Upcycling can be a very sustainable habit to get into. It makes use of old things and keeps things productive for longer. But how hard is upcycling? Is it something you even want to get into?
Upcycling, like other things in the Do-It-Yourself category, takes a level of skill. Some projects will be easier than others. Difficulty varies from project to project and with the materials you use. Like most things, the more you do it, the easier it gets for you.
So what makes it hard and what makes it easy? Let’s start off with the good news!
What Makes Upcycling Easy
As mentioned before, practice! Practice makes upcycling easier. The more you do it and the more you try new projects, the easier it will come to you.
Upcycling is a little bit of a mentality as it is a skill set. And so the more you upcycle, the more you’ll see things that you can upcycle. The first time you upcycle something, you may think that you’ve put a lot of creative work into that, and then a year down the road, you might see just how many things can be upcycled (a lot, by the way)!
Another thing that makes upcycling easy right out of the gate is the fact that you have your base materials already. Since upcycling is the art of making new use out of old things, you already have stuff to start upcycling!
A helpful tip is to try and think before you throw something away “can I use this for something else?” If you answer that with a “yes,” then you’re on your way to upcycling.
It’s not quite like construction where you need to go out and buy ALL of your materials in order to get started. Right out of the gate, you have what you need to get started.
Even if you do end up wanting to upcycle things other than what you own, you’re probably going to end up buying it used, which means it’s going to be cheaper than if you bought it new. So that’s another thing that adds to the ease of upcycling.
If you look on your local Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, there are people giving away perfectly usable items for FREE! This means you can pick up upcycling base materials for absolutely no money (except for gas to get to your neighbor’s and back).
What Makes Upcycling Hard
On the flip side, there are things that can make upcycling hard. For example, practice takes time and effort.
I’m not a very patient person, and I usually end up rushing my products. I don’t know if you’ve ever rushed a product before, but it ends up being a disaster! Or at least it ends up being less than what I hoped for.
This means that upcycling can be very challenging for me. I don’t like waiting for my paint to dry! So sometimes getting the hand of upcycling projects can be really difficult. Sure, practice makes you better, but the practice is really hard.
So if you’re like me, then upcycling can be a challenge for you.
Similarly, the mindset can also be hard. I know that just about anything can be upcycled, but it can be difficult to see trash as anything more than junk. It’s hard to stop and think about what I’m throwing away before I actually throw it away.
In fact, I was getting rid of a box spring the other day, and if I had owned a truck, I totally would have just taken it to the dump. But I didn’t, so it sat in my garage for a week as I thought “how can I upcycle this?” Well, it came to me when I thought “I could break it down…and make a shelf out of it.”
But I wouldn’t have thought that if I had taken it straight to the dump.
Last couple of things that make upcycling hard–creativity and design. As I mentioned before, I have a tendency to rush through things, so taking the time to think through how I’m going to make something and make it look good can be a real struggle. But if you have an eye for design, this probably isn’t an issue for you.
Money Upcycling Saves You
You save money on most of your material costs when you upcycle. If you have a bunch of wood that’s lying around unused, you don’t need to go buy a shelf. So right off the bat, the cost of everything you end up making goes down.
If you’re good with tools and building things, or you’re super crafty, it probably ends up saving you time too. So it ends up being a win-win.
I know people who are kind of sticklers when it comes to design, and they will spend hours at a store looking for a piece they really, really like. Well, if you know how to upcycle, it’s probably faster (in addition to cheaper) to just make it yourself. That way it will look exactly how you want it to, and you don’t have to rely on someone else to get you a good design.
It also can save you a little bit of stress. Most upcyclers are very environmentally conscious, so you can take a load off knowing that a part of what you own is reused, meaning you reduced your consumption.
Money Upcycling Costs You
What upcycling doesn’t saving you money on are tools. You could think to yourself “yeah, I’ll just build that instead of buying it,” and then you realize that you don’t have the additional resources you need to do that.
If you have a garage full of tools or a room full of craft supplies, this probably isn’t an issue for you. And ultimately, it might be a good idea to have them anyway. But sometimes you run into a project you don’t have all the tools for…and that requires you going out and buying them.
If you’re going to be doing bigger projects, like a shelf, a bench, a table, etc., it will be super useful to have the saws, drills, bits, glue, and clamps you need to make it happen. Oh yeah, and paint. Everyone uses paint at some point in time for upcycling their things.
If you plan on doing projects more on the smaller size, it will probably come in handy to have a good pair of scissors, a sewing kit, a hot glue gun, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, etc., so you can make your containers and decor and whatnot. Oh yeah, and you’re going to need paint for smaller projects too.
The last thing is that if you aren’t super skilled at upcycling, it might cost you time instead of saving you time. This is why there are ups and downs to upcycling. For some people, it’s really efficient to upcycle–they’re just geared for it. Others, it takes a real effort.
As with most things, the difficulty varies, and so one project could save you time and money. On another project it could cost you several hours to get things done, not to mention a pretty penny.
You’ll never really know if you don’t try. And so give it a try.
Other Things to Consider
Where to get materials? We mentioned Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. But are there other places that could also have useful materials for you?
It could be possible to work out deals with local thrift stores or junkyards that before they send things to landfills, they contact you and let you come take a look at it before you go. You might be able to negotiate discounts this way to get good materials.
Are there people who can help you upcycle? I’m a member of a number of Facebook groups of people who LOVE upcycling. There are some people out there who just are really passionate about it. If you are looking to get into upcycling, there may be someone who can help you get started and get things rolling.
Has someone done your project before? With the fact that pretty much anything can be upcycled, odds are that someone has created the project you want to work on before.
This can be really useful because a lot of them post instructions online. So before you launch into your project, take a look online and see if there’s a resource out there that can help you out.