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What is upcycling? And should I give it a try?

Heard of upcycling but not sure what it is? Check our guide to get to grips with the basics and understand why upcycling projects are such a popular trend.

Heard of upcycling but not sure what it actually is? Ask yourself ‘what is upcycling’ no more with these tips. Whether you’re interested in saving money, or just want to reduce the amount of waste at home, upcycling can help you.

How to upcycle: meaning and definition

Put simply, upcycling is the purpose repurposing or reusing something that you might have otherwise discarded. It can also involve renovating an item you currently use; transforming it into something beautiful that you can fall in love with again. This might be as simple as painting an old pine wardrobe a jazzy cobalt blue to match your new décor.

Why would I upcycle?

People start upcycling projects for lots of different reasons, and it’s often motivated partly by environmental concerns. Upcycling has become incredibly popular in recent years partly because it’s the most environmentally friendly way to recycle: mostly, it doesn’t involve additional raw materials or lots of energy.

However, there are lots of other benefits, some of which might surprise you. You might consider upcycling in order to:

  1. Save money: you can’t really beat re-purposing something you already own in terms of cost-effectiveness. However, you might also consider sourcing an item from friends, family, or a free exchange site, and then upcycling it to add your own personal spin.
  2. Boost creativity: planning and executing upcycling projects is undoubtedly a creative outlet. You might want to start with something simple, such as one of these three simple furniture upcycling ideas that are suitable for beginners, but once you get into the swing of things, your imagination is the limit, and it can be a fun, freeing experience.
  3. Achieve satisfaction: this is related to the creative process, but subtly different. When work or life frustrations are stopping you from seeing clearly, doing something physical that engages a different part of your brain, can be incredibly therapeutic. And there’s nothing like the satisfaction of seeing your hard work being used and appreciated every day.

And of course, the end result of upcycling should always be that you own something beautiful and useful. Lots of projects can also make great gifts, like these upcycling ideas that repurpose old clothing.

Preparation is Key

Upcycling is a great opportunity to let your imagination run riot, but all projects deserve a little forethought. Some points to bear in mind before you start are:

  1. Your tools: this depends on the project, but if you don’t have a sewing machine and are planning an upholstery project, now is the time to beg/borrow one from a friend or look into a local sharing scheme. Sometimes investing in the right tools can work out in the long run: cheap paintbrushes, for example, often shed into the paint, leaving a less than ideal finish.
  2. The finished look: once you’ve had the initial idea, take a moment to reflect firstly on whether it will go with the rest of your wardrobe/décor, or if you might need to make some changes to your plan. Then, if you’re upcycling furniture, consider the form and style of the piece: would an art nouveau dresser suit a mustard-yellow makeover? If the answer’s yes, then go for it!
  3. Timeframe: this is especially important if you have kids or are living in a place where you don’t have oodles of space, so don’t want to leave a half-finished project lying around for months. Do you have a free Saturday coming up? Would it be worth blocking out that day for some creative ‘me time’ to finish an upcycle project?

Ultimately, as long as you love the finished product, it doesn’t matter how long the project takes or what style you’ve chosen. You’ll have created something totally unique that should bring delight whenever you look at it.

And that’s it! Now that you’ve learned the concept of upcycling and read the advice on how to do it, now is the time to start putting your upcycling ideas into practice.  There’s no end to what you can achieve at home.

Top Tip


Wash any fabrics and furniture before starting your upcycling projects, as this can have a big impact on the finish. For fabrics, be sure to check the care label; for tougher stains you may want to use a laundry detergent like Omo Ultimate Powder.

Key Steps

  • Plan ahead to make sure you have time, expertise and materials for the project planned
  • Gather your tools together ahead of time
  • Don’t panic if something starts to go wrong: most things can be fixed