Save Money by Rekindling the Art of Reusing your Stuff

By Nora Dunn on 10 May 2009 (Updated 9 May 2010) 20 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

Before recycling became popular, reducing and reusing were the key methods of keeping our stuff out of landfills. But long before overflowing landfills were an issue, our forefathers were masters at the age-old art of reusing. Ingenious and creative, their ways of putting old things to new uses were practical and well and truly frugal. We could all stand to learn some lessons from them and rekindle the art of reusing by breathing new life into old stuff.

So before you chuck that tattered trinket in the bin, here are a few ways we can reuse our tired toys right now.

Socks

The sock monster visits most homes, illicitly leaving us with missing and mis-matched socks. Here are a few things you can do with those lonely left-over socks.

Moth Repellant

This is a great way to reuse two things that would otherwise wend their way to the garbage bin: used socks and pencil shavings. Stuff those pencil shavings into an unmatched sock, tie off the end, and store it with your sweaters to keep the moths away.

Shoe Freshener

Fill an old sock with baking soda, and stuff it in the toe of a stinky shoe overnight for de-smellification.

Washcloth

Do you use solid soap? If so, you know how difficult it is to put those last slivers of bar soap to good use. Fill an old (clean) sock with these soap slivers, and you have a soapy washcloth. This takes “soap on a rope” to new levels.

Hot Pack

This is probably my favorite piece of reusing brilliance: fill that old sock (the bigger the better) with rice. Tie or sew off the end, microwave for one minute, and melt away your stress with your homemade hot pack. Add some lavender or essential oils and your hot pack will have aroma therapeutic effects too.

Draft Dodger

Filling a long sock with rice and/or (even better) dryer lint or any other material you have for reusing and putting the sock along the bottom of doors will keep the cool drafts out and the warmth in.

Drink Cozy

Although not exactly fashionable, an old tube sock with the foot cut off makes for a handy beer cozy.

Dolly Dresses

If keeping your drink insulated is not a priority(!), then use your tube socks (again, with the foot cut off) as a tube dress for your kids’ dolls. Decorate it with fabric paint or markers and buttons, and your kids will enjoy expanding their dolls’ wardrobes.

Broom Buddy

Tie an old sock on to the end of a broom handle, and now you have a way to dust under the fridge, behind the stove, and other hard to reach places.

Crayons

Any household with children has probably seen its share of little crayon pieces. Once they are small enough, these well-loved crayons seem to wend their way to all manner of nooks and crannies in the house, if not the garbage can itself. Never throw another crayon away! Here are a few things you can do to breathe new life into these colorful tools.

Crayon Cupcakes

Peel the paper off your collection of crayon pieces, and break the larger remnants into smaller pieces. Fill an old muffin tin with the crayon pieces, and bake at 300 degrees for 5 minutes, or until the wax melts. Allow to cool, and enjoy your multicolored creation.

Alternately, you can use pie plates or ice cube trays instead of a muffin tin, and you can use the microwave or a double boiler instead of the oven.

Candy Crayons

Instead of using muffin tins, melt the crayons using a double boiler or microwave, and pour the melted wax into candy molds. Insert a candy stick, and allow to cool. These rainbow-colored “candy crayons” look good enough to eat, and will be like new toys for your kids. They also make fabulous gifts, and are even something easy and inexpensive to make that enterprising kids can sell at the local craft fair.

Miscellaneous Household Hacks

Floor Protectors

Stop floor scratches in their tracks by cutting up old mouse pads or carpet pieces, and gluing them to the bottoms of chair and furniture legs.

Insect Repellant

Once cold season is over, use extra or expired vapor rub on clothes and skin to repel ticks and mosquitoes.

Paintbrush Renewal

Once a paintbrush is caked in dried paint and is hard as a rock, it is tough to believe that it can be restored. But in fact it can, and without any harsh solvents. Simply soak the brush in vinegar for five minutes, then massage the bristles while you rinse.

Christmas Delights

Instead of letting your child gorge on their Halloween take, freeze some of the candy. When Christmas season rolls around, use the Halloween candy to decorate a gingerbread house.

Apple Cores

After making a batch of apple pie or applesauce, you undoubtedly have the peels and cores to contend with. Before you throw them into the compost bin, put them into a pot, cover with water, and boil on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. The strained juice can be used for drinking, or as a flavorful broth for cooking grains like oatmeal and rice.

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Guest's picture
cavale

cooked or raw rice for the hot pack?

Guest's picture
Guest

raw rice, you can just keep microwaving the sock for practically forever. i've got one from almost 10 years ago!

Guest's picture
Guest

I have used an old sock to 1) keep coffee warm and 2) act as the sleeve so that I could hold the hot jar.

Your paintbrush renewal and apple core ideas are also intriguing.

Guest's picture
Anelly

That's cool. :) I have never made any of this but seems just great :). Must try as many as possible.

Guest's picture
5789

Is a great idea.

You can also use ice cub trays (silicone ones from Ikea for $1) to create thick triangle crayons of melted together similar colours for little fingers to hold.

Guest's picture

Really neat list. My wife and I don't reuse nearly enough and we can always use some great specific tips like these!

Guest's picture
Mary

I love this post!

When I make applesauce, I use the whole apple - cut each apple into pieces and fill a kettle with them (and a pear or two for a bit of additional sweetness, and some strawberries if I have them), add a little water and cook on low until soft. Then it all goes into the food mill. Yum.

My grandmother saved apple peels and cores to make jelly. You've inspired me to save them and try it!

Guest's picture
GT0163C

I too use the "boil the chopped up whole apple and let the food mill sort it out at the end" method of making apple sauce. Takes a lot less time and I like the results better.

I use old glass jars (salsa and peanut butter mostly) for drinking glasses. They're also great for when I take breakfast to work. A packet of oatmeal, 1/3rd cup powdered milk in the jar (with the lid, of course) and then, hot water from the tea pot upon arriving at work and I've got oatmeal. When I'm done, I screw the top back on and take it home to wash.

My cats' beds are filled with old socks and other apparel that couldn't easily be used for cleaning rags. The cats don't mind and cleaning is as easy as tossing everything into the wash.

Guest's picture

I really like the tip about saving a paintbrush with dried paint on it. I sure could have used that tip through out the years!

Guest's picture
Guest

When we have a bed pillow that's become too soiled for our use, it become's the cat's new bed.

Guest's picture
Guest

My mother, a child of the Depression, also used the old sock method with me growing up. She actually used her old nylons "pantyhose". When they had a "run", my mom would put all the old, little, worn down pieces of soap bars from around the house and put them in the toes of her "stockings", tie a knot, and that's what my sister and I used to bathe with. I haven't thought about that for years!

Guest's picture
Shann

You can also fill old nylons with potpourri and scented oils and use ribbon to tie several together and hang somewhere. It looks great in a vintage style bath and helps the smell too. LOL

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Thank you for the comments everybody! Some neat new ideas have been shared too. Keep them coming - I love to learn new ways to reuse stuff.

People from the Depression era really knew how to get the most bang for their buck. Let's apply some of their lessons.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I absolutely LOVE the sock list. Right up my alley.

Guest's picture
Amy

Love the soapsock, paintbrush refurbishing, crayon ideas, etc.!... Here are some things I do:

I use the plastic trays in which mushrooms are sold as drawer organizers to separate things.

Fabric softener bottles can be cut into good plant markers for the garden.

Yogurt cups are great for starting seeds. Just punch a hole or two in the bottom.

I buy salsa and spaghetti sauce that comes in Mason jars so I can reuse them when I can food from my garden.

Guest's picture
Guest

Be cautious with crayons that have sparkles in them.I found they are sometimes metal and can superheat and melt through a plastic container in the microwave.
I love to reuse things.It's fun to look at your junk creatively,and feels good to take responsibility for (some of) your impact.

Guest's picture
DC

When traveling, I keep a small, recycled plastic bag in my toiletries kit. At the end of my stay, I take the partially used soap home in the bag. Once back at the ranch, I have a soft mesh bag that matches my bathroom decor. (It originally held something like garlic from the 99 cent store.) I drop in the soap pieces, tie up the bag with a slipknot and hang it from the shower caddy. I haven't bought soap in years and get a kick out of using up bits of soap that would otherwise go to waste...If you're not a traveler, the soft mesh bag is great for using up all those slivers of bar soap.

Guest's picture
Robin

The mesh bags and socks that are utilized to stretch the life of soap can also be used to scrub the tub/shower. This is especially true of the mesh bags as they will scrub away the scum and not damage the surface.

Guest's picture
Maurs

1) Old tatty towels, cut up and hemmed make great cleaning clothes, throw them in the washing machine and boil them to clean

2) Old orange/citrus peels make great fire lighters

3) Banana peels and tea bags can be thrown straight onto your flower beds and don't need composting

4) Baby food jars make handy spice jars/ night light holders. Put a little magnet on the lid and stick it on the refridgerator to save space in the kitchen (for spices as opposed to nightlights!!)

5) Fabric and/or wall paper scraps can be used for making... a mouse mat, covering old shoe boxes to make pretty matching containers, lining the back of book shelves, lampshades, covering an old cork notice board, wrapping gifts and making collages!!

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Maurs - These are awesome suggestions! Thanks! I didn't know about the fire-lighting properties of citrus peels either. Cool.