16 Clever Ways to Repurpose Things You’d Normally Throw Away

In this photo, a wine bottle is repurposed to be a vase.
You can repurpose a wine bottle as a vase to make your home more inviting. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

First came pandemic shortages, then came inflation and, well, more supply chain issues. If the “waste-not, want-not” mentality wasn’t already back in play, it would be yet again.

But actually, “waste-not, want-not” — known today as “upcycling” or “repurposing” — is simply common sense, such as using plastic grocery bags to line the bathroom trash.

But that’s just the beginning of what you can do with your trash. We’ve gathered some other repurposing ideas that can save you trips to the store, save you some money and even save (some of) your sanity.

To Entertain Your Kids (or Your Kids-at-Heart)

This photo shows cardboard toilet paper tubes repurposed as a necklace.
Kids can repurpose cardboard toilet paper tubes as a necklace. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

1. Toilet Paper Tubes

Rolls of toilet paper have tubes that, once decorated with crayons and stickers, can become kazoos or a village of towers.

Cut decorated tubes into smaller sections to create beads to string on a piece of yard or twine for a necklace. The Internet has many more suggestions for crafty kids of all ages.

2. Produce Boxes

Strawberries, blueberries and other produce come in plastic containers that have open slits on the sides. These can make great bath toys because water flows out of them like a sieve, which can create the perfect waterfall or rain forest.

3. Holiday Cards

If you have old Christmas cards packed away, punch a hole in the corner of each one and loop them together with a string or metal ring. Now you’ve made a book for little ones who love to look at photos, especially of other children.

4. Cardboard Boxes

Your Amazon delivery boxes can be stacked to create houses for Barbies or stuffed animals.

Here’s another option: Cut the bottoms out of boxes large enough to fit around your child. Help them decorate the boxes to look like a car, then use string or ribbon to create suspenders. Now you can hold speed-walking or running car races in the backyard or living room.

To Use Around the House

5. Netted Produce Bags

The netted bag that holds produce can be scrunched up to clean a really messy pot or two before you throw it away.

6. Broccoli Rubber Bands

Those thick rubber bands that come around bunches of broccoli are great “chip clips” to close bags of food or a hair-tie in a pinch.

7. Plastic Food Containers

The plastic tubs used for food like yogurt and hummus can make great storage containers. There’s really no need to ever pay for new plastic containers. By the time the lids are a little warped from the dishwasher, you can recycle them and start using the next round of empty food containers.

8. Old Towels and T-Shirts

Old towels and T-shirts with stains can’t be donated, so use them as dish towels or rags.

You can also cut them into strips and braid them to make a chew toy for your pooch.

9. Empty Shoe Boxes

If you have the time and energy to reorganize, use empty shoe boxes or smaller shipping boxes to create drawer organizers. The boxes’ height can be cut to fit drawers if needed.

10. Muffin Tins

One of the extra muffin tins that crowds your kitchen cabinet is perfect for organizing jewelry.

To Take Care of Your Yard

11. Wine Bottles

Fill a wine bottle with water, wildflowers and greenery to make a deck, patio or the front steps a little more inviting.

12. Two-Liter Bottle

An empty two-liter soda bottle can be converted into an easy, light watering can for houseplants, a container garden or a few herbs on your kitchen windowsill.

13. Old Sheets

In this photo, an old sheet is repurposed as a bag for yard leaves.
An old sheet is repurposed to collect yard leaves. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

When raking up piles of leaves, pile them onto an old sheet, pull the four corners together and take to the trash or mulch pile. The sheet can be used over and over so you won’t need to buy lawn and leaf bags, trash bags or even a wheelbarrow.

To Take Care of Yourself

14. Water Bottles

Fill empty water bottles with sand or rocks for hand weights. Plus here are more ideas for making homemade weights and other DIY fitness gear.

15. Coffee Grounds

Used coffee grounds still have plenty of miles left in them. You can make a face or body scrub, neutralize bad smells or toss the grounds in your garden or flower beds as fertilizer.

16. Cucumbers

Cucumber slices — and used tea bags — soothe eyes that are strained from binge-watching “Bridgerton.” Don’t stop there: We have even more inexpensive suggestions for a DIY spa day.

Contributor Katherine Snow Smith is a veteran newspaper reporter and editor who covers lifestyle topics, workplace issues and ways to make money for The Penny Hoarder. She is the author of “Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned.”