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).
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.
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
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 containers being given a new life:
When we got these ridiculously large (probably 5-gallon or more) tins at a blog retreat last 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 these 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:
- spaghetti sauce
- peanut butter
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:
We have a bag of lids in our camping gear to put under candles, too, so they don’t drip on the table.
Old 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!
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 What You Have 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 I bought in the fall when they were $2.99/lb., another holds bags of dried beans, still another boxes 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 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?
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.
See all of the Decreasing Disposables Series here.