Living Naturally

Saving Stuff for New Uses: Some of My Favorites

Margaret Boyles

There's a famous New Yorker cartoon from the early 1990’s (click on image to enlarge) about recycling.

It shows a long stream of people trudging up the many switchbacks of a flaming ramp to deposit items in an endless string of boxes labeled tea bags, wadded up masking tape, broken ball point pens, not blue paper, etc. The cartoon is captioned Recycling in Hell.

That’s how I feel about most artsy-crafty projects that “repurpose” household discards. While I love seeing those chandeliers from bicycle wheels, jewelry from aluminum cans and bicycle chains, shoulder bags and vests from old blue jeans, and chicken coops from used pallets, I shudder at the thought of taking on the work myself.

And yet I do find myself saving or scrounging stuff that has immediate usefulness and doesn’t require a sewing machine, carpentry (or any other) tools, paint, or appliqués.

I manage to stay on the sane side of hoarding, and the practice keeps my creative juices flowing and my trash volume low. Occasionally, it may save a little money.

I’ve already shared many of my reuse practices, including onion skins, wood ashes, old socks and nylons, and things salvaged from the town dump. 

Here are a few more that seem worth sharing.

Paper towel and toilet paper tubes I use these as cutworm collars for protecting tomato, pepper, and cabbage-family transplants during their first couple of weeks in the garden. The tubes gradually soften and rot into the soil. I also use the paperboard tubes for cable and cord storing.

Toothbrushes Toothbrushes make ideal scrubbers for hard-to-reach-places. They allow me to clean in and around sink fixtures and the hinges on the toilet seat, in and around the keys on my computer keyboard, into all sorts of corners, and into the smaller parts of my bicycle (including the chain). They scrub mud (and worse) from the treads of athletic shoes and boots.

Rubber bands I save all the fat rubber bands our rural postman uses to bundle letters to use for all the usual purposes. I also wrap them around the ends of clothes hangers to prevent the susceptible garments from slipping off the hanger. When painting or varnishing, I pull a rubber band top to bottom across the can once the lid is open. The stretched rubber across the top of the can makes a nifty paintbrush wiper to keep paint from dripping off the end of the brush. 

Soap slivers I used to collect these in an old cotton sock to hang in the shower and use as a soap-on-a-rope scrubber. Now I store them in the old sock and mash them together until I accumulate a soap ball about the size of one full bar of soap. Then I grate the soap ball and stir the gratings into a mixture of one cup each of baking soda, washing soda, and borax. Voila! Powdered laundry detergent. I store it in a one-quart recycled yogurt container and use a couple of tablespoons per load of laundry. This product is faster to make and easier to store than the liquid detergent I had been making (and still occasionally do). 

Plastic lids I use various sizes of lids as coasters, to catch drips under houseplants and opened jars of honey. Cut a slit in one and slip a paintbrush handle through to prevent paint drips from falling onto your shirtsleeves.

Tops from parmesan cheese containers Amazingly, these tops fit onto narrow-necked glass mason jars, which I use to store my homegrown herbs. I also use an empty parmesan container for shaking flour onto my work surface when rolling a pie crust or shaping bread dough.

Zippered plastic bags As long as it still holds water when zipped, I never throw a zipper bag away. I wash them out, dry them on my laundry rack, and reuse them again and again. I freeze a lot of fruit and vegetables each summer and find I can get years of reuse out of a single bag. As for labeling, I just cross out last year’s label with my magic marker and write a new one. 


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Toilet paper empty tolls are

Toilet paper empty tolls are excellent to hold your electric wires in place. Keeps them from getting tangled.

I save the lids from these

I save the lids from these and put on a small Ball jelly jar....then use them for my spices....just put a label on the jar...

I use Gain laundry pods and

I use Gain laundry pods and it's cheaper to buy the large plastic container rather than the refill bag. But I end up with a lot of those plastic containers that I don't have the heart to toss. Has anyone come across a practical way to re-use them?

I use mine for cereal

I use mine for cereal

Ewww..NO. Not all plastic is

Ewww..NO. Not all plastic is safe for food storage.

I reuse mine for my homemade

I reuse mine for my homemade laundry powder, homemade dishwasher detergent, pet treats, bunny food etc. I don't use gain pods so I have to confiscate the containers from my friends.

I make beautiful paper beads

I make beautiful paper beads from magazines, newspapers, and any kind of packaging that comes into the house that has lots of colors. the beads make terrific necklaces, bracelets, and earings, even buttons or other decorative items.

I use glass herb jars for

I use glass herb jars for saving seeds. I also use them to give mini bouquets or rooted cuttings to friends. The sprinkle tops are perfect flower "frogs". For rooted cuttings, I cut between the holes to make a larger opening so the roots don't get damaged.

The extra large size plastic

The extra large size plastic pour jars that some things like pretzels and indoor bird seed come in are very handy for open cereal etc. Keeps em dry and if the variety is not in heavy rotation saves you from buying again when you already have that kind.

Also flour sugar and other bulk foods--just clean them with a cloth to avoid getting the insides wet--sometimes these take a while to dry properly. They sell the exact SAME container at WM for $5 empty that I pay $4 for at--WM!!!--for the bird seed that my very odd birds love. (Wont eat the pet food store birdfood. Go figure) And since the sides are STRAIGHT they can all fit in a closet with NO wasted space! I also am eyeing these for the new love of my grandaughters life--PLASTER! And unsanded grout for re-cycling jars and cans and other items into CHALKBOARDS. Acrylic craft paint + unsanded grout (plain or colored) mixed not too thick and et voila chalkboard paint.

Plaster makes for "Stepping stones" and the latest is going to be using the accumulation of smashed china I have been hoarding er saving for years!

Our toilet rolls go to our guinea pigs--and recently we "recycled" some apple tree prunings to their cage and they went NUTS!

All sorts of stuff can be used for any packing and shipping needs--wadded up plastic or paper bags for padding; foam scraps ditto; for larger and fragile items a plastic bottle with a cap can be used as "corner blocking"; boxes can be used almost endlessly if a new label (a piece of plain paper taped securely works fine) is applied. Save the various sized envelopes you get in a box or folder for the next time you need to send something to save on postage costs!

My son and I reused all of

My son and I reused all of our recyclables--toilet paper tubes, boxes, and more--to make a robot! Sure, it does not actually clean anything, but it was a fun arts and crafts project. Thanks for your tips, Margaret. :-)