Don’t let your old stuff freeload! Put it to work. Use that old suitcase, file cabinet, magazine rack — even items you might ordinarily pitch into the recycling bin — to help organize your home. You’ll save money, and your family will benefit from unique storage solutions that fit your lifestyle.
Here are some ideas to help unpack some creativity:
#1 Tin Cans Become ... Winter Gear Storage
Hats and gloves and boots, oh my. With three young children and a small entryway, Clare Fauke gets desperate to see her floor each winter. “I needed a way to contain things in a spot everyone could reach,” she says. While cooking chili one day, she had an aha moment. “Those 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes were the perfect size to [use for stowing] a couple of baby gloves,” says Fauke who lives with her family in Chicago.
She washed out the cans and made sure there was no torn metal around the edges. Then she screwed the cans to a piece of scrap wood and attached the whole thing to the wall by the door. “It really helps discourage the kids from throwing their things everywhere,” Fauke says. And the cost is minimal if you wait until those tomatoes are on sale.
Related: Storing Winter Gear Is a Pain. These 8 Ideas Will Make It Easier
#2 Old Strawberry Containers Become ... Organizers
Berry-lover Mickey Mansfield of suburban Charlotte, N.C., found himself knee-deep in plastic strawberry boxes. He decided to use an empty one as a first aid kit in the garage. Like berry vines, the idea grew.
Now, he uses them to store crayons, markers, and craft supplies. “They’re ‘free’ (just the cost of the strawberries), easily replaceable, and see-through,” Mansfield says. “The kids can see exactly what they’re grabbing.” He finds they can hold up for years. They’re stackable and strong enough, he says, to store batteries and Matchbox cars.
“I even leave the cars in the container, which has holes, and dunk the whole thing in a bucket filled with a solution of water and bleach to disinfect them,” he says. “Then I just tip them over to drain and dry.”
#3 Old Suitcase Becomes ... Charging Station
Even chargers deserve a nice home. With four kids ages 7 to 17, Brenda McDevitt was finding chargers, tablets, cords, and cell phones all over her suburban Pittsburgh home. She wanted a centrally located storage center and looked no further than the perfect-sized container that happened to already be in her home: a vintage suitcase she was using in a decorative display.
“I’ve always loved the look of them,” says McDevitt, who admits to collecting old suitcases from mostly roadsides. “I’ve never paid for one, and I always have a couple of suitcases laying around for things like magazine storage. Or I’ll put them under a bench or on top of a cabinet.”
McDevitt relined this vintage case with a cheery fabric to make the inside of the charging station as chic as the outside. She then drilled some holes in the back for the cords to exit and left a power cord inside so everyone can plug in their devices out of sight.
#4 Plastic Magazine Racks Become ... Freezer Organizers
Anyone who has ever had something fall out of the freezer onto his toes knows the dangers of rifling through bags of frozen vegetables, packages of meat, breads, and leftovers. The fix is so simple — plastic magazine racks. (If you don’t have some lying around, you can find them at an office supply store for $6 or less.) Slide them in your fridge and fill them up. Your toes will thank you.
Related: How to Organize Your Fridge
#5 Window Frame Becomes ... Hanging Bathroom Storage
Who says a window can’t be a door? Erica Hebel wanted to create a rustic-looking storage cupboard for her “itty bitty powder room that is ridiculously shaped and hard to get into” in suburban Chicago. She began with a $3 wood window purchased at a barn sale. “A bit worn, but that adds to its character,” she says.
Hebel cleaned the wood and the glass panes. Then she built a cabinet box with three pine boards for shelves, plywood for the back, and a few small hinges using a brad nailer, a stud detector, and a Kreg jig.
Related: Under-Sink Bathroom Storage Ideas
#6 Stool Becomes ... Gift Wrap Organizer
When the cardboard box housing Sarah Ramberg’s wrapping paper finally gave out, she remembered a photo she had seen of an upside-down stool used to corral fabric bolts. That led her to an idea.
The Greenville, S.C., “biologist by day” spray-painted an old stool, slathered on a coat of sealant, and put four casters on the seat so she can “wrap and roll from room to room.” Ramberg cut a “crazy print” thrift store pillow case in half to create catch-all pouches to attach to the side. “It’s a ‘low sew’ project,” she says. And low-cost, too: The stool was from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and four swivel casters cost as little as $6.
#7 Filing Cabinet Becomes ... Garage Workbench
Yay! Renee Fuller of Midlothian, Va., got a chain saw for Mother’s Day. Where to put it? When she saw how expensive a new tool storage solution would be to buy, she thought of an old lateral filing cabinet stuffed with junk sitting in her garage.
Fuller spray-painted the cabinet with grey Rust-Oleum and made two rectangles in chalkboard spray paint for drawer labels. Then, she put inexpensive wheels on the bottom. The top is a laminated countertop a neighbor had thrown away. Fuller attached it with SPAX multi-material screws. Total cost of the project: $35.
#8 Kitchen Cabinets Become ... Dining Room Storage
Who knew unwanted oak kitchen cabinets plus old fence wood could equal a built-in dining room buffet? Pulled from a kitchen Connie Harper’s husband was helping a friend remodel, the cabinets fit perfectly along the wall in the Harpers’ Tyler, Texas, dining room.
The cabinets were in good condition, so the Harpers lightly sanded the doors, painted the interior and exterior with white satin paint, and bought new, bronze-finished metal hardware and hinges. The top is old pine fence board from a fence they’d taken down. They laid the pieces side by side, sanded them lightly, and sealed the top with a coat of polyurethane.
“It gives me satisfaction to see something that’s headed to the dumpster, bring it home, and give it new life,” Harper says. The project took about two days and cost $25 for the hardware.
Related: Steal These Small-Space Hacks From Desperate New Yorkers