20 Frugal Art Supplies That Are in Your Recycling Bin

As the mom of a one-income, extra-large family, “frugal” has become one of my favorite words. What started as a necessity has turned into a challenge for me. I just love finding inexpensive, preferably free, ways to keep my children stimulated and learning at all times.

I readily admit that I am an extremely non-crafty person, but somehow I ended up with several kids who are about as crafty as they come. They love anything that involves cutting, gluing, assembling, and painting. Our house is always filled to the brim with our kids’ creations, and we love it, but keeping their supplies stocked up costs quite a bit more than we have room to spend. 

My 12-year-old daughter was the first person in our house to come up with the idea of using recyclables for their projects. At first I thought, How much can they possibly make with stuff from the trash?

As it turns out, a lot.

Today I’m going to share with you:

20 Recyclables We’ve Stopped Putting in the Bin and Started Putting in with the Supplies!


Upcycle crafts


1. Plastic milk cartons

Our kids have used gallon milk jugs to make bird feeders and smaller milk jugs to make sand box shovels. It’s amazing what kids will come up with!


2. Coffee tins and containers

There are so many things these can be used for, but the most interesting thing my kids did was to decorate these and use them to make homemade fire extinguishers.

homemade fire extinguisher


3. Plastic water bottles

My kids have used these for everything from mini toy dispensers to musical instruments.


4. Ramen boxes

You know those boxes that the six- and twelve-packs of ramen come in? Don’t throw them away! They’re perfect for mini puppet stages, shadow boxes, and are even great for squirting paint into while painting to lessen the mess.


5. Cereal boxes

Now I said “cereal boxes,” but it can be any kind of food boxes- pop tarts, spaghetti, rice…anything. My kids love to paint pictures on them because they’re so sturdy, and we even made a castle out of several of them once!


6. Wire hangers

Wire hangers may be terrible for your clothing, but they make great mobiles!


7. Yogurt containers

The brand of yogurt we usually buy comes with plastic lids, so my kids love to use these to make their own gumball machines!


8. Lunchmeat containers

My kids love to decorate these and use them to keep their Shopkins and Grossery Gangs in.


9. Old clothing

Although we donate our unused clothing, anything that is worn or stained is kept and used as either rags or for crafting supplies. My kids have used our old clothes to make bean bags, pillows for their dolls, and sock puppets.


10. Empty cans

We always rinse out and save our cans because there’s always something fun they can be used for. Our favorite idea is to paint them and use them as blocks.


11. Glass jars

Since these are glass, these are certainly something that only older children should have access to, but they are another great resource to have. My kids have made snow globes and magnifying glasses with them, among other things.


12. Egg cartons

Not only are these great paint holders, but there are so many fun ideas to use with them. A few years ago when we were learning about sea life, we made little oysters out of them. So cute!


13. Newspapers/magazines

Old newspapers and magazines are great for decorating the inside of homemade dollhouses, making paper dolls, and working with paper mache.


14. Books

My kids love to take books we no longer want and use them to make their own pretend laptops. My older kids have also used them for an art project in which they painted the front and back cover, hollowed out several of the pages, and repurposed the entire book!


15. Laundry detergent bottles

My daughter made the cutest parrot with a laundry detergent bottle. She added some feathers, googly eyes, and a foam beak to a regular detergent bottle, and it was the funniest thing ever!


16. Old CDs/DVDs

These make beautiful suncatchers!


17. Clear plastic bakery containers

You know those containers that croissants come in? That clear plastic is perfect for cutting out windows for dollhouses and homemade cars.


18. Plastic soda bottles

These are perfect for making lava lamps!


19. Medium to large boxes

Last year my son made my daughter a beautiful dollhouse for Christmas by using two boxes he had attached to one another. Each box was a separate floor. These are so easy to make, and the kids really enjoy playing in them because they have the added satisfaction of knowing that they created them!


20. Empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls

These make wonderful turrets for the cardboard castles, and they are perfect for using as the bodies of animals, just to name a couple of ideas.


As you may have noticed, I only gave suggestions here and didn’t often include any instructions on how we did it. There’s a reason for that…

Children need to learn how to come up with ideas and bring them to fruition. Oftentimes, we go overboard with telling our kids how to do things, and their final products end up being more of our creations, rather than theirs. I’m very careful not to do this with my kids. We have a designated space in the kitchen where we keep all of these “upcycle” materials. I don’t tell my kids what to make, or even to make anything at all. I simply let them know that I’ve added some things to the bin. That’s usually enough to get them started with their latest ideas.

Having creative kids doesn’t have to be expensive. Use what you have, give your kids freedom, and sit back and enjoy the ride!





Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

27 thoughts on “20 Frugal Art Supplies That Are in Your Recycling Bin”

  1. Awesome. Our kids do the same things. I think the recycled creations get more play time than many of the toys we’ve bought (except for legos and zoob!) I totally agree about just letting them create to their ability and not our own.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You had me at frugal! My 3 yo grand loves to craft!! The dining room table is her “studio” and when she comes over, she goes straight there sometimes, and makes her own stuff. For Christmas, I had specific projects for her, but usually I just leave her alone. She has so much fun!!
    I just wish I could set her up somewhere else, so we could eat at the table! lol

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Honestly, I used to save these things till I had PILES & PILES of it, the bigger the pile the more difficult it is to dispose off! We did use fire hangers & cans & egg cartons but maybe for 1 project each in the whole year! So now I just use the ‘last one’ before tossing it out to be used immediately instead of saving sevearal for the distant future! Learnt it the hard way, haha.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yeah. We went through a couple of months when the kids stopped using the supplies, and they got out of control. Of course, as soon as I got rid of everything, they asked me what happened to all the supplies because they wanted to build something…


  4. So many great ideas here – I save so much stuff for craft projects. We also save all our bottle tops, etc, and sell them on ebay for people who don’t want to spend time collecting them. Not mega bucks but every little helps, right? 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing over at Friday Frivolity!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: