A pair of old used boots upcycled as flower pots

When it comes to reuse, we all know the basics. We line our wastebaskets with used plastic grocery bags and we know that old clothes make good rags for cleaning the house. But there are limitless possibilities for reuse. The challenge is keeping reuse in mind and noticing opportunities to reuse or repurpose items that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

Here are a few ways to reuse common items instead of tossing them in the garbage. But don’t stop with these ideas! There are plenty of great ways to reuse once you think outside the box — or in this case, when you think outside the trash can.

1. Old Coffee Mugs

Your old coffee mugs can help you simplify your life if you don’t toss them in the garbage.

The Penny-Pinching Grandma blog points out that you can tidy up your bathroom by storing your makeup in coffee mugs. You can also use old mugs to separate all kinds of bathroom odds and ends (for example, soaps, toothpaste, floss, hair brushes, and razors). She also suggests using an old mug in the kitchen to hold various odds and ends like “buttons, game pieces, errant screws, [and] coins.” Following the same principle, you can use old mugs to store small supplies such as paper clips, pens, and rubber bands in your office. 

With your coffee mugs doubling as containers for accessories, you won’t need to buy plastic contraptions to organize your bathroom, office, or kitchen counter.

2. Old Hair Ties and Old Wastebaskets

Grandma’s blog also suggests a way to use your old hair “scrunchies” together with your old wastebaskets. You won’t need to throw out the old hair ties or your trash cans if you store gift wrapping paper rolls in the cans.

“Do you have a large, tall wastebasket or trashcan that you are no longer using?” Grandma writes. “This is perfect for housing rolls of wrapping paper. Use old or new hair scrunchies around the rolls instead of rubber bands. [They keep] the paper nice, and rubber bands tend to dry and break.”

3. Coffee

If you like the smell of coffee, you don’t have to part with your money to buy air fresheners. Coffee grounds can be used to bring that café aroma to your refrigerator, freezer, and closet.

Writer Michelle Fabio introduces her readers to numerous ways to reuse coffee grounds on her blog, Bleeding Espresso. She explains how to use coffee grounds in your closet: “Old pantyhose plus coffee grounds equals a sachet to keep your closet free of odors.”

You won’t need the pantyhose to reuse coffee grounds in your kitchen appliances. In the refrigerator and freezer, store a cup of coffee grounds for that morning-coffee fragrance, Fabio suggests. If you are concerned the coffee will spill, use a container with a perforated lid, which is easy to make from a coffee can, to let the coffee fragrance circulate.

If you want to be a coffee grounds reuse connoisseur, you can check out more of Fabio’s tips for your morning cup of joe.

4. Aluminum Foil

It’s easy to wash and reuse aluminum foil instead of trashing it. Flatten the foil, clean it gently with a sponge and food-safe cleanser, let it dry, then store the clean foil for reuse.

You can even repurpose used aluminum foil as a makeshift sponge, according to eHow. “Use a crumpled wad to scrub your pots. Be gentle with non-stick surfaces.” You can also reuse aluminum foil to clean silver and barbecue grills.

5. Almost Anything

Freecycle is an nonprofit online network that promotes innovative reuse options, including sharing unwanted, reusable stuff. With over 5,322 groups with 9,348,713 members around the world, Freecycle is a great network for finding a new home for something you don’t use anymore, or locating a reusable item you need. Freecycle explains: “Our mission is to build a worldwide sharing movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.”

Another local sharing option is the social network, Nextdoor, which helps neighbors connect across a wide variety of community-related topics; it’s also a great vehicle for recirculating tools, appliances, and furniture. Once you join an online group in your area, you can post offers for items you want to give away, or put up requests for items you need. The site is set up in a forum structure, allowing easy interaction through the site.

Share Your Ideas

Get out there and start sharing, reusing, and organizing to route your unneeded tools, clothing, and other household items.

Editor’s note: Originally published on April 27, 2009, this article was updated in November 2018.