
- Add the piece of clothing to a large zip top plastic bag. Add baking soda to the bag, seal and shake to coat the clothes.
- Leave the baking soda on at least an hour. Wash the clothes afterwards.
BUYING CLOTHING FOR ACCESSORIES
You can find some cool accessories on clothing to reuse. I’ve been known to buy pieces of clothing for the buttons, zippers, or even the trim. It doesn’t make sense to do this unless the item is on sale or free.
Before I throw a piece of clothing out, I always check to see if it has any cool accessories that I can take off and save.
- Look for zippers that are unique. Zippers can easily be removed from items of clothing. Using a stylish zipper can really add a lot of charm to your homemade clothing and accessories.
- Store disassembled hardware in a box where you can easily find them.
- Keep button is a big jar. Not only will you have some fun buttons for sewing, but you can use them to embellish a lot of craft projects.
- You can use the hardware from used purses and bags.
UPCYCLING JEWELRY & ACCESSORIES
You can find a lot of cute jewelry at consignment shops and even thrift stores.
This is a good place to find used belts and hats.
- Look for items that are unique and good quality.
- Don’t be discouraged by tarnished silver items because they can easily be buffed with a special cloth or liquid.
- Thoroughly clean items before wearing or using.
I must admit that most of my household furniture is either upcycled or purchased on clearance or from the “scratch and dent” section. We always buy new mattresses, and couches, but almost everything else was a DIY or an upcyling project. I guess that’s what you get when you come from a family of ‘DO IT YOURSELFERS”.
My husband and I have transformed some pretty cool furniture over the years. I’m lucky to have a husband who is so handy.
- Look for good quality both in materials and how it was made.
- A lot of new chests of drawers are built so poorly and with cheap materials. That is one item that I like to buy used and refinish.
- Look for furniture that has “good bones”. By this I mean, has good form and style. It may not be the right color, but that is something that is can easily be changed.
- If you don’t like the hardware on a piece of furniture, you can purchase new and change it out. Putting a new set of drawer pulls can really change the look of a chest.
- My husband took this huge television cabinet and cut it down so it wasn’t so deep and made a cute cabinet for our bathroom. We put new handles on it and cut out a section in the doors, gave it a new color of paint, and look how cute it turned out. (The orange cabinet in the photo above).
KITCHEN GADGETS AND BOTTLES
There are a lot of fun ways to use old kitchen gadgets and bottles.
- I used this old tin to put my paintbrushes in.
- I have a thing for tall skinny bottles. They make really cute vases and can also be used to store small sewing supplies and office supplies.
- Canning jars can be used for all kinds of things. In my kitchen, I use the pint size for drinking glasses. They also work well to store nuts, seeds and other pantry items. A pint size jar works well to store pencils and pens in. I have one on each of my desks.
I’m not one to buy a lot of used shoes. I know everyone has their own thoughts about this one. I will purchase used shoes that have been VERY lightly worn. You can find a lot of good, lightly worn shoes at a much lower price.
Where is a good place to shop for used items?
Some of the places to look for used items are: consignment shops, thrift stores, yard and garage sales.
Here is my receipt for my purchases at the consignment shop. (Watch the video below to see what good finds I found this day at the consignment shop).
- 3 pairs of nice shoes
- 2 adorable shirts
- pair of aqua color jeans that I’m going to cut off and hem for shorts
- 2 pair of earrings
What is the difference between a consignment shop and thrift store?
The majority of thrift stores are donation based and center on a charity or non-profit organization. Although donating truly ruined items is discouraged, damaged, heavily worn, and flawed items are relatively common. Items are sorted and priced by volunteers, then sent to the sales floor where they are bought by shoppers.
Consignment stores are where members bring in gently used items for evaluation, and the buyers look them over to determine if they are likely to sell well from that particular shop. If the items are deemed a good risk, the shop will sell them and the shop owner takes a percentage of the sale. Some shops will pay up front.
If you’ve never been in a consignment or thrift store, I encourage you to open your mind and take a step inside. Upcycle, recycle and repurpose, you’ll be glad you did.
I hope this was helpful and that you have some new ideas for upcycling.
Please feel free to share some of your upcycled ideas on my Instagram. Tag it #fibersandtwigs