Upcycling - a Low-Cost Approach to Eco-Friendly Aesthetics

Unique, creative, one-of-a-kind decorations are a surefire way to enliven a home environment and capture one's personality. A modern trend that makes this decorating philosophy easier than ever to follow is upcycling, which refers to repurposing an item for a use other than the one for which it was originally designed or intended. Usually the ideal candidates for upcycling are items that, if not entirely useless, are no longer considered particularly useful or necessary.

Often these are items that would otherwise be discarded. Upcyclers not only spare these items from being discarded by giving them new life, they also spare the environment from just one more bit of trash. It's no revolutionary solution to any environmental problem, but it's at least a little bit helpful, and it's another reason to love upcycling. This practice has resulted in an unimaginable variety of decorative items that give a new function to an old form, or vice versa. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your decorative upcycling efforts.

1. Start with what you have

One of the greatest advantages of upcycling, and one of the reasons it has become so popular, is that you can decorate an entire room, or even an entire home, with zero-dollar budget. Items that you can find around your house, things from a dinner fork to an old clock to a bedpost, are viable upcycling materials. It doesn't cost you anything to use your old cheese-grater as a jewelry rack or your vintage suitcase as a bookshelf. Keep a mental or written list of furniture you might want to replace soon and consider upcycling the components into something new, possibly even another kind of furniture. Not everyone who upcycles wants to center their whole home decorative scheme around it, but regardless of how much or little you decorate via upcycling, it certainly won't hurt your budget. Be aware that many upcycling projects leave the resulting products unable to be recovered for their original purpose, so before you turn yesterday's newspaper into the backdrop of your new clock, make sure everyone is done reading it.

2. Visit the thrift store

If you can't find something to inspire your upcycling spirit in your own home, thrift stores are the next best thing. Along with garage sales and estate sales, thrift stores are excellent places to stumble across the unexpected. Novelty glassware that someone else finally decided they don't need cluttering up their cupboards anymore can be to you the crowning piece of your next lamp or candlestick. The wheel of someone's disused bicycle can be your new hanging dishware rack. Thrift stores are also helpful sources of material because the items have already been used, meaning you can see whether they handled the use well or are starting to fall apart. You don't have to guess at the structural integrity that will determine how long you'll be able to use your upcycled product.

3. Keep the end in mind

Instead of looking at every flower pot or folding chair and thinking, "how can I upcycle this?" you might be better served working from the end backwards. If you notice you don't have enough room for all of your books, then start looking for what you might turn into a bookshelf. If you need a desk organizer for the writing implements in your home office, then figure out which boxes or cans are the right shape and size for that. This approach focuses on necessity, ensuring you won't accidentally end up with a cluttered room full of trendy but useless objects and the awkward task of explaining to yourself what you intend to do with it all. On the other hand, there's certainly no harm in trying to think of a way to save something more intrinsically valuable than, say, an aluminum can, before you have to discard it.

4. Research

The internet is a popular market of ideas for upcyclers, and social media services like Pinterest and Instagram are rife with examples of others' favorite projects. Browse the images for inspiration, find something that catches your eye, then read up on the instructions if they are available, or try your hand at modifying the concept for your own tastes or purposes. Be careful not to spend too much time browsing, because the true fulfillment of your creative urges will be in creating something yourself, with your own hands. Then, if you're so inclined, you can post the results on your own social media pages to spread the inspiration and get your friends in on the fun.

5. Location, location, location

If tools, paint, electrical wiring and the like aren't your thing, don't despair. In many cases, upcycling can be accomplished with little to no modification of the object. Sometimes all you have to do is put it somewhere else. A low-profile ladder in your bathroom is suddenly a towel rack. Soup ladles hanging from your window are suddenly flower planters. When trying to find a use for something you found in your house, try taking it with you to different rooms to see if a potential alternative use becomes apparent.


Whatever your level of experience, craftsmanship, or creativity may be, upcycling is something you can do to add fun and functionality to your home decor. Start with something simple, and if it catches on, you've discovered one of the cheapest and most customizable decoration solutions, and you can take pleasure in helping the environment a little while you do it.