TRAASH: Fun and Simple Ways to Repurpose At Home


Repurposed Wine Bottles make Great Vases

Recycling, repurposing, and upcycling are all very important to me – but what do all those terms mean? What’s the difference? In short – recycling, repurposing, and upcycling all involve the process of changing one material into another material or product. Most importantly, all three of these processes help prevent waste. Whether you’re placing an empty soda can into the recycling bin or transforming it into a lantern, you’re doing something great for the environment.

As an art teacher, I save recyclable materials like cardboard rolls, bottle caps, and plastic containers for use in my classroom.  These materials are repurposed into art projects or used for storing supplies. I keep other recyclable materials at home for storage, decoration, and planting. This month, I’m happy to share some of the ways I recycle, repurpose, and upcycle at home. Below are seven fun and easy ideas that will hopefully inspire readers, help the environment and lessen waste. And they’re so simple they don’t require any special tools!

7 Fun and Simple Ways to Repurpose at Home:

Glass milk bottles hold spare change. I love the size and shape of these bottles. Coins can be separated into three separate bottles; pennies, dimes and nickels, quarters. Keeping the quarters separate makes it really easy when it’s time to go to the laundromat!

Plastic containers work as planters. I love plants but have a hard time taking care of them. Pothos are really easy to grow houseplants that I never have a problem with. They also help purify the air so I have a lot of them around my apartment. When the vines get too long I propagate them by cutting off a long stem (or two) about 6-8 inches long. Then I place the stem(s) in an empty wine or oil bottle to allow roots to grow. After a few weeks, the roots have grown enough to plant in a recycled plastic container. Most containers don’t have drain holes but the Pothos don’t seem to mind.  If you prefer to make drains holes, an electric drill works really well.

Jelly Jars

Jars are terrific organizers. In the bathroom, I have a bunch of small jelly jars that I use for q-tips, toothpaste, and other bathroom necessities like nail clippers and tweezers. I prefer using clear jars because I can see inside them. The jelly jars can also be found in my studio holding scissors, tools, and pencils. In my classroom, I use smaller jars, like baby food jars, for mixing and storing paint.

Tree branches can be organizers. Back in March, I wrote about repurposing tree branches into organizers for keys, jewelry, and even pots and pans. As a person who always, always misplaces their keys, the key rack is perfect for me. I keep it right next to the door so I can hang my keys up as soon as I walk in the door.  The jewelry branch hangs in my bedroom and displays all of my necklaces.  Having jewelry hung up makes for a nice decoration and keeps them from getting tangled and damaged.

Turn frames into earring organizers. In order to keep my earrings organized, I made two simple hanging organizers using old red frames and wire mesh. To create your own frame organizers, take the backing off the frames and hot glue mesh to the inside of the frames.  Hang the frames on the wall before hanging the earrings on the wire mesh.

Old tires double as planters. When I decided to plant a vegetable garden, I realized there was limited space in the backyard. My landlord asked me to plant the vegetables in raised pots instead of digging into the ground. One day while walking home I spotted a stack of tires in front of the auto mechanic near my apartment. The mechanic had no use for the old tires so he gave them to me for planting. So far they’re working out great! I have an eggplant in one and tomatoes in the others.

Repaint the cabinets. When I moved into my apartment, there were many things that I would have liked to replace. Instead, I cleaned and repainted, creating a fresh new look. The mirror vanity in the bathroom was painted with the remainder of the blue paint I used in the living room and the kitchen cabinets have the same yellow paint as the bedroom. The cabinet door handles and hinges were removed prior to painting and given a really good scrub so they looked brand new. If you don’t want to paint the entire cabinet or piece of furniture, try painting just the handles. I repainted the metal handles and eagle from the cabinet under the bathroom sink to give it a pop of color.

Artist Andrea McKenna in her Studio 373 with some of her repurposed furniture

If you like the idea of repainting older furniture but don’t have the time or the know-how, visit Andrea McKenna at Studio 373 in Jersey City.  Andrea and I worked together at Pearl Paint a long time ago so I was startled and excited one night during a JC Friday event when I bumped into her. Andrea has always been an artist. In 2008, she began painting decorative finishes on walls and ceilings under the name Videre Decorative Arts. In addition to painting homes, she also creates beautiful faux finishes in businesses and recently designed and painted the interior of the newly opened Gia Gelato & Cafe on Newark Avenue in Jersey City.

Within the last three years, Andrea has expanded her decorative painting to repurposed furniture.  It all began when a client, who grew tired of the color of her dresser, asked Andrea to repaint it for a fresh new look. Andrea liked the idea of redecorating a piece of well-made, expensive furniture instead of purchasing a new one. “You can turn it into anything you want. It’s about turning the piece into a work of art,” she explains. In addition to receiving furniture from her clients, she also finds used furniture at the Salvation Army, at the curbside, or through donations. Andrea offers additional ideas for repurposing dressers, suggesting that they can be turned into a mini bar, a bathroom vanity, a desk, and bookshelves. Her beautiful repurposed furniture can be purchased at Studio 373 located at 373 3rd Street in Jersey City.

In June, I held a contest asking readers to come up with a repurposed project.  The winner received art supplies donated by School Specialty/Sax Arts & Crafts Division.  I am happy to announce the winner Agnieszka Wszolkowska for her idea of repurposing empty wine bottles into vases. I recently had a chance to visit Agnieszka in her home to see her pretty vases and present her with the gift of art supplies.  She uses the bottles throughout her home and said she chooses the bottles based on their shape and color.  In addition to vases, wine bottles can also be repurposed into candle holders, lamps, and even cut in half to be used as drinking glasses.  Thank you to Agnieszka for her idea and for having me in her home.

I hope you enjoyed these ideas and are inspired to recycle, repurpose, and upcycle in your home.  Please share your ideas and comments below.  You can also send me  ideas and photos via email at traashart(at) or feel free to post photos to  the TRAASH Facebook page.

Photo of Agnieszka Wszolkowska and wine bottles by Beth Achenbach, photos of dresser by Andrea McKenna, all other photos by Stephanie Romano.

Stephanie Romano

is an artist, mother, teacher, and writer who has made Jersey City her home for the last 15 years. She creates items from recycled vinyl signs and upcycled materials under the name TRAASH.