One of my favorite simple ways to save money is to just repurpose things that I might otherwise throw out. There are many things that seem to have lived out their primary purpose that, rather than tossing them in the trash, I’d far rather find a second use for them.
This past weekend, while puttering around the house doing a lot of little tasks, I kept noticing all of these different things I had repurposed over time and I started making a list of them. Here are 14 of those things. I hope you’ll find some of them useful.
Use old t-shirts for household cleaning and window washing. If a t-shirt starts to get too beat up to wear, I like to toss it in a rag bag that we keep in the laundry room. Then, whenever we’re doing household cleaning, like washing windows or cleaning the walls, I’ll go there first.
Old t-shirts, along with a spray of window cleaner, do a wonderful job of getting windows looking sparkling clean. Similarly, they work great with a bit of household cleaner for cleaning the kitchen floor (basically, anywhere where you find floors that aren’t carpet) or cleaning marks off the walls. If the t-shirt gets grungy after some cleaning, it’s no big deal – just toss it in the normal laundry and when it’s dry, toss it right back in the rag bag. You can get tons and tons of uses out of it.
Even better are the free t-shirts you’ll sometimes get at parades or other events. If they don’t fit anyone in our family, they’re usually directly inserted into the rag bag. (In fact, over the years, we’ve had so many that I’m now a bit choosy about them and prefer really soft ones that do a good job of cleaning.)
Use miscellaneous ingredients on the verge of getting thrown out for soup or stock, if compatible in flavor. We’ll often serve things like minimally-seasoned vegetables as side dishes for meals, and with many meals we’ll find ourselves with awkward leftovers, like a handful of mushrooms or a small amount of spinach. Rather than throwing them out, I’ll keep them in the fridge for a few days and if we have a healthy amount of a few different things and they’re even remotely compatible in flavor, I’ll make a soup or a stock out of them.
If I’m making soup, which is the option I use if I don’t have a good meal plan, I basically just cook them in vegetable stock/broth or water, adding lots of seasonings and salt and black pepper, until it’s boiling for a few minutes, then serve it. Most of the ingredients in there are either already cooked or will cook extremely fast (like chopped spinach). If there’s something that needs to cook for a while (like, say, some raw carrots), I’ll let that boil until the vegetable’s a bit soft, then I add the other stuff for just a few minutes.
If I don’t want to make soup, I’ll often throw all of the leftover vegetables in the slow cooker in the morning and let it boil and bubble all day long. As an intermediate step, I’ll put all of the leftover veggies in a large storage container in the freezer, then when that container fills up, I’ll use all of it for stock. I’ll let it simmer with some seasonings for a very long time, then strain it and freeze it in soup containers for future use as the liquid in batches of soup (or as liquid in some casseroles).
Use old condiment bottles for new condiment mixes. Quite often, I’ll hold onto old plastic condiment bottles when they run out so that I can make a new condiment mix in that bottle and store it in the fridge.
For example, I love having a container of “fry sauce” on hand, and it’s pretty easy to make. Just add two parts mayonnaise to one part ketchup in a bowl, add two teaspoons of dill pickle juice, a teaspoon of seasoned salt, and a teaspoon of ground black pepper, and whisk it thoroughly. Spoon it into the clean condiment bottle and you have yourself an amazing dipping sauce or sandwich condiment.
I’ll experiment endlessly with variations on this sauce or completely different recipes, just to provide some variety for sandwiches or for dips.
Use old spice shaker bottles for fresh spices and new spice mixes. Rather than buying a bunch of shaker bottles for spices, I just hold onto nicer ones and refill them. Furthermore, I use some of them to make my own spice mixes.
I love going to spice stores or bulk spice sections in food co-ops to stock up on fresh spices at a pretty inexpensive price for the quantity. This lets me go home and fill up a big shaker bottle with, say, dried basil or dill or oregano that’s wonderfully fragrant and fresh.
I’ll also fill up other shaker bottles with mixes of spices that I use for specific recipes. For example, I usually have a shaker bottle of pasta sauce seasoning that I add to a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato sauce in a saucepan. The seasoning mix consists of 4 parts basil, 4 parts onion powder, 2 parts marjoram, 2 parts garlic powder, 1 part rosemary, 1 part ground black pepper, 1 part savory, and 1/2 part cloves. I’ll just add all of that to a shaker bottle, shaking it thoroughly as I add ingredients, and then when I’m done I can just add several dashes of the mix right to diced tomatoes and tomato sauce for a great cheap pasta sauce.
Use window cleaner bottles for homemade window cleaning and general household cleaning solution. If I use up a bottle of Windex (or the store brand equivalent), I’ll save the bottle and use it for a homemade window cleaning solution. The bottle under the sink has had some kind of homemade brew in it for years.
I try lots of different recipes for it. Right now, it’s just a very watered down mix of Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap (24 parts water to 1 part castile soap), which also works as a general household cleaner, so I may stick with it because I can spray it on all kinds of stuff. In the past, I used a mix of 8 parts water to 1 part vinegar with a drop or two of dishwashing liquid; it also worked well as a general household cleaner.
Use soap dispensers for homemade hand soap dispensing. I do the same thing with those little soap dispensers that you can buy at the store for hand soap next to a sink. One might just toss them after use, but we save them and refill them.
If nothing else, you can buy large jugs of hand soap refill, but we’ve been using a watered down castile soap in foaming dispensers as of late (8 parts water to 1 part castile soap). It makes a different foam than normal hand soap, but it does a great job of cleaning your hands.
Use glass jars for food storage. If I have a glass jar from the store from something like pickles or salsa or even pasta sauce, I’ll usually give it a few additional uses making simple homemade pickles or sauerkraut or saving partial batches of them. I might make a gallon jar of pickles, for example, and then want to spread them out into smaller jars, and those glass jars from the store work perfectly for this.
Similarly, after I strip off the label, I’ll use larger glass jars to store things like rice and beans in the pantry. It’s a lot easier to store an extra pound of dry rice in a glass jar than in a bag or some other awkward container, plus it’s a lot easier to see it.
Use grocery bags and egg cartons as additional packing material. We usually have several canvas bags in the car to use for groceries, but if we’re buying groceries or household supplies and don’t have those bags on hand, we’ll wind up with some plastic bags. Rather than just tossing them, I’ll save them and use them as extra packing material when we ship items. (They can, of course, be easily recycled, but we don’t have curbside recycling in our area and the nearest place to take them is more than 10 miles away.)
Balled-up plastic bag work wonderfully as packing material for most items, nestling the items inside of a cardboard box surrounded by those bags will get them to their destination safely. I often ship board games via the mail, so I’ll double-layer them in plastic grocery bags then surround the double-bagged game with balled-up bags and they arrive safe and sound.
You can use egg cartons in a similar fashion if there’s plenty of space in the box. A few empty egg cartons provide a great buffer for holding items still in a box when it is shipped.
Use coffee grounds and egg shells and used tea in the garden. We used to actively compost, but we found that we would struggle to have enough kitchen scraps to make good compost in any reasonable amount of time. Instead, we’ll take used coffee grounds and used eggshells, let them completely dry out, then run them through the blender to make a powdery mix, then spread that powder on the garden as a free fertilizer.
Just rinse the eggshells thoroughly and let them dry in a container for a week or two, and let used coffee grounds and used tea dry out for several days on a plate or a paper towel, and save them when they’re dry in a bag. Toss all of it in a blender, run it on high for 20 seconds, then take that powder and spread it on your garden. It’s a marvelous simple fertilizer.
Use egg cartons, old candles, and dryer lint to make fire starters. I’ll hang onto the last bits of old candles and when I have plenty, I’ll then hang onto paper egg cartons and dryer lint for a week or two. I turn all of that into great fire starters for campfires or fireplaces.
Just take the egg carton, stuff each well with dryer lint, then take melted candle wax and pour it thoroughly on top to “bind” the dryer lint to the egg carton. Let it dry, then when you need to start a fire, tear off an “egg” and light the paper egg container part. It’ll catch fire easily and the wax and lint mixture will burn hot and long enough for you to get some smaller pieces of wood going. It’s a great way to get a final use out of a candle that’s burned down to the nub, as well as avoid just throwing away lint and egg cartons.
Use paper towel and toilet paper rolls to make “lint logs” for fire starters. Just stuff some dryer lint into the tube, then roll up each end tightly to form a little “package” with dryer lint in the middle. Again, it’s easy to light the tube and then the lint will burn wonderfully as you get a fire going.
I find that just rolling the tube tightly is enough to make it stay in place, but if you need a little more, a small bit of masking tape is perfect, plus you can just burn it with the masking tape in place when you need the fire starter.
Use old toothbrushes as cleaning tools. When you become concerned that your old toothbrush isn’t cleaning your teeth as well as you’d like and move to a fresh one, that old brush still has some life left in it. Just clean it thoroughly and start using it as a household cleaning tool.
Toothbrushes are great at cleaning really hard to reach spots or narrow places where it’s hard to get with a rag or other tools. I often use them to clean around the edges of faucets and sinks, for example – a drop of soap on the toothbrush and some scrubbing around the edges quickly leaves those spots looking nice and clean. You can keep using an old toothbrush until most of the bristles have fallen out, getting a ton of use out of it.
Use old food storage containers for other storage purposes. Food storage containers eventually outlive their usefulness, as they’ll become cracked and don’t work quite so well for storing food any more. However, a food storage container with a tiny leak remains useful for storing bigger items, so you can transition it to another part of the house for other storage needs.
A food storage container is great for storing nails and washers. It’s great for storing bits for crafting projects. It’s great for storing board game pieces (especially the smaller food containers). It’s great for storing anything that’s small and can easily make a mess.
Use two liter plastic storage bottles to store rice. Quite often, bulk rice comes in these big awkward bags that are difficult to really use effectively in the kitchen. What you ideally want is something that can easily sit in the pantry, keep the rice fresh because it’s sealed up, and then make it really easy to dispense the rice as needed.
Two liter soda bottles are perfect for this.
Just take a few two liter bottles, wash them thoroughly, dry them out, and then you can buy jumbo bags of rice and fill a few of those bottles. Just use a wide-mouth funnel and they fill easily. Pop a cap on top and pop them in the cupboard and you’re good to go.
When you want to use rice, you simply pull out a bottle and pour. It’s easy to fill up a measuring cup with it and, as you get more experienced, you can eyeball how much you need in your cooking pot quite easily. It solves the rice storage problem with ease.
You can do the same thing with very small beans (like lentils) and popcorn, but anything much larger than that won’t pour out of the mouth easily.
The lesson here is that many things you might instinctively throw away actually have other household uses, and when you move items to those other uses, not only are you extending the item’s lifespan, you’re probably replacing the need to purchase a different item. Repurposing things I might otherwise throw away means I’m not buying things like condiment mixes or spice mixes or fire starters or storage containers or fertilizer or packing peanuts or lots of other little things.
Whenever you’re about to toss something, give it a second thought. Is there something actually useful you could do with this?