Upcycling: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Get inspired to flip your finds into something amazing.

Published February 7, 2023
a woman restores and improves an old wooden chair

Turning thrift store finds into treasure is easier than you think. From decorating your home in creative ways to giving unique gifts people will love, there are so many upcycling ideas to flip antique and vintage pieces and make them totally useful and super cute too.

Upcycling involves taking something that's used or vintage and finding new ways to use it. Sometimes that means making modifications like painting it or adding other parts, but it can also just be new ways to use the same old thing. Think repurposing an antique key as a balloon weight or turning a vintage spoon into a key chain. There are so many great possibilities.

Best Things to Upcycle

You can upcycle almost anything into something else, but there are a few items that really stand out for their repurposing potential. As you're browsing at a thrift store or antique shop, see if you can score some great deals on these things.

  • Windows - Repurposing old windows is a great place to start. There are so many options, from jewelry displays to message boards.
  • Doors - You can transform an old door into anything from an awesome desktop to a super functional (and pretty) shoe rack.
  • Architectural details - Stop by your local architectural salvage shop and look for corbels and other amazing wooden pieces you can turn into bookends, shelf brackets, planters, and more.
  • Picture frames - Thrift stores are filled with old picture frames to repurpose. You can transform them into serving trays, wreaths, planters, message boards, and all kinds of other things.
  • Furniture - There are about a million ways to upcycle an old dresser, but did you know you can use other furniture too? China hutches, nightstands, and even old radio cabinets can do double duty as super useful and attractive new pieces.
Fast Fact

The Instagram hashtag "#upcycle" has almost six million posts about everything from upcycled works of art to new uses for vintage clothing.

Upcycling Tips to Keep in Mind

As you're shopping at the flea market or staring at your grandma's ugly china cabinet with new eyes, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Identify antiques. While almost anything can be upcycled, that doesn't mean it should. If it's a valuable antique, painting or permanently changing it could seriously decrease what it's worth. Take a minute to identify antique pieces and decide whether they're good repurposing candidates.
  • Pick winning items. Some flea market finds are just super flippable, and it's good to keep an eye out for what makes something work. A piece that's well made and sturdy and has "good bones" is definitely the way to go.
  • Clean it up. Before you start on a project, whether you're repurposing something or giving it a whole new surface, take the time to clean it really well. The years leave grime (and not just a little), and starting with a clean slate is definitely the way to go.
  • Shop with a use in mind. Sure, you can turn something into something else, but it's really only useful if it's something you actually need. Think about the purpose something could fulfill in your home or life as you're shopping, and you won't regret any of your secondhand purchases.
  • Look everywhere. You can definitely shop for great candidates at the thrift store or antique shop, but don't forget to look in your own attic and basement. Oh, and there's always the alley out back - there's no shame in dumpster diving when you can turn your finds into something gorgeous.

Get Creative With Your Repurposing

There are lots of reasons to upcycle, but one people don't talk about often is that it's a great way to be creative. You're using something old in a new way, which is challenging and offers tons of potential to get artistic. Have fun and share your results with others to really rock this trend.

Upcycling: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started