Inside: A comprehensive A to Z list of the best clever and easy upcycling ideas to inspire.
You like to make things because you enjoy it and it makes you feel good, but you don’t want to spend money in the craft store. You’d like to be green and eco-friendly by upcycling, but you don’t know where to start.
I visited my local craft store to buy glue when some mini glass jars caught my eye. They were too cute to ignore and were screaming buy me. Just as I was reaching to put them in my basket I remembered they looked just like the jars the fancy yoghurt my hubby loves.
Upcycling and repurposing can be clever without being complicated. Most of the ideas are easy, requiring tools you should have around the home or tools you can perhaps borrow from a neighbour.
Table of contents
- What Can Be Easily Upcycled or Repurposed?
- 1. A is Acorns and Avocado Pits
- 2. B is For Bags, Bottles and Boxes
- 3. C is For Chairs, Crates and Crockery
- 4. D is for Drawers, Doors And Doilies
- 5. E is for Egg Cartons
- 6. F is for Furniture and Fabric
- 7. G is for Glasses and Game Pieces
- 8. H is for Hangers and Handbags
- 9. I is for IKEA and Ironmongery
- 10. J is for Jeans and Jars
- 11. K is for Kitchen Utensils and Keyboards
- 12. L is for Lamps and Leather
- 13. M is For Maps and Mirrors
- 14. N is for Newspapers and Nutella Jars
- 15. O is for Oil Cans
- 16. P is for Pallets and Plastic Bottles
- 17. Q is For Quilts
- 18. R is for Radio Cabinets and Reels
- 19. S is for Sweaters, Suitcases and Scaffolding Boards
- 20. T is For Tin Cans, Toys, and Trays
- 21. U is for Umbrellas
- 22. V is for Vases and Velvet
- 23. W is for Windows and Wood slices
- 24. X is for X-rays
- 25. Y is for Yogurt Pots and Jars
- 26. Z is For Zippers
What Can Be Easily Upcycled or Repurposed?
There are many everyday items others would chuck out that can be used for crafting and upcycling. But it can be a bit daunting to know where to start, what materials to use and what to make with them.
I hate waste and feeling guilty about throwing things away, such as old clothes. Sometimes they are not even fit for the charity shop. Transforming trash into something that’s either useful or beautiful is good for the soul, wallet and environment.
Upcycling is both calming and satisfying as it gives a sense of achievement. You can feel virtuous when you’ve created things for free. The common saying “one person’s trash is another’s treasure“, is so true with upcycling.
Nature is also a fantastic free resource for crafting and upcycling materials, from twigs and branches to shells.
Sometimes you need just a bit of a prompt to spark an idea and to get you going. The easy upcycling ideas are in an ultimate A to Z list of resources, from avocado pits to zippers.
1. A is Acorns and Avocado Pits
I love to upcycle and craft with acorns and caps. Every fall, I collect a handful of fallen acorns from my local park to use as a free crafting resource. I’ve used them to make fall wreaths and decorative garlands.
Did you know you can make buttons from avocado pits? As a family, we eat a lot of avocados. I upcycle the stones into buttons. These avocado buttons are a great crafting resource to upcycle into jewellery.
2. B is For Bags, Bottles and Boxes
Create simple illuminated festive decorations with old bottles. It’s easy to upcycle bottles into decorative light decorations for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween. Interesting gin and whisky bottles make fun bases for DIY lamps.
I never buy cardboard from the craft store. There is so much free cardboard available in the home, from cereal boxes to shoeboxes.
I always feel guilty about the number of cardboard boxes we receive from our never-ending Amazon deliveries. With the pandemic, the situation has gotten worse.
Sometimes I feel I’m swimming in a sea of cardboard boxes. I don’t send all the boxes to recycling. I keep several aside for upcycling and crafting.
3. C is For Chairs, Crates and Crockery
Chairs are a classic piece of furniture to upcycle and great for beginners. You can start with a simple wooden dining chair, where even a coat of paint can transform something out of date into a keeper.
Try something a bit more dramatic by decoupaging wooden chairs. Chairs decoupaged with old maps look unique. Personalize them by using maps that are special to you.
Revamp an upholstered chair by simply recovering it in new fabric. You don’t need to be an expert either. Staple guns make upholstery easy, like with this recovering of an IKEA Skruvsta chair with denim.
Don’t dismiss broken chairs, but upcycle them into something completely different, perhaps into a fun storage unit for the kitchen or bathroom.
When I get given a crate of wine, I’m just as excited about having a wooden box to upcycle as I am about the wine to drink. Well almost!
Here are more than 41 ideas for upcycling old wooden crates, from making bookcases to coffee tables.
When I accidentally chip a plate or drop one of my favourite mugs, I put them to one side for future projects. With the right tools, it is easy to cut, shape and smooth broken crockery.
4. D is for Drawers, Doors And Doilies
How about upcycling an old drawer into handy open shelving for your bathroom?
Upcycle doors into funky hallway stands, headboards, bookcases, benches and potting tables.
Smaller cabinet doors are great for painting and stencilling to make signs.
5. E is for Egg Cartons
Egg cartons are a readily available craft resource and probably one of the first things kids learn to upcycle at school. I’ve seen many fun creatures made from egg cartons. One of my favourites upcycles of egg cartons is into flowers.
6. F is for Furniture and Fabric
When thinking of clever upcycling ideas, most people think of fantastic furniture transformations they have seen. On telly programs like “Money For Nothing” or for sale in trendy furniture shops.
A brilliant way to bring up to date an old and unloved piece of furniture is to upcycle it into something to be treasured and reloved.
Many pieces of older furniture were made before the days of flat packs and are sturdier. A way of getting well-made, good quality and affordable pieces into your home is to upcycle old furniture.
Before buying new furniture, I hunt for older pieces to see if I can upcycle them to fit into my home. Two of my favourite pieces are my chalk paint curiosity cupboard and my classy craft cupboard. Both upcycles were pretty simple and just involved paint and decoupage.
Clever furniture upcycling can also involve changing the function of one piece into something completely different. This bed-to-bench transformation is a good example.
Fabric upcycling is one of my favourite upcycles. I keep all the family’s old jeans and sweaters to upcycle into a huge variety of things. From soft furnishing in my home like denim rugs to sweater pillows in various states to table runners.
For a comprehensive list of things to make with old jeans, check out this A to Z of denim crafts.
Not all upcycles are practical, they can be whimsical and fun. I have clever and easy upcycles for small fabric scraps. For example, these include ideas such as repurposed denim flowers, sweater felt succulent gardens, denim moths and fabric mushroom decorations.
7. G is for Glasses and Game Pieces
Game pieces from old board games are good to repurpose into jewellery and decorations. We’ve probably seen cute signs and cards made from old scrabble letters and Lexicon playing cards. I’ve even seen a clock made from an old board game.
8. H is for Hangers and Handbags
Wire hangers, are bent into wreaths, like these upcycled denim heart ones.
Leather, real or faux, from handbags, are materials to upcycle. I’ve made some colourful painted leather pen pots from an old bag.
9. I is for IKEA and Ironmongery
Lots of IKEA’s products are designed to be upcycled, as it’s often sold unvarnished and unfinished. Ready for painting and decoupaging for you to make your stamp on it.
Classic items include the IKEA Beckvam stool. Many buy this unvarnished item and not only decorate it creatively, but some have even been cleverly upcycled into other things, such as kids’ kitchens.
My favourite IKEA item to upcycle is their Moppe mini chests. I’ve upcycled quite a few over the years. The most popular is my decoupaged map Moppe.
Ironmongery includes items such as door furniture, handles, hooks and hinges. I collect these items from old doors, cupboards, and windows for upcycling.
I used a bag of ironmongery bits and pieces to make a unique upcycled wooden Christmas tree.
10. J is for Jeans and Jars
This site is full of clever upcycling ideas for old jeans. You don’t need to be a seamstress to upcycle denim. There are many no-sew ideas for old jeans on the blog, as well as those that require a small amount of sewing.
If you look for clever upcycled jars ideas on Pinterest, you will find hundreds of ideas, if not thousands.
Jars, specifically mason jars, must be one of the popular kitchen items to upcycle. You will find a repurposed mason jar idea for every season and holiday.
You’ll find cleverly decorated Mason jars and others upcycled into handy containers such as mason jar banks.
11. K is for Kitchen Utensils and Keyboards
Upcycle old kitchen utensils into tea towel holders and recipe holders.
There are also many clever upcycling ideas for computer keyboards, from unique jewellery to chairs and desk caddies.
12. L is for Lamps and Leather
I both upcycle old lamps and make upcycled lamps. My rustic Christmas tree was made out of old lampshades.
You can create an upcycled lampshade out of woven denim seems.
I once found a discarded old leather sofa. Before it went to the dump, I managed to rescue some of the material I’ve used the leather to make an upcycled Boho vase and some clever recycled hanging planters. I still have plenty more leather upcycle ideas.
Use pieces of leather to make handles and accents for other upcycled projects.
13. M is For Maps and Mirrors
Map upcycles don’t have to be large projects. Old road maps are an affordable alternative to craft paper. For example, make a map leaf wreath, paper beaded bracelets, map roses and some cool DIY map art.
Before throwing away an old mirror, see if you can update it with a clever upcycle. I’ve transformed two old mirrors in my home. One with fabric scraps and mod podge and the other an old IKEA mirror. I upcycled the IKEA mirror with funky tropical wallpaper.
14. N is for Newspapers and Nutella Jars
Glass Nutella jars make cute mini cloches, which are fun to make decorations.
15. O is for Oil Cans
Oil cans are a big favourite of junk crafters. Go to any flea market, and it won’t be long before you come across an upcycled oil can lamp. There are other decorative things that you can make from old oil cans, like cute photo holders.
16. P is for Pallets and Plastic Bottles
Pallets are a cheap and often free source of wood to upcycle. They are particularly well suited to garden upcycles.
Often, I’ve come home from my dog walk dragging a free curbside pallet home to upcycle. I’ve seen pallets turned into outdoor sofas, beds and even bars. I made myself and a stencilled walled garden from an old pallet.
Not all pallet projects have to be large, use bits of pallet wood to make things like picture frames.
A clever upcycle of plastic bottles involves melting them and shaping them into cute mini succulents. These are plants you can’t kill!
17. Q is For Quilts
I admit that Q is an awkward letter of the alphabet when thinking of clever upcycling ideas. But there is one thing that you can make from upcycled materials beginning with Q, quilts.
18. R is for Radio Cabinets and Reels
I can’t resist old cotton and thread reels. I combine them with vintage road maps to make cute personalised Christmas ornaments.
19. S is for Sweaters, Suitcases and Scaffolding Boards
If you accidentally shrink your favourite sweater in the washing machine, once you’ve got over the upset, don’t throw it away. Keep it an upcycle into something for your home, such as a fun shaped pillow.
I keep all my family’s old sweaters repurposed and upcycle. One of the cleverest things I made was a beautiful felt rug. Don’t throw away the sweater scraps, but repurpose them into colourful garlands and flower brooches.
The bench combined a scaffolding board with an old broken chair.
20. T is For Tin Cans, Toys, and Trays
Whilst, clearing out my son’s room, I collected a box of old toys. Some he’d grown out of and some broken. Instead of throwing them out, I upcycled them into a toy framed medal board.
Make a cool mini side table by upcycling a tray with legs and decoupage.
21. U is for Umbrellas
Umbrella skins are upcycled into waterproof travel bags. The handles of traditional umbrellas were repurposed into hooks. The cleverest upcycling idea I have seen for umbrellas is this kid’s Halloween bat costume.
22. V is for Vases and Velvet
Old out-of-date vases upcycled with paint and rope.
23. W is for Windows and Wood slices
I live in an old Victorian house with traditional sash windows. We, unfortunately, have had to replace some of them. Instead of throwing out some of the windows we have replaced, I’ve upcycled them into features for my garden.
Wood slices are a great free resource to upcycle and craft. I have made many Christmas ornaments from wood slices, including a hanging Scandinavian decoration. The coolest thing that I have created is wood slices plant shelves.
24. X is for X-rays
I bet you thought I’d struggle to find a clever upcycling idea for the letter x. Luckily, my friend Wendy from My French Twist made a cool pendant lamp from old x-rays.
25. Y is for Yogurt Pots and Jars
My partner has a sweeter tooth and loves those posh yoghurts in delicate little jars. Those I have upcycled with postage stamps into a rainbow of tea lights for my mantle.
26. Z is For Zippers
Old zippers are good to upcycle into necklaces and other jewellery. There is a video tutorial here for some zipper necklace ideas.
If you are after upcycling specifically for the garden, check out these 50 ideas.
I hope you’re inspired by all these cool and unique upcycling ideas. And if you have any ideas for the harder letters of the alphabet, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
Before you start these projects, you might want to ensure you have these upcycling and crafting essentials.