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Creative Re-use Ideas for Everyday Items

August 5, 2009

By Erika Weisensee,
Milwaukie writing mom

Oregonians are among the nation’s best recyclers. Collectively, we work hard to reduce our waste and use less. Yet, when it comes to the big three of sustainability (reduce, recycle and reuse), the last r-word in this list is still a bit neglected.  In a society where we are programmed and pressured to buy, buy, buy, reuse remains a foreign notion to many people.

Thankfully, reuse experts are popping up everywhere with inspiring ideas for giving new life to old things. For example, I recently met Portland designer Suzanne Keokler (, who creates one-of-a-kind tote bags, wallets and pouches out of items that would otherwise be tossed into the trash—items like old vinyl banners, classroom wall maps, lawn chair webbing, old shower curtains and much more. Now, few of us possess the skills or vision to create masterpieces out of garbage, but anyone can create usable things out of old things around the house.

Here are a few of my favorite reuse ideas:

– Reuse metal candy tins (Altoids, etc.) as travel cases for medication and vitamins.

– Revitalize old furniture with fresh paint, refinishing, upholstery or a slipcover.

– Refresh old picture frames with paint, and for a personal touch, stencil names or descriptions (“Best Friends,” “Family Fun,” etc.).

– Sturdy shoeboxes can become great storage containers for photos and other memorabilia. If they will be visible on shelves, cover them with attractive paper.

– Plastic baby wipe containers can be used to store just about anything.

– Reused glass jars are perfect for holding items you buy in bulk, such as beans, popcorn, candy and granola.

– Cut up used paper and use blank sides for phone messages.

– Old unwanted CDs can become materials for art projects, from sun catchers to game pieces for an oversized checkers board. The web is full of ideas for creative reuse arts and crafts projects using surprising materials.

Finally, remember if you can’t reuse your old things, somebody else probably can. Before you throw things away, check out what local agencies are accepting. It’s not just clothing and furniture anymore. Many agencies accept office supplies, old electronics and construction materials.

### Erika lives in Milwaukie and teaches writing at the University of Portland.

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Discuss this article

Kay August 5, 2009

I love the idea of using recycled materials to make those grocery tote bags. Skys the limit on the imagination of the many things that could be used. Now if I could just figure out a way to remember to take them into the store with me…short of tying them to my legs when I leave home!

June August 5, 2009

What a great bunch of ideas. I printed it off and am going to try a new one each month.

Ally August 5, 2009

Great list of ideas. A caveat re: shoe boxes for photos–to render them acid-free and safe, they should first be sprayed with something like “Archival Mist” available from Michael’s and covered with acid-free paper to prevent premature deterioration.
Small glass jars, like pickle jars, make attractive pencil/pen holders with the application of decorative stickers.

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