Repurpose Common Household Items

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates

We’ve all seen dozens of crafty ideas for used wood pallets and Mason jars, but there are so many common household objects that can be reused in practical ways rather than going to the landfill or even the recycling bin. Not only do you reduce what goes in the bin, but you may not need to buy new stuff and its attendant packaging, almost sure to end up as waste.

Here’s a baker’s dozen of quick and easy practical ways to reuse and repurpose.   

In the Garden

I love the idea of turning parts from broken terra cotta pots into plant labels in the herb garden. It give the garden such an authentic Mediterranean feel. Learn how here.

What to do with all those wine bottles after a big dinner party? How about creating a unique border for a flower garden or outdoor path. If your family doesn’t produce enough empties, it should be easy to collect them from friends and restaurants so you can make this clever project. Gardening guru Shawna Coronado gives you the how-tos.


You can always save empty egg cartons for a neighbor or farmers’ market vendor who has chickens, but save a few for yourself. The best earring organizer I’ve ever had is the one using the bottom half of an egg carton—a pair per cup. Just trim off the top half of the carton and place the bottom half in a dresser drawer. Any type of egg carton will do. Egg carton cups will also hold rings and jewelry pins.

Prescription medicine containers, once thoroughly cleaned and dried, make excellent storage containers. They’re perfect for seed saving since they’re light-filtering and their tight fitting lids keep out air and moisture. For the same reasons, you might want to store your homegrown and dried herbs in them.

Medicine bottles also come in handy for storing small items like bobbie pins or paper clips. I keep one in the car glove compartment to hold small, loose items.

When you’ve used up a roll of toilet paper or gift wrap, what do you do with the empty cardboard tube?

Use a small tube to neatly store elastic bands or to keep utilitarian rubber bands from ending up in a giant tangle. Longer rolls are nifty for rolling your freshly ironed table linens—no fold lines.

Keep the Plastic

While I wouldn’t recommend dining on fast food for either your health or the environment, if you do happen to find yourself at the drive-thru, check out the food containers. Lidded plastic containers are pretty sturdy and can easily be reused to hold travel snacks or picnic treats. Use them to hold paint or glue for kiddie craft projects. If there are leftovers, you can pop on the lid and save the extra for the next time.

Sewing Projects

Use bamboo chopsticks, knitting needles, or even a plastic floral card holder to get sharp points when turning fabric (collars, pillow corners, etc.).

Got clothes that have seen better days? Who doesn’t? A friend gave me a gorgeous drawstring bag she sewed up from her mom’s old kimonos. It’s perfect for a pair of shoes or miscellaneous items when traveling. And pretty, too.

Cut or tear strips of old fabric into strips to crochet or braid into rag rugs.

Easy Peasy Heat Therapy

Does your washer eat socks? Give an unmatched sock new life by making a heat therapy rice bag. Just pour uncooked rice into it (about half full, so you can shape it to meet your needs), add a few drops of essential oil, if you like, tie the open end, and voila! You’ll need to experiment to find the right microwave heating time, probably somewhere between 1 ½ to 2 ½ minutes.


Toothbrushes that have seen better days—or those you get from the dentist’s office after a cleaning—make excellent scrubbers for hard-to-get-at places in the kitchen and bathroom. I especially like them for cleaning around faucets and sink rims. They’re also handy for window and door tracks and so many other tricky places.

Cut up old t-shirts and towels for cleaning rags.

In the Kitchen

You know the mini measuring cups that come with cough syrup? When the bottle’s empty, give the little cup a good cleaning and keep it in the kitchen. Mine has seven measurements from ½ to 4 teaspoons. When a recipe calls for, say, 1 ½ teaspoons of a liquid ingredient, it’s a one-step process. Besides, measuring spoons aren’t always made to standard. This device is much more likely to be accurate.

Even More Ideas

Check out Farmgirl School for more ideas on repurposing everyday household items. Do you have favorite repurposing tricks to help save the earth and your pocketbook?

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her MOTHER EATH NEWS blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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