Using What You Have in New Ways – Upcycling and Repurposing Ideas

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Upcycling and repurposing can be easy and fun. Slowing down gives us time to reflect on some things we have been doing to maximize what we have. Using what you have in new ways means less waste. It also means getting the most out of what you own. Use these homesteading tips to conserve, reuse, and re-purpose. In these times, we are all trying to be as sustainable as we can. Whether you live in a rural setting or a major city, we hope you can try one or more of these ideas.

Using what you have in new ways

Save and dry seeds from fruits and vegetables you eat
Save and dry seeds from the fruits and vegetables you eat.

Save and dry seeds

Oftentimes, we throw away seeds without giving them much thought. For example, seeds from peppers. Instead of composting them or throwing them in the garbage, save them. Dry them out and save for the planting season in your area. We prefer to start saving our seeds in the spring so we don’t have to store them. After they dry out, we plant them right away.

Seeds from beans, peas, peppers, and tomato seeds have flowers that self-pollinate, making them good choices. There are several fruits and vegetables you can successfully grow from seeds at home. Plant them to enjoy a bounty all summer.

We are saving seeds from okra, tomatoes, and peppers. When our arugula plants went to seed, we saved those. See what grows in your hardiness zone, and save some seeds.

Grow potatoes in 5 gallon buckets
Reuse food-grade 5-gallon or 6-gallon buckets to grow potatoes.

Plant sprouting potatoes

Potatoes last a while in a cool and dark place. Still, sometimes we forget about them or because they are out of sight, we don’t use them. After a while, they start sprouting. Sure, you can cut off the sprouts and eat the potato. However, you can also plant them in food-grade 5-gallon buckets. We found a few buckets in our garage. You can also plant potatoes in a planter.

It will take several months, but when you plant two potatoes in a bucket, you can expect to yield 4-5 pounds of potatoes. Potatoes in Planters: How to Grow Potatoes in Pots

Compost toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls
Compost toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls

Compost TP and PT rolls

Make the most of your empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls by starting a compost pile or using a compost tumbler. Just as you will feel great about composting your otherwise-wasted vegetable and fruit scraps, you will maximize utility from the empty rolls as well.

Re-purpose glass jars

Re-purpose glass jars from food… olives, salsa, jam, pickles, etc. You can reuse them for many different things.

  • Preserve fresh food
  • Store bone broth
  • Grow sweet potatoes to root
  • Save grease from meat to reuse or discard it
  • Start herbs to root; basil works well
  • Grow sprouts
  • Make sun tea
  • Paint them for decor
  • Put a tealight in each and dine outside
  • Save spare change
  • Use as a vase for wildflowers from your beautiful home garden

If you are like me and have lots of glass jars, you can likely recycle them in your city, town, or village. Check to see if your recycling company accepts glass. Where I live, we bring them to drop-off sites across the city. When I collect 20 or more glass jars and am going past the drop-off site, I take them. (I don’t make a special trip!) They have a glass reuse plan to reuse locally by pulverizing it into the sand to use in construction. This helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduces processing costs at the Materials Recovery Facility.

Save the bones and grease

Especially in times of food uncertainty and while preparing for a food crisis it is more it’s important to use what you have. Our ancestors did this more often than later generations. Save the bones from meat — especially when it’s grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised, and/or you sustainably raised the livestock –and make bone broth from bones.

Bone broth boosts the immune system. You can use it in many recipes or enjoy it on its own.

In addition, you can save the grease from meat for cooking. We use bacon grease to cook green beans, potatoes, eggs, etc. You can save the grease for baking as well. If you don’t want to use the grease, pour it into a glass jar. When it’s filled, throw it away.

Upcycle empty detergent bottle with tap as outdoor hand-washing station
Use an empty detergent bottle with a tap as an outdoor hand-washing station

Upcycle empty detergent bottles

If you have a laundry detergent with a tap dispenser, there is always that last bit of soap you can’t get out. Don’t throw the container away. Instead, fill it partially with water and set up an outdoor hand-washing station. Keep it in a shady spot if you can. If you find your family uses it, you can add a tad more of the same laundry detergent (from a new bottle — don’t mix detergents) and add more water to reuse.

Use yogurt containers to start seeds
Use yogurt containers to start seeds

Reuse plastic yogurt containers

Turn plastic yogurt containers into pots to start seeds. Poke some holes at the bottom for drainage. Then start your seeds.

Start seeds in yogurt containers is using what you have
Start seeds in yogurt containers

We’ve had great success growing them and then transplanting them into our raised garden beds.

Use a wheelbarrow for online grocery deliveries
Use a wheelbarrow for online grocery deliveries

Use a wheelbarrow for online grocery delivery

You likely use your wheelbarrow for more things than you ever thought. Lately, we’ve been leaving it out for when we have groceries delivered. We leave a note asking the delivery driver to leave the groceries in the wheelbarrow. It’s easy for us to come out after the driver leaves, and wheel the food into our backyard to organize. And it takes just one trip using a wheelbarrow instead of multiple trips by hand!

glass bottles around orange tree
Glass bottles around orange tree

Use for glass bottles

Save glass bottles to surround trees.


Make banana ice cream

Sure, we love making banana bread and muffins, but when bananas start to go bad, we make banana “ice cream.”

Banana ice cream recipe

This is an easy recipe that uses just two ingredients: bananas and cacao powder. If you have vanilla extract, you can add that too. Slice several bananas and freeze them. They don’t need to be frozen solid. In addition, you can use overripe bananas or ripe bananas.

After they freeze, put them in a Vitamix or blender. Add vanilla extract and two tablespoons of cacao powder. Add more to taste. It’s incredible how frozen bananas become creamy when blended.

Grow basil from basil

It’s really easy to grow basil plants from existing ones. Buy a healthy-looking basil plant from your grocery store or hardware store. If you have an existing basil plant growing, use that. Clip off a few clippings. If it’s a smaller basil plant, you can take just two or three.

Make the cuttings right above the leaf node — where the leaf joins the main stem. Remove the leaves two inches from the bottom.

Put the cuttings in water in an empty glass jar. Keep it in your kitchen or near any window that gets sun.

Within several weeks, sturdy roots will form. You can plant them outside according to your hardiness zone. We put some in our raised garden beds as well as in our planters near our porch. We want it to be easy to pick basil when we want it.

Once you have plants growing, continue taking cuttings from them to continue growing more basil. Soon you will have your own basil nursery! They make lovely gifts for neighbors.

using what you have
Save juice containers to use as watering jugs

Water plants with juice containers

Repurpose plastic juice containers to water your plants. We have seven we use to get water from our rainwater cistern.

They are the perfect size to fill and carry around our property to the areas where we don’t have irrigation set up. They are also easy for kids to carry. By doing this, we only needed to buy one watering can.

Milk jug planter

Save your milk jugs, and start a mini greenhouse. You can start seeds in a milk jug indoors or outdoors. Keeping the handle intact, cut through the milk jug, and open it up.

Be sure to leave at least four inches as a base. Poke 4-5 holes on the bottom for drainage. Add quality potting soil and seeds. Water, then close the milk jug. Depending on the season, you may want to lightly secure it with packing tape.

Planting in milk jugs is an easy way to start seeds in the winter. We like using them all year. The handle makes it easy to move them around our garden. Milk jug planting is easy. It’s a great way to be environmentally friendly as well.

Using what you have in new ways – upcycling and repurposing

Like others, we are doing our best to do what we can to make ends meet and be sustainable. We are learning to grow more of our food and to think of situations that may come up.

We sometimes feel like we are recycling and throwing away so much packaging and other things. While we are wasting less food than we used to, and composting what we can, there are still more things we can do.

Even if you aren’t able to enjoy a rural lifestyle, live off the land, and homestead, there may be something you can do. Using what you have in new ways can help to build a sustainable lifestyle. Getting the most out of what we own helps us to slow down and appreciate what we have.