Upcycling 101: Organization

I mentioned yesterday that one of the items we saved from the dumpster was a mattress, in the struggle to pull this out I never thought to get a picture, but knowing I share photos of what I save with you I received a picture from my daughter-in-law.  Here’s the mattress we found.

Not a flaw to be found.

Not a flaw to be found.


Today I will share with you ways to store and organize your belongings without spending a dime, using items you would recycle or possibly find in the trash.

Even in a small home, such as mine, there are items that we own which need to be organized.   While I have shopped at Ikea, I have never stepped inside of the Container Store or any other business which caters to organization.  My beginnings at organizing things in my first home were very simple.  Pocket folders for my paperwork, with sections for bills needing to be paid, those paid and even a pocket for instructions manuals or warranties. Nice and tidy all in one area.  Then as my belongings grew baskets were my go-to resource.  I could find them for pennies at yard sales and thrift shops.    Not anymore, when I need to organize something I look first at what is in my recycling before I take it out.

Here are a few ideas I hope will help you look at your trash differently.



Have you priced charging stations lately?  These can range from $20 on up to $100.  I don’t know about you, but I am not going to spend money to contain my chargers, no matter how many I could have.    Here’s a free idea, use a shoe box.  You can cover it in fabric, decorative papers or even paint, the ideas are limitless, all you need to do is look around your house to see what you have available. Labeling each cord makes this the ultimate in organization.

Charging station from a shoebox and powerstrip.

Now, if you have extension cords, Christmas lights or any other cords try this idea.  All you need is another shoe box and toilet paper rolls.

smart, smart, smart.  Toliet paper rolls for wires and extention cords.

Do you have several pairs of scissors, or sharp knives.  Did you ever think of using a block of cardboard? Again you could cover the cardboard with fabric to disguise the fact you are using cardboard.

Soporte de cartón

Are you in need of a memo board?  Cord boards are nice, but hard to find free in good condition.  It isn’t hard to find an old cookie sheet, simply spray paint the tray and add a few magnets.

spray paint old cookie sheets and turn them into magnet boards!

Not sure a magnetic memo board is what you need.  An old drawer would make an attractive way to display your notes.

Turn an old drawer into a bulletin board/shelf. Cute!!!

We still have a bit of summer left and that means a few more days at the beach.  Why buy a bag for carrying your beach gear, make one from mesh screen.  Screens are damaged all the time, when replacing your old screening stop and see what other use it might have.

DIY: beach bag

If you are having trouble finding the right sized baskets for storage, have you considered a simple cardboard box and adding rope handles?  These boxes are covered in contrasting fabric to match the decor of the home.

DIY Fabric Boxes. Believe it or not, these are made from plain old cardboard boxes!! Very easy to put together and look a LOT better once upcycled.

If needing storage ideas for small items this box made from cigar boxes, old soda crates and wooden spools for handles could be just the thing.

old crates, cigar box drawers and spool pulls

Would you like to have an attractive way to store toilet paper rolls and keep them dust-free?  This is a simple oatmeal container which holds 2 rolls.

Large empty oatmeal canisters are just the right size to hold two rolls of toilet paper -totally need this!

Still on the subject of bathrooms,  This idea isn’t free, but it is inexpensive.  ikea spice racks would nicely corral your hygiene products.

Ikea spice racks for bathroom organization -- brilliant!

Did you ever think about using a washcloth to organize your toothbrush, combs and other hygiene products when traveling.

washcloth turned toothbrush holder for travel- just throw towel in wash when you get home- so making this!

An inexpensive way to have a nightstand or end table that also serves as bookcase is to use an old drawer. If have culled down your book collection you may not need more storage than this.

Vintage drawer used to hold books - very clever.

Don’t buy a plastic laundry basket, look for an old TV tray and use the stand to make your own.  By tying your fabric bag it would be easy to toss this in the laundry when soiled and replace when clean.

old tv tray stands into a cute laundry hamper? This would be a great way to organize fabric scraps too. Much prettier than plastic

I think this would make a lovely pantry or linen closet, but it could have so many more uses.  All you need are some old shutters and windows.

Great homemade piece--old shutters and old windows repurposed

Where do you store your gloves and small garden tools?  Why not use an old mailbox?

Repurpose an old mail box for garden tool storage...

This idea would be so cute in a classroom, but you could use the same idea to hold so many things, screwdrivers, utensils for a picnic, crafting supplies.  Just cut open a plastic jug.

for Carly's future classroom?

This would make a cute pencil holder for back-to-school or to store items when traveling.  Saving all your old zippers and sewing them together is simple and cheap.  Speaking of traveling if you created pockets behind each of the zippers you could neatly carry jewelry with you taking up very little space in your luggage.

Bolsa linda feita com zíper

While this idea is cute for children’s Legos make it a little more grown up and you could store beads, small crafting supplies and so much more.  All you need are baby food jars.

Lego men head jars. These are made out of baby food jars.

While this idea has nothing to do with organization, I previously wrote a post on lighting which you can see here, but this is too good to not share. So this one is a bonus for those of you who are ready to take upcycling to the next level.

Creative ways to make light fixtures interesting. I love the idea of using hats!

Today on Ecology is not a Dirty Word the subject  was shoes.  I almost didn’t read it as I have no shoe addiction,nor do I care much about fashion,  but the article wasn’t about today’s fashions, instead it was about the history of shoes.   Prior to the industrial revolution shoes were made to either last a life-time or to decompose back to the earth when they were worn out.   Shoes were made to protect the feet, not to make a statement.  Today it would be very hard to live without leaving an environmental impact but we can try to use what we have in new ways to keep them from piling up as waste.

What do you think future archeologists will think about us when they look at our artifacts we leave behind? What story will those items tell?

55 thoughts on “Upcycling 101: Organization

  1. Love these ideas! For Legos here at my house, I use the plastic rectangular containers that greens come in, to sort by color. It would be best not to have the plastic at all, but generally we can’t get around it if we want to get some organic produce.

    • Mrs. GV, we too have trouble finding greens without plastic packaging in the stores. I am trying to circumvent that by growing greens in the front window this year. But having to bring the plastic home, using them to store Legos is a great idea.

  2. Loved some of these ideas Lois, especially the shoe box adaptor plug concealing one. and the wash-cloth toothbrush holder how easy is that to make, My sister made me a knitting needle holder using a similar method I must have had it for 20 years easy.

    What would they think of us in the future! I shudder to think! :-)

    • Sue, one thing I always hated was having to dust the surge protector hidden behind the desk. That box would have been perfect, and much easier to dust. The wash cloth is simple I too plan to make one for myself.

      I still hope we do a 180 and leave a better legacy.

  3. along the sort of idea of the cardboard knife block, saw sometime ago some good cardboard ideas too…

    — stack several sheets of cardboard together. put some cloth over, and glue edges of cloth to back..Voila…bulletin board..
    —cut some smallish rectangular strips of cardboard. put a couple seeds in middle/top edge. roll cardboard up/ stacking on end in box. water. when plants are growing well, stick entire works in garden.
    —make your own perfect size gift box… on flat piece of cardboard mark size of gift….cut it a two inches bigger each side…make cuts in corner and flip up/glue corners to make box bottom. Repeat, slightly larger for top
    —make artists portfolio (or a smaller version briefcase for a child)…go to one of the huge grocery stores where they have many huge displays, stacks of cans and such. find the biggest (sq foot wise), and ask for the large sheet of cardboard in between the layers of cans. score the cardboard for a two or four inch “spine”. fold up an score/glue corners. make one side slightly smaller than other so it slides in to the other. save a plastic handle from “something” (other box/old suitcase/etc), fix handle into top edge, Vola…portfolio for free

    • Lynn, I have been looking for something, my idea was a cork board, to make a place for my granddaughter to hang her artwork on. She has covered my back door for me. Right now everything is up with tape, but this isn’t ideal as I would like to eliminate the use of tape around the house. Your idea of making a message board from cardboard may be just the thing! Thank you.

      • you’re welcome. I recall back when I was a teenager, I actually made a fair size one…was pleased as punch with myself…. (another version I have seen added to these cardboard bulletin boards, if you have some left over strapping, criss cross it on the bulletin board/fixing straps at back. Makes a handy spot for folks to tuck in items..

        also, when my son was young, and doing all sorts of art in school and at home, I made him two different sized “art portfolios”…He really liked it, and did some decoration on the exterior. It (one of them, not sure where second is) is still in use. Made up size is about three feet by two and half feet. it is about two / three inches wide. and has a very nice handle, scavenged off some box we had at the time…I still remember looking around the grocery store (superstore), till I find a LARGE display….

  4. Holy moly, Lois. Those were great ideas. I have done the cookie sheet board. I’m hoping to try the screening project someday soon. I’ve been told I can embroider on it so I will give it a shot when the courage finds me. I too have many old wooden spools waiting for use. Since I’m in a place where little can be affixed to the walls, many organization projects must wait till my next (hopefully last) move. I like most of my creative stuff placed in clear containers, either glass jars or out in the open. Not fond of cardboard. Loved the washrag travel tote. I’ll get one made before I fly down to see my son on his birthday. He leaves a toothbrush here. But I must tell you, the books will only leave my home when my body is quite cold. I’m pretty much the local library anyway. Take my food and bed, just don’t touch my books. Paper can have great purpose, we have just abused the purpose with all the junk mail. Thank goodness the city provides bins for recycling the junk mail of which I get little. A diary or a book, I think is a Divine purpose. I also want to support those that continue to write the information we all want to read. Maybe one day soon, we will all be more respectful of our resources. Keep on keeping us on our toes. You did a great job here.

    • Marlene, so glad you found a couple of ideas you liked. You know I never thought about embroidery or cross stitch on the screen, what a great idea. Now you have me thinking of some projects using screens. :-)

      I was like you with my books. Everyone came to me to borrow them, most came back a few didn’t and I learned not to loan to those people. But a great majority of my books were fiction, which I can borrow any time from the library so it didn’t make sense to hold on to them when I wanted to downsize. My books today are non-fiction and/or of a craft nature. I will be looking for pretty journals I can use for a journal to leave for my grand children. I have lots of ideas rolling around in my head of sharing our experiences so they can look back on it and adding natural health remedies for them that I was taught by my elders but now is pretty much forgotten, such as garlic for warts, honey and lemon for colds and sore throats, etc. This information should be passed on and less reliance on costly pharmaceuticals.

      My son and his wife leave toothbrushes,paste, deodorant and contact solution and contact case here for their visits as well. It takes up very little space but saves money should they forget to pack something.

      I saw a cute idea for wooden spools, a slit was cut across one end and used to hold a small picture, would save buying frames and would be gorgeous on a mantle.

      • I too, keep mostly non-fiction books. I do most fiction on kindle or pick up at one thrift store and donate to senior center. I have so much bric a brac already that is being packed up to go elsewhere. I’m certainly no minimalist, but working quickly to simplify. I can’t begin to tell you how many truck loads of stuff I have already passed on. Almost nothing went to the dump. My ex was a pack-rat and it was contagious for awhile. Now, if I don’t love it a great deal, it’s finding a new home . I refuse to accept gifts for birthdays or Christmas. Give me an experience, love or a meal out. Nothing I have to dust. Your children and grandchildren will appreciate your memoirs but don’t wait till you are gone to let them know all you have experienced. They will love those stories.

        • I can’t even imagine living with a pack rat, I would lose my mind. My children refuse not buy me gifts for Christmas, it’s the only holiday they still purchase something for me on. But at least I have them convinced to at least buy me practical gifts, items I can use to restore my furniture.

          I have kindle on my phone and the notebook, but it’s not the same as a book.

  5. Oh my dearest Lois! You are so incredibly inspirational! I am alot like you as well: I have (had a horrific summer as you know) always been on an extremely TIGHT Budget (for years)! Which I have done miracles with, trust me. Besides, I NEVER was one for high fashion, high cost, trendy priced living or decor, ever. My childrens happiness and complete comfort has always been highest priority for my little family. In any case, I am so in LOVE with the ideas here. Have a couple of them on my Pinterest.com/jeaniney25/diy board but, not ALL! Even though the circumstances were very unfortunate at my home this summer, we have much to celebrate and be excited about! Each of my girls is getting a ‘special’ gift, just for them. It’s like a “Christmas in July” only in Aug/Sept lol. In our (rental) home (apartment) now, we have white blank canvas walls to work around! I couldnt be more enthusiastic about finally having the space, the resources, the know-how of where the affordable bargain places to shop are in town (now that we’ve been here long enough!); the situation couldn’t have come at a better time! I will be posting a same sort of DIY ‘stuff’ post today.
    Lois you are a heart of gold person. An Amazingly creative and inspiring blogger. And, all just by being you. I strive to achieve the same comfort in my blog writing as I see in yours. Thank you for consistently giving me something to work towards. Thank you for being as honest as you are here. Love and Blessings, Jeanine. Your Canadian Follower! ;D

    • Jeanine, you are so sweet thank you so much for your kind words, I am honored. I am so glad to hear things are coming along nicely for you now. It must be a great relief to be able to settle your children back into their home. To have the opportunity to start over with a blank canvas and having a diy heart you and your children will have so much fun personalizing your home now.

      I will have to check out your Pinterest board soon, I’m sure you have ideas I haven’t seen. There is just so much on Pinterest that I try to stay away from just searching and instead look only at the boards of those I feel have something in common with me. Keeps me of the computer!

      Isn’t it funny how a tight budget can go much further than you might suspect when raising a family? Of course my boys are in their mid and late 20s so raising them thins were cheaper than they are now. We didn’t buy a lot for our home in the way of decoration but were able to personalize our home for almost nothing leaving the bulk of our budget for the necessary things, which beyond food and shelter we needed books. We found vacations didn’t have to cost a lot of money but that also meant we didn’t go to Disneyland, we lived and worked on a farm in Minnesota, visited museums, took advantage of free classes such as kayaking and scuba diving, etc. There really is a whole world out there that doesn’t cost anything.

      I look forward to reading your diy posts. I know I still have a lot to learn.

  6. I do like seeing how people repurpose items, but often then think that I wouldn’t have had a need for the repurposed item either. I’m trying to keep our place as clutter free as possible. Though I did like the idea of the tv tray/laundry basket – it would also make a great knitting or sewing project basket.

    • Heidi, I agree. I have very few baskets left. Two in the bathroom (on holds my cleaning rags), 2 under the couch for children’s toys, games and art supplies, and the box on my counter. As I have given up Christmas lights and only have one extension cord I keep for the occasional need I don’t need to store cords. The magnetic trays did catch my eye as it would tidy up the back door where my granddaughter hangs her artwork for me. I can see the box for cords being a good way to corral even the computer cables for a desktop computer and am thinking about making one for my youngest son who in his home has cords for 2 cell phones, a hand-held game, and a tablet.

      I never thought about a sewing or knitting basket from the TV tray frame, now that you mention it, it would be an inexpensive way to store all kinds of things from children’s stuffed animals to craft supplies. I liked how easy it is to remove the fabric for washing, if I’m putting dirty laundry in something (even if it were plastic) I would want to wash it occasionally.

    • I loved that one as well, first for the materials used and then for the look. I have plenty of wooden spools here as I inherited my grandmother’s sewing supplied when she passed away. I have never gotten used to the plastic ones, as I empty a spool I just can’t bring myself to toss it out, which means I need another project to make it useful.

  7. I loved the scissor block – first time I’ve seen that And the cookie sheet (which is weird as I use a metal magnet board). I loved the hat idea – but lights are my kryptonite! Interestingly our oatmeal isn’t sold in anything like that tube – wonder why? Great post

    • Isn’t that cardboard sandwich a cool idea for scissors, or knives? I too love lights, and the more unique the better, the last thing I have ever wanted was to have a home where a guest could walk in and say “Hey, I saw that at XYZ store” I was always looking to be unique, even as a child. How strange about your oatmeal. I like these canisters they are made of a rigid cardboard and only the lid is plastic. I buy my oatmeal in bulk often, but when i can’t get out to the bulk store will pick up a canister. I currently have an empty one storing bird seed. What is oatmeal sold in there?

      • Oatmeal is in a plastic bag, or a box – the boxed stuff (which of course I buy) is pricier, but it’s worth it for the waste point of view. Otherwise, it’s in bulk for me as well. Sadly, dime a dozen lighting in this rental, but it’s ok, it’s not forever!

        • Sarah, I too would purchase it in the box. I’m not sure why ours comes in a round cardboard container, it takes up much more shelf space than a rectangle shape to ship and shelve, but it has been sold this as long as I can remember.

  8. A great selection of organisation ideas Lois. As I’m about to reorganise the art store cupboard at work, I’m going to save the milk containers we usually put in the recycling. My boys drink about 6 two litre bottles a week, so it won’t take long to get enough. Thanks for sharing the wonderful ideas :)

    • Jen, I’m glad I was able to give you a free idea, well at least as far as organization goes for your art supplies. I never know if by posting ideas like this if it is only for entertainment or if someone will be inspired and use them. Thanks for letting me know this wasn’t just entertainment.

  9. Thanks for the link! There are some great ideas in your post, and I love the questions you finish with – I think about it often. I heard a comment once (can’t remember who or where) that in tens of thousands of years time, archaeologists of the future will be digging sites to find layers of plastic and not much else. The rapid adoption of virtual/online everything by everyone will mean there are no written records to pass on. I think that is sad, and even slightly embarrassing!

    • Manuelinor, I had heard the plastic part of your quote, but never thought or heard about the written records. How sad but you are right, other than the printed books, much of which is fictional, there won’t be much. I have one grand child who lives a distance from me who is only 2. I’ve taken to sending her little notes with a sticker or even a dollar for her bank. Now that you brought this to my attention, I think I will also start a journal for my grandchildren that they can receive when I die. While I work to have a paperless home and office I think this would be an important use of paper.

      • That is a great idea! When you think that most of what we know from history came from books, journals, newspapers, Darwin’s notebooks, Da Vinci’s sketches etc. etc. In the last few decades, newspapers, academic journals, scientist’s records, company records etc. have all gone completely online. If technology fails us one day, what will future generations be able to learn about us then?

    • Thanks, Pirate. My son has always been an archeology buff from very early in his life. With frequent discussions about various finds I began to wonder what the opinion would be of our life by future generations.

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