How to live on less: repurposing items

retrochick.JPGIvy says:

Today in the “How to live on less” series, let’s talk about repurposing items. This is a lesson learned from our Depression-era moms and grandmoms. The idea is to take items that have been used for one thing, and turn it into something else. This can be as simple as using a (washed out so it’s clean) trash can as a bucket (I had to do that yesterday, I broke my good bucket!) or as complex as turning a pillowcase into a dress for your daughter.

I’ve been on a sewing kick lately. Funny, I get all this yarn and now I want to sew! My daughter has been wanting me to sew something for her, but my fabric stash is really slim. Enter the pillowcase dress. I had this pillowcase that I have no earthly idea how it got into my house. It doesn’t match any of my sheets and I’ve never even seen sheets like this before. But it was a cute stripey pattern, so I used this tutorial and turned it into this:

Pillowcase dress

It looks cuter on her than it does the hanger, ha! Seriously, though, it only took me about 3 hours to complete and it would have been a lot faster if I wasn’t a total sewing n00b. The total cost for this dress: nothing, everything was stuff I had around the house.

Another way to repurpose is to use old envelopes for lists, story ideas, doodling pads. I carry one around in my purse in case I get struck with a blog post idea while I’m out. I use them to write grocery lists on. I keep several by my phone so the kids (in theory) will take phone messages with them.

Take a look around your house and see what you can repurpose. Use the plastic bags produce comes in to pick up dog poo? Believe I will, thanks. Old milk jugs as a watering can? Awesome. With just a little thought, you’ll be coming up with a bazillion ways to repurpose things!


  1. Dyan Logan on May 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I cut old carpeting into strips and laid it along all the paths in my veggie garden to keep down weeds,and help retain moisture in the soil while keeping my feet a little cleaner. I cut my s.o.s.pads in half to make them go further as well as diluting my shampoo and conditioner with water.I make purses from old blue jeans as well as aprons and many other useful items. I cut milk jugs off 2 inches up from the bottm, plant seeds then fit the top portion minus cap back on until they have sprouted and are ready to be transplanted in the garden….then put the top part over the seedling until it is established. I use old lampshade frames to put around my peoneys to support them .wood salad bowls make great feet under bookcases etc.(just drill a hole a screw them on Upside down.plastic bags and bubble wrap used between layers of fabric make a super cat bed.(they love the crinkle sound and a bit of catnip adds to their enjoyment. i

  2. Shelley on February 27, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I used to see those spaghetti measurers at the stores. So now that I need one, I can't find any. Has anyone got an idea of how to measure 1, 2, 3, or 4 person servings? I just eyeball it but that makes for a lot of pasta that goes to waste.

    My recent post Push Rewind in Time for Valentines Day

  3. Shelley on February 27, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I love your blog. Such great ideas!! Here is one I found just yesterday. While cleaning out junk in the kitchen, I came across an old wooden dish rack that was never big enough for all my dishes when I wash by hand. I piled my cookbooks that I had on the counter on it and then used the cup holding area for my roll of paper towels. I must say it looks better and the paper towels are off the counter and look better too. Staying on top of clutter is hard but so worth it when it really works.
    My recent post Push Rewind in Time for Valentines Day

  4. Dresses on February 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Wow this site has given me tons of new ideas. Keep the ideas rolling! To contribute this may be lame, but I use my cups in my cupboard as a pen holder.

  5. Hair Bows on February 18, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    That dress is so cute. I know how to make another version of the pillowcase dress but not that style. Thanks for showing me where to find that great tut. We have a Savers nearby and on Mondays you can get certain items for $.99. That is another great way to get something that you can reuse into somethine else (like a pillowcase dress) for super cheap. Thanks for the pic!

  6. Shara on August 21, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Great info! What would be a repurpose for a short, narrow desk or coffee table. I need one of each.

    • Shelley on February 27, 2011 at 11:07 am

      I used my coffee table to hold my tv for a while. Made it easy to move and less likely to be pushed off its tv stand by my cats. The one thing it didn't have was drawers to hold the DVDs so I finally moved it back to the tv stand. Oh, well….good luck.
      My recent post Push Rewind in Time for Valentines Day

  7. malia on January 21, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Repurposing is a favorite in our household. I’ve actually been meaning to do a post about this at my place. My all time favorite repurposed item came from a kitchen hutch that we were trying to move. It fell apart (it was a crappy piece of furniture) during the moving process but the top part of it with the glass cabinet doors and the counter remained fairly well intact. We hung it on our back porch as a gardening nook/storage center. I need to take a picture of it sometime and post about it.

    My daughter is a born repurposer! It seems that every time I place toys or doll clothes or hair bows, etc into a container, she dumps it out and uses the container for something else! It kind of drives me crazy but at the same time I’m like, that’s my girl!

  8. tink on January 20, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    My mom was a farm kid raised during the depression – she was the queen of using up, making do, re-purposing and never ever paying someone to do something that you can do yourself.

    She passed a lot of this on, and I was glad she did when I had to left a career (main source of income and all benefits) due to health issues.

    Those milk hugs hold everything – make up a gallon of cleaning solution and store in those gallon jugs. If you have “smell” issue with cleaning with vinegar, try a filling a clean milk jug with a bottle of rubbing alcohol, 1/2 cup of non sudsy ammonia, and a couple of drops of dish soap – fill the the jug the rest of the way with water. You now have a gallon of cleaning solution to refill your spray bottles with. Cost, about 75 cents per gallon.

    Cut a hole(about the size of your fist) in the top of a milk jug or empty soda bottle and a rectangle near the bottom. Use it to store your empty plastic grocery sacks. You stuff em in the top and pull them out the bottom. They keep them clean and tidy. Or, use an empty square tissue box to store them in, much cuter but they don’t last as long.

    Cut a hole in the top of several, but leave the handle intact, they are awesome for sorting and storing things like nuts and bolts, sewing supplies, small kids toys (if you are worried about sharp edges, wrap the cut areas with duct tape) almost anything you can think of – and they are cute when painted with that Krylon spray paint.

    Clean cat litter buckets are great while painting. Plenty of room to mix your paint, and a cover to keep it fresh during jobs. Also great for storage, toys, etc – again, especially if you whip out the krylon spray paint. (hubs uses them everywhere in his workshop)

    Speaking of paint. Old furniture can be updated with a new coat of paint and spray painted hardware. (Same with ratty looking kitchen cabinets – which I’m doing right now)

    If your paint store has a “Ooops” paint clearance area, (paint that was custom mixed but not quite the right shade for the customer) you can get gallons for next to nothing.

    When my daughter became a teen, she outgrew her “kids” bedroom. With a gallon of gloss black paint, all of her furniture became “black lacquer”. A door with a hole in the back and two old night stands became a black lacquer desk – along with an old ladder back chair I got as part of a set at an auction years before (5 bucks for both)

    A can of spray paint refinished all the hardware – and some more of the gloss black and stone look spray paint refinished her ceiling fan.

    Our own photos became black and white on the computer, they were printed out and framed in her old “art” frames (also repainted)

    Her lamp became “stone” with another type of spray paint

    We ripped out 30 year old disgusting carpet, and painted her floor (pine planks – in too bad of shape to refinish). And threw down a 15 dollar 4x 8 carpet remnant with bound edges.

    Total items purchased to completely remake her bedroom – 2 sheets to make a duvet cover for her old comforter(Penney’s online clearance center), two bamboo look window shades – a home depot clearance find, and the carpet remnant which came from our local furniture/flooring store which binds and sells their left over remnants. Two gallons of “oops” paint and two cans of spray paint.

    We spent about 60 bucks total and she went from a kids room to a room any teen would be proud of.

    She’s now married and moved out – but that “black lacquer furniture” is what they use in their bedroom, and you should see what she’s done with their home! It’s darling and you’d never know to look at it that it was all done with “oops” paint, spray paint, clearance and garage sale items and a lot of sweat equity.

    With the internet and sites like Home ec 101 at our fingertips giving us tips, ideas and step by step instructions for just about everything – there’s almost nothing we can’t do, saving a ton of money and passing some pretty solid skills on to our kids while we go.

  9. Fioce on January 18, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I keep seeing craft instructions for using old plastic bags, ironed together, to make a waterproof “fabric”. Some day I’d like to try it.

  10. Margaret on January 18, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    omigosh – Teresa’s comment cracked me up because I suddenly remembered that my grandma used to save yogurt cups for us kids as drinking glasses!! We considered that one of her hallmarks and gently poked fun 🙂 But actually, now that I have a clumsy toddler who insists on doing it herself, I save every plastic to-go cup the restaurants dole out.

  11. Emily C on January 18, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I really wanted cute cloth-covered wire baskets for toy storage in our living room (the toys live on the small bookshelf that serves as a TV stands).

    But, my husband is in college, and I hate shopping, so I instead found cardboard boxes from recent Christmas gifts that came in the mail and covered them with a huge green fabric remnant. They’re cute now! And functional!

  12. Makeshift Mama on January 17, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    That is SO CUTE! I’ll have to keep an eye out for garage sale pillowcases!

  13. Teresa on January 17, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    I love the dress. I have a couple of mismatched pillowcases and now I’m thinking “hmmmm…”

    I reuse quart glass jelly jars for refrigerator storage. Plastic peanut butter jars make great freezer containers for soups and sauces. What really works on DH’s nerves is the set of 10 fancy spaghetti sauce jars that I use as drinking tumblers.

  14. Makeshift Mama on January 17, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    I use my plastic bags from the grocery store for my daughter’s dirty diapers. I put the diaper in the bag, spin the top, fold it back over the diaper, and tie it shut, so that it is double-layered. It helps keep the odor in. I also take plastic bags along (checking for holes first!) in my diaper bag so that I can put soiled clothes in them to bring home. I used to deliver the bags that HAD holes to my local library, where they used them for sending books home with patrons, but now they won’t take the because they think it cuts into their canvas bag sales. What to do with them now…

  15. Margo on January 17, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    My grandmother has about 10 zillion “butter bowls” and cool whip containers that she uses, uses and uses again. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them dated back to the 1980’s!

  16. Ann at mommysecrets on January 17, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    I’m so glad you’re writing this series, and I wish more of our society was intentional about ‘repurposing’. With a little bit of creativity, we can save sooo much money and sooo much waste!

  17. Amy on January 17, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Great dress! I think Monica from The Homespun Heart made a few of these this summer and I thought they were so precious.

    I am queen of repurposing too and had thought about just doing a series on this on our blog. It is amazing how many ways you can use one object in your house without buying several different things to take up space (and money).

    I find it to be a fun challenge to see how far I can make something last in our house and also to recreate its purpose.

  18. Margaret on January 17, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I love repurposing and hearing what other people do!
    Look at the pretty pillowcase dress – if that odd pillowcase was in my house, it would be cut into rags or used as a bag for a quilt in storage (store linens in breathable storage, not plastic).
    I also use plastic bags for all the aforementioned reasons (well, we don’t have a dog), but I still found myself with overflow. So now I politely refuse a bag when I’m shopping and store cloth bags in my car trunk for my big grocery shopping trips.

  19. hsgbdmama on January 17, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    It really isn’t that tough, once you start doing it, and looking at what else something can be used for before tossing or buying.

    We have been using plastic shopping bags for wastebasket liners for years (why buy small bags for that?), as well as tucking some in the diaper bag to better contain/dispose of diapers (either cloth or disposable).

    We repurpose paper grocery bags to hold our paper recyclables.

    I have repurposed dishwasher detergent buckets for cleaning buckets, and a WindFresh bucket for holding cloth diapers to be washed as well as other buckets for around the house tasks.

    We recently replaced our comforter, but still have the matching lined drapes hanging … I am on the lookout for inexpensive coordinating fabric (think clearance or sale table stuff) and will be reusing the liners into the new drapes (haven’t figured out what I can use the old drapes for, but I’ll think of something). The old comforter will be used for camping out. 😉

  20. Pam on January 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    I have seen the people in my neightborhood use the pastic bags that newspapers are delivered in, in inclement weather for dog poop.
    If you put a few plastic grocery bags in the bottom of your wastebasket and then use a clean one for the liner as you empty it there is another right there to use. Put a bunch of grocery bags in an empty Kleenex box under your car seat…..then when you have just a few minutes to clean out the car you just grab a bag from under the car seat. Pam

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