Upcycling: Breathing New Life Into Forgotten Treasures

Whether we are aware of it or not, most of us upcycle without even realize we are doing it. Sometimes it's as simple as throwing a coat of paint on a discarded chair, or turning an old milk crate into a new home for our favorite flowers. The process of upcycling is simply altering something old and forgotten into something new and memorable. It is a cost effective way to transform existing spaces and items without breaking the bank, and at the same time reducing that ever-growing carbon footprint we leave behind. With minimal effort and "do-it yourself" experience anyone can find old items that are begging to be rejuvenated. You just need to know where to find the items to get started.

Thrift Stores:

Photo Credit stamfordadvocate.com
Photo Credit stamfordadvocate.com

Thrift stores are a great place to get started. Simple and affordable upcycling projects abound at local donation centers. Picture frames, wall sconces, and framed mirrors are found abundantly. Any of these items can be updated to look like marble, plaster, metal, or stone with just a simple layer of spray paint. Even if you are only equipped with a glue gun and scissors, thrift stores offer a wide assortment of fabrics for quick upholstering projects. With a little sanding and stain, thrift store furniture can be given a whole new look. Most stores run weekly specials and offer discounts to help you get even more bang for your buck. Check the ads and plan your trip for the days when they offer the big discounts.

Garage Sales and Flea Markets:

I am a garage sale hound. I love the process of picking through boxes and bins hoping to find that one special item I know I can transform and add to my home. Garage sales are the best places to pick up items at a discount. Everything is negotiable! Most people are attempting to rid their home of clutter or clean out over-filled garages. Most people will accept any reasonable offer. As long as you haul it Garage Sale creditaway, they are glad to see their items go and happy to make a few bucks in the process. Garage sales offer all the staples of the thrift stores, but with careful negotiations, you can pick up furniture and home goods at bargain basement prices. Plan on getting an early start. You can always return later in the day when the traffic slows down and offer less for items still hanging around. Also try "bundling" your purchases. Offer a set price for several items. You get a deal and they move more items quickly.

Photo Credit HFHI Steffan Hacker
Photo Credit HFHI Steffan Hacker

Salvage Yards and Restore-It Stores (Habitat for Humanity):

These places offer a plethora of materials just waiting for the right person to rescue and resuscitate them. Door knobs, hinges, light fixtures, and other hardware can be picked up quite cheaply. With a little cleaning, sanding, and texturing these items can be used once again. Old water spigots can be made into clothes hooks. Outdoor light fixtures can be altered to decorative bird houses by removing the electrical components and adding an oil brushed bronze spray paint. Old doors can be purchased to make headboards or room dividers. Projects run from very small and simple to large and ornate. A little creativity goes a long way. Large materials require a little more effort and space, but may be well worth the time to weed through them if it sparks the creative ideas that help get you started upcycling with your own personal touch.

Your own home:

We often overlook our own homes as a source of material. I'm embarrassed to admit that some of my home decor pre-dates the Reagan administration. The items are not old enough to be vintage, but just old enough to be clearly outdated. Before I head out to find materials, I check what I have on hand first. Relatives and friends with stuffed attics and garages can be another source of material. If people know you are looking for worn and tired items, they may let you look through their junk before making a trip to a donation center.

Photo Credit Laurie Jackson
Photo Credit Laurie Jackson

Project material can come from anywhere; closeout stores, estates sales, and unfinished furniture stores can also be utilized. Where you find your material or inspiration matters less than what you do with it. Trial and error is just part of the process. The beauty of upcycling is that junk is subjective. It is all in the eye of the beholder. Next time you see an old item that is unattractive and discarded, see if you can think of ways to make that item more appealing and beautiful. You might ignite an idea and be on your way to an upcycling project, and by all means share your project with us! We would love to use your ideas to inspire others to create something from nothing.

What other places do you find items to upcycle?

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