Our Editors Share Their Favorite Upcycle Hacks
The Power of A Second Life
Before I even understood what upcycling was, my mother was reusing old toothbrushes to clean hard-to-reach corners or shoe grooves, and using old t-shirts to clean the grimiest messes. As a young girl, oftentimes I was embarrassed by it; I always thought to myself, “Why can’t my mom be normal?” I wanted her to buy new cleaning rags or throw out used toothbrushes immediately. But now I understand that my mom was showcasing what true sustainability means—to nurture and care for something so well that its lifespan is extended indefinitely.
Upcycling is a way of life that acknowledges the planetary toll our consumer habits (yes, even the “environmentally friendly” ones) have on our limited resources. Today, I am not only freed from my childhood embarrassment but I am inspired to upcycle like my mom does. (And I hope to cultivate sustainability into my future daughter’s life just as my mom did for me. 😌)
Whether it’s born out of necessity or conscious sustainability practices, upcycling is something many of us tend to do without even realizing it. For our team, it comes back to basics, and the principles that The Good Trade was founded on. We desire to continue building upon the sustainable practice of extending the life of the goods we consume and cultivate practices that consider our environmental footprint and how we invest our dollars.
We’d love to hear about your go-to upcycles, too! What sustainable “hacks” do you live by, and what are the items you wish you knew how to propel into a second life? Share with us in the comments below!
One of my favorite hacks is repurposing glass candle jars. This past year, my candle obsession took a turn into a deep abyss of lingering at-home candlelit dinners. I started accumulating so many waxy, but mostly empty, glass jars that I started boiling them (filling them with boiling water works too!) and voila, the wax melts off. This allows for the perfect clean, wax- and wickless vessel to store miscellaneous items around the house, like your favorite looseleaf tea, dry goods, or even a DIY candle!
I like to store used french press grounds in said glass jar to keep in my shower as a nice smelling exfoliant (especially in the a.m).
My other favorite upcycle goes out to all my hopeless romantics or fellow Pisces signs (who find deep sentimental value in everything you do). After my second date with my partner, he slipped a note in my bag that included a DIY laminated wine label with a handwritten love letter on the back. It was from the first bottle of wine we shared on our first date. I melted into a puddle, and decided I should definitely be with this person. Since then, we’ve adopted this sentimental keepsake, and from time to time, we will secretly write new love notes to each other on the back of wine labels we’ve shared.
It’s a sweet way to tell someone you care about them, reminisce on a moment in time, and can be done with friends and family too!
Like Annie, I grew up in a household where my parents practiced sustainability long before I realized what it was all about, many times out of sheer necessity. So alongside repurposing old yogurt containers for food, plastic bags as garbage bags, and cookie tins for sewing kits (you know the ones), one particular “upcycle” holds a special place in my heart.
Early on in our relationship, my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I would drink Mexican Cokes on dates. Over time, whenever he would pick one up for me on a special day or vice versa, we started collecting the empty bottles. Years later, we were in the process of moving to a new apartment when he insisted on keeping them, which I shrugged off. Little did I know he had been collecting them over the years for when he planned to propose.
I was so touched by this thoughtful gesture, when I later went to our rooftop and saw it lined with those old Coke bottles, filled with peonies. Ever since then, we’ve found ways to include these old bottles around our home, usually filled with a fake flower or two (gotta love pets who’d eat them otherwise!).
Similarly, whenever we go through a bottle of wine, we collect the containers and turn them into candle holders. A simple hack is to add a taper candle to the mouth of the bottle and light it for a bit so that the wax melts down the sides. The effect is lovely and cozy, and it’s an easy way to bring warmth to a space. ✨
Everything in my home goes through a strict “can I use this later?” test before it gets disposed of or recycled. From sauce jars (I use them as drinking glasses) to cardboard boxes (I build them into castles for my house rabbits), I see potential in everything. It’s…sometimes a problem. But, whenever I see that I have too much of something, it serves as a reminder to be thoughtful about my waste 😅.
I get it from my parents, who are some of the most resourceful people I’ve ever met. Their approach is to source anything they need secondhand or make it themselves from scrap material, and exhaust all their options before purchasing new items. It’s largely become my own approach, too, although it looks different for me in a city apartment than it does for them in a rural setting.
My very favorite way to upcycle is by finding what I’ll endearingly call my “curb treasures” (and sometimes, less endearingly, my “trash furniture”). When I got my first apartment, I sourced a lot of unique home goods by keeping an eye on what my neighbors would leave out by the dumpster after their moves.
My work desk was a lucky find I picked up right across the street, and one of my favorite paintings in my home is one I spotted while driving home from the veterinarian. My dining chairs, nightstand, corkboard, and even random assortment of frames and planters are all curbside finds. 🤗
For me, these finds instill my home with story, and feel so lived-in right away. Plus, all it costs is a good wipe-down and some awkward stares from passersby as you walk down the street with your new treasure!
I’m much more of a thrifter than an up-cycler—I enjoy repurposing what others’ have tossed out. Curb alerts and free furniture are my love language, and I can’t pass up garage sale signs, even if I’m running late. Thankfully, Los Angeles’ sunny weather means they happen year-round. ☀️
When it does come to upcycling, a few of my favorite hacks are likely ones we all already know and love: repurposing old clothes for rags, washing out pasta jars for bulk grains, and reusing dressing bottles for DIY dressings (I love making this homemade cashew caesar or simply mixing dijon mustard, olive oil, and balsamic).
One new hack that I do want to master: I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with an old shower curtain that I don’t need anymore. It’s super cute and lightweight grey fabric, but we recently moved into a new apartment with a standalone bathtub and separate shower that has a glass door. I’ve thought about chopping up the curtain for decorative pillowcases or cutting it into kitchen towels. I’m not great with a sewing machine, but I definitely want to learn. Perhaps now’s the time!
Social & Community Lead
I was initially very hesitant to declare myself an upcycler, but I’m ready to LIVE MY TRUTH! I love upcycling! From repurposing culinary ingredients for skincare to turning juice shot bottles into plant propagation stations, I love extending the life cycle of things I bring into my home. I’m always looking for new ways to reduce and reuse, many of which can be found on our Instagram Reels, teehee!
One of my favorite, ingrained-since-birth repurpose hacks is to rinse and reuse Ziploc bags. I’ve been doing this since long before the invention of the stasher bag (shout out to my mumma for always finding a way to rinse and reuse them), although we’ve introduced a few of those to our rotation of reusable containers, too. There’s a general understanding that Ziploc bags are single use, but I’ve had some for over a year! It’s as simple as washing and turning inside out to dry on the dish rack.
Another upcycle I love is to create DIY wrapping paper out of old shopping bags. If you’re a visual learner, you can watch this here. Sometimes, brown paper bags are unavoidable, so it’s nice to give them a second life. I love decorating the paper with markers to create themes around the reason for gifting (i.e., holidays vs. birthdays). It’s a simple way to reduce your paper consumption, especially considering that most wrapping papers aren’t recyclable!
When it comes to organizing my home, grouping like-items together brings me a lot of mental peace. I may not be able to identify where all those random cords and chargers came from nor what they do, but I know for sure that I can find them all in the gray filing cabinet in the bedroom. “Third drawer down!” I shout to my partner from another room.
The same organizational method applies to my unmentionables. Together in an under-bed drawer, I like to further sort them by style—underwear, bras, and socks. I upcycle my own drawer dividers to create and maintain their boundaries by cutting the flaps off of any cardboard product and package boxes I get through online orders or in-store buys. Then, I arrange them in ways akin to Tetris—lines drawn in the sand; no briefs next to bralettes.
Also, at any given moment, there’s a candle burning in my home, which means that there’s always an empty vessel waiting to be cleaned out and given a second life. Lidded containers become pickling jars and bobby pin holders. I currently have chamomile flowers in an old Mar Mar glass that once housed its Saint-Martin scent. And I’m am already wondering if the colorblocked ceramic candle I bought from Paddywax yesterday will make for a good coffee mug. Hmm.
Annie Balto is the Creative Assistant at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Minnesota, where she attributes her love for the natural world and curious personality. You can usually find her soaking up the sun on her long walks, nestled in the beautiful Malibu beaches eating from her favorite sandwich shop, or at home experimenting in the kitchen. Say hi on Instagram!