16 Creative Ways to Upcycle Items in Your Home or Dorm Room

Hello!

This week’s post is going to be ideas for how you can reuse and upcycle items in your home. All these ideas are things that I’ve done whilst living in college dorm rooms.

Reuse is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental footprint, especially if that reuse allows you to divert waste from landfill. Personally, I’ve found that figuring out how to re-use items is as much about your crafting abilities as it is about your creativity and mindset. So I wanted to share my own most useful and most interesting examples of re-use because seeing what others have done online has been the most helpful thing for me when it comes to figuring out how to re-use.

These ideas are a good mix of easy and common zero waste swaps as well as some more creative ideas.

Mini Bookshelf

You can stack milk crates on top of each other or side by side to create a miniature bookshelf for yourself. Milk crates are the perfect size to fit a vast majority of books and can often be found in thrift stores or are given away when a local factory or plant shuts down. If you want to spice up the look a little bit you can also spray paint your crates like I did for an extra pop of color.

Mini Crate Seats

This second one is another milk crate hack. I created two of these miniature stool seats by cutting some bath mats to size to use on top for padding and then adding some ribbon so you don’t have to see the rough cut edge. This craft was fun, easy, and cheap to make and they’ve been awesome to have in the residence hall. The great thing about them is that they’re little so they can be easily stowed away when not in use and are great to have a around for moving as well.

Bedside Table

Need a bedside table? Stack two milk crates on top of each other, hit them with the spray paint, and you’re all set! You can also put a cute plate on top to prevent smaller items from falling through the holes.

Plant Stand

Alright, this is the last milk crate hack I promise. (It’s not my fault they’re incredibly versatile.) This one is great if you have a short desk or dresser but a taller window so your plants need some more height to get maximal lighting. In general, especially for a college kid I 100% recommend finding some crates before you go off to school. They’re perfect because they can serve so many purposes which is great when you’re moving around a lot like most students.

Soap Dishes

When I started using solid beauty products I didn’t really want to spend money on a nice sustainably made soap try so I just cut some holes in the bottom of this deli meat container (this is back before I went vegetarian). The lid is convenient because it makes it easy to carry my things to the communal bathroom down the hall and I can also rest the container on top of the lid to catch water so my dresser doesn’t get wet.

Conditioner Bottle

I was having trouble using my conditioner bar in its solid form so I decided to melt it down and add water to make it more like a conventional conditioner. I’d initially thought of buying or thrifting a pump top glass bottle like I have for my dish soap but realized I could reuse the old Dr. Bronner’s bottle from the soap I’d just finished.

Yoga Mat Bag

This is one of my favorite DIYs, its been so convenient and nice to have a proper bag for my yoga mat especially when I need to carry it in the rain. There are a ton of tutorials online about how to make jeans into a yoga mat bag and I also wrote a post about my personal experience doing so. This is a great way for you to save money and keep textiles out of the landfill.

Bulk Shopping Bags

The only thing better than buying bulk goods sustainably and package free is doing it upcycled bags you made yourself. There are a ton of bulk bags available for cheap on amazon but most have not been sustainably produced. Making some bags yourself is a great way to go the extra mile by diverting textile waste from landfill in addition to reducing your plastic waste.

Rags

This tip is such a quick and easy way to reduce waste. Instead of using paper towels and napkins you can cut up old t-shirts, towel, or any textile and simply wash them when you’re done using them.

Bulk Foods Storage

This is a classic and indispensable low waste tip. As you transition from packaged goods to buying bulk save jars from products like applesauce, salsa, or peanut butter. You’ll be able to store all types of food in them and even use them as cups.

Mouth Guard Case

Need a mouth guard for sports or late night teeth grinding? Save yourself a little plastic and store it in a re-used food container. Be sure to cut out a few holes in the bottom to make sure your mouth guard dries out properly.

Compost Storage

I’ve seen a lot of folks online who buy special containers to store their compost in, but because I don’t do my own compost and I bring it to a community compost location, I have no need for a special container. Instead of buying something I use empty yogurt containers or a disposable plastic bag.

Flower Pots

Are you like many Americans who have somehow acquired more mugs than a person could ever use in a lifetime? Well, if you answered yes and you’re looking to start potting plants, mugs are a cute substitute for flower pots. The one caveat is they don’t have drainage holes so you’ll need to be very careful about over watering.

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Organizational Trays

This is an idea that Marie Kondo has recently popularized that I’ve been doing nearly my whole life. Often, items come in absolutely adorable packaging that is reusable. Shown below, I have old teavana containers and cookie tins that I use to store office supplies and teas. I always keep a small collection of these boxes and often share them with friends and family who need organizational help.

Funnel

This is an idea I stole from a video on the Shelbizlee youtube channel. (I’d highly recommend her videos in you’re interested in zero-waste content.) You can cut the bottom off a plastic soda bottle and then you’ll have a funnel you can use for all kinds of purposes, I use mine the most when I’m making oat milk.

Toe Spacers

If you’ve got bunions or other foot problems like me you know that toe spacers are life savers. But personally I’ve found that the silicone ones never last more than a few months and there just aren’t any sustainable options. Solution, roll up some pieces of old t-shirt, throw a few stitches in to keep the spacer together, and you have upcycled and machine washable toe spacers. The other benefit to trying this is that you can customize your toe spacers to exactly what is most comfortable and beneficial for you.

That brings me to the end of my list!

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are the most creative or helpful ways to reuse or upcycle items that you’ve done or have heard of?

Green Gifts Guide

Happy holidays all!

Welcome to part two of my holiday gifts series.

Today I’ll be giving you a variety of resources and ideas for how you can buy more sustainable gifts this season. This post can help you if you yourself are trying to be more green and aren’t sure what to buy for other people or if you’re trying to buy gifts for someone who is environmentally conscious.

This post will be split into three parts. First up is marketplaces, these are online websites I’ve found that either only sell sustainable goods or have a lot of sustainable options. Second is the brands section, I will be sharing specific brands that I believe are sustainable and have good gifts.

Third is the alternatives section, which will feature alternative methods and styles of gift giving that are more sustainable than buying brand new, mass manufactured products. This section is important to me because I never want this blog to become only about giving brand recommendations for companies that produce new goods sustainably. I feel that this isn’t true to the tenets of sustainability and additionally isn’t accessible to most people price wise.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Marketplaces

Earth Hero

Earth Hero is sometimes referred to as the “eco-friendly amazon” of online shopping. Their goal is to carry at least one sustainably made option for every type of item you would need in your daily life and to take the guesswork out of figuring out if a product is greenwashed. They have a 5 step process to evaluate a product’s sustainability and only carry items that “pass”. Bonus, Earth Hero also has the guaranteed lowest prices for the goods they carry and they are having a site wide 20% holiday sale as well as planting five trees per order until Cyber Monday ends.

Etsy

Etsy is an online marketplace for small craftspeople and artisans to sell their goods. While Etsy the company has no particular sustainable mission, many of their sellers offer zero waste and eco-friendly products and their prices are generally lower than sustainable products from larger companies. Plus most sellers are small, women-owned businesses and most are having holiday sales right now.

Package Free

Package free is a zero waste online marketplace designed to carry anything you need to start and maintain a zero waste lifestyle with guaranteed plastic free shipping. The site was started by Lauren Singer, whose trash jar was one of the first to go viral and she has since been involved in a variety of media projects as well as opening a physical package free shop in New York City. The site carries everything from vibrators to candles to office supplies to items for babies. The selection is not as wide as on Earth Hero however they carry different brands so it’s still worth checking out.

Brands

Lush

Lush, need I say anything about them? Credited with inventing the bath bomb, this zero waste UK based company is known for their high quality, vegan, and cruelty free personal care products. Their lineup features body wash, shampoo, conditioners, lotions, cleansers, moisturizers, makeup (currently only in the UK), most recently fragrances, and more. Many of their products are in the “naked” line, meaning the product needs no packaging. Lush also has an in-store recycling program for all of their product packaging and reuses it for future products. I’ve been gifting their products for years and I can personally vouch that everyone has loved their products.

Sunski

Sunski is a company that creates lightweight, stylish, sunglasses from recycled plastics. Their frames come with a lifetime guarantee and they have a program to replace broken lenses and repair the glasses in order to extend their life as long as possible. The full price on their glasses tends to be high, anywhere from 58USD-89USD. However I’ve been watching their site for a few months and they run constant sales and always have options between 30USD-40USD as well.

4Ocean Bracelets

4Ocean will pull one pound of trash from our oceans for every bracelet sold. The cords and beads of the bracelets are made from 100% post consumer recycled materials, 4Ocean will even pay for you to ship your bracelet back to them when you’re done with it so it can be recycled. They release bracelets in new colors monthly that support slightly different causes such as jellyfish or the everglades. You can even sign up to volunteer at their clean ups so there’s no doubt that the operation is legit.

Kind Socks

Kind Socks prides themselves on creating socks that are fun, fashionable for every day, and ethical. Their founder Stephen Steele was inspired to start the brand after being frustrated that most sustainable socks were very plain and not fun at all. The socks are toxin free, made with certified organic cotton, and manufactured in safe factories with fair wages.The brand is based in Sweden and ships internationally.

Ten Tree

Ten Tree is an apparel brand whose name leads you quite intuitively to the business model, they plant ten trees for each item purchased. They even give you “tree codes” so you can find out exactly where the trees your purchase funded got planted. They have a full lineup of casual apparel and accessories including socks, hats, wallets, dresses, jackets, and of course the usual t-shirts, hoodies, and pants.

Stasher Bags

Stasher bags are an alternative to disposable plastic sandwich bags made from 100% silicone. I personally own a set that my mother found for me at goodwill, and I absolutely love them. Stasher has been blowing up lately and I’ve suddenly started seeing their bags everywhere, as a result they’ve been able to expand their line to include a variety of shapes and colors. The bags can withstand extreme temperatures  meaning they can be boiled and baked, the silicone zipper creates an airtight seal making the bags an excellent option for freezer storage as well. I recommend these as gifts partially because they are a bit expensive, so it’s something people may want but not be able to spend the money on for themselves.

Elate Cosmetics

Elate Cosmetics is a low waste, cruelty free, and ethical beauty brand. Their packaging is the most sustainable I’ve seen for make up and is made with renewable or recyclable resources. They also sell reusable magnetic palettes with refills sold in aluminum pans. They carry essentially every and any type of makeup you need, though their color range definitely will not be able to provide you with a full glam look.

Alternatives

Homemade Gifts

Another option is to make gifts at home! This can take it’s form in many ways, perhaps you create a piece of visual art, write or parody a song, make baked goods, write poetry, or give them coupons for different types of chores like cleaning the bathroom or doing meal prep. Sentimental crafted gifts like songs or poetry tend to really great for close family or significant others, chore coupons are great for friends, and baked goods are great for people you’re not sure what else to get! Even if your homemade gift isn’t made from totally sustainable materials it’s still likely to be more eco-friendly that the majority of mass produced goods.

Local Gifts

Shop local! Local goods are overall more eco-friendly because they did not need to be shipped from far away and therefore getting the item to you required less fossil fuels. Additionally, many artisans are environmentally conscious and have much more eco-friendly manufacturing processes than conventional companies. You can use Etsy to find locally made goods online but there’s also a variety of in person locations you’re likely to find locally made goods such as: any hippy dippy grocery store/bar/establishment, craft markets, flea markets, farmer’s markets, and literally any type of festival. I’ve gifted locally made coffees, keychains, soaps, candles, lotions, cards, and salsas with great success. Another bonus to locally made foods is that they are usually preservative free and therefore have better and fresher taste than conventional goods.

Second Hand Gifts

Second hand goods are another great way to decrease the carbon footprint of your gift shopping this season. This is especially good for tech and luxury fashion goods that have strong resale markets, this is also a great way to save money on these items or be able to buy a person something nicer than you would be able to if the item were new. Of course know your audience, some people will feel disrespected by a second hand gift so be careful. I personally have both given and received second hand gifts and it’s always gone well!

Wrap Up

I hope that these ideas and recommendations will be helpful to you this holiday shopping season. It can be difficult and overwhelming to figure out how to greenify your shopping habits so I aimed to provide straightforward options and easy to use advice.

As always, thanks for reading!

The Simple Pleasure of Making Things

Convenience.

Here in the US and much of the western world we are living in a time in which we have never had more convenience in our lives.

Cars let us go where we want exactly when we want to, online shopping gets goods to us without us ever needing to leave the couch, and we are able to contact one another instantaneously.

However, I’ve recently come to believe that all this convenience has robbed us of a simple and classic pleasure.

The joy, satisfaction, and pride that comes with making things on your own.

For me, this realization came when I found myself in the market for a yoga mat bag. Now as an eco-minimalist I don’t want to buy anything that isn’t ethically or sustainably made and I realized an eco-friendly yoga mat bag was going to cost me quite a bit more than I hoped to spend.

I checked second hand apps for a couple days, but in all honesty I got impatient and so after those two days I was bored of the hunt and decided that the only logical choice would be to make a bag myself.

Luckily, I had an old pair of jeans I’d been saving for months in hopes of finding a way to repurpose them. I stopped wearing the jeans because the spot where my thighs rub together had gone completely threadbare so I didn’t think I could resell them. However the rest of the fabric was in great shape.

So armed with some internet tutorials and the grace of my mother being willing to remind me how a sewing machine works (and let me use hers) I got to work making my own yoga mat bag.

Now, I’ve been doing this eco-minimalism thing for about 8 months and this bag isn’t the first thing I’ve made on my own. However, it is the most elaborate and time consuming thing I’ve made myself so far. My previous DIYs have all been rather simple, just quickly combining a few store bought ingredients into a jar.

But this project was different, the only brand new material I used for this bag was the thread.  Even the sewing machine I was using had been thrifted by my mother.

What made the process truly satisfying were the moments when the tutorials didn’t have all the answers. Every pair of jeans is a little different, and I soon realized that my particular pair of pants wasn’t going to become a yoga mat bag in the same exact way as whatever pair of pants other people used.

This gave me the opportunity to creatively problem solve, and because making this bag wasn’t super easy for me I was able to feel so proud and accomplished once I finished it. I was nervous about trying to make it in the first place because I haven’t sewn in so long and have never been a highly skilled seamstress. Yet it was the challenge of my inexperience that really made the process so satisfactory.

Now let’s roll back and think about how it would have gone if I had simply shelled out the cash for an expensive and eco-friendly bag. Surely the bag would have been of great quality but I would’ve missed out on the opportunity to hone my sewing skills, be creative, and feel that satisfaction that comes only from accomplishing a task with your own two hands.

Shortly after making this yoga mat bag I also found myself in the market for some shopping bags to use at bulk bins. I initially popped onto amazon to look for the standard zero waste organic cotton or muslin cloth bags but I stopped myself. I could afford to buy the bags, but I also had a whole pile of old t shirts I was waiting to repurpose and remembered that using what’s already in your home is always the most eco-friendly option.

And thus I made my own bags again! Completely free and no worries about the carbon footprint of shipping or ethical sourcing of materials. Bonus points that all the t-shirts I repurposed were uniform shirts given to me by my employers over the years, so no initial costs for the shirts themselves either.

I often see repurposing or making things yourself recommended as an alternative for when you can’t buy the sustainable/ethically made version of an item. And I didn’t even realize that I’d taken on this mindset until after making all the bags.

So, I encourage you to try to repurpose something around your house and make it into an item you otherwise would have bought, even if you can afford the most ethical version. You may be surprised at how fun and satisfying the process is, so much so that you’ll forget about the inconvenience of having to do it yourself.