By Marisa Belger

The jars came first. Instead of sending my growing collection of empty glass receptacles to their usual fate at the bottom of the recycle bin, I did something unexpected -- something wild. I peeled off their labels and plopped them in the dishwasher.

I wanted to see just what would happen if I gave these jars another chance. Full disclosure: I was motivated not only by the thought of transforming trash into something new, something useful, even something cool, but also by the fact that jars were clogging up my kitchen. You see, we’re a jar-centric family, tearing through what I’m starting to believe is an abnormal amount of pickles, mustard (the spicy French and yellow varieties), sauces of both apple and tomato, and jams and jellies.

Bright and sparkling, fresh from a wash, empty jars were exactly what I was missing. Without their labels and sticky contents, these vessels found instant new homes as beverage glasses (drinking jars are big on rustic charm), loose-change receptacles, pen holders, and -- my all-time favorite -- vases. Nobody can resist a mason jar filled with daisies. Nobody.

Not a fan of pickles? No problem. Jars aren’t the only way to reuse that which you’d otherwise throw out. Paper towel tubes, shoe boxes and detergent bottles are all contenders for a useful second act.

Paper Towel Tubes

Pulling the last paper towel from the roll used to signal the end of something, but now it’s the start of something new. Paper towel tubes in their natural state are the ultimate building blocks for art projects -- they provide hours of rainy day entertainment with kids -- and they serve practical purposes too. Try these ideas:

- Glue on a pair of paper wings or a tail, then draw on a face for an instant cardboard-tube animal.

- Attach two tubes and decorate with paint and stickers for a pair of homemade binoculars.

- Turned upright and outfitted with orange and yellow paper flames, paper towel tubes make fantastic fire-free candlesticks. Decorate them in orange and black for Halloween, or choose a Christmas or Hanukkah theme.

- Adults can put paper towel tubes to good use by employing them to prop up droopy windows or to hold silverware and sharp knives when camping or picnicking.

Detergent / Fabric Softener Bottles

Empty, clean detergent and fabric softener bottles can be transformed into hand-held shovels or scoops (simply use a utility knife to cut off the bottom off the bottle). Adults and kids can use these in the garden and at the beach. Bonus: remove the cap and you have a funnel!

Shoe Boxes

Yes, shoe boxes are ideal for household organizing (think: recipe cards, old love letters, office items, sewing supplies, Legos, electric cords and much more). But they’re even more versatile than that. Moving? Shoe boxes are ideal for packing smaller, loose items like tchotchkes, silverware, medicine bottles and the like. Gifting? Cover them with decorative paper, and you’ve got a homemade (and let’s admit it -- more meaningful!) present package.

Marisa Belger's work has appeared in Travel + Leisure Family, Natural Health, Prevention and on the She was a founding editor of -- which specialized in wellness and sustainable living -- and she collaborated with author Josh Dorfman on his bestselling books, The Lazy Environmentalist and The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget.


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