How to Find Items to Upcycle

It's no secret, I love reclaiming discarded materials and upcycling them into something else. My craft supplies are equal parts commercially produced and found objects. One of the advantages of reusing is the cost: free! But where to get started?

Freecycle is a fast-growing global network of people who want to keep usable items out of landfills. Simple to use, just plug your zip code into the website to find your nearest group. Browse the "Offer" ads, you may luck out and get a sewing machine, yarn, fabric, or other supplies. I've personally given away big bags of fabric scraps and beads through freecycle.

Hudson Valley Materials Exchange, located in New Paltz, New York, is open to the public. The fees are extremely reasonable, and the place is a treasure trove. Be prepared to give yourself plenty of time to explore. The stock changes all the time, so you're bound to find loads of interesting salvaged items. According to their website the most recent donations include silkscreen frames, small boxes, and lampshade fabric and trim. Long Island's Material Resource Center in Ronkonkoma is a similar organization.
Another great source for upcycled materials is right under your nose- your house and neighborhood. Before you recycle or throw something away, give it a second glance. Magazines, greeting cards and other paper goods can easily be repurposed into gift tags, scrapbook embellishments, and other items. {NewNew} member Copabananas has used sewing patterns and manila envelopes to make the tags above.
Throw a party, and you'll have plenty of bottle caps to craft with. Deafdog is a bartender with many upcycled bottlecap magnets in her eclectic etsy shop. See pulpsushi's {NewNew} tutorial to learn how to make your own.Look at an item's packaging before tossing it. Glass jars are fabulous for storing small craft supplies like beads and buttons. Paint or pretty paper can make a simple box into a pleasing catch-all. A little glass etching can bring a boring jar or vase new life. Maybe that candy tin would make a good keepsake, like Waisze's scrapbook tins?

Participating in a cleanup is a fun way to find unique items for crafting while improving your community. I lead cleanups for my day job, and encourage volunteers to keep the most interesting items aside. Sea glass, broken jewelry, small toys and other interesting trinkets can easily be cleaned up and repurposed. Check out the work of {NewNew} member Glass is my Name. In addition to collecting sea glass from the beaches of Long Island, she upcycles everyday bottles into unique jewelry.

It's not hard to get into the habit of keeping an eye on the street when you go out. In my travels I've seen the sidewalks of New York City yield treasures ranging from a plastic monkey tiny enough to add to a bracelet, to a lone lost earring in SoHo, ripe for reinvention. The secret to sidewalk hunting is to keep your eyes open.