When my kids were small, garage sales became my go-to destinations for budget-friendly household décor and furnishings. Among my best finds were some inexpensive, vibrantly painted paper-maché masks. These masks — discarded creations of a high-school art class — brightened my kids’ walls for years after. Yet, these one-of-a-kind beauties could just as easily have ended up in a landfill instead of at a garage sale.
Creative reuse — taking discarded, worn, or broken items and creating new products that fulfill a different, even improved, function — is not new. In fact, people have practiced creative reuse to make their money go further for centuries. An example of this is the quilt, which is traditionally made from leftover material remnants and well-worn clothing pieces.
Fortunately, you don’t need to go dumpster diving to find resource-friendly decorating items. There is a vibrant and growing reuse community in Minnesota that includes businesses that take used items and repurpose them into beautiful, saleable décor pieces. Some establishments also offer consumer workshops or classes that will teach you how to create your own inspired pieces.
Benefits of creative reuse/upcycling
- Conserves resources and prevents waste. When we creatively reuse things, we reduce the energy and material demands that are required to produce new products and materials. Creative reuse also helps to reduce waste by giving new life to things that might otherwise end up in the trash.
- Significance and uniqueness. Creatively upcycled items often have interesting histories. It’s part of what makes them unique and adds to their overall value and importance. There’s satisfaction, as well, to be gained from knowing that these items can’t be found at the local big-box stores or bought online. When we value what we have, we are happier, feel less want, and don’t throw things away so readily.
- Supports local economies. The reuse, repair, and rental community directly employs 45,500 people statewide and contributes over $10.25 billion to the estimated gross economic activity.
Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or prefer to let others do the creating for you, read on for tips on creative reuse redecorating and ways to integrate it into your own home improvement efforts.
Tips from an expert
Julie Kearns knows a thing or two about reuse. She has been a major driver behind the development of the Minnehaha Mile, a destination shopping corridor in Minneapolis that consists of stores carrying vintage, reused, upcycled, repurposed, and sustainable items.
Kearns' store — Junket: Tossed & Found — is visual proof that so-called junk can have multiple lives. Kearns works with local artists to develop unique and saleable items using repurposed materials. She even has an artist-in-residence teaching free, drop-in classes on creative reuse to DIYers.
Her own commitment to the environment and reuse is reflected in her store’s practice of weighing and classifying purchases to determine their climate and waste reduction impacts. In 2016, the 6+ tons of secondhand products that were purchased were items that might otherwise have been landfilled or incinerated.
Kearns has these suggestions for upcycled home-décor seekers:
- Bring a tape measure with you when you shop and a picture of the room(s) you want to change.
- Ask for input and suggestions from shop personnel. They can help provide perspectives and ideas.
- Surround yourself with things that inspire you. Know what you like. Look for things that fit your personality and inspire you.
- If looking for a particular item, give yourself time to find it. It may take a little searching and patience to find exactly what you’re looking for.
- Be open to new possibilities. Try to see items as adaptable, updatable, or fitting more than just the functions they were created for. Let your imagination guide you!
* Julie Kearns, in-person interview, 15 June 2017.
Do it yourself
The internet is filled with ideas for DIY creative-reuse décor and furniture projects. DIY TV shows and YouTube videos on the topic are abundant. A number of businesses and organizations offer classes and workshops. Among these include*:
- ArtStart—St. Paul
- Carver Junk Co—Minneapolis and Chaska
- Mama’s Happy—Independence, Stillwater, St. Louis Park, St. Paul
- Next Act Inc.—Apple Valley
- The Funky Little Chair (upholstery classes)—St. Paul
- The Junky Monkey—Mankato
- The PlasterCenter—Minneapolis
- Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity ReStore—Minneapolis and New Brighton
It’s also worth checking with your community education program. Some offer reuse-related classes on furniture restoration, upholstering, and similar topics. Good places to find repurpose-able items include flea markets, estate sales, garage sales, and thrift stores. Online sites like Craigslist, NextDoor.com, and Twin Cities Free Market are also worthwhile sources.
*Provided for information purposes only and not as an endorsement of vendors, products, or services.
You can improve the experience of redecorating with upcycled décor and furnishings by following a few steps.
- Learn some basics about decorating. There are a lot of books and websites out there that can teach you the basics of design and decorating. It’s helpful to have some understanding and a framework before diving into your own redecorating projects.
- Create a room-specific plan. Think in terms of individual rooms vs. whole house. Starting small can make it easier to find items that fit a particular purpose or design theme that you have in mind.
- Use what you have. Your own home can be a potential treasure trove when it comes to creative reuse. Look for objects that can be transformed to meet new uses. Keep an eye out for items that are updatable with new upholstery or a fresh coat of paint. Products like chalk-style paint can make this easy, fun, and rewarding!
- Organize a swap. Consider having a décor swap with friends. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to refresh your surroundings while clearing out stuff you’re ready to part with!
- Don’t trash it — rehome it! Don’t assume an item is worthless and not worth saving — you may find that other people actually value or are even seeking your items! Look for ways to sell, donate, or giveaway items that you no longer love. And if you put something at the curb, protect it from rain so that it doesn’t get ruined before its new owner finds it. See resources below for some options.
- Hennepin County’s Choose to Reuse website is a great resource for finding items, as well as reuse-related events.
- Residential remodeling guide — Information about how to rethink remodeling.
- ReUSE MN — an organization dedicated to educating people on the benefits of reuse, has created a website that allows you to quickly search for specific used items. Check out their Pinterest and Facebook pages.
- National Association of Productivity & Professional Organizers – MN Chapter — Find an organizer who can help you make better use of what you have or help you find donation options.
- Northeast Recycling Council fact sheet on using reused building materials for projects.
- Pinterest — Provides tons of ideas with images for creative reuse décor. Search upcycled, creative, reuse, décor.
- Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity ReStore (two locations) — Find new and gently used home improvement products and building materials..
- University of MN Reuse Center — The University of Minnesota ReUse Program collects surplus office furniture, supplies, equipment and parts from throughout the Twin Cities Campus and makes them available to University departments or individuals for purchase.