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11 Unexpected Trash-to-Treasure Crafts

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Every home has some old junk lying around, taking up space. Instead of sending it to the landfill, unleash your creativity and save money by turning it into something useful or decorative. A bit of ingenuity, a smattering of DIY skills, and a few simple tools are all you need to reinvent items that have outlived their original purpose.

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A home that's full of small tchotchkes can be decluttered and decorated in one fell swoop. Arrange a selection of similarly sized pieces on an old picture frame and hot glue them into place. Tie everything together by spray painting the frame and the add-ons in one eye-catching color. (For safety's sake, spray paint in a well-ventilated area, preferably with a mask on.)

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Save cereal boxes and other small containers and enlist kids' help building a mini town. Cover the cardboard with craft paper, then color in windows and doors with paint or crayon. Cut paper into strips for the roads, and draw lines running down the middle. Create trees from toilet paper rolls by putting two slits in one end and inserting cloud-like shapes cut from green construction paper.

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The business end of an old bow rake can be pretty attractive in a country sort of way when left as is and hung on the wall. Alternatively, spiff it up with spray paint and use it to hold scarves or necklaces. (It might be a good idea to cap the ends with cork to prevent accidental stabbing.)

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Mason jars are suddenly very popular and too practical to throw away. With help from a pendant light kit, a Mason jar can add sparkle to a room. The hard part is cutting a hole in the inner lid of the jar. (Tin snips make easy work of this, but who has tin snips?) Make holes around the traced shape of the kit's socket with a hammer and nail, and then push out. If using an incandescent bulb, punch several more holes in the lid to let heat escape. Better yet, use an energy-efficient CFL or LED bulb. Attach the light kit to the lid, screw in the bulb, and put the outer lid in place.

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If you favor rustic décor, add wall art with a similar motif. Find several attractive small branches or large twigs, spray paint them (try a metallic color for a touch of class), and attach directly to the wall with long screws.

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The way kids run through shoes, there are always plenty of empty shoeboxes lying around. Glue four together (without the lids) to make a dollhouse. Use fabric scraps for wallpaper and cut out or paint windows. With a little imagination, an almost endless number of items can be used to furnish the miniature home. The little white plastic things that keep cheese off pizza box lids, for example, make instant tables. Small matchboxes can be stacked to become dressers, and so on.

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Cans of different sizes, glued together with epoxy and then spray painted, can serve multiple purposes. Use three soup cans to hold silverware at a buffet, for example. Collect a few different size cans (from tuna to tomato sauce) to create an organizer for office supplies, such as paper clips, pencils and pens, tape, etc., and place atop a desk or screw into the wall.

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Half of an old wooden ladder easily becomes a pot rack. Leave as is, if in good condition, or scrape, sand, and paint the ladder. Screw large hooks into the top and into the ceiling joists in the kitchen (use a stud finder to locate the joists) and hang the ladder-rack from a strong chain at an appropriate height. (Bolt cutters may be needed to get the chain to the proper length; alternatively, ask the hardware store to cut it.) Once the rack is level, affix S-hooks to the ladder rungs and hang the pots.

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Double-hung windows with multiple panes can be transformed into different end products, with or without the glass. If the glass is still intact, clean and caulk it. The frame may need scraping and stripping -- at the very least, sanding is probably in order -- and painting is optional. Once the frame is ready, cover it with tape and use looking-glass spray paint to turn the old panes into a mirror. Or, paint the glass with chalkboard paint to create a message center and attach hooks on the bottom to hold keys. If the glass is missing, back the frame with a piece of plywood cut to fit and paint with blackboard or whiteboard paint.

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Turn an unused bowling ball or a globe lampshade leftover from the 1980s into a garden ornament by covering it with pieces of pottery. Start by smashing several old plates with a hammer (wear safety goggles) and lay out a design on paper. Attach the mosaic pieces to the round object with a silicone sealant that's made for outdoors. (Bowling balls should be sanded first to assure good adhesion.) Do one line or row of "tiles" at a time so the sealant doesn't dry. There will be a bit of time to shuffle pieces around, but place them fairly close together at the get go. After everything has dried, fill the cracks with grout and cover with a waterproof seal for extended durability.

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Cement blocks seem to sit idly in many a backyard, and they're useful for so many things. To make a bench, position the blocks so that one side with holes is flat on the ground. Cement blocks are usually 8 inches high, and a stack of two is a good height for a bench; choose whatever length fits the setting. Cover the top of the bench with a piece of plywood that's been painted and coated with varnish or marine grade polyurethane to make it waterproof. A piece of foam cut to size and covered with outdoor material makes the seat cozier but should be removed in inclement weather.