When I was growing up, my frugal-to-the-core mother was the master of “re-using.”  Now, first, I must say that I love my mother more than anyone on earth and my respect for her knows no bounds.  However, as a child, this whole concept of “Don’t throw that away!  You can RE-use it!” was first annoying and then just “not cool.”  Ironically, now a few years out of college and attempting to make ends meet, that concept has suddenly become “genius!”  If you’re in the mindset of save, save, save and you’ve got the whole recycled thing under your belt, fantastic!  But, I’d venture to say that even better than recycling sometimes, is simply re-using.  And, yes though it may have seemed annoying and uncool to my child-like/teen mind, this really isn’t nearly as terrifying as you may think.  It’s actually incredibly easy, and in some cases, fun!  So here goes, from my mom and from my own endeavors, is a Top 10 List of some easy things to re-use that you may have not considered before.

Flickr/CC - moonlightbulb

  • Teabags – one of my mom’s favorites.  She easily gets three cups from one tea bag.  Not going to drink that many cups in one day?  She puts hers in a glass dish and places in the fridge till the next time she wants a cup.

  • Tinfoil – another mom idea.  For used tinfoil that doesn’t come in contact with food, she simply refolds into a square when done and stores it until the next time she needs it.  She can make a roll of tinfoil last forever, people!

  • Coffee grounds – you can stop throwing them away!  And, no, I’m not going to tell you to make another pot of coffee, I’m too much of a caffeine addict for that.  However!  They do make an excellent addition to your compost bin for fertilizer.

  • Plastic bags – you can easily re-use all types of plastic bags: bread bags, sandwich bags, produce bags, etc.  If they’re clean, all the better, just fold up and store away, and if not, just wash in soapy water, rinse out and let dry.

  • Glass jars – these make great storage containers for leftovers!  If they’re airtight, you can even store dry goods like sugar, pasta, and flour in them.  I also use the “pretty” ones around the house for fun ways to hold pens and pencils and even toothbrushes!

  • Brown paper bags – hello wrapping paper!  Brown paper with a little red ribbon looks fantastically classy.

  • Egg cartons – ideal for starting seedlings if you’re a gardener.  Just cut off the lid, fill the cups with your favorite potting soil and go to it!  The best part?  Once your seedlings are ready, you can cut each cup out and plant the whole thing; the carton will disintegrate.

  • Food containers – think butter dishes and cool whip containers.  Wash out and use for storage (no more buying plastic Tupperware).  My mom always used hers for dishes for feeding pets outside.

  • Glass soda bottles – okay, disclaimer: I’m not promoting drinking soda!  BUT, if you’ve got some around, these make really fun flower vases.  You can also fill them with scented bath oils and salts and decorate with just a simple bow.  Great gift idea!

  • Greeting cards – save your Christmas cards this year (or any fun cards for that matter!), cut out the picture, (fancy scissors will make this even more unique) and place on matching cardstock.  Stamp or print out your saying of choice inside.  Now that beats $3.25 for a generic card doesn’t it?

  • Have some fun, pick the ones that work best for you, and see just what you can re-use that you might not have considered before.  Do you have some ideas I’m missing?  Please share, I’d love to hear them!

    Author Tara Alley is a freelance writer from Montana who is very passionate about healthy cooking living a more eco-friendly lifestyle.  When not in the kitchen or working on her own writing, you can find her promoting green coffee for Coffee Home Direct.


    1. Mrs. J @ Road Less Traveled // Friday, January 28, 2011 7:52:00 AM  

      Very cool. As a kid, I wasn't into saving or reusing things. But like you, fresh out of college, I'm trying to save and reuse EVERYTHING to save a buck. I use your mom's tinfoil trick, and we reuse plastic baggies so long as they aren't wet and gross. We save jars and containers.

      We save tomato cans and use them to melt wax for pouring candles.

      We use newspaper to make seed starting pots. We compost EVERYTHING--food, tissues, paper, hair, you name it.

      We use junk mail as scratch paper. We cut up old hole-y t-shirts and use them as rags or handkerchiefs.

      If you're creative you can find a new purpose for almost everything!

    2. weston // Friday, January 28, 2011 8:49:00 AM  


      Re: reusing coffee grounds to make more coffee. Give a try. I regular leave the grounds from my most recent cup of coffee in the filter. When I want a fresh cup I just add half of what I usually use to the grounds that are already in the filter. I taste absolutely no difference.

      I only reuse the grounds once however, before throwing everything out and starting over.

    3. Anonymous // Friday, January 28, 2011 10:07:00 AM  

      As for greeting cards, I cut them up. I use them for recipe cards tape or write the recipe on a clear spot, and then when I use it I see what people have written or the Merry Christmas! message, and makes me smile at that person. That way I don't have to buy index cards or specific recipe cards. I also use the empty part for making lists.

    4. Jerry // Friday, January 28, 2011 2:29:00 PM  

      Wow! I thought MY mom was frugal! Good for you and your mom. It sounds like she taught you a lot. I love that these folks are environmentalists and they may not even intend to be. It leads to savings on the money side AND the nature side. A win-win. And, it's insurance that you will never have to buy a plastic bag again!

    5. krantcents // Friday, January 28, 2011 5:22:00 PM  

      Once upon a time this was thought of as kooky or cheap! Now it is old fashion recycling. I love it because I am cheap. I used to be embarrassed, when people called me cheap. Now I can be proud of it.

    6. Mama Kelly aka Jia // Sunday, January 30, 2011 5:17:00 PM  

      Some great ideas here. One of my favorite uses for old Xmas cards is to hang them up as a border around the doorways.

    7. Michelle // Monday, January 31, 2011 1:11:00 PM  

      I reuse brown paper, and white bags (with no color printing) for draining grease off of foods.

    8. Chris at yardsalequeen.com // Monday, January 31, 2011 2:50:00 PM  

      you do just mean the egg cartons that are made out of cardboard, right? Most times the eggs I buy are in a styrofoam carton.