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Monday Mission: Repurpose Kitchen Containers as Unusual (Frugal) Storage Methods

While others are meticulously organizing their cupboards and pantries or posting beautiful pictures of their type A storage systems, I’m taking the alternative route and showing you some ways I use what I have and watch for strange and unusual storage solutions.

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to throw away and recycle fewer items from your kitchen by repurposing containers for other uses around the house.

The best part about this mission? It saves money AND the Earth, and it keeps you humble when everything isn’t new and coordinated in your home (at least that’s what I tell myself). It’s so easy to repurpose your kitchen containers. Learn more about decreasing disposables.

Free is my favorite price to pay. I could spend plenty of money on pretty storage containers instead of reusing what I already have, but I’d rather spend it other places.

Kitchen Containers

It only takes a little forethought. Consider all the non-food things you might dispose of in your kitchens:

  • glass jars
  • little cardboard boxes
  • styrofoam trays, egg cartons, etc.
  • plastic bags
  • plastic tubs
  • wrappers of all kinds
repurposing kitchen egg carton container

I’ve already talked about how to cut down on food waste and we’ve discussed many ways to reuse plastic bags, as well as how to re-use bags and containers without washing them.

I bet many of you already wash and reuse ziploc-style bags, whether you’re supposed to or not according to the manufacturer. Now let’s brainstorm together about ways to repurpose any of the above items (and more!).

To make this work, you need to plan ahead. It’s hard to tell when you might need a little (or big!) jar or container of some sort. See if you can find a place in your home where you can keep containers awaiting a use.

Here’s an example of some used kitchen containers being given a new life:

repurposing kitchen can containers

When we got some ridiculously large (probably 5-gallon or more) tins at a blog retreat one spring, most people had no clue what to do with them. I immediately saw them overflowing with amber waves of grain and begged a few extras off my colleagues. They now hold my bulk whole grain stores, which I mostly try to leave in the original bags as well for extra protection from the elements and because I wasn’t positive what the containers were made of.

Save and Repurpose Your Jars!

If you’re trying to cut down on plastic storage containers, there’s no better substitute than glass, especially when it’s free.  I save ALL my glass jars, and every time I think I’ve got too many and it’s time to start recycling them, I end up making a huge batch of chicken stock or dehydrating some nuts or sending some soup to a friend who just had a baby. Now I’m almost out again! I save jars from:

Most of them get used for food, but some end up in other parts of the house holding crayons and colored pencils, or toys. I’ve also used a plastic lid as a paint palette for my budding artist:

repurposing kitchen plastic lid

We have a bag of lids in our camping gear to put under candles so they don’t drip on the table.

Reusing Food Containers = Free Toys

Kids are truly simple beings. Some of my kids’ favorite toys are just household objects, like clean laundry or a stack of coasters. We have some seriously free toys in our house:

  • Plastic cups from children’s meals at restaurants become bath and beach toys, as do caps from shaving cream or laundry detergent.
  • Oatmeal canisters become drums
  • I made a toy from an oatmeal canister – I just put a slit in the lid that a bunch of caps from milk, juice and water bottles would fit into. It serves as an “in and out game” toy for 8-18 mos., then a small motor skill toy for toddlers (putting the caps in the slot), then a sorting by color and counting manipulative for the preschool set. And all for zero dollars. 🙂

Oatmeal containers are also great for storing homemade crackers, croutons, and cookies. If you buy potato chips in a can (Pringles), you can wipe it out and store cookies perfectly without breaking them. Great for mailing to relatives, too!

repurposing kitchen cans

Repurpose Plastic Containers for Free Toy Storage

I always disliked the toys that come with many parts and no container to keep them in, because there’s the challenge of “how do I store this without losing any parts?”  I can usually find something in my stash.

Plastic containers like those that hold sour cream or yogurt work well for small toys. I use old grapefruit bags for things like stuffed animals, sports gear, or beach toys – the sand falls right out of the holes in the bag!

Be sure to save any heavy-duty plastic bag that acts as packaging. They’re great for keeping puzzles in.

Parmesan cheese containers are super useful. If you use real Parm like I should, this won’t apply to use, but here are the places I reuse the green-topped bottles:

  • filled with baking soda under the sink for cleaning
  • fertilizer shaker in the garden, also for dusting tomatoes with baking soda/dry milk mixture (label WELL with big black X so no one thinks it’s food)
  • full of sunflower seeds for snacking
  • with the label still on – full of flax meal for sprinkling on salads

Reuse Kitchen Containers for Food Storage

Here are some ways I use old containers for new purposes:

  • oatmeal canisters (the big ones): used for storing homemade crackers or croutons and sprouted grains, but mostly for separating my 25-pound bags of oatmeal into usable portions. I have a dozen canisters stacked in my basement, all full, and at about one quarter the cost of buying them individually at Save-a-Lot. Pour out of the massive 25-pound bag into as many canisters as you have, all at one time. Then you only have to sweep up your inevitable mess one time.
  • glass jars (from everything from spaghetti sauce to olives): I store dehydrated peppers and tomatoes, homemade granola, nuts and seeds, home-dried fruit, and more in glass jars, “free” (repurposed) as much as possible. I also freeze food in glass jars regularly – click HERE to learn what I do on the rare occasion that I get a broken one!
  • paper sacks: no good for long-term storage, you’re probably thinking. The sacks serve as my organizational dividers on the floor underneath wall shelving in my laundry room (aka “extra pantry”). One bag holds the remainder of the 60 pounds of almonds (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) I bought in the fall when they were $2.99/lb., another holds bags of dried beans, still another box of pasta. They provide categories and containment.
  • spice jars: if you buy spices in bulk, chances are you need an easy way to access them while cooking. I save almost every size and shape of spice jar I empty, just to be sure I’m ready if I need a small container.
  • regular grocery bags: in the freezer, I end up with lots of zipper bags of various things. In order to keep them all from falling on my feet when I open the door, I’ll group by category: smoothie ingredients, baby food, “stuff to add to sauces so the husband doesn’t know” (the chopped liver, beef heart, pureed sweet potato…). Each category has its own plastic bag. It’s not pretty, but at least it’s still not heavy enough to break my toe when they fall out anyway, and it keeps me sane because there are ultimately fewer things to look through when I need something.
  • popcorn tins: I don’t get the Boy Scout tins of popcorn for Christmas anymore (people know better), but people I know do. I always ask if I can have them when they’re empty when family members open great containers at Christmastime. These hold some of my smaller (5-pound) grain purchases.
  • buckets: I haven’t figured out what I’m putting in the large plastic bucket my frozen cherries came in this year, but food-grade buckets are a really popular option for storing bulk foods. You can often get them at bakeries for free – check out the conversation in the comments here for more information or this article from a serious prepper on long-term storage in buckets.

Free Sandwich Containers

This idea is from Tanya, a reader here at KS. She fashioned these sandwich boxes out of the bottoms of juice and milk cartons. She doesn’t feel too badly if her children accidentally throw them away like she might with an expensive stainless steel version. Aren’t they great?

repurposed lunch boxes

I encourage you to think out of the box trash can this month, start saving items that could be repurposed, and share your ideas in the comments for other ways to get free containers save a few things from the landfills.

What creative (and cheap!) ideas do you have for storage containers or finding space in your house?

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

57 thoughts on “Monday Mission: Repurpose Kitchen Containers as Unusual (Frugal) Storage Methods”

  1. Pingback: 200 Ways to Reuse, Repurpose & Recycle for Earth Day

  2. I don’t hae a sugestion, but a delima. Eeryone in my household (husband and brother who lies with us, Son who doesn’t lie with us) gets upset at me repurposing, and reccling thing. How can I bring them on board or at least get them to stop throwing things away I am saing for reuse? Any ideas?

    1. Ruth,
      Tricky one! Can you appeal to some other side of them, maybe frugality, or practicality, showing how useful they are? Also make sure you’re being practical about how MUCH you hold onto. If you have 2-5x as many containers as you’ll ever possibly use, it’s time to recycle or donate some to an art teacher at an elementary school. 🙂 Katie

  3. Joanne Cannella

    There have been some fantastic ideas on this post and all the comments. I try to reuse most containers but especially the glass ones. To remove the labels, dissolve 1/4 cup of Oxyclean in a gallon or two of hot water. Put your jars in and let them soak for about 30 minutes. The labels and glue come right off. If there is still glue, make a paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and rub it in until the glue is gone. Thanks for all the ideas.

  4. Jessica via Facebook

    I save the wax bags in cereal boxes to use to separate things – or wrap them up- in the kids lunches.

  5. Rebecca via Facebook

    Love thew parm container idea the baking soda box was driving me nuts, off to see who’s trash i can raid since we buy it in bulk. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Ways to Save Money Around the House | Modern Alternative Mama

  7. Reuse the plastic drink cup lids from restaurants for spoon rests while cooking.
    I reuse the large mesh bags (grapefruit or potatoes) for storing unbreakable holiday decor. They hang easily from a hook or nail in storage areas basement /attic. I can easily see the contents as needed, Halloween, Valentines Day, etc.

    1. Deb,
      Here’s a bunch of weird stuff I put on tomato plants:
      🙂 Katie

  8. Great ideas!! I use cereal boxes as mini trash bins in the bathroom and near the wash basin for throwing used q tips..cotton ..etc… and finally throw them away..that way I do not have to buy trash bins and empty them! I try not to put recyclable plastic pieces in them however…

  9. Your comment about the strofoam trays reminded me of my grandmother. When my mom and I had to move her from a 4 bedroom house to a 1 bedroom apartment, we discovered all kinds of things she had been hoarding! She had – no kidding – a 5 foot stack of those kinds of trays! We have no idea WHY (or how!) she had so many.

  10. We repurpose jars and use them as vases.
    -For gifts for teachers and new neighbors I put clippings of plants in our home in jars that I leave around the house (pleasant and air purifying). When the clippings are ready the kids and I plant them in flower pots that we’ve purchased from yard sales and thrift shops.
    -My daughter’s birthday party is coming up. We are going flower picking at a local organic farm.
    Each child will be given a jar/vase for their flowers…a recycled favor!

    Our favorite way to repurpose is the Invention Box!
    We take large boxes (I like the ones that hold reams of paper because they have a top and a bottom.) and decorate them for my children’s friends – we are currently working on a Star Wars themed box for a 5yr old.
    Inside the box we put any items we think could be used to create “inventions” that would normally be recycled.
    My son has created a Hot Wheels garage, collages, and a Spiderman factory with things in his invention box.
    We usually include masking tape, glue and scissors in the “invention box” as well.
    This present has been enthusiatically received by several of my son’s 5 yr old friends.

  11. Love the ideas! Thanks for passing them along. I’m always torn when I’m faced with packaging – do I throw it away and feel like I’m ruining the earth, or hang onto it and feel like a hoarder? I tend to keep quite a bit, but then I fall into the problem of storage! I think my best bet is to buy products with less packaging. 🙂

  12. Does anyone know of a good way to remove the glue from the label on glass containers? We have some spaghetti sauce jars that have some pretty stubborn glue. We’ve used Goo Gone in the past, but we’d like to find a non-toxic alternative.


    1. Angie,
      That’s a tough one! I still have some Goo Gone, so I haven’t sought out a new method. I assume you’ve soaked them in the dishwater…maybe rubbing alcohol? Just shooting in the dark on that one – Katie

    2. If you’re not opposed to nail polish remover, it usually does the trick. I think it’s the acetone in it that does the job.

    3. Angie, sometimes if you rub the label with cooking oil and let it sit a little while to penetrate the label, it will slide right off.

  13. I love your ideas on reusing! I teach at an environmentally conscious Montessori school. We reuse the foam produce trays to create sewing cards. Punch holes in the tray to form either a simple pattern (like a trapezoid) or a larger grid (for free form design). The child can use yarn (leftover from another project) on a large blunt needle or use an old shoelace (it helps to tie a knot in one end) to sew a design on the trays.

    ~* Laura LaLa

    1. Laura,
      My son goes to a Montessori – what a perfect idea! That’s my next crafty project, for sure. I had been using cardboard for our sewing patterns.
      Thank you! 🙂 Katie

  14. Kristia @Family Balance Sheet

    great post. My grandmother saved every container. She still does and when we go to visit she always gives us some kind of goody stored in a cool whip or sherbert container.

    I keep containers too, and just yesterday used two sour cream containers to store my daughter’s art supplies: sequins and popsicle sticks.

    What do you think of reusing plastic containers from sour cream, or butter, etc for food storage? honestly I haven’t researched it, I just know that my nanny has been using them for years. She would never dream of buying reusable containers like glad or ziploc.
    .-= Kristia @Family Balance Sheet´s last blog ..Odd$ and End$ =-.

    1. Kristia,
      Those containers are generally plastic number 5, which is not on any danger lists. I wouldn’t heat them in a microwave, ever, but I do reuse them for food. I use glass whenever possible, but for freezing things like beans and broth, I tend to utilize those plastic containers. My thought? I HOPE it’s okay!!
      🙂 Katie

      1. Hi Katie,

        I think that you mean #5 plastic. #5 is supposed to be an OK plastic to reuse, according to my research. I don’t like to put hot things into them or to heat in them, but I do use them because they are handy (read: free after I eat the food that came in them and don’t know what else to do with them because we do not have availability to #5 recycling where I live).

        .-= Stacy´s last blog ..Giveaway over at Simple Mom =-.

        1. Stacy,
          You are absolutely right. I had to go check to make sure I was wrong, but no. 4 is plastic bags, and 5 is containers. Both on the “safe” list! Thank you – I’ll make corrections now!

  15. Love it! I once wrote a similar post about how to reuse cereal boxes and similar packaging for organizing, but there are many new ideas here!

  16. Just this week I offered 70 glass baby food jars on FreeCycle. Someone came and picked up the whole lot for storing her paints. I’m so glad someone else is able to repurpose them!

    1. Lenetta @ Nettacow

      I actually sold baby food jars on ebay – you can read my tips on it here. 🙂 We can’t recycle glass in our town.

      This year, I also gave several away via Freecycle to the same gentleman that made horseradish last year (from my comments section on the above post). I got a filled jar of the good stuff in return!
      .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..7 Quick Takes – Snowed In Edition =-.

  17. we started saving glass, too, about a year ago, figuring repurposing trumps recycling in energy saved. it’s nice to keep bulk purchases in glass, and this time of year, i’m putting christmas gifts in glass jars, too. i also love little mason jars as juice glasses.

    we punch holes in the lids of glass jars and keep baking soda shakers under each sink for scouring and one by the diaper pail.

    i mailed out two packages this week in graham cracker boxes, but i really need to try baking my own crackers, etc. to eliminate that packaging altogether…that’s the next step:)
    .-= suzannah´s last blog ..sunny day, sweeping the clouds away =-.

  18. Anne,
    It simply means you may not have commented before – the computer does it and I have to get time to get to my comments board. They all get approved thought! 🙂 Katie

  19. You are quite the resourceful one! These are all great ideas!
    .-= Kaye´s last blog ..WFMW – Helping Baby Dress =-.

  20. The Rambling Housewife

    These are some great ideas! I am always looking for ways to reduce the amount of stuff I throw away. And even though I recycle most of these things, it will still be great to have some ways to re-use them, instead. Thanks for sharing! I’m looking forward to reading through more of your ideas.

  21. Kristin @ Prudent and Practical

    Great ideas! I’ve been saving up jars for a while, so I have a nice little stash. I mainly use mine to store broth when I do a crockpot meal. In fact, just today I pulled some broth out of the freezer because dh wanted homemade gravy. 🙂

    I used a bunch of jars to make garage storage for nails, staples, etc.

    I have quite a few extract jars that I’m clueless what to use them for. Any ideas? And just when I was getting frustrated with the stash of pb jars, I decided to have a holiday cooking day. They’ll be the perfect size for holding homemade roasted nuts, granola, and Chex mix Christmas gifts!
    .-= Kristin @ Prudent and Practical´s last blog ..Dresser Drawer to Designer Dog Bed =-.

  22. The sugar sack comment brought back memories of Catholic grade school (a long time ago) and packing a scrambled egg sandwich in it to eat for breakfast after daily Mass. There were 9 children in our family and we each (at least the younger of us) had our own sugar sack that we used until it practically fell apart. They were great because they were sturdy and lasted a long time.

    I like the idea of using a flour sack for dredging food items before cooking. I would think one would throw it away after doing it once, though; especially if dredging meat. But if I can recycle something once, I figure that’s better than not at all.

    I keep dry roasted peanut jars near my kitchen sink and when I want warm water from the faucet, rather than let the cold water run down the drain until it warms, I fill the peanut jars with the water and then use it for watering plants or pouring into a used dish or bowl in the sink to soak before washing the dishes.

    I’m trying not to buy oatmeal in the cardboard containers because I don’t like to throw them out. I’ve been buying oatmeal in bulk from a natural foods store
    (do need to use a plastic bag to put it in), and then at home I put the entire bag into one of my oatmeal containers. Also use them for storing powdered sugar, dried beans, etc., in their original bags.

    The sturdy cardboard boxes that I don’t use, I take to a postal center near me. I could flatten them and recycle them with our city pick-up, but the owner of the postal center is delighted to have them. They will pick up free of charge items that senior citizens want mailed, and they pack them in the recycled boxes without charging the person for a new box. It warms my soul to see that everyone wins.

    1. Anne,
      Wow, I am so impressed with the saving water in jars idea. That is a serious commitment to conservation! Awesome!

      You can buy (find?) cloth bags for bulk produce and foods, too, and I’ve been trying to reuse my plastic ones when they’re not moist.

      Thanks for the inspiration!

      1. Do you mean the bigger cloth bags that are used in place of “paper or plastic?” at checkout? I do take my cloth bags into the grocery store with me and continually reuse them, but I haven’t seen cloth bags to use for things like oatmeal, rice, etc. — or for produce. I try to put as many different kinds of produce in one plastic bag so that I’m limiting the bags that I do use. I don’t use an extra bag for bananas. And I usually reuse the veggie plastic bags at home for collecting stuff for my compost bin.

        1. Anne,
          Places like and actually sell simple cloth sacks just for produce. I don’t have any, but they’re an interesting concept!

          1. You can recycle a tshirt that is stained or the neck wore out into a drawstring bag or two for produce or bulk dry goods.
            No need to use a new plastic bag for bulk oatmeal, you can always reuse one you already have or take a container, most of the scales will adjust for the weight of the container.

  23. At one point the Children’s Museum here in Grand Rapids would take donations of styrofoam trays to use when they do crafts with kids…not sure if they still do or not.
    Also, we recently received a birthday gift in the mail for our daughter from her aunt and uncle, packaged in a box they made out of an old Cheerios box (similar to the sandwich boxes in the post). The gift was rather light so this might not work for sending heavier packages, but it saved both a new box and wrapping paper, and our daughter loved it!

    1. I tried doing this with some Fruit Loop boxes to mail something. The post office worker did not like it. Said it would get squished and easily torn that way. Asked me not to do it again. 🙁 Oh, well. I tried. Would work as a gift box in person though!

  24. Hi Katie,

    Here’s a double re-use tip: I save all my glass jars from spaghetti sauce, salsa, peanut butter, etc. I also save all my candles that have burned kind of wonky (you know how pillars tend to get all mangled at the top?) or the ones where the wick has all burnt down but there’s a bunch of wax left. It’s slightly time-consuming, but pretty easy to melt down that wax and use it to make new jar candles! I recently spent about $5 for some wicking and wick tabs, and was able to make almost 20 candles of various sizes–all with jars and candles that I already had!
    .-= April´s last blog ..Etsy finds =-.

  25. are you adverse to food touching the styrofoam in a storage situation? My gma uses them as trays for her homemade muffins & quick breads. Some times she freezes them (slip the tray inside a reused plastic bag) & other times she gives them as gifts right away.

    1. Tonya,
      Not sure where I stand on styrofoam. It’s a good idea to add rigidity to muffins when freezing, though. If it’s toxic (might be?) one could just put a layer of freezer paper between. Great idea!

  26. Gia, my mother always used empty sugar and flour bags to put the flour/spice mixture in when frying things. Dip it (zucchini slices, pieces of meat, or chicken livers) in a milk and egg mixture, then drop a few in the bag with flour and shake. Coats things nicely, and you don’t have to wash a container afterwards.

    My mother is the queen of reuse. When she would get onions or bell peppers really cheap, she would chop them up and freeze them in an empty bread bag and just break some off as needed. Maybe double bag those onions!!

    I’ve been using old aluminum pie pans when sending food where I may not get the container back. (sausage balls to a priest brunch and cookies to my daughter’s pre-school)

    I also reuse lots of old containers as toys for my kids. Examples: spice jars, oatmeal canisters, nut cans, cereal boxes and lots more! I sometimes wonder what others think when they see all the “junk” on the floor. But I guess that doesn’t matter, now does it?!

    Thanks for the inspiring post, we could all use some new ideas!!

  27. I try reduce our waste daily. We live in the country so anything that can be recycled has to be taken to town. When shopping I try to buy food in things that I can reuse. My mom says my frig looks like a science lab, all the jars. If I don’t grab that empty box then the kids will., instant toy that can be colored and used. I also use empty boxes to mail things in. Your x-mas present is going to come in an interesting box!! Any ideas on reusing sugar and flour bags?

    1. Gia,
      Sugar and flour bags are not one I had thought of reusing, since they can be recycled with paper. Maybe just for storing rolls or cookies? I wonder…

      good ideas!


    I never thought of so many of these things but I love to reuse stuff and also to make stuff myself whenever possible. I especially love the game from old caps and an oatmeal container. I bet my daughter would love it now and my son will love it soon (he’s almost 5 months).

    I also like to give my daughter (22 months) empty spice containers so she can use them in her play kitchen!
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Teaching Kids about Chores =-.

    1. Kate,
      You bet – spice containers make great shakers, too, even when they’re full. (Just ask my daughter, who is way too close to being able to get the lids off for me to continue letting her play with them!) 🙂 Katie

  29. We use the styrofoam trays for holidays and bake sales. This was my grandmother’s trick, to line up cookies of cake squares or the like on recycled styrofoam trays, cover them, and send them off to friends for Christmas or the elementary school for the annual bake sale. That way, no new container is required in a situation where you’re unlikely to ever see them again. The same works for individual portions of holiday leftovers after big family meals.

    And, there are places in our area that recycle styrofoam, ps. 🙂

  30. Barb@My Daily Round

    I love the idea of the packages with zippers for puzzles! My sister-in-law and I use them for storage of clothes. She likes to put underwear in them.

    After reading Amanda Soule’s Handmade Home, I’ve been developing a stash of recycled items for art projects. Still figuring out how to store things in that nemesis called my basement!
    .-= Barb@My Daily Round´s last blog ..Caught! =-.

  31. I love the idea of making sandwich boxes out of juice cartons!

    We use cardboard egg cartons to make fire starters for the wood stove with dryer lint and old candle stubs.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday – Week of 12/7/2009 =-.

  32. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    Good morning, Katie! Here’s a post on Frugal Family Fun Blog on re-using block prints from styrofoam trays. I can’t bring myself to reuse something that held raw meat :>) so your produce trays would be perfect!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Link Roundup – I Smell Popcorn Edition =-.

    1. I give them to the store before I leave with them, I also do this with the meat department who will wrap it for you in paper if you ask.

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