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Easy Upcycling Ideas – The Ultimate List That Will Make You Want To Craft

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.

To his delight I bought him a load of that yoghurt and used those jars for an easy upcycle, making cute Chinese New Year lanterns and stamp tea lights.

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.

Easy upcycling ideas pin includes pictures of many upcycled crafts from furniture to tin cans and denim

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.

Bowl of painted Christmas acorn decorations

2. B is For Bags, Bottles and Boxes

Plarn is the made-up name given to yarn made from shredding plastic bags. Upcycled rugs and baskets are just a couple of things easily made from knitted (or crochet) plarn.

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.

Bottle lights for Halloween

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.

shoe boxes painted like vintage suitcases

I’ve upcycled shoeboxes into fun storage. Other boxes I covered in fabric to make decorative fabric birdhouses. I have even turned paper bags into an advent calendar.

fabric birdhouse

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.

Map chairs pillarboxblue.com

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.

Great upcycle of old jeans and use of a staple gun. It's a lot easier than you think with a full step by step tutorial.

Don’t dismiss broken chairs, but upcycle them into something completely different, perhaps into a fun storage unit for the kitchen or bathroom.

repurposed chair back kitchen storage

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.

DIY Nightstand- Made with an wine box. Waxed to age it, used the lid to make shelves and then added some legs. Full tutorial.

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.

Bits of China can be made into jewellery and China Christmas ornaments. Save the bits of broken China to create fun mosaics, such as a mosaic wall planter.

succulent mosaic wall garden

4. D is for Drawers, Doors And Doilies

How about upcycling an old drawer into handy open shelving for your bathroom?

Upcycled drawers into a handy wall storage unit. A step by step tutorial.

Upcycle doors into funky hallway stands, headboards, bookcases, benches and potting tables.

Smaller cabinet doors are great for painting and stencilling to make signs.

I use old doilies that I pick up from Charity shops as stencils. I’ve even upcycled doilies into a beautiful angel wings ornament.

doily angel wings Christmas ornament

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.

The best chalk paint cupboard upcycle with Annie Sloan Red Emperors Silk,

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.

Craft cupboard transformation - Pillarboxblue.com

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.

clever upcycling ideas denim waistband rug

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.

How to make a faux insect display of handmade upcycled fabric moths

7. G is for Glasses and Game Pieces

Both drinking glasses and eyeglasses are ripe for upcycling. Simply by colouring old drinking glasses, you can make beautiful bud vases and rainbow succulent planters.

trio of pink glass bud vases

Decoupage eyeglasses to make fun world map necklaces or hanging Christmas ornaments.

world map necklace

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

Coat hangers are a tremendous upcycling resource, both wooden and wire coat hangers. I’ve used wire coat hangers to make repurposed spring birdcage.

fabric spring birdcage

Wire hangers, are bent into wreaths, like these upcycled denim heart ones.

denim heart wreaths big and small

Leather, real or faux, from handbags, are materials to upcycle. I’ve made some colourful painted leather pen pots from an old bag.

watercolor rainbow upcycled leather pen pot

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.

Ikea Moppe hack with maps and leather draw pulls. Great look for those with wander lust.

I have cleverly upcycled many IKEA lamps, again my most popular being a map decoupaged lampshade. I even have an IKEA clock hack with maps.

Ikea lamp hack - Decoupage a world map on the inside of an Ikea Rismon lamp to turn it into something special.

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.

knobs and hooks for salvaged 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.

old jeans for clever upcycling ideas

Several pairs of jeans can be used for big upholstery projects or to make pocket organisers and quilts. Single pairs of jeans, can be made into table runners and denim pillows.

Upcycle leftover denim scraps into fun decorative items such as Christmas ornaments, feathers and pompom flowers.

Denim Wall Oraganiser Pillarboxblue
Blue and white repurposed denim feathers

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.

map mason jar bank

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.

clever upcycling ideas

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.

repurposed lamp wire rustic Christmas tree

You can create an upcycled lampshade out of woven denim seems.

clever upcycling ideas DIY unique table lamp with woven denim lampshade

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.

Boho vase and crepe paper flowers handmade

Use pieces of leather to make handles and accents for other upcycled projects.

Recycled leather hanging plant pot

13. M is For Maps and Mirrors

Maps are fantastic for adding interest and personalising easy upcycles. For example, decoupage a table with a road map of your favourite place, you can transform the mundane into something special.

Upcycled map table

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.

Map leaf wreath
How to make simple but gorgeous map roses.

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.

Patchwork upcycled mod podge fabric mirror frame

14. N is for Newspapers and Nutella Jars

Newspapers are a brilliant free upcycling resource. Use the waste paper to make various cool paper mache crafts, from decorative paper Mache bowls to giant cacti.

Anthropogie paper mache bowl hack
It's easy to make your own giant paper mache cactus. You can even pimp it with Marimekko napkins.

Glass Nutella jars make cute mini cloches, which are fun to make decorations.

Clever upcycle Nutella jar cloche

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.

Painted wood pallet diy to brighten up your garden.

Not all pallet projects have to be large, use bits of pallet wood to make things like picture frames.

map pallet frame

A clever upcycle of plastic bottles involves melting them and shaping them into cute mini succulents. These are plants you can’t kill!

plastic bottle succulents

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’ve seen some beautiful transformations of old radio cabinets. I’m on the lookout for one to upcycle. Perhaps, if I find one, I could upcycle it into a kitchen island.

I can’t resist old cotton and thread reels. I combine them with vintage road maps to make cute personalised Christmas ornaments.

map thread ornament

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.

clever sweater upcycle Felt rug

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.

upcycled Christmas garlands
felt flower brooch

There are many different ways to upcycle vintage suitcases. My personal favourite is my simple suitcase side table with vintage travel labels.

Hairpin leg DIY idea upcycled vintage suitcase side table.

Second-hand scaffolding boards are great for making very affordable and rustic furniture. I’ve used them to make a simple bench for my hallway and the world map desk I’m currently sitting at.

DIY world map desk

The bench combined a scaffolding board with an old broken chair.

Easy DIY scaffolding board furniture.  wooden bench.

20. T is For Tin Cans, Toys, and Trays

We eat a lot of curries, which means I use a lot of tinned coconut milk. I keep most of the tin cans and upcycle them into planters. Sardine cans I upcycle into ornaments.

Marimekko Decorative tin can planters
tin can ornament

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.

upcycled toys frame

Make a cool mini side table by upcycling a tray with legs and decoupage.

upcycled tray

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.

Scraps of velvet are used as an upcycling material. I’ve used them to upcycle an IKEA Moppe before and to make luxurious planters out of tin cans.

Velvet upcycled planters

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.

One of them I turned into an outdoor happy hour cocktail window and another into a cool herb planter.

Upcycled Window Herb planter - full tutorial and designs Pillarboxblue.com

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.

Finished 3 tier DIY planter 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

We eat a lot of yoghurt in this household. I like natural greek yoghurt and buy it in big plastic tubs. I’ve even upcycled these into Marimekko storage buckets to match my Marimekko shed.

hanging upcycled Marimekko buckets

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.

Postage Stamp Decoupage Jar tea lights

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.

Clever and easy Upcycling crafts and DIYS

If you are after upcycling specifically for the garden, check out these 50 ideas.

To help you with some of your upcycling projects, you should check out my guides to decoupaging with paper napkins and how to print on fabrics at home.

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.

Sue at Blu

Friday 15th of July 2022

Wow! So many ideas and lovely colors

Claire Armstrong

Saturday 16th of July 2022

Thank you so much, I just love upcycling.

Allyson @ Southern Sunflowers

Friday 15th of July 2022

So many awesome upcycling ideas!! I featured one of the projects from your list at #HomeMattersParty. Stop by my blog and take a look!

Claire Armstrong

Friday 15th of July 2022

That's awesome, I saw you featured the pallet planter. Thank you.

Naush Samama

Monday 8th of February 2021

Oh wow !!! For someone who has been passionately involved in recycling crafts, this list is fantastic. Congratulations Claire. I will be featuring this post today in Meraki Link Party. Thank you very much for sharing with us. Naush

Claire Armstrong

Tuesday 9th of February 2021

Thank you so much, Naush I look forward to seeing it.

Donna @ Modern on Monticello

Thursday 4th of February 2021

Wow! You have certainly done a fabulous job of recycling and upcycling everything you can think of and then some. This is a great list and really a great way to get us all to think differently. Thanks for sharing. #HomeMattersParty

Claire Armstrong

Thursday 4th of February 2021

Thank you so much Donna. I just get a kick out of making stuff out of rubbish.

Cecilia

Monday 1st of February 2021

Great upcycles! Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm!

Claire Armstrong

Monday 1st of February 2021

Thank you, Cecilia. I had fun compiling the list.