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 and wells 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 the money of a nice sustainably made looking 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 the water that comes out 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 it 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 DIY’s, it’s 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 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 for me because I don’t do my own compost directly but rather bring it to a community compost location, therefore 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 times,  items that come in absolutely adorable packaging that is reusable. Shown below, I have old teavana tea box 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?

Sustainable Hair Care: Ethique Review

My full size Ethique shampoo and conditioner bars after 3 months of use.

About six months into my personal journey to become more eco-friendly I ran out of my conventional shampoo and conditioner that came in plastic bottles. And I’ll admit to not having been very excited about the prospect of having to find new plastic free hair products once I finished my old ones. 

When searching for a replacement my primary concerns were the sustainability of the product and the price point. As anyone who has tried to purchase sustainable beauty products knows they can be quite expensive. Everything I initially found was out of my price range but as I continued to search I found Ethique.

Ethique is an Australian brand making a splash in the sustainable beauty scene. They’ve recently launched in a UK retail chain, begun being carried on the Walmart website in the US, and are available through Amazon. They claim to be zero waste and are plastic free, palm oil free, cruelty free, and vegan. And with the credential of being a certified B corp it all seems pretty legit. Their social media campaign encourages consumers to #giveupthebottle in order to reduce the plastic waste from packaging personal care products and aims to be the full range brand that will make it easy for you to do so.

Overall Impressions

I was initially skeptical because each shampoo and conditioner bar they sell costs 16-18 USD, however I saw many reviews that corroborated the company claims that each bar was 8 months worth of product. I was also worried that solid products would be really hard to use or just not work as well. So I ordered the Ethique sampler box that has three shampoos and two conditioners in a miniature size to try out.

Once my box of sampler bars arrived there was a bit of a learning curve after I got them in the shower. First issue, I kept on dropping the bars, you really do need to pay a bit more attention to hold on to them that you might expect.

Another difficulty is that the bars sud up much less than conventional products, the shampoo creates only some suds and the conditioner bars none at all. It was a bit difficult to tell if you had actually spread the conditioner through the full length of your hair or not, and it took me about two weeks to get the hang of it.

Another factor is that you will need to find a way to store the bars so that they can dry out completely between uses, meaning inside your shower or on your bathroom sink will not be an optimal location. Personally, I cut some holes in the bottom of a used yogurt container and kept the bars on my dresser between uses. I still had the lid to the container as well so it doubled as a handy travel case, I used the same technique when I repurchased some bars in the full size with an old deli meat container.

How I store my shampoo and conditioner bars.

The only really issue I had with the bars is that they are not great for color treated hair, Ethique claims that all their products are totally color safe but they don’t hold a candle to traditional products that are specifically made for color treated hair. I had a fresh dye job with a color I’d used a lot before, and I had never seen that color fade as quickly before I used Ethique bars.

As far as longevity the bars really did last a long time, making their impact on my wallet less than I initially thought. I washed my hair at home with only the products in the sampler kit for nearly 3 months. Given that the samplers are one fifth the size of the standard size bars I estimate that the full size bars will last me about 11 months.

However, if you really are strapped for cash buying a full size shampoo and conditioner pair will run you about 40 USD up front, which may not be feasible for everyone. For me, I did have to budget the purchase for the full size bars and wait for a few weeks to be able to buy them. Whether or not these are expensive to you will really just depend on your income and how you budget your money.

Quality and Performance

I’ll take you through my opinions of each bar in the sampler box. For reference, my hair is fine but thick and voluminous, tends more to dryness than oiliness, and is naturally slightly wavy.

Frizz Wrangler Shampoo This bar really did cut down on the frizz in my hair, of the three shampoos it was definitely the best for my hair type and left my hair looking and feeling great. I purchased this shampoo in the full size.

Heali Kiwi Shampoo Another great shampoo, I liked the way it looked and felt in my hair but I did prefer the frizz wrangler.

Saint Clements Shampoo I generally stayed away from this bar because it is not meant for my hair type, I only used it once and nothing bad happened but take my opinion on this bar with a grain of salt.

The Guardian Conditioner The best conditioner I have used in my entire life. When you initially put it in your hair it lacks that immediately soft feeling from liquid conditioner. However, once your hair dries and especially after a few uses your hair will be softer and shinier than ever. Totally amazing! I purchased this bar in the full size.

Wonderbar Conditioner I did not like this conditioner, it just didn’t seem to actually condition my hair or make it feel soft like I hoped. Now this didn’t really surprise me because this bar is mostly coconut oil and I have tried coconut oil on my hair as conditioner in the past and found it didn’t work well for me.

In short, here are the pros and cons of the products overall.

Pros  

  • Sustainable product and company in many way
  • Products perform well and there is variety for different hair types
  • Available on Amazon
  • Sampler pack prevents you from having to invest a lot to find bars that work for your hair

Cons

  • Pricey upfront 
  • The learning curve
  • Hard to hold on to (could be a problem for those with certain medical conditions)
  • Bars are not as color safe as the company claims

Conclusion

At the end of the day I would 100% recommend trying Ethique’s shampoo and conditioner to anyone who is interested in trying greener hair care or who appreciates high quality product.

Have you tried Ethique products or other sustainable brands? What is your eco-friendly beauty routine like? Let me know in the comments below.

How I Went Vegetarian (Mostly)

Photo by Vegan Liftz on Pexels.com

So, you want to be a vegetarian?

Let me share with you my personal journey to going (mostly) meat free over the last five months.

Ground rules, when I refer to vegetarianism in this post I’m referring to those who don’t eat any animal flesh including fish but do eat eggs, dairy, and consume other animals byproducts. Also known as ovo-lacto vegetarians.

The Motivation

For me, my main motivation to become vegetarian was the environment. My initial interest in sustainability stemmed from wanting to reduce the waste associated with unused foods and food packaging. However, access and mental health complications have made the cost and restrictive nature of low package or locally produced foods a bit too much for me to handle. So food has actually been one of the last things in my life I’ve moved towards making more sustainable. 

However, in one of my sustainability courses my professor told us that after quitting driving or going off the grid (things that aren’t possible for most Americans), not eating meat was the single most effective way to reduce your individual carbon footprint. The packaging issue still felt a bit daunting to tackle, but cutting back on meat seemed very doable.

The Transition

At first, I made sure to eat meat no more than once a day. Now, I didn’t often eat meat multiple times a day before but it did happen a couple times a week. This was a small achievable goal that helped me to feel confident moving forward. Next, I stopped buying meat from the grocery store, but I still ate meat at restaurants and in my college dining halls when friends let me in on their meal plans. I lived this way for the last month and a half of my spring semester before returning home.

Once I went home for the summer I ate more or less what my parents were eating because I didn’t want to be a bother. However, they do eat a very meat heavy diet and after a couple weeks of eating so much meat I could tell that my body wasn’t really loving it and my desire to go vegetarian was strengthened. 

I declared my intent to be fully vegetarian a couple of weeks after returning home.

The First Few Weeks

I then proceeded to not have the heart to tell my friends parents I wouldn’t be eating the lovely dinners they prepared when I was visiting. This was largely because I hadn’t yet thought to tell everyone I was vegetarian so of course their parents wouldn’t know. There was no way I could tell the mother of a childhood friend I was refusing homemade meatballs!

After I actually told people I had gone vegetarian it wasn’t really a big deal at all. Everyone was more than willing to accommodate with mock meat substitutes or just make a traditionally meat free meal that night like pasta and salad. Bonus, I usually get to take any left over mock meats home with me when I have dinner at other people’s houses!

The Good

I’ll start with the positives of my experience so far, which are mostly intangible factors.

  • Meaning

Being an environmental vegetarian fills your day to day mundane choices of what to eat with a sense of meaning. And, if there’s anything I’ve learned after studying psychology for three years it’s that our brains are always looking to create meaning. For someone like myself who has a history of depression this is a real benefit. This is something that vegetarianism and sustainable living overall have brought into my life that I really value.

  • Animal Empathy

I’ve found that I feel an increased connection to and empathy for animals. Now, I’m not vegan so I understand that I’m still contributing to factory farming and animal mistreatment. But, reducing my meat intake is a step in the right direction and feeling less guilty has enabled me to really explore my feelings about and connection to the other animals I share this planet with.

  • New Foods

I have cooked, baked, and purchased many foods I would not have otherwise tried. Vegetarianism has generally encouraged me to explore many vegan foods as well that I would not have thought to try were I not already vegetarian. While I don’t plan to become vegan anytime soon I do preference vegan options wherever I can.

  • Lower Grocery Bill

Ever notice that meat is expensive? Well, when you’re a vegetarian you won’t be buying any of that anymore. For me, the foods I’ve used as protein sources instead of meat such as eggs, peanut butter, beans, and tofu are all way cheaper than meat so I’ve saved a bit of money.

The Bad

While I’ve enjoyed being vegetarian there are a few things I don’t love.

  • Vitamin B Deficiency

Yes, I made the rookie mistake of not supplementing and suffered symptoms of vitamin B deficiency for about two weeks. This was mostly my fault for not doing my research ahead of time, but a simple store brand daily multivitamin did the trick and I stopped feeling the symptoms within a week.

  • Forgetting Protein 

It isn’t too difficult to get protein as a vegetarian, but you do have to try a little bit harder. Especially at first before I’d adjusted to the new diet I’d find myself feeling odd at the end of the day only to realize I’d neglected eating any protein.

  • Limited Restaurant Choices

Lucky for me the three towns I’ve lived in since going vegetarian have all had vegetarian friendly restaurants, which are great. But, when you’re at the average American style establishment, like an Applebee’s, options will be slim. If you’re tired of salad entrees your only options are likely to be appetizers and sides. Particularly if your a college student and your main source of food is a dining hall the vegetarian diet is going to feel a lot more restrictive. This was the case for me during my 8 week long summer job and it was definitely more difficult to be vegetarian there than it was at home.

  • Annoying Comments

Often people say things to me like “Well what difference does it even make for you to not eat meat, why bother?” Or they get defensive about their meat consumption despite me never saying anything to them that they should reduce their meat consumption. Most people are actually really cool about it and I welcome questions that show genuine curiosity about vegetarianism or just me as a person. But I don’t love when it’s assumed I’m judging people or questions imply that they already believe vegetarianism is stupid.

Eating Meat

Yes, I do eat meat occasionally. About once every two to three weeks, why? Sometimes it’s because I’m staying over my boyfriends house and there isn’t really anything vegetarian in the fridge or some similar situation. Mostly it’s because never eating another piece of fried chicken or special family dishes my whole life (or for years) sounds sad. I want to lower my carbon footprint but I don’t want to deprive myself or drive myself crazy doing it. Additionally, I don’t really want to lose the ability to process meat which is something that can happen if you are very strict for a long time. Maybe I should call myself flexitarian instead, but because my meat consumption is so infrequent I find vegetarian the most accurate and easy shorthand for others.

Why Vegetarianism Doesn’t Always Work

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge some reasons people may not be able to go vegetarian or that it might not make sense.

There are both physical and mental health reasons that could prevent a person from being able to cut meat from their diet. Those living in food desert, relying on free meal programs, who have never been exposed to vegetarian foods, crave meat, or don’t directly control their food (minors living at home, living at an institution etc.) will also have additional challenges to going vegetarian.

I also want to recognize that vegetarianism alone isn’t a nuanced enough solution reducing the negative impacts of meat production. The most efficient and sustainable food production may involve farming both animals and plants on the same land together (though my brief research revealed no absolute consensus).

Additionally, the meat production system outside of western culture is much more localized and ethical so going vegetarian for those reasons in other cultures may not make as much sense.

For all of the reasons above, I’m not really interested in pushing a vegetarian lifestyle on others. I aim only to share my own experience to help others who are interested switch, create conversation, and spread some awareness.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, being a vegetarian is working really well for me right now.

The pros outweigh the cons and unless I have a reason to switch back I’ll stick with not eating meat. If you’re interested in reducing your meat consumption I would say just try it out! Enjoy experimenting with new foods and please, don’t forget your multivitamin.

Are you interested in vegetarianism, veganism, or plant based eating? There are so many things I touched on only quickly in this post or had to delete to keep it from getting too long so please leave a suggestion for a future post related to this topic!

Eco-Minmalism vs. Minimalism: What’s the difference?

Photo by Faraz Ahmad on Pexels.com

Eco-minimalism is a rather new term that’s been popping up more and more online lately. But what exactly is the difference between minimalism and eco-minimalism? Isn’t minimalism already eco-friendly? Why does this new term even exist?

Well fear not, I ,your friendly neighborhood eco-minimalist, am here to help. The term was coined by late architect Howard Liddell around 2000, it was originally used in the discussion of green construction projects to make builders more carefully consider the impacts of the building process, not just creating flashy environmental features.

Though when the word started being used as a lifestyle term is a bit harder to pin down, and by my personal observation it seems to have quite suddenly exploded. I’d never heard the term last October when I began exploring minimalism and environmentalism, and despite hardly changing who I’ve been following online I’m suddenly seeing the word everywhere used by creators who had been living the principles without calling it eco-minimalism previously.

Alright, with that brief history out of the way, what does eco-minimalism actually mean? In short it describes someone who strives to live a life style that is both eco-friendly and minimalistic. Because environmentalism and minimalism have principles that are easily aligned many people interested in one are attracted to the other.

Those initially attracted to environmentalism will learn that consuming fewer things is one of the best ways to reduce their footprint and those initially attracted to minimalism usually begin by wanting to minimize their belongings and then become interested in minimizing their footprints as well.

However, there are some instances in which minimalist and environmental principles can clash, and that is where the term eco-minimalism comes in.

Let me give you a common example to explain what I mean. Say you are decluttering your pens, you realize you have more than you need and want to get rid of some. A minimalist will keep only the number of pens they feel they need and say sayonara to the rest, they’re likely to throw out, donate or give away the rest.

What might an eco-minimalist do differently? The most environmentally friendly thing a person can do is use up everything they already have before getting rid of it, and an eco-minimalist is more likely to keep the pens. Why?  Donating supplies is admirable but donated items are often not used or resold and will end up in the landfill unused anyway unless given to specialized programs. The pens could be given away to friends or family but unless those people are environmentalists too they likely also have way too many pens and won’t use them. So the best way for our eco-minimalist friend to avoid these pens being sent to landfill without being wasted is to keep them.

This is the most environmentally friendly choice but not the most minimal.

Another example from my personal life. Bobby pins. I currently have a bob length haircut and plan to keep my hair this length for the next year or so. At this length I just don’t have any use for bobby pins and won’t need them anytime soon. But, when my hair was long I utilized bobby pins pretty frequently.

Should I get rid of the pins? Someone focused only on minimalism would say yes, as an eco-minimalist I say no. Sure, I won’t need them soon but I will definitely grow my hair out again in my lifetime and therefore it is worth it to me to keep the bobby pins to avoid impacting the planet in buying new pins a few years from now.

Now of course there are some complications to this. Because minimalism is often defined as striving to do only the things that add the most value to your life, if being eco-friendly is valuable to you than eco-minimalism is minimalism. No new term needed. However, I think it is still important to add this new terminology to our collective vocabulary and explore the differences.

Focusing only on minimalism is just going to look a little different than striving for both lifestyles. An eco-minimalist will probably own more, especially the first few years of their journey because they’ll be working through a backlog of whatever it is they might have previously been stockpiling if they aren’t able to get rid of it sustainably. Whether it be pens or bobby pins or anything else.

Now, if before you began your eco-minimalism journey you never fell into the trap of buying months or even years worth of a good by accident, congrats! That’s awesome!

But for most of us that is not not the case, several eco-minimalists online including Shelbizlee and Heal Your Living on youtube talk about being shopaholics prior to beginning their current lifestyles. And even if you weren’t a shopaholic, you likely just went along with consumer culture like myself and ended up with way more pens than you ever needed.

So, why is this important to talk about? Because you can definitely be an environmentalist and clutter your house with second hand goods or dumpster dive treasures. You can be a minimalist and be wasteful by getting rid of all your stuff to buy a whole bunch of new things in fulfilling a “minimal” aesthetic.

It’s important to acknowledge that while minimalism and environmentalism attract similar people the lifestyles can still clash. Acknowledging that fact makes it easier to reconcile the differences between minimalism and environmentalism; reduce the pressure people often feel to get rid of something when it’s more environmentally sound to keep it, and stay focused on the true values of the movement.

Which I believe benefits both people and planet.

Are you an eco-minimalist? Leave a comment and share a story about a time your minimalism and environmental goals have clashed.