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21 Ways to Creatively Repurpose Common Household Items

Turns out you don't really need a desk—or a planter for that succulent.

April 23, 2020
Photo by Aja Aktay

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.


One week into the lockdown in New York City, my husband and I moved apartments. To say that it was stressful is just hindsight being kind—but it's a story best saved for another day.

Anyway, here we are in our new home. Everything’s unpacked, yes, but it’s a work in progress: lighting that needs an electrician; bathroom projects that need a plumber; furniture that can’t be delivered; and missing bits and pieces that we’ve decided to be frugal about and hold off on.

In this half-baked new home, we've had to get scrappy. No bookshelf? High-pile the books in the corner—voila, a bonus side table. Art not yet up? Stack ‘em against walls instead (goodbye, gallery wall). No coffee table? An old dowry chest both stores my linen and gets to play the part.

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Top Comment:
“So much repurposing and growing food at home. I followed Food 52s write up about how to grow vegetables like lettuce and scallion and its wonderful to eat lettuce grown out of a used lettuce. Reused it for my broccoli rabe salad with ufra chilli shrimp!!”
— Brinda S.
Comment

I’ve always loved the idea of reusing and repurposing, but there’s a special kind of satisfaction doing it these days. It’s a comfort that your creative muscle can be flexed even in times of stress, and a reminder that you can be self-reliant and resourceful when you need to be. It has also turned into a great moment for pause. I find myself asking: Do we really need that? Can we make do without it? It's like Home52 writer Annie Quigley says: "I'm reminded these days that we have pretty much everything we need right here."

To wit, here are some of my recent personal discoveries:
1. Kitchen tongs work just as well as a citrus squeezer.
2. An ice bucket with a lid makes a useful countertop compost bin.
3. A beer/wine bottle makes for a great olive oil or vinegar dispenser. Just add a pouring spout.
4. Stools are the most underrated, hardworking pieces of furniture ever.
5. Old magazines and newspapers are good for a ton of things: lining kitchen shelves, wiping down glass, origami projects.

Turns out, I am not alone. Much of Team Food52 is doing the same—creatively repurposing what they already have at home. Check out all the ways in which we're using common goods in uncommon ways:

Coral Lee, Associate Editor

"When home from the market, I actually don’t…unpack. Happy-at-room-temp produce like potatoes, onions, and fruit gets hung up in mesh bags in the kitchen for hard-to-forget, easy-to-reach, breathable storage (that also frees up counter space)."

Photo by Coral Lee

"I’ve also turned a brownie pan into a seed starting tray. And when I realized how therapeutic it felt to pat down some soil, I started cleaning out the house for anything that would work the same way. I’ve cut up milk cartons, gross-smelling ice cube trays, OK-smelling ice cube trays."

Aja Aktay, Home buyer

"Since having friends over is out of the question for the foreseeable future, I’ve decided to put all my extra whiskey and shot glasses to good use: I use them to regenerate scallions and celery."

Emma Laperruque, Food Editor

"I've been regrowing scallions and romaine (like everyone else, it seems!) on my kitchen windowsill. All those emptied-out jam jars I've been saving are finally coming in handy."

Photo by Emma Laperruque

Caroline Mullen, Writer

"This weekend I finally got around to decorating a wall that's been bare for months. I've had a stack of random frames hanging around not being used, but I wanted them all to match (some were black, others were gold or grey). I took the glass and backs out, laid them down on a drop cloth, and spray painted them all black. Now I have a really cohesive gallery wall!"

Suzanne D’Amato, SVP, Brand

"Now that I'm WFH, I've been going through candles more frequently. Once one is all used up, I put the glass container in the freezer for a few hours, which hardens the wax and makes it easy to scrape off along with the wick. Then I just wash it out with soap and warm water, and use it to store makeup brushes, pens and pencils, spare change—anything, really."

Photo by Suzanne D'Amato

Lauren Chorpening Day, Writer

"I built a credenza for my very first apartment 10 years ago. It’s traveled with me everywhere I’ve lived but when we moved into our house two years ago, there wasn’t a spot for it. This week, I pulled it out of the basement and gave it some much needed love. I sanded and repainted it and turned it into toy storage for my daughter’s new playroom. It’s fun to see something I built in college being used in a whole new way for this new stage of life."

Alex Egan, Senior SEO Strategist

"We've actually not repurposed a thing, we've repurposed an entire room. My partner and I have been quarantining at my parents home upstate, and we’ve turned their laundry room in the basement into a kitchen."

Maggie Slover, Senior copywriter

"Spice tins are an excellent way to keep all your bits and bobs in check in the miscellanies drawer (you know you have one)."

"This little vessel once housed a spruce-scented Madewell candle. That lichen green clay was too pretty to toss, so it’s been reborn as a succulent planter."

Photo by Maggie Slover

Timothy McSweeney, Senior Graphic Designer

"I needed a table for my garden seedlings but I couldn't go to the lumber yard to buy wood, so I found some old ratty, old-growth Douglas Fir 2x6s in the rafters of my garage and re-sawed them with my table saw to clean them up and build this."

Photo by Tim McSweeney

Erin Sanders, Customer Care Operations Manager

"Where we used to have a corner filled with plants, I now have a makeshift office. The patio table I found on the curb last year has been dragged indoors and given yet another life as my desk, wedged in the corner between our bikes and the never-ending piles of books."

Garrett Fleming, Writer

"My workspace at home is totally makeshift. Since we don't actually have a home office, I pulled an ottoman up to a side table to create a desk out of thin air."

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When you can’t go out, bring the green in.

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Kaleigh Embree, Customer Care Specialist

"For my bridal shower I asked for vinyl records instead of the regular bigger stuff since I was about to move from Canada to the USA. Three people got me the Star Wars collected soundtracks, and just recently two of them got mounted on our wall as art."

Danielle Curtis-Williams, Marketing coordinator

"I've been using my food tray to turn any room (even a corner will do) into a "home office." It's great because I can carry it around like a movable desk."

Annie Quigley, Writer

"Lately I've had the urge to plant things, to tend and care for seedlings, to grow something out of nothing. Yesterday I had a packet of seeds and a little potting soil, but no planters. Then I saw our overflowing recycling bin and dug out a couple of discarded egg cartons. With holes punched in the bottom and little labels attached, they've now become tiny holders for seedlings and are lined up on the windowsill where I can watch them grow. In pre-quarantine life I might've gone out to buy planters. But I'm reminded these days that we have pretty much everything we need right here."

Photo by Annie Quigley

What wacky/clever uses have you found for your everyday things? Tell us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Brinda Sen
    Brinda Sen
  • Jr0717
    Jr0717
  • Amy
    Amy
  • Sarah Harvey
    Sarah Harvey
  • Arati Menon
    Arati Menon
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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

8 Comments

Brinda S. May 4, 2020
Love this article mostly because I feel how this situation is such an equalizer and how I am doing things that my grandmom used to do. So much repurposing and growing food at home. I followed Food 52s write up about how to grow vegetables like lettuce and scallion and its wonderful to eat lettuce grown out of a used lettuce. Reused it for my broccoli rabe salad with ufra chilli shrimp!!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. May 7, 2020
So happy this spoke to you, Brinda. Now I REALLY want some of that broccoli rabe salad with chilli shrimp!!
 
Jr0717 April 25, 2020
I love re-purposing everything and anything, and really appreciate this article. For me, its been an excess of coffee filters => portable snack holders; coffee grounds => body scrub, garden fertilizer and fridge deodorizer; fruit and veggie packaging => homemade cookies and cupcake packaging (perfectly portable for work and to donate!); and, like everyone else, emptied candle glasses and glass spice jars => scallion regenerators!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. April 26, 2020
These are all fantastic ideas!! I just looked up coffee grounds as body scrub (mixed with coconut oil!) and plan to try it. I do use them as fertilizer, but this is a new one for me. Thank you so much, I really appreciate a fellow re-user/re-purposer.
 
Amy April 25, 2020
Hey! Thanks for documenting “less is more” in your usual upbeat and creative way. Less rules and more creativity. The world doesn’t fall apart just because it’s not perfect. Perfectly imperfect is one of my new mottos. Keep up the good work, Food52.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. April 25, 2020
Your comment brightened up my Saturday, Amy. You're so right—less rules, more creativity! Have a restful weekend.
 
Sarah H. April 23, 2020
I have also been going through so many candles working from home, but I just bought some soy wax online and have been making new candles out of the containers! It's great to learn a new skill and re-use items!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. April 23, 2020
I've recently switched out to incense sticks because I grew tired of wasting the containers, but making new candles in old containers is on my list! What's your favorite essential oil to use, Sarah?