Try “Upcycling” to Make Your Own Creative Gifts

cheese grater earring standThis time of year, a lot of us talk big about homemade gifts.

But very few ever follow through on actually making something. So we end up on a last-minute run to the store two days before Christmas.

Let’s face it…not many of us know how to knit and crochet, have impressive woodworking skills or enjoy baking cookies.

However, a little bit of creativity can go a long way. The concept of upcycling can even turn re-gifting into an art. So if you want to give this homemade gift thing a real try – keep reading. Otherwise, the mall will be happy to see you rushing around on December 23rd, half-an-hour before they close.

What Is Upcycling Anyway?

You’ve probably got a pretty good guess already. But I’m still going to lay some background info on you…

To put it simply, upcycling is a type of recycling that involves turning unwanted junk into something pretty sweet. Take the old cheese-grater turned earring stand shown above.

Most recycling is actually downcycling. You take old material and turn it into new material that is usually of lesser quality. That’s why recycled paper and plastic isn’t quite as durable. However, it still saves energy and reduces pollution.

Upcycling is the complete reverse. You’re taking something and re-imagining it’s purpose, giving it greater value.

american garbageIn America, we throw away more stuff than most other nations. Yet we still complain about having too much junk and clutter in our homes.

Over the holidays it gets even worse.

According to The Clean Air Council, we generate an extra one-million tons of waste per week between Thanksgiving and New Years.

If your family is like mine, then you’ve probably got a basement, and maybe a couple closets or an attic, full of stuff you’re not using. But you just haven’t tossed it in the trash or donated it to Goodwill yet.

Why not try to balance things out a little bit by searching through those boxes and bins for things you can upcycle?

Upcycling Ideas and Resources to Get You Started

If you need help getting those creative gears going – check out some of these sites for hundreds of possibilities. Most are linked to tutorials so you can do it yourself.

Here are some of our favorite ideas from those resources:

The Beach Towel Tote Bag

beach towel tote bagYou don’t really need superior sewing skills to make this one happen. You just need to know how to stitch.

Find a colorful towel (beach or bathroom) and turn it into a tote-bag you can take on vacation or to the pool.

It’s an easy and creative gift, that is actually courtesy of  Martha Stewart. You have to wonder if she came up with this one when she was in the slammer.

This is just one of 111 Upcycling Projects listed in an extensive slideshow on You’ll also find out how to make coasters and bathmats from wine corks, drinking glasses out of old beer bottles, and turn torn t-shirts into scarves and headbands.

Homemade Christmas Ornaments

This is probably the easiest homemade gift idea. In fact, it’s a great project for your kids, which will allow them to give gifts to grandparents and friends this holiday.

Just about anything with a festive look can be turned into an ornament for the Christmas tree. If you’ve been saving old Christmas cards from years past, you can let the kids cut out the pictures and glue them on to something sturdy – like a tin can lid or cardboard. Family photos work well too.

Check out the blog Hands On as We Grow for a list of 30 Homemade Christmas Ornaments kids can make.

The PEZnorah

upcycling pez menorahSometimes Jewish kids get a little bummed that Hanukkah isn’t quite as glitzy and exciting as Christmas and Santa. Enter – The PEZnorah!

But this idea from is guaranteed to make the holiday a bit more fun for the youngsters.

They’ll look forward to lighting the menorah each night as their favorite characters become part of your Hanukkah traditions. Of course, you will have to find or buy nine different PEZ dispensers. has a ton of other project ideas that range from easy to extraordinary.

Bubble Blowers for Kids

blowing-snake-bubblesSometimes the simplest things can provide the most fun.

Sure, video games and toys that make noise will be popular with the little ones. But the one thing that can top playing with electronics is making a big mess!

These easy-to-assemble bubble blowers are another idea from

The list of what you need can be found in every home:

  • Plastic Bottle
  • Wash Cloth
  • Rubber Band
  • Dish Soap

Decorate your bottles and you’ve got a pretty cool stocking stuffer that makes a snake-like stream of sudsy bubbles. If all the cousins get one, you’ll have your own holiday snow machine!

Check out Pinterest and Etsy for More

The idea of upcycling has gained a lot of steam in recent years. There were less than 8,000 Etsy items described as upcycling projects in 2010. Last year, there were more than 30,000. is a great place to look for ideas. However, if you just don’t have the time for DIY Christmas gifts, but you like the environmentally-friendly concept or the unique look, this way you can still be involved. Support other upcyclers by purchasing what they’ve made.

Pinterest is yet another place to look for upcycling ideas. It’s full of links to creative crafts. There are even Pinterest boards dedicated to upcycling – like this one labeled Random Upcycling Ideas from

How Do You Get Creative at Christmas?

We’d love to hear your ideas and inspirations for homemade gifts over the holiday season.

Leave a comment below and let us know what you do!

+Kasey Steinbrinck writes regularly on personal finances and the U.S. economy for CheckAdvantage. Visit them today and view their most popular checks including a big collection of Holiday Checks and return address labels.

Image courtesy of photoholic /


  1. Oh yeah, I’m going to make the bubble blower :O) Fun ideas!

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