At the mere mention of ‘upcycle,’ I immediately envision a scene of zombie-like people wielding hammers and crowbars, staggering through the back allies of local shopping malls in search of pallets.
Once home, these jolting figures make beds, shelving units, desks, photo frames, and all sorts of knick knacks from this harvested wood, and then shoot photos of their work for Pinterest. Granted, these people are clever and resourceful—aren’t all zombies?—but they are also accumulating more stuff to cram into their homes.
As a minimalist, I am forever at war against the acquisition of anything that can potentially only clutter my home. I also abhor organisation systems as they only really rearrange the mess, without actually getting rid of anything.
Choosing to upcycle
To address the chaos at home, I challenged myself to purge in an effort to avoid a future hoarding cleanup. However, rummaging through my belongings reacquainted me with some things that, although worth keeping, were best utilised in better ways.
So, I decided to do a Real-Life Upcycle Challenge where I only use what I already own. Here are five successfully upcycled items that were sitting around in my house.
1. 16 mm Film Functional Wall Art
I know, I know, not everyone has 16 mm reel-to-reel film just lying around. Being a film instructor, I have loads of 16 mm footage in my possession, as I need to regularly access the metal reels. Luckily, this display concept can be applied to many things that come on a spool or roll.
This wall art not only looks cool, but also keeps my reels in plain sight and within easy reach. It’s a conversation piece, too, as individual frames are viewable to the naked eye.
Note: Film will eventually degrade and lose its colour when exposed to light, so only expose film that you plan to recycle.
2. Old Book Kindle Cover
While nothing beats reading real books, some novels are easier to take around with you on a Kindle. When I started shopping for a cover to protect my new Kindle, I was floored to find that most covers were half the cost of the device itself. So, I decided to make my own cover made from an old yearbook.
The sturdy boarding and binding make hardbound books perfect as a Kindle cover. I simply cut the old yearbook down to the right size using a guillotine paper cutter, stripped the pages, and relined it with fresh paper. The Kindle fit perfectly.
Later, I attached the gel Kindle case to the book cover with grommets, and embedded an unused refrigerator magnet into the book cover to allow my Kindle to auto-wake upon opening. I covered the exterior with images in the open domain printed from the US Library of Congress using Mod Podge.
Total cost? $4. Of course it took time to complete, but it is customized, mine, and I use that old yearbook more than I ever would have had I left it as is!
Note: Sea Lemon’s YouTube Channel is a great source for binding techniques. She’s a page-flippin’ genius!
3. The Fence Board Ottoman
For this upcycled ottoman, I simply glued and air-nailed the fence boards together to make a box. Next, I sandpapered the sharp edges and covered the top cushion with some remnant fabric. I then painted a Jeep on it before clear coating with an eco-friendly lacquer. Attached four left-over casters from a disassembled piece of furniture, and violà—my own Ottoman Empire was born.
Now, after previously bashing the upcycling of pallets, it might seem hypocritical of me to upcycle old fence boards. Allow me to explain, however why it makes more sense to upcycle fence boards instead of pallets:
- They are more common. There are more discarded fences than there are unwanted pallets. A simple search on ‘OfferUp’ or ‘Craigslist’ renders stacks and stacks of wood up for grabs. However, in the spirit of this personal challenge, I used only boards that I already had!
- Fence boards are made for the outdoors. The wood used for fences are durable enough for the weather outside. Fence boards develop a nice patina and nails often leave great rust streaks in the wood. Pallets, on the other hand, are not made for outdoor weather, and may stain or age inconsistently.
- It might be shocking to pallet zombies, but pallets are regularly reused in shipping. Fence boards, however, are more often than not discarded, so you can save a tree by reusing a fence.
- Each fence board comes in roughly the same dimensions, making assembly much easier than assembling pallet wood, which is wildly inconsistent. Furthermore, disassembling a fence is often easier than a pallet. Pallets also create more waste in disassembly than fence boards.
4. The Drawer of Sippy Cups
Time was when getting a drink for a small child was as easy as handing them a cup with a small hole in the top. Today’s sippy cups have so many parts that they must be assembled, like a set of Legos, before the drink can even be delivered. Inevitably, parts get lost and pieces go missing, rendering the entire cup unsuitable for child use. No, I’m not bitter…
Before tossing your orphaned sippy cups and plastic kitchenware, consider alternative uses for them. Kids love their fun, brightly colored, child-safe sippy cups. Why not turn them into sandbox or beach toys, instead of buying sets of prepackaged toys for the same purpose? Sippy cup-stragglers are also great as planters for children to grow beans, or as keepers for your child’s small toys.
Upcycling the sippy cup can save money and continue to bring joy to your child, albeit in a different way.
5. A Cherished License Plate
There are old license plates that some of us like to keep because they are tangible reminders of thousands of miles in a vehicle in which cherished memories were made.
10 years ago, I built my first teardrop camping trailer. In the time since, I’ve kept the first license plate on the wall: all by itself, no explanation. It isn’t exactly great home décor outside a home bar area which I don’t own.
So, I decided to upcycle it into a guitar. Using spare parts from other guitars, old trailers, and scrap wood, I put together the Rock Banjo. I put an image of the first trip I took in that trailer on the back of the guitar (using this technique). Now, the Rock Banjo is a great piece to hang on the wall but is also functional as it is a playable guitar.
As you will notice in the image, I’ve also done this with a cigar box that used to hold small parts in my grandfather’s garage. These are nostalgic items, but now they fit the look of the home décor, while being functional musical instruments.
These pieces never fail to be a topic of conversation when friends are over. Inevitably, they are pulled from the wall to be played, felt, and enjoyed. They make experiences and open doors to stories and memories from the past.
Note: Get started with your own folk instrument here
Now, on to the challenge
I challenge YOU to look around YOUR house, PURGE it in a similar hoarding cleanup, and then find new purposes for what you want to keep. Try to do it without needing to purchase anything, or set a low dollar limit to your purchases.
Go out there! Declare war on your own stuff! Make your unused items enjoyable again! And at all costs, please… avoid the pallet. They attract zombies.
Do you have examples of everyday items that you’ve upcycled or are currently upcycling? Great ideas are always welcome, so feel free to post your masterpieces or works in progress in the comments.
*Editor’s Note: Feature image of silverware bird ornament courtesy of ‘Upcycle That’