Home Improvement and DIY

Breathing New Life Into Old Things

Tips for upcyling and repurposing

Hello to all! Have you ever noticed my blog slogan “Making Everyday Beautiful?” It means more than just buying pretty vintage decor and creating a beautiful home. I want to make the world more beautiful too. Whether by gardening, helping with community beautification efforts or recycling regularly, we all have a bigger responsibility as stewards of this planet.

Cute Buy Vintage Chalkboard Idea

Source: Pinterest

I love the saying, “Save The World, Buy Vintage!” There’s a lot of truth there! Upcycling, restoring, and repurposing can breathe new life into old items and really make a significant impact on the reduction of waste on this planet, while making the world a more beautiful place for all who inhabit it.

Breathing New Life Into Old Items: A Strategies Guide 

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There is a sad truth about modern society that we all have to accept sooner or later: we live in a throw-away society. We have reached this point for a variety of reasons, some of which are related to cost (it’s often cheaper to buy a new dress rather than ask a tailor to fix your old one), and some to convenience. However, living in a throw-away society can be hugely problematic. The biggest victim tends to be the environment; when items are disposed of, they end up in landfill. Given that waste management is a problem the world over, there’s no doubt that changing the way the world uses (and disposes of) products should be considered an important issue.

Chip and Joanna Gaines HGTV

Source: HGTV

Buying vintage or restoring old items is a great way for individuals to make a difference. Seems like a no brainer right? But not everyone was born with the junkin’ gene, so they might need a little more convincing. Luckily popular T.V. shows like Fixer Upper and HGTV are helping to popularize upcyling and repurposing and making old junk seem more “glamorous.”

The Potential Of Old Items

While most of my friends and blog readers are vintage souls who love to go junkin, most people prefer to live with newer or “modern” items in their homes. Since fashions, styles, and design preferences change all the time, even vintage junkers like to update our furniture as often as we can afford. It’s nice to live in a house that constantly feels fresh and exciting, so the vast number of people buy new rather than trying to make the old last. Some people simply see old, broken, or out-of-style items as largely useless, and have no problem consigning them to landfill. Others just don’t care for vintage styles ( I shudder!!!!) and want their decor to be pretty and new, so the idea of returning an item to its former glory just doesn’t seem like a good use of time, nor can it be done to an “as new” standard… or so people think.  But we vintage junkers know better!

Beatiful $10 antique farm table

Yard Sale Find: $10 Antique Farm Table

Learning to breathe life back into old items is one of the most valuable skills you will ever learn. While new is nice, it’s definitely far from the only choice available to those wanting to create a glorious home. Below are some of the best strategies that can help you give an old item a few new tricks, so you can try it for yourself.

Cute Table Makeover

My $20 chalk painted table makeover

Upcycling (or Repurposing)
Upcycling is a term that has come into use over the past decade. It focuses on the idea of taking an item — whatever that may be — and transforming it. These transformations are usually total, so the item no longer resembles its former self. Upcycled items are frequently repurposed, redecorated, or amended to look like something entirely new, even though the base item might be approaching vintage status.

Great ideas for upcycling a flannel shirt

This past winter my mother purchased a large amount of old windows and doors on Craigslist very inexpensively. They were all headed to the landfill if someone did not buy them soon, and what a waste! She plans to repurpose the windows into an amazing greenhouse this spring like the one pictured below:

Repurposed Upcycled Old windows greenhouse

Gardening and Living

Upcycling requires:

*A strong imagination. You have to be able to look at an item as it is now and see past that, imagining what it can be in the future. If you’re the kind of person who can see a TV cabinet becoming a fish tank, then upcycling might be for you.

*Upcycling tends to require a lot of patience. You have to be willing to work hard on an item, often for weeks at a time, to see results.

*While anyone can upcycle, it is helpful if you can learn a few extra skills, particularly when it comes to woodworking. This will help you make the most of your items and amend them to suit their new purpose in life. There’s a great video here to get you started:

You might also find this full introduction to upcycling furniture useful:


A few years ago my husband and I made a headboard out of an old chippy door we had found while out junkin’. It was one of my favorite upcycled projects to date.


chippy door repurposed as headboard

*Furniture is by far the most common form of upcycling, but it’s not the only one; you could upcycle items to make jewelry, for example, or even electrical appliances if you’re safely able to do so.


Many people confuse upcycling and restoration, but they are actually very different strategies for breathing new life into old objects.

*Upcycling is transformative. It takes an item and turns it into something else, giving it a new purpose, or at the very least making the item look almost unrecognizable from what it formerly was.

*Restoration focuses instead on preserving the item as it is.

Here’s how this works in practice:

*If you were to upcycle a dress, then you would — perhaps — cut it into sections to create a top, cape, or even use the fabric for upholstery purposes. The dress would no longer be a dress; it would have been pressed into service for another purpose.

*If you were to restore a dress, then you would use a gentle laundry detergent such as those by Better Life to give it a thorough clean without damaging the fabric, darn holes, and trim loose threads. You might even dye it, but you’d be dyeing it to the same color as it originally was– the dye would only be to increase the vibrancy.

(Hopefully that distinction is a little clearer now.)

Restoration is a wonderful hobby that can be incredibly fulfilling, especially if you have a passionate for historic or vintage pieces. To make a success of restoration, you will need:

*Attention to detail; you have to be willing to go the extra mile to find the exact paint match for the table you’re restoring, or the exact replica antique button for the coat you’re working on.

*A steady hand; many restoration projects take hours of painstaking work, laboring over a relatively minor detail. If you’re working with delicate objects that are older than you are, you’ll need to ensure you can focus for long periods.

*It will also be helpful if you have a decent boredom tolerance! As wonderful as restoration is, you’re relying on your craftsmanship rather than your imagination, so you have to be willing to put the hours in and focus on attention to detail.

There’s a great example of a restoration below. Even though the object being restored isn’t the most exciting of items, it nevertheless details the process of restoration very well:

There’s also a fascinating insight into how the pros go about restoring artwork, which may be something you want to try (albeit with less expensive pieces!):

Or… do both!
Finally, it’s worth discussing the fact that you don’t necessarily have to choose between upcycling and restoring– it is possible to do both. This will probably suit you if:

*You want to turn projects around quickly and directly improve them. For example, you could spend time restoring an old watch, cleaning it and removing scratches from the surface dial. You could then upcycle it by adding a new, modern band to the dial.

*This kind of project appeals to people who have a respect for the old, but love the idea of introducing a new element to an item. You have the opportunity to retain many of the old-time characteristics that make an item so attractive, but also actually give the item a purpose that is relevant to the modern world.

*If you have a passion for fashion, then choosing to both restore and upcycle a garment might be your best choice. You can preserve the fabric and pattern, but change the cut so that it suits modern styles. To achieve this, it’s helpful to have a knowledge of basic sewing skills, and — as you might expect by this point! — here’s a video to give you a few starting points:

If you don’t want to invest in a sewing machine, then there’s a useful guide to effective hand sewing here:

In conclusion, whichever of the options above inspires you to try it, you’re engaging in a hobby that has genuine environmental benefits. By reusing, repurposing, or giving old items a new lease of life, you’re guaranteeing that you’re keeping them from landfill– and that’s nothing but a positive. It’s also worth considering that your home, your , and even your wardrobe will benefit from your new hobby too! When you master one of the above techniques, you can fill your life with a variety of objects and garments that are truly unique. Replacing a home full of mass-produced items with things that have repurposed, upcycled, or restored gives it character and charm!

adorable junk shirt

Hopefully, the above has inspired you to try junkin’ (if you haven’t already) for objects you can breathe new life into. Save the world, buy vintage! Have fun”making every day beautiful,”  one project at a time!


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