Crazy-Ass Recycling by Strangely Aging Aunt: DIY in 10 Easy Steps

I have  a passion for transforming trash into treasure— for repurposing potential throw-aways into absolute blow-aways.

My family mocks me mercilessly about this.

In fact, my nephews’ effort to humiliate me for saving cat food cans knows no bounds. They love to remind me of the empty Sweet ‘n Low packets I’ve collected—the sales receipts I’ve saved.

This photo shows what I did with generic Sweet ‘N Low and Equal packets. Weird–I know.

They allege I’ve crossed the line—stepped off the edge separating the safe side of sanity from the abyss that is crazy-ass-receipt-saving-cat-food-can-recycling by strangely aging aunts.  (And regular readers of my blog will be well-aware that sanity’s not my strong suit.)

But, morphing junk into joy can be tons of fun—and a whole lot less crazy than my nephews might imagine.

So, last month, with the help of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore,  I took on a new and totally sane recycling project.

What I found at my local ReStore could be transformed from something ordinary into something else entirely extraordinary.  That much, I was convinced of.

In August I visited the ReStore here in Lexington, Kentucky, where I found the table below on sale for a mere ten dollars.

Clearly, the piece was mid-century modern, a style whose sleek lines are popular again today, but this table literally looked like something left over from 50 years ago.  It was chipped, worn, unwanted.

However, one week later, with a little effort and  imagination, the table has been transformed into this.

How did I do it?  Can you do it, as well?

Absolutely, you can.  And absolutely, you must—if you don’t want to miss out on a coffee-table treasure of your very own.

Here’s how I did it—and how you can, too.

1.       Clean the surface with hot, soapy water.

2.       Sand the top and legs.

3.       Prime with a product like Kilz.

4.       Lay out a design in pencil.

I used a yard stick to measure and assorted mixing bowls as circle templates.

5.       Select areas to paint.

Use colors that will coordinate with the room where you’ll use the table.

And don’t forget the legs.  I spray-painted mine black using a high gloss Rustoleum.

6.       Select other areas to decoupage and search for images.

 Use photos salvaged from recycled magazines or maps from an out-of-date atlas.

If you don’t already have a few back issues of National Geographic or old encyclopedias hanging around the house, you’ll find plenty of used books and magazines for sale at your local ReStore.

Remember to be imaginative.  I’ve even been known to use labels from soup cans to create unexpected fun.

7.       Cut the recycled images to your desired shape and size. 

I placed tracing paper over the design I’d drawn onto the table top.  I then outlined the shape of paper I needed to fill in a particular part of the design, cut out that shape from the tracing paper, and taped the cut out piece of tracing over the recycled image, before trimming around the edges.

8.       Decoupage newly shaped papers over the areas you have not painted.

I recommend using a product like Mod Podge that you can purchase at your local craft store or even the closest Walmart.

First, brush the decoupage medium onto the surface of the table.  Then place the image over the newly glued surface, pressing out any air bubbles, and apply another coat of Mod Podge over top to seal.

Repeat this process until all desired areas are covered with recycled images.

9.       Detail edges.

You can use a permanent black marker and ruler to clean up and demarcate the lines between decoupaged and painted surfaces.

I also used a black and white checker board Duct Tape to create a border for my table.  I cut the tape to the width I needed using an Exacto knife and yard stick.

10.   Apply several coats of polyurethane to the entire table surface.

This seals and protects both the painted areas and the decoupaged images.  I used an oil-based polyurethane, but a water-based Minwax polycrylic product would work just as well and dry even more quickly.

Finished Product!

This is what it looks like in the end.

Pretty cool, isn’t it?  And not at all crazy!

So what kinds of things have you recycled?  Have your efforts been successful?  Or would recycling be just one more thing you’d have to think about. Come on, please share.  I promise I won’t tell.  I swear on an empty cat food can, I won’t.

Note:  Sara and I hope you’ll check out our still-evolving, creative enterprise called idiomART on Etsy; and if you haven’t already, please visit and like idiomART on Facebook.

Another version of this piece will be posted on Habitat for Humanity’s blog launched later this fall.

86 thoughts on “Crazy-Ass Recycling by Strangely Aging Aunt: DIY in 10 Easy Steps

    • Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have confessed that, but, I’m going to go back to the post and add an image of what I did with them. Check it out. I tried to add the image here, but couldn’t figure out how. Tech-genius, right?


  1. You say “weird” about the sweetener packets. I say genius and creative! Your brain is full of color and humor! I love what you do and didn’t know you had an ‘etsy’. I need to check that out!


  2. You are an inspiration! Yes, I recycle and have been for over 30 years!! However I do not make beautiful pieces of art with my re-cycling but now you’ve left me with some inspiration maybe I’ll make something myself. When I arrived in Sardinia 5 years ago, in my town, there was no recycling! A year later they started a recycling program!


      • Oops, maybe I worded my last comment wrong. I didn’t start the re-cycling project, the town did that on their own. I just continued to re-cycle the garbage items within my reach. 🙂 Sorry for any confusion.


      • Okay, your comment was clear. I didn’t read it correctly–wanting to give you credit anyway. Oh, well, maybe you would have done it yourself had you been there longer at that point. Right? You cheerlead that effort, regardless. 🙂


    • Oh, cool, Laurel. I will check it out. Sounds like an event I would love. Thanks for mentioning it.

      Happy you will check out our etsy site. We are only just starting it. Only a few items loaded at this point. Hope you will come back later once we have added more.

      Hugs to you, my dear!


  3. Sweet and low packets….oh my!!! Never considered that but now you have me thinking!!! I have a table that could be recreated…….we shall see what this winter brings…..I just did a small project—making coasters out of cheap bathroom tiles using scrapbook paper but you could use anything on them! They turned out pretty cute and i think I will do a post about them one day. See what you have inspired in folks???? Love this project of yours and what I love the most is the brilliant colors that you use. What an accent piece that table is!!!! Love i!


    • Oh, Beth Ann, the coasters sound fun. I think you should do a post about them! I would LOVE to see them. And I hope you’ll do something with the table, as well. I’m so happy you feel inspired. Thanks, my friend! Hope you have a marvelous Monday!


  4. Oh the joy of art! I love it, I love that you see the potential in an item, use your imagination that creates something new from something used, thrown away.
    Thank you for sharing the process, awesome!


  5. You are definitely THE most patient person I’ve ever met (and meeting on blogs does count, doesn’t it??) — and so creative and joyful with your designs. I really love the beautiful things you make out of throwaways!!


    • Betty, you’re a sweetie. I suspect you might be right about my being patient. I don’t have it in relation to a lot of things, but I have the ability to tolerate tedium when it comes to processes like the one involved here. Hope you have a wonderful Monday!


  6. I am, as always, amazed and delighted by your art. Given that I am not allowed near either scissors or glue (cut and paste is not in my skill set) I suspect this kind of project is a little beyond me. But I do know artists who practice “found poetry” incorporating words from ordinary every day labels into their poems. (Wash, rinse, repeat) My favorite experience of this was listening to someone read his duck hunting license at a poetry jam. Delightful!


    • Wow, this found poetry thing sounds like lots of fun. I will have to google that term. However, if you are forbidden access to scissors or glue, you’re right, this project is likely not for you. But, heck–found poetry—-love it!


    • Hooray! You like it. I’m thrilled. I have stuff with pink and stuff with blues, but no elephants or helicopters. I could do custom ornaments, however. Take a look at the Etsy site. We only have a few items posted so far, but we are slowly getting things up. I have a girly pink quilted ornament that should go up today, but it has a lexington map quilted into it. However, I could do one minus the map.


  7. A+ Star Student! The table is gorgeous, and I totally approve of the non-yellowing finish!!!
    The Nutra Sweet packets affected me differently than most, as I am one of those canaries who has had two scary reactions to Nutra Sweet. I’ll save my epistle for a proper future post!
    I love love LOVE the table! It is so happy! Z


  8. As I’ve said before, I love it when you do this kind of post. I used to have mod podge. I did a little decoupage way back when.

    Really, a collection of these posts would make a great book.


    • Thanks for the reminder about that book. I need to think about that. Right now I’m spending so much time getting the etsy thing up and going. Just writing and editing copy takes a long time. PLUS, I have to get back to that memoir of mine—-remember? LOL


  9. Ha…since there is a lot of construction nearby…they’re always dropping items (almost full boxes of nails, tools, etc.) beside the road…my friends don’t quite understand why I stop and place them in my backpack when I’m cycling…ah but my back porch was nailed together with some really fine nails supplied by the side of the road. 🙂


  10. Kathy, this kind of talent is very special. Ignore the naysayers. They’re just jealous. I love it. Wish I could do something like this, but I find it daunting and I know why. When it comes to measuring things, following instructions, I’m terrible at it. But, on the plus, I just completed the scrapbook I’ve been working on since early August and it looks rather nice. I would post my work, but since the photos and sentiments are not mine, I feel it best to respect their privacy. But it does look wonderful, if I say so myself! I’m just glad I finished it and can get back to blogging and the Race 2012 project. Hooray!


  11. Creative with the packets Kathy! You should send one to the maker- for their in house museum… you are to crafting with garbage – rrrr- objects waiting for a second life-what Martha Stewart is to just plain ole crafting.


  12. I recycle all kinds of (cough) empties, old magazines and cardboard boxes meaning I put this stuff in the recycling cans outside my building and then forget about it. I admire your Martha Stewart-osity, but how I define do-it-yourself is I go online and research someone to do it for me or someplace to buy it myself. No way am I going to sand or paint or shellack. As an aside, I’m not a fan of lifting, either. About the only thing I can handle in your illustrated is “clean the surface”. I give good sponge.


  13. When I was a kid, I used to collect empty matchbooks. That was followed by Fresca cans (back when they were blue with a snowflake on them). Sadly, I didn’t do anything with these items – they just pretty much sat around, gathering dust until I threw them out.

    I like your approach so much better.


    • Somehow I can understand collecting match books. Maybe since Sara (don’t tell her I told you) has such a “collection.” The Fresca cans? I don’t get it–unless you loved the color or graphics a whole lot.


  14. You say I could create something like this beautiful table myself! I say… I don’t think so. But I would absolutely hire you to make one for me! It is colorful and cheerful and is sure to brighten up a room!


    • I disagree, Terri. It’s not that difficult. HOWEVER, I would LOVE anyone to hire me. So spread the word that I’m available. I suppose we don’t know the right people, do we? THe ones who can afford to pay for art?


  15. I absolutely LOVE your craft posts ! So inspiring , I am going to give something like this a try – as soon as I can find some old furniture – I will let you know if its a disaster or not 😉 ( I am full of good intentions but things get messy when I get crafting !!! ) Xx Kel


    • Gosh, Kel, I’m a messy crafter, as well–really messy. That part of my work drives Sara crazy. She just kind of shakes her head and walks away. Can’t wait to hear/see what you come up with. Hope you can find some furniture.


  16. This is incredible, Kathy! My sister used to make really cool clothes and handbags from old candy wrappers or shopping bags, but I’ve never ventured into those creative waters myself. 🙂


    • Wow, Dana, I didn’t know that your sister did that. How cool. She makes clothes form candy-wrappers? Now that’s something even I can’t imagine! However, I have, in fashion-design competitions, heard of folks making clothes out of the candy itself.


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