15 ways to upcycle stuff you thought was garbage

Have you ever had those moments where you look around your house and wonder where all the junk came from? You probably don't even remember buying most of it, but it piles up until you realize your cabinets, cupboards and closets are filled with things you're never going to use. The prospect of a massive house-clean can be overwhelming, and the idea of throwing so much stuff out can seem daunting.

Fortunately, you don't have to throw it away at all, and organizing doesn't have to be such a loathsome task. In fact, it can be downright fun. That's right! We scoured the depths of Pinterest for some fun projects, and we gave ourselves some guidelines. They're all ideas on how to upcycle old stuff you have lying around the house that you might otherwise call garbage. For the most part, they're all doable no matter your level of creativity or artistic ability. So have fun, and give new life to things you thought were garbage!

Use old coffee mugs for new organizers

You probably have a ton of old coffee mugs. While you probably already have some sitting on your desk holding things like pens, that's not the type of organizer we're talking about. We're thinking about this nifty idea from Homeroad, that takes some old mugs (they use 3 identical ones, but really, you can use as many as you want) and attaches them to a piece of reclaimed wood. Hang them on the wall, and you have a very cool and completely upcycled organizer. Use it in any room, and get the most of your mugs! Handles can be used, too — hang your bathroom (or kitchen) hand towels from it, or use it to make sure you always know where your keys are.

You can also use this same idea for a whole bunch of stuff you have laying around the house. Use old glassware. Or, invest in a bottle cutter, and reuse those wine bottles you bought just for the awesome-looking label.

Turn old baby clothes into a quilt

Have a ton of old baby clothes that you just can't bear to throw away? Upcycle them into a keepsake quilt that's perfect for the end of the bed, over the chair, or as a wall hanging. It can be as big (or as small) as you want, and if you don't have any quilting experience — Craftastical has a great tutorial to get you started. They walk you through start to finish, beginning with how to organize your clothes and plot out just what your quilt is going to look like.

If putting full shirts and onesies into the quilt seems daunting, never fear! You can also cut apart clothes to make the quilt squares, and you'll always have your little one's favorite clothes. This makes a great gift, too, especially if you're a grandparent. What better present than a quilt for your grandbaby, made from your own baby's clothes?

Turn old jeans into a durable dog bed

Old, worn out jeans accumulate, too, and there's no need to toss these when there's a furry family member that can appreciate them. If you feel guilty leaving your cat or dog alone for the day, why not make a bed (or pillow, for the big guys!) out of your old jeans?

It's super easy, and detailed in this Instructables guide. In a nutshell, just tassel and tie the cuffs, stuff the legs, and use a pillow to seal the waist. Since we know how restless chewers might have this gutted in a matter of minutes, you might want to sew and seal the legs and the waist with something a little more durable. While this version uses pillows, you could also use old t-shirts and other old clothes to fill your pet's new bed with your scent.

You can also cut old jeans into squares, and make a different version of the same idea. The durable material is perfect for even the toughest customer!

Turn old books into art

The sky's the limit with this one, and not only will this idea make for some great artwork in your own home, but the gift ideas are endless, too. Looking for the perfect present for someone who loves a particular book or author? What about a custom art piece made from their favorite text?

It might seem a bit sacrilegious to cut apart a beloved old book, but you'll think twice when you add a frame and put your favorite pieces up on the wall instead of getting rid of that tattered old book. You don't need to be an artist for this one, and you can add anything, from stencils to stamps, on the pages. Get out your scrapbooking equipment, and use old books instead of fresh new pages.

Or, use those upcycled old pages as a backdrop for something else. It's doubly fun trying to match the project to the text, by using things like silhouettes of rabbits or playing cards on a few pages from an old copy of Alice in Wonderland, for example.

Turn old photo negatives into a nifty desk lamp

Digital is the way to go, and gone are the days of waiting a week to get your photos developed. You probably still have old negatives stashed away somewhere, and this incredibly cool project will have you searching through to find your fondest memories and give them a whole new, upcycled life.

Although, this one's pretty straightforward, you can read the tutorial here. They use a lamp from IKEA, but you can undoubtedly find something suitable from a range of locations. The only other thing you really need is decoupage glue, and the time to sift through your old negatives to find the ones you want to use on your funky, vintage-looking lamp!

Use old CDs to create beautiful mosaics

This is another thing that we'll bet you have laying around the house, and never, ever use. Even with everything gone digital, it's still tough to throw away all those CDs (and DVDs) that you spent good money on back in the day. Let's take a look at the basic idea, and then you can go nuts with whatever projects you can come up with from here!

The shiny, reflective, rainbow surface of CDs and DVDs make awesome upcycled mosaic tiles, and Happy Hooligans has a tutorial that will guide you through the process. They found that the trick is heating the CD to separate the layers, then that's going to make cutting pieces apart much easier. Once you cut the pieces, you can create some seriously awesome artwork.

Once you have the technique down, try using this to give new life to furniture or decor items you have laying around. Cover the worn, scratched top of an old end table, maybe, or go all out with this fun backyard bird bath project.

Use VHS tape for ribbons and bows

Chances are, in addition to all those DVDs and CDs kicking around, you have at least a few piles of VHS tapes, too. They're not much good for anything, especially once you've converted all those home movies to a digital format. But that's no reason to throw them away, at least not before you've gotten a bit creative.

Any present looks better with a bow and some ribbon, and you can absolutely pull out that old VHS tape and make your own gift bows with it. Check out any one of a number of YouTube tutorials (like this one) for instructions on how to fold and fasten your own bows, and know that yours is going to look so much cooler when it's made from that old film!

Use old Altoids tins for a mini survival kit

If you like Altoids, you've probably kept the tins just because of how cool they look. They're great for a lot of projects, so don't throw them away! Even if you're not interested in getting crafty, you can upcycle them as awesome mini survival kits.

There's not a whole lot that can fit into a tin of Altoids, but if you're creative, you can come up with a little kit that's great to throw in the glove box of your car in case you need it. There's a ton of ideas out there about what to include, but some of my favorites are things like $20, Band-Aids, a few single packs of aspirin, a few hand wipes, a folding pen knife, and even a travel roll of antacid. You can make another to toss in your backpack when you go out hiking, too. Include some things like water purification tablets, fire steel, and matches. The tin will be watertight, and if you take a layer of sandpaper to the bottom of the tin, it can make a handy signal mirror.

Another great thing to include is a piece of paper with a list of emergency numbers because, let's face it, how many phone numbers would you really remember if your phone's out of commission?

Melt old crayons into something awesome

Opening a new box of crayons is exciting, but once they're reduced to little stubs, they're less exciting. That doesn't have to be the case, though, and you absolutely shouldn't throw those pieces away. There's a couple of different ways you can melt them and make them into art supplies that are way better than what they started out as, and this one might have you melting even those new crayons!

One Little Project found the secret to making cookie cutter crayons, which basically involves melting all those little crayon pieces into a tray, then using cookie cutters to turn them into all new, fun shapes. There's a trick to it (which is basically melting the crayons a couple times to get the colors to swirl together, then cutting them while they're still warm), but there's another way, too:

For this one, just pick up some microwave-safe molds. Break your crayon stubs into pieces, melt, and when you're done, you'll have some beautiful new crayons that will make any doodler excited!

Give those worn-out mats an upgrade

No matter how nice — or how durable — mats are, they're going to inevitably turn a bit funky. From doormats to mouse pads, they're designed to take a beating. But eventually, they're going to need to be replaced. You don't need to, though — not when you can upcycle them!

With little more than a layer of glue and some smooth river rocks, you can turn your old mats into something that looks brand new. Curbly has a handy tutorial for those that like that sort of thing, and this is a concept you can use all over. Just got a gorgeous new mousepad? Don't throw the old one away, turn it into a new centerpiece, or cut it up to make some river rock coasters. If it's a welcome mat, give it new life with a river rock upgrade, and you can even replace your bathroom mat with an upcycled one that feels amazing on bare feet!

Turn old books into fairy gardens

If you're looking for something special to use as a centerpiece, look no further! This is an awesome idea that will not only take some old books from the throw-away pile, but at the end, you'll have a one-of-a-kind piece.

This tutorial will take you through step-by-step to create your own planters from books that you have lying around the house. There's no end to the ideas on this one, and you don't have to stop at just a planter. Pick books that are big enough, and you can add little miniatures, statues, or toys to create your own little fairy garden.

You can also take the same idea and make them out of books that are closed. It's great if you want to keep the covers and spines visible, or if you have a little less room. Show off your favorite authors with these living, literary gardens!

Turn your CD cases into a terrarium or a greenhouse

If you have a ton of CDs lying around, you probably have a ton of jewel cases, too. Fortunately, they're good for a lot more than just holding CDs — you can actually make your own little indoor greenhouses out of them. It just takes a handful of cases and some glue, and you can put together any shape or size house to help keep your plants warm and toasty through the darkest of the winter months.

You can use old spindle cases that used to house blank CDs in much the same way. Atomic Shrimp has a nifty DIY project that's super simple, and will help you turn those upcycled cases into a terrarium. If you don't want to use it for full-grown (albeit, small!) plants, you can also use it to start seedlings that are destined for the outdoor garden, or maybe for your vintage book planter!

Turn old light bulbs into oil lamps

A lot of us are being a lot more energy-conscious these days, and that might mean replacing the light bulbs in your house. Those old light bulbs aren't garbage, though, and with a couple tools and some creativity, you can turn them into awesome oil lamps.

This tutorial gives some great pointers on not only the start-to-finish process for this project, but also on the best way to do things like take those fragile light bulbs apart without breaking them. That can be the biggest challenge, and while he suggests some simple holders for your light bulb lamp, we have some other ideas.

How about using some sturdy wire, and making your own holder? Or, if you want to go minimalist, this would be a great way to reuse a few of those empty tea light containers.

Turn old sports equipment into mirrors

If your household is the sporty type, you probably have all kinds of old equipment laying around. The kids outgrow their junior-sized tennis rackets, strings break, things get old, worn, and replaced. Don't throw away the old stuff — turn them into awesome mirrors!

There's a huge number of ways this can be done — Bob Vila suggests taking old bike tires and turning those into mirrors. How great would that be for a dorm room, or the kids' bathroom? Most glass shops will be able to cut a mirror to fit any shape you want. From old tennis rackets, badminton rackets, snowshoes, and bike tires, sometimes you can use the whole piece as is and just add a mirror.

There are other ways to get creative if you have more time and want to get crafty. Use those old hockey sticks or baseball bats to make the frame of the mirror — or even use old skis! Leave equipment as it is, or get out your sandpaper and paint to style each piece to match your home decor. If mirrors aren't your thing, you can use the same idea to create unique-looking clocks or picture frames.

Turn old CDs into coasters and candle holders

Part of the problem with a lot of crafty, upcycling projects is they take quite a bit of artistic ability to get something that looks amazing. The good thing about these DIY coasters isn't just that you're recycling old CDs, but also that you don't need much creative talent to make something that looks so cool.

Crafts by Amanda has some instructions for making a set of incredible coasters out of your old CDs. Since she suggests using stencils instead of free-handing your artwork, that makes it doable by anyone! We're guessing you probably have lots of CDs lying around, so this is one project you can easily do over and over again for all sorts of gifts throughout the year.

We also love the idea of taking old maps and using them to cover the CDs. Add some spray enamel to make them waterproof, and it's a great way to preserve some memories. Use old maps from family vacations, that map of Disney World you have saved in a drawer, the London Underground map you saved from your honeymoom. You're not just saving stuff from the trash, you're preserving memories!