There is no end to the things you can upcycle. This list of our favourite examples of upcycling projects uses items you might already own and gives them a second life. The ideas are endless but we’ll start by sharing the A-Zs of upcycling – going from Armchair to Zipper!
This post was originally compiled as a tribute to National Upcycling Day here in the UK but it’s since been updated and it is a useful jumping-off point any day of the year!
This list of different ways to upcycle is a great way to get you started if you are a newbie or expand your repertoire if you are an old hat at reusing and reviving unwanted objects and giving them a new life. And at the very least, these upcycling ideas should be a conversation starter.
If you literally don’t know what upcycling is then check out our bumper post What is Upcycling & What Can I Upcycle?
This is not an exhaustive dictionary, it’s a jumping-off point. The hope is that as you scroll through and see what we’ve picked for each letter your brain will also jump to all the other items starting with that letter that we didn’t choose and you’ll find yourself jotting down reminder notes to yourself to try all sorts of upcycling projects!
I’d love to hear about the creative ways you’ve upcycled items into new products with other materials from A-Z! Drop me a comment or tag me on social media!
Hint, hint, this is a great one to share with anyone who needs a nudge into the upcycling way of life!
A is for Armchair
This isn’t necessarily the easiest upcycle to start with, but it’s one that a lot of people are drawn to as most of us have an old battered chair of some description kicking around and when an armchair is transformed well it can make a real impact.
And who doesn’t love a great before and after story?
If you are looking to take on an armchair upcycle project we have two guides for you.
The first is about using paint to upcycle a velour armchair and the second is about ‘having a go’ at reupholstering an armchair even if you’ve never attempted anything like it before. Time to give that old furniture a facelift!
B is for Boots
When I get asked ‘what is an easy upcycle project to start with?’, my go-to answer is almost always a boot planter.
There are lots of other things you can do with your old boots, from creating handbags out of them to using them as family mail cubbies, to creating decorative door hangings and more.
But the easiest, simplest thing creative reuse of your old worn-out boot, is to upcycle it as a planter.
We have a bumper list of easy upcycled planter ideas for you to try here as well.
C is for Chest of Drawers
For a lot of people, upcycling means furniture painting.
There are easier places to start than a chest of drawers (a mirror frame or a blanket box might be simpler starter projects), but there is something very restorative about seeing an unloved and dated chest of drawers with a fresh coat of paint.
We have a brilliant How to Guide for a small chest of drawers upcycle project here. The finished piece is even called ‘The Pink Lady’ – painted pretty indeed.
If you are looking for more furniture painting tutorials there are loads here. It’s amazing what a lick of paint will do.
C is also for coffee tables – check out this fab tutorial about adding a shadow box to a coffee table.
C is also for Cardboard! – Make a Kid’s bookcase from cardboard or some magazine holders from cereal cardboard boxes or some gift tags from even more cardboard! Who knew cardboard could be reused in such clever ways!
D is for Denim
I’ve even done a post on the best way to cut up your jeans for upcycling projects that you can find here.
D is also for Dishes! Turn your dishes into wall art! If you are looking for a fun art project you can even spray paint your plates to help them match your decor.
E is for Electric Cable
Let’s face it – who doesn’t have a stash of cables (maybe for an old cell phone) lying around for devices long forgotten about?
What to do with all that cable? Make colourful trendy jewellery of course!
There is a tutorial on Etsy Journal by Sarah Goldschadt that lays out how to make the lovely bracelets above and we reckon you could adapt the techniques in it to other pieces of jewellery as well with the right findings.
There are loads of other jewellery upcycling ideas here too!
F is for Fabric
If you are planning on a celebration of any kind, you can give your old fabric a new purpose by turning it into festive bunting. You could probably even use old t-shirts for this as well.
Amanda of Bewley’s Bunting Emporium shows us how to make this ‘festival bunting’ out of scrap fabric in her How to Guide here.
I love the idea of using it for this bunting for two reasons, 1) because it is an easy beginner’s project and 2) because it isn’t an upcycle that is disguising what the base material is. So you can have fun decorative bunting and also be very clearly ‘flying the flag’ for upcycling!
Check out our Scrap Fabric section for more fun fabric upcycling ideas!
G is for Games
Do you have some old games that the kids don’t play with anymore or you can’t find half the pieces for?
Why not get creative with them?
We found a fabulous shop making handbags out of old board games – what a clever new use for what’s left of an old game that you’ve lost half the pieces for!
And don’t you just love this reuse of scrabble pieces from Mary’s Marketplace as pendants covered in a bit of decoupaged scrap paper too?
It’s a bit of a different use from some of the other reuse ideas for scrabble pieces and we reckon you could do the same with other types of game pieces too.
This would be an especially sentimental upcycle if you had a scrap of paper with meaning to you from when you and your family used to play that game as part of family time. Then you’d be carrying a double memory around your neck.
Cindy from Ole Hippies Wood Gifts over on Etsy even makes Christmas Decorations out of Jenga Pieces!
G is also for Gifts – we have loads of upcycled gift ideas here.
H is for Hammer
There are lots of variations of repurposed items as coat racks and I love most of them.
This hammer coat rack upcycle idea takes a bit more skill to pull off than some, but we found a tutorial here you can have a look at.
I is for Ice Cream Tubs
Here is an upcycle that stops some plastic from going to the landfill, the best kind!
There are so many creative ways of recovering old formula tubs as storage containers by covering them with decorative paper, either using spray-on adhesive or decoupaging it on with mod podge.
But the shape of these tubs looks an awful lot like the shape of ice cream tubs in the UK to me, so I’ve filled it under ‘I’ for future use! The chalk paint version on the left from Homan at Homan is another great way to go with this.
J is for Junk Mail
Don’t you just love the idea of saving your junk mail from the recycling bin and turning it into unique journals or notepads? That’s what’s called a junk journal.
Some people turn this into a real art form, using both the paper itself and the envelopes to craft stunning notebooks.
The photo above is from an Etsy shop as well, so if you get very good at it you might be able to turn it into a business.
Imagine making money from the junk mail you get sent every day and saving the planet at the same time! Brilliant!
J is also for plain old Junk! Check out this tutorial for making an outdoor side table out of junk household items left in your garage.
K is for Kitchen Trolley
There are any number of items beginning with ‘kitchen’ we could have chosen for this one.
The kitchen is a great place to include upcycled DIY projects as well as a great source of unused clutter that can be used for a more valuable purpose.
We happen to have a How to Guide about upcycling an IKEA Bekhvam Kitchen Trolley, and for this reason, Kitchen Trolley has nabbed the slot at K, but if you want to explore more Kitchen Upcycle Ideas head here or check out this great guest tutorial on how to paint your kitchen cabinets here. They can always use a different colour from time to time!
K is also for Keychain! Here is a simple project for beginner sewers about how to make a Quilt as You Go Keychain!
L is for License Plates
There are a ton of great upcycling ideas out there for license plates, from cutting them up to make jewellery to plastering them on the ceiling of your garage to putting them on the drawer fronts of your dresser.
The upcycling ideas we were drawn to when compiling this list were the ones that give you somewhere to dump your junk when you come in the front door.
A bonus is that the above ideas don’t involve having to use any tools to cut the license plates into new shapes. These are more about maneuvering the fixings and thankfully license plates already have wholes for that!
M is for Mirror
There are lots of ways to upcycle old mirrors into more attractive mirrors, but for this list, here are a couple of ideas about how to upcycle your old mirrors as something with another purpose.
You could turn your mirror into a chalkboard or use it as wedding signage.
The latter involves more skill (calligraphy) and fewer materials, whereas turning it into a chalkboard involves less skill and more new materials (chalkboard paint) and time. Either way, we think the outcome could be a sight to behold.
If you don’t have a mirror of your own to upcycle just head to your local thrift store where you’ll be sure to find plenty of options.
M is also for Masks. Check out this tutorial for how to make your own Fabric Mask Organizer.
N is for Nails
We thought this was a great idea for Father’s Day, but it can be for anything, from your house number to your child’s name in their room.
It is as simple as hammering some nails into your backing of choice (another place to get creative) and connecting the nails with coloured twine, yarn, or long strips of fabric.
O is for Ottoman
Ottomans are the upcycling project idea for O because 1) they are an easy first reupholstery project, and 2) you can not only upcycle an existing ottoman any number of ways, you can also make an ottoman out of any number of things, from a drawer to a suitcase to a pallet to a coffee table. Perfect for those goodies you find at flea markets!
Even if you just want to make a prettier ottoman out of an old ottoman it’s still upcycling if it gives the ottoman a higher value to you.
We think the burlap example in the bottom right photo above from Liz Marie is a good example of just having a go and seeing what works.
You can also find another one of our tutorials here for how to make a footstool (mini-ottoman?) out of an old Epsom salt container and scrap fabric!
O is also for Outdoor Furniture. Find a good use and fun project for upcycling a cot as a Garden bench here.
P is for Plastic Bottles
Instead of recycling all your plastic bottles try repurposing a plastic bottle as a vase. This is a simple upcycling project that will take you no more than 15 minutes and cuts down on the amount of waste products.
I used a blue plastic bottle to match my collection of blue glass and it fits in perfectly. Click on the image above to see the tutorial.
P is also for Picture Frame – We have a fab tutorial all about how to update a dated picture frame.
P is also for Plastic Bags – Here is a tutorial about how to turn unwanted plastic bags into dish scrubbers!
Q is for Quarters
Ok, so we were struggling a bit to figure out the best option for Q.
We could have gone with quilt, but the idea of the list was to look for things to upcycle, not what they become, and generally, you would make a quilt out of scrap fabric so that would be S or F, not Q.
Fat Quarter we hear you say, but a fat quarter of fabric is less something you upcycle and more a craft supply…..so when we found these quarters turned into guitar plectrums they seemed to be exactly what we’d been searching for.
You could of course also do all sorts of decorative projects in the same way many people do with pennies (think flooring, backsplashes, and coffee table tops), but if you are using quarters for those projects it is all getting a little bit more expensive.
But some funky guitar plectrums for $0.50. That’s not bad going!
Despite what we said above Q is also for Quilting and you can find loads of quilty upcycling ideas here.
R is for Rocking Chair
Who doesn’t like a nice rock now and again?
But Rocking Chairs can look a bit dated and out of place if they don’t fit the rest of your decor.
These boldly coloured examples are lovely and modern, but of course, you can go any number of ways with a rocking chair update – from shabby chic to eccentrically patterned.
Given the spindles, a top tip for painting your rocking chair is to try a paint sprayer. They can spray mineral or chalk paint as well as standard furniture paint and you have more control over the amount of drippage. For something like this, once you get the hang of it you’ll probably find you achieve a better finish.
S is for Serving Tray
S is for Serving Tray because frankly, no one uses these as serving trays anymore.
There has been a trend recently for using a whole bunch of vintage serving trays displayed on a wall, similar to the suggestion about your mismatched dish plates earlier in the alphabet, but we also have a How-to Guide from Bramble & Berries about how to use paint and decoupage to create a unique piece of wall art out of just one serving tray.
T is for Table
Ok, we’d be here all day if we tried to list all the things you can do to breathe new life into an old table! There are plenty that have seen better days, that’s for sure.
Something about these stencilled looks was calling to us though so we thought we’d share this as a suggestion, especially if you have a lovely farmhouse style dining table with great legs but a bit of a beat-up top.
We also found this great How-to Guide for the job over at Pretty Handy Girl. She found her table in a dumpster before bringing it back to life with this stencil job. What a perfect example of upcycling old products and reducing waste materials.
If you aren’t so sure about the stencils you can also have a look at Marie Webster’s Guest Tutorial for us where she created a shadowbox as part of a coffee table upcycle project.
T is also for Tiles! – How to Upcycle Tiles as Wall Art
T is also for Toy Box! (T is pretty popular isn’t it!) – How to add a padded seat to a Toy Box.
U is for Umbrella
These are brilliant. We wish we’d thought of them.
In a nutshell, when your umbrella breaks, save the handle for a hook and the material to refashion a waterproof bag!
Can you think of any fun uses (or practical if you must be) for the rest? Let me know in the comments.
The How-to Guide for the Tote Bag is over on DIY Projects.
You’ll find loads of upcycled tote bag ideas here too!
V is for Veil
These are some gorgeous ideas of how to upcycle your wedding veil.
We particularly love the necklaces made out of small bits of lace.
This would be a great idea for a grandmother’s veil with lots of granddaughters to divide it between, especially if it isn’t the sort of style brides are wearing but still has some lovely elements to it that could be preserved.
Some people would feel a bit squeamish about cutting up a veil, but let’s be honest, how often do you open up that carefully sealed storage box to enjoy that veil after the big day is over?
Any of these upcycle project ideas will ensure your veil, and by association, your memories of your wedding day, are close at hand when you want them.
For loads of ideas for how to have an upcycled wedding go here.
W is for Window
They may not do much for keeping your heating bills down, but old panelled window frames sure do look sweet and this is quite a simple idea.
You can use quilt batting and fabric to turn them into a patterned notice board, paint them with chalkboard paint or fill the panels that have missing glass with chicken wire and hang up old mementos, photos, or notes to yourself.
Let your old window be a window to your soul with this upcycling project! Now you just need to get your hands on some old shutters and see what upcycled creations you can come up with there.
W is also for Wedding Centrepiece (okay sort of a stretch but here is our tutorial about how to make a table centrepiece out of old corks! ….hang on maybe that should have gone up under C!?
X is for Xylophone
Admit it, you thought we were going to go X-Ray here. It was a toss-up as there are slim pickings at this end of the alphabet, but the colourful rainbow quality of the xylophone won out.
Plus it’s more likely you’ll have your child’s old toy xylophone kicking about in need of a new purpose than an x-ray of your femur…but I could be wrong there. Check out the xylophone turned into a wind chime.
There is something sweet about the fact it will still be making music in the wind even after little Billy or Sally has grown up and left their toy behind.
Y is for Yard Stick
Ok, yes, Upcycle My Stuff is based in the UK and a Yard Stick is an American term. We do know we have American readers, so maybe this one is for them.
These ideas could also be adapted for a metric length ruler as well, of course…they just wouldn’t begin with a Y in that case!
The picture frame idea above is a definite favourite as you actually might have one or two yardsticks lying around that you can upcycle but we think it’s unlikely that you would have enough to cover the whole front of a dresser unless you raided all your friend’s junk cupboards as well as your own!
Z is for Zipper
What can you do with old zippers whose teeth have bent, split, or fallen right off?
You can turn them into one-of-a-kind jewellery. For example, bracelets, fancy knotted necklaces like above, or floral-shaped broaches.
Don’t let being at the end of the alphabet fool you. Zippers still have plenty of upcycling potential.
And, clearly, so do you as you got all the way to Z!
I hope getting through this post has helped you give your old stuff a new use!
I feel like you should be rewarded for reading to the end! I don’t have an actual prize but I would like to extend an invite to you to join our closed Facebook Group of upcyclers sharing their projects. It’s called Upcycle My Stuff – Share My Stuff and you can find it here.
I’d love to see you in there and see whether anything on this list has inspired you!
Looking for even more upcycling ideas? Try here.
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