Upcycling: DIY for your dorm!

Welcome to a new year at Carolina! For those of you who live on campus, this means new friends, maybe a new roommate, and a new room to make your own. You can make the most of the space you have while saving money and the environment by upcycling! Even if you don’t live in a dorm, upcycling is a great idea—especially if rent leaves you with a tight budget.

What is upcycling?

Upcycling is a type of recycling that involves giving old, broken, or used products new and greater value by altering them in some way. Crafting, construction, and creativity can all be elements of upcycling. The term has been used as a contrast to downcycling, another type of recycling that involves breaking down materials and converting them into new items, often of lesser quality and involving some sort of environmental impact (or, what happens to the things you put in your recycling bin).

The benefits of upcycling

Save money. Upcycling is a great idea for students on a budget, since all you need is some old stuff, a little creativity, and maybe a few art or craft supplies along the way. Upcycling can eliminate the need to buy expensive storage, decorations, or other supplies for your dorm.

Make the most of the space you have. Out with the old, in with the new! Not only will you be getting rid of your old stuff that takes up space, you can upcycle items into storage containers or clever solutions for common dorm problems. These solutions might even help you get along with your new roommate!

Save the environment. All of the things you re-use or re-purpose are saved from being tossed into a landfill. These items won’t create waste that has a detrimental effect on both the environment and human health.

And finally, express your creativity! By creating some of the things that will be in your dorm room, you’ll add a personal touch to your living space, and you’ll have one-of-a-kind items that you can keep forever. These ideas are meant to get you started, but feel free to explore and invent new ways to re-use and rejuvenate your old stuff!

To get you started, here are a few upcycling ideas:


  • An old cookie tray, attached to your wall with some poster tack or tape, is a magnetic board! Use it to put up messages to your suitemates or hang pictures of your friends and family. You can spray paint it for a more personal touch. You can even attach magnets to your toothbrush, hairbrush, makeup or other often-used items to keep them on hand while freeing up space on your desk or dresser.
  • Old jewel CD cases can be used as picture frames, either mounted on the wall or sitting on your desk.
  • You can make a banner out of paint samples, cut into shapes and attached to some string.

Storage and Organization

  • Transform a large cardboard box into a useful and attractive storage bin by covering it in fabric.
  • Spray paint or decorate an egg carton to serve as a jewelry or small item organizer.
  • Stack and glue together cereal boxes and wrap them in wrapping paper for a storage shelf perfectly sized for notebook or printer paper.
  • Empty shampoo bottles can make for sturdier storage or hanging storage from a lofted bed! They can also be used as vases.
  • Paint or decorate plastic fruit containers (for example, strawberry containers) and use as storage for smaller items.
  • Use shoeboxes cut in half to organize your desk or dresser drawers! This could also be good for separating dresser or fridge space between you and your roommate if necessary.
  • Use soda pop tabs on your hangers to offset them and create more space in your closet.
  • Repurpose and/or decorate tin cans to hold pencils and pens on your desk.
  • Hang an old or unused belt from your lofted bed for handy storage for hangers, or hang it in a loop for rolled-up magazines, sweaters, scarves, etc.
  • Use a shoebox for storing pencils, pens, markers, or other supplies. To make them stand up in the box, you can use toilet paper rolls! You can also reinforce the shoebox so it can hold magazines or books by attaching wooden chopsticks or popsicle sticks around the edges.
  • Repurpose a 12-pack soda box to organize soup cans or other food.

And finally… Make it a party!

You can invite your new suitemates, hallmates, or friends to an upcycling party where you all share your supplies and your old stuff. This is a good way to make sure that everyone has what they need and nobody is throwing out extra items that could be useful, while meeting friends and the people around you in your dorm. When you’re done, if you have leftover items or supplies that you won’t use, you can take them to the Scrap Exchange in Durham, a store that focuses on re-distributing these kinds of materials.

For more information…

Durham Scrap Exchange

Alameda County Industries

Clever Storage Using Repurposed Items

Cute DIYs You Can Make With Things From Your Recycling Bin

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