Alternative Uses for Ordinary Stuff

Got a household problem or challenge that needs a solution? Chances are you don’t have to spend a dime to find it. There are plenty of multi-tasking items around your home masquerading as plain old ordinary “stuff”. If you want to solve your dilemma while saving some money, too, get ready to help some of these items alter their ego by putting them to use in alternative ways. Here are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Got raw skin around the nose and upper lip from allergies or a cold? Dab a bit of Vaseline or chapstick to the tender area. Both of these items are better (and cheaper!) than lotion because they’ll help keep moisture in and the protective barrier created by them will protect your skin longer.
Run-of-the-mill rubbing alcohol can help remove ballpoint pen stains from your favorite shirt or table cloth, and hydrogen peroxide can help you dab out blood or wine stains.

Scuff marks on your hardwood or linoleum floor? Say no more! Reach for an ordinary tennis ball to quickly and easily buff the marks away.
If you like the convenience and effectiveness of those disposable dusting clothes and puffs but not the price, don’t despair. Save and utilize your used dryer sheets for just this purpose. (You can feel good about using the same product not once, but TWICE before throwing it away, too!)
The next time you go to throw an empty box or container into the recycle bin—or worse—the trash can, consider how you might use it instead. If you have a pint-sized zoologist, empty plastic jars with lids can quickly and easily become immediate habitats for small creatures caught in the backyard. Got a budding scientist? Empty (and thoroughly cleaned) prescription pill bottles make great containers for science experiments and collections. Got a few unruly drawers? Small boxes such as empty tissue boxes are great for separating and organizing such spaces.

Rubber bands

Rubber bands can be your new best friend when it comes to opening sticky, hard-to-open jars. Keep a few in the kitchen for just this purpose or strategically place one around the lid of particularly difficult jars and leave it there. Another basic office tool that can also help out in the kitchen is ordinary binder clips. Tired of stale chips or spilled crackers, but don’t want to spend the cash for those specialty kitchen clips? I don’t blame you. Instead, keep your cash in your pocket and reach into your desk draw to grab a few binder clips. They may not be as pretty, but they’re by far and away much sturdier and can easily handle any clipping task your kitchen may dish out.

Drinking straws can pull double (or even triple!) duty too. Close a resealable plastic baggy most of the way and then stick a drinking straw in and suck out the remaining air to help remove the air around freezable goods. Weave plastic drinking straws together to create a small, waterproof mat for potted plants. Improve the posture of wilting flowers—or just increase their height—by sticking slender stems into drinking straws. Tired of your good jewelry getting all tangled in your jewelry box or when you travel? Slide chains and necklaces through a straw before clasping and storing. (Straws can be cut shorter to accommodate bracelets, too.)

Photo credit: Esther Gibbons

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Author Info

This post was written by Shannon M. Medisky. Shannon is an educator turned parent turned writer and focuses on sharing new and innovative ways to not just survive, but thrive on empty. Visit to learn more. Her newest book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stretching Your Dollar is available in bookstores now.

One Response to “Alternative Uses for Ordinary Stuff”

  1. Belinda |  Jun 30, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Hi Shannon,

    These are great ideas for recycling. And I congratulate you for not using the word ‘recycle in the title – some are allergic to it.

    Being resourceful is a praiseworthy characteristic especially amidst financial crisis. We all have a dose of this characteristic. If practiced daily, especially for Moms, we can save some penny without the intention of doing it.

    Best regards,