guide

What is upcycling and how can you do it well?

Upcycling, also known as ‘creative reuse’, is where you take an item that’s going to be chucked away and transform it into a new product.

It’s different to recycling because instead of breaking a used item down into its constituent parts, you’re adding to the old item to make it better. It’s technically even more ‘green’ because, unlike recycling, it doesn’t require any extra energy other than what you put in yourself to make the product reusable.

It’s an amazing way to save money and the environment at the same time. Because it’s quite a trendy idea at the moment, if done really well it can even be a great way to make some extra cash.

So here are some tips on how to upcycle, and some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing.

How to upcycle

The most basic principle of upcycling is to remember there are no limits. You can upcycle pretty much anything you want — all you need is an idea.

You need to think of old items not as what they originally were – whether that be a wardrobe, dress, saucepan or whatever – but simply as materials. A busted up old dresser may have broken runners, but its mahogany drawers could make lovely picture frames!

So the first step is to take a look at what you’ve already got, especially items that are made from materials that are easy to manipulate like wood or fabric. For example, take a look at this old denim that’s been turned into a bag.

If you can’t find anything in your house then your next bet is to find something used. Ask around to see what your friends and neighbours have, or see if you can find something that’s been left on the side of the road or in a skip. Otherwise, charity shops are a great place to find something cheap – or you could try used listing sites like Gumtree.

Get inspired

Obviously your upcycled items are going to be more special if they’re entirely your own idea, but there’s no shame in looking around for inspiration.

Pinterest has got to be the spiritual home of the upcycler. There are tons of boards to follow, but here are five favourites:

So get browsing and start your own board to save all the ideas you like.

Once you have your idea down, the next step is to start fleshing it out. It’s best to start making some rough drawings and notes on paper, but if the project is a bit more involved you may even want to have a go at using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Got stuck? Remember there’s a whole community of upcyclers out there! There are dedicated upcycling websites where you can buy upcycled products, get practical tips and inspiration, and even chat to other upcyclers to share materials and ideas. Check these out:


Feature image from here.

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