Upcycling: The Ingenious Way To Give Old Items A New Lease Of Life

Upcycling has long been a favorite of DIY-lovers. It’s the idea that you can take something old and make it new again. Upcycling projects are almost universally exciting and often add character to rooms in a way you would never expect.

Not only does upcycling help you save a fortune, but it also means that you can include one-of-a-kind furniture and ornaments in your home: things that nobody else has.

When you get it right, upcycling can be a great addition to your home. Here’s what to do.

Start A Shopping Trip … At Home!

The first thing to do when it comes to upcycling is find something to actually upcycle. Sometimes that means taking a trip to a local car boot sale or an antiques outlet, but most of the time, everything you need is already in your home. Give yourself a budget of $0 and go on a shopping trip around your home. Don’t make your decisions about what to upcycle based on what they look like now. Instead, think about how items could look if they were given a proper makeover.


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The cool thing about upcycling is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want. Sometimes, all you need to do is apply a lick of paint. Other times, you’ll want to whip out your tool kit and fundamentally redesign the piece. For instance, perhaps you might want to turn an old Ottoman into a coffee table.

Upcycling requires you to be inventive. If you’ve got some old lampshades laying around, think about all the ways in which you could revamp them by covering them with new material.

Check For Structural Integrity

There’s no point spending loads of time doing up a chest of drawers or an old TV cabinet if it’s just about to fall to bits at the seams. The first thing veteran upcyclers do is check items for structural integrity.

upcycling old stuff

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If you find out that an object doesn’t have the strength you want, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get to work restoring it. It just means that you’ll have to deal with the underlying structural problems before you get to the aesthetics.

To avoid these sorts of problems, keep an eye out for items that have quality joints. Wooden objects that are just MDF boards screwed together aren’t very strong. However, hardwood tables with dovetail joints will last a lot longer, so long as the joints aren’t cracked. Look around the house and be discerning. Ask yourself which items are likely to still be strong and last the longest.

Look Out For Roadside Pickups

According to veteran upcycler, Jenna Burger, roadside “trash” have been some of her greatest finds. She’s not ashamed of picking up old items that other people consider to be junk and restoring them to their former glory.

If you pick up old, discarded furniture, your first priority is finding a great spray booth. Roadside items need to be professionally repainted to make sure that the wood is fully sealed from the external environment to prevent rot. You can also upcycle other items that have been discarded. Burger tells the story of one of her friends who found a smashed in forty glass panel window frame just lying by the road, ready to be picked up by waste disposal. She upcycled it by replacing where the glass would have been with a blackboard and put it up in her living room.

Copy Other People

Upcycling is an art. And like art, it’s sometimes tough to produce something of true beauty. If you’re just starting out, don’t think that you’ve got to be totally original – you don’t. Instead, go to the Vincent van Goghs and the Picassos of the upcycling world and copy their ideas.

The good news is that the internet is bursting to the brim with interesting upcycling ideas. Pinterest and Instagram are chock full of different ideas that people have tried in their own homes.

You can also take a trip to the local store to see if there are any knock off lines from which you might take inspiration. Often, knock off items have been rejected because of bad aesthetics. Even though the items are new, you could still upcycle them, making them more attractive. Burger was inspired by some ugly wooden bowls she found. Instead of using them as crockery, she transformed them into wall mirrors by placing a little round reflective disc at their center.

Play A Game Of Switcheroo

Sometimes upcycling doesn’t involve any DIY at all. Instead, all you need to do is move an item from one part of your home to another. This is why shopping in your own home can be so effective.

Burger, for instance, realized that she had a small square of space in the corner of her bedroom that was going to waste. It was too big to ignore but too small to fill with regular furniture. She decided to take action and went on a trip down to her shed where she found an old, wooden step ladder. She immediately had the idea that the step ladder could be used as a sort of substitute, lean-to shelf for that annoying space in the corner of her bedroom, so she lugged the whole thing upstairs. Now, with the step ladder in place, the corner is filled and has been put to use, storing bedroom linen. What’s more, because of its aged appearance, the step ladder adds a lot to the aesthetic of the room, contrasting with the modern decor.

Go Dumpster Diving

Burger admits that she hasn’t ever been dumpster diving to find items to upcycle, but she does say that it’s something that her friends do. She says her friends have found all sorts of awesome things to upcycle, including bespoke coffee tables.

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Upcycling, therefore, is the frugal way to improve one’s home in an age of austerity. It’s about making the most of the resources available to your to bring something unique into your home. What’s more, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

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