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Hanging plants near a window. White shelves built into the wall contain books.
The shelves were collected from a neighbor’s trash pile trimmed down to fit the exact dimensions I needed.
Erin Scottberg

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9 eco-friendly home organization ideas

DIY tips to consider while you’re staying in

The idea of buying a bunch of stuff just to organize your home has never made much sense to me. First, it’s expensive. A trip to a certain well-known store devoted to bins and boxes can easily set you back a few hundred dollars. It’s also, well, uninteresting—there’s not much personality to translucent plastic containers. But worst of all? It’s wasteful. So much of the stuff that’s specifically designed to organize your space actually just ends up taking up space before eventually being donated, or worse, getting trashed.

I’ve found that for every organization “solution” we’re shilled via targeted Instagram ads (man, they’re good!) or a storefront window, there’s an equally good do-it-yourself option. I’d even go so far as to say that the homemade route is better. It’s cheaper (most of the ideas you see here make use of items readily available in your home or neighborhood); it’s more eco-friendly (repurposing existing materials is both reducing and reusing—the first two of the three R’s); and going the DIY route means you can make things the exact size and look you want. Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.

Lookout for lumber scraps

You’ll be surprised how often people have remnant lumber from a recent home renovation project. Keep an eye out for construction scraps (or ask your neighbors if they have extras; you might be saving them disposal costs)—they can be easily cut down, sanded, and painted to make the perfect set of shelves. The shelves in my own bedroom, pictured above, were collected from a neighbor’s trash pile and trimmed down to fit the exact dimensions I needed—no off-the-shelf unit would have fit quite so perfectly.

Keep your measurements handy

Getting your home organized in an eco- and budget-friendly manner means you need to be ready to jump on a deal at a moment’s notice. Make a note in your phone with measurements for all the areas you’re looking to get in order. That way you’ll know if the heavy dresser you saw on the sidewalk that needs refinishing is worth lugging home, or if it’s just a tad too big for the space.

Tailor, tailor, tailor!

To expand on the above, don’t ignore something just because it might not be quite right. Putting in the work to make something perfectly fit a space or meet a need is worth the extra effort upfront—especially if it’s a piece you use everyday. For example, installing screw-in, adjustable furniture feet to stabilize my wobbly desk helped me improve my home office space, and therefore, made me want to spend more time there.

A small plank of wood holds jars above and below.
The space just under a shelf is just as useful as the top.
Erin Scottberg

Save all your glass jars

Some people pay a lot of money for fancy containers to organize their pantry. Others save leftover glass jars, soak off the labels, and decant their grocery products into these lovely freebies.

Most labels should come off after an hour or two in slightly soapy water (a standard 1.5” razor blade can help remove any residual tackiness). For really tough jobs, try slathering it with peanut butter; the oil will help break down the glue.

Put those jars to work

People often forget about the space just under a shelf, which is just as useful as the top. One of my favorite tricks is to nail the lid of a jar to the underside of the shelf (a staple gun or Gorilla glue could also work in a pinch, depending on what you plan on storing). Now simply screw the jar into the lid and—voila!—you have some lovely, hanging storage.

Scour the internet for secondhand solutions

While it’s easy to throw shade at certain companies that like to make you feel like you need to spend big money to get your closet together, well, sometimes those companies make really great products. Case-in-point: The Container Store’s Elfa shelving system. Any Elfa fan will praise this fancy system’s magic track (you only have to drill the top rail into your walls! It’s perfect for renters!)—and in the same breath, lament its cost.

Be thrifty and well-organized (and keep stuff out of the landfills!) by shopping secondhand: You can easily find filing drawers, medicine cabinets, baskets and more. Go old-school and set an alert on Craigslist (it’s easy: Make sure you’re logged into your CL account, and then click “save search”).

Ropes hang planks of wood above a toilet.
This suspended rope shelf boils down to three materials and three simple steps.
Erin Scottberg

From rags... to rags

Old t-shirts can be used in so many ways, but here’s my pro tip: Cut off the sleeves off to use them as headbands, and cut the rest into 3”x3” squares to use in lieu of cotton balls when removing your makeup or applying toner. Just toss them in the laundry basket instead of the trash bin when you’re done.

Go off-label

Don’t be shy about using items for things other than their intended use. That spice rack you just replaced in your kitchen? Try it in your bathroom to hold hair and beauty products (maybe with a fresh coat of spray paint). That key rack from your front entry that you no longer need? It’s likely perfect for hanging necklaces or camisoles in your closet.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Before swiping your card at the store when you see something you really like, ask yourself “how was this made?”. If you can answer in less than five steps, why not give it a shot yourself? I’d seen versions of this suspended rope shelf retailing for $45 and up. But when I broke it down, the product involved three components (wood, rope, and two eye hooks), and three simple steps (drill holes in wood, thread rope through holes, use a level to tie knots at the appropriate places to make the shelves stable). I was able to forage the items needed (see the first idea above) and had a free set of shelves, which were cut to perfectly fit the awkward space over my toilet in less than an hour (leveling the shelves was the hardest part!).


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