What’s your favorite stuff to reuse in art projects? Talk amongst yourselves.

Ms. Four is wondering what folks salvage from around the house to use in craft projects:

I’d love some ideas on the best not-too-expensive art supplies to keep around the house. What am I throwing away that could be art? I have two kids, ages 4 & 6. and while we have the basic markers, papers, and glue, I’d love some ideas for inexpensive but interesting materials.

What a great topic. If only my Google site search were more thorough — we’ve covered lots of random stuff over the years, so be sure to dig around in the archives. My family’s not particularly crafty, but we still have favorite items we save for a second life at the craft table:

  • Unusual wrapping paper and ribbon
  • Fabric scraps
  • Interestingly-shaped glass jars
  • Small boxes

I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting, and I know there are more creative suggestions out there. What say you, Parenthackers?


  1. says

    Kids can turn anything into art. Our preschool often uses oatmeal containers, milk jugs, yogurt cups (that right there could be an awesome castle). You can use those 2.5 gallon water buffalos (the ones with the handle on top and spout in front) for dioramas if you cut out one of the sides. Whenever my kids’ clothes are too stained/torn/worn for Goodwill, I cut scraps off for crafts before throwing them away. Old maps are fun too. And of course, kids love the free return address labels that charities send.

  2. says

    Egg cartons can become caterpillars, flowers, cars, bugs. Bubble wrap makes interesting textures in paint. Pipe cleaners can become anything! Magazines can be cut up for the pictures. The pictures can then become story blocks, masks and all sorts of creations. Toilet paper tubes & paper towel tubes can be spy glasses, telescopes, musical instruments, cars, bugs, bodies.

  3. Steph says

    Pre-K Teacher here-cereal boxes, toilet paper/paper towel rolls, buttons, shoe and tissue boxes, dryer lint (you can make playdoh, google it), old macaroni, the last cereal in the box, wood scraps, boxes, anything!

  4. says

    There are so many things you can save for crafts. I’d suggest only saving as much as can fit in a box that you designate, otherwise it’ll take over your house. Here’s my suggestions:

    1. lids off containers-eyes, game pieces, door handles
    2. cardboard cartons, like 1/2 gallon milk used to come in- houses, boats
    3. shoe boxes- too many uses to list
    4. scrap paper, magazines, etc.
    5. things to buy: pom poms, pipe cleaners, googly eyes
    6. egg cartons, the cardboard/foam are best
    7. toilet paper and paper towel tubes- binoculars, telescope, totem pole

    Most anything can be saved if you can think of a use.

  5. Betsy says

    This is a case of a picture being worth a 1000 words… here is something my 4.5 year old made at preschool…


    He will not draw for love nor money, but give him some glue and junk and he will create and tell you loooong stories about them. (The picture is of a house for an owl that lives in India…)

  6. says

    One of my favorite “art” projects my daughter did involved 2 boxes of Qtips, tape and markers. We had Qtip sculptures all over the house for weeks. She would color the Qtips, then tape them together into various shapes and structures. Of course, trying to find a Qtip we could actually use during that time was quite difficult!
    Another favorite project was the “cat trap” she created in the front yard using rocks, old bricks, sticks, string and old towels. Not sure what cat was actually supposed to be trapped but it was quite elaborate.
    Office supplies are a favorite for art projects – post it notes, hole punches, index cards, stickers, sharpies, etc.
    I have found that the best way to get a kid (at least my kid)interested in an art project is to not show any interest at all – but to say “well, I’m not sure you should use these things, but I guess you could look at them”.

  7. says

    Many of our favorites have already been mentioned. We are constantly reusing the cardboard from cereal boxes and paper, envelopes and stickers from junk mail. Yogurt cups for building and holding paint, paper tubes, magazines, newspapers for papier mache.

    The most interesting one that hasn’t been mentioned yet is to save your clear #6 plastic (think deli containers) and use it to make Shrinky Dinks!

    Color on a piece of #6 plastic with permanent markers, then bake it in a 350 oven on a sheet of foil – watching it the whole time! Usually just 3-4 minutes will be enough. This is a great way to make seasonal window decorations, necklaces, keychains and more.

  8. stook13 says

    Old gift bags work great! I don’t know about you, but I have dozens of gift bags from baby shower, birthdays and our wedding. I re-use them whenever possible, but if they are wrinkled, or just not good enough to be re-used, I pass them along to the kids for crafts.

  9. Arielle says

    Many of my standards are already listed, but here are a few more:

    – Left over plastic containers, like those from ricotta cheese or margarine tubs, especially with the lids.

    – Toothpicks and popsicle sticks for building

  10. Sara says

    I like to use the squares of florists fabric that surround a bouquet (specifically from Trader Joe’s) They come in nice colors and are sturdy enough to make doll dresses out of. Other things we use are coffee canisters, so we can make robots.

  11. says

    Chip bags that are shiny silver are popular over here -makes for great metal/mirror effects. Also, boxes make great places to color and then water color over to make a ‘boat.’

  12. says

    We have a recycling bag (for plastics, bottles, tins, boxes, card, packaging) that gets collected on fridays, my kids are allowed to dip into it and reclaim anything once it has landed there.

  13. says

    Thanks to Asha for posting this and thanks to everyone for the suggestions! My kids are quite happy to use whatever supplies I pass along, and now I have been inspired to take a second look at just about everything in the house. Thanks!

    Now I just have to figure out a good system for keeping this stuff organized…

  14. Kristen says

    You can use old or mismatched socks to make cute new stuffed animals. And old calendars make great greeting cards.

  15. says

    I used to work at an elementary school as a teacher’s assistant and I always found myself hoarding all of the tissue paper from baby showers, wedding showers and birthdays to bring back to school for this kids to use. With tissue paper, you cut it into small pieces so a birthday party’s worth could last you all year! No one ever minded because it would usually all end up in the trash can. Also the we could use it for wrapping presents for their parents. :)