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How to turn your junk into a fortune

Could you add value to your unwanted possessions by ‘upcycling’? Here’s how to turn your trash into treasure…

There’s a new trend among the fashion conscious but frugal: Upcycling. It means adding value to old, usually useless items; some people call it salvage art.

And it’s been on our TV screens just recently. The nation emitted a collective groan last Wednesday when candidates in the BBC’s ‘Apprentice’ tried “upcycling” old chairs and suitcases so that they could sell them for a profit. Unfortunately, it turned out that spraying a union flag onto a wicker chair or screwing legs onto a suitcase to make it a table didn’t mean instant wealth.

But while their attempts at quirky charm may not have impressed Lord Sugar, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t turn a profit, or at least save money by transforming junk into something you use again and again.

[Related link: All the latest on the ‘The Apprentice’]

Reclaim, revamp, salvage

Upcycling may have become trendy since the recession made it mainstream, but some frugal fashionistas have been making it work for years.

By transforming an existing item, you can create one-of-a-kind furniture or quirky clothing, the kind people pay much more for in a shop.

The green-living mantra is “reduce, reuse, recycle”, so once again this is an area where living on a budget and going green work hand in hand. Even if you’re not struggling to budget, protecting the environment is a good reason to reuse or sell your unwanted possessions.

Finding upcycling ideas

The wonderful thing about upcycling is that random items can be reclaimed and serve entirely different purposes, from beanbags made with plastic bags to rustic coffee tables made from old pallets. And the internet is full to the brim with ideas, blogs and forums dedicated to upcycling.

One popular site is Upcyclist, which reports on the most beautiful and innovative upcycling projects it can find and is full of inspirational pictures. Another great resource is the website, which includes tips, ideas and success stories.

Top tips for successful upcycling

There’s not much point in attempting to upcycle if you don’t have the tools or skills required. Only undertake a project you know is achievable, otherwise you risk simply adding to the waste when you chuck the whole thing out.

If you’re not confident when it comes to sanding down old furniture or stitching together a new top, there are plenty of upcycling classes available – especially in the bigger cities.

Tips for upcycling furniture

There’s big money in salvaged furniture, if you can make it look professional. Here are some important things to consider before you apply even a lick of paint:

•    Never begin a project without first checking you have all the tools, space and time you need to complete it.
•    Prepare and prime all surfaces before you work on them. Paint might hide a multitude of sins but if it’s bubbly or flaked then it won’t look good.
•    Stencils are a great way to add colour and design to a piece of furniture even if you’re not particularly artistic.
•    Never rush a project. If it looks rushed you won’t want to keep it in your home and you certainly won’t be able to sell it.
•    Remember, old furniture may need more work but it’s often of better quality than cheap modern flat-pack furniture.

Tips for upcycling clothes

•    Old silky tops can make great linings for handbags
•    Interesting, mismatched buttons can really liven up a dull shirt
•    Charity shops are full of cheap clothes that can be upcycled or cannibalised for a different upcycling project. Look for fun patterns, even if you don’t like the style.
•    Patterned patches can look fun and quirky, as well as covering worn or stained areas.
•    Old fabric can be used to make patches, broaches and even to cover furniture or notebooks.
•    Do buy clothes that are too big and can be altered to fit but avoid clothing that’s too small, unless you plan to just use the fabric.

[Related feature: How to get the best quality when buying second hand]

Selling your upcycled success

Upcycling can save you money by reducing what you throw away and filling your home and wardrobe with charming arty pieces. But some people successfully make money through the art of upcycling.

For example, sells bespoke upcycled furniture. However, you don’t necessarily need to go into business to make some extra money from an upcycling hobby. You could sell your finished projects at carboot sales or through websites like eBay and Preloved.

Do you upcycle or do you think people are kidding themselves that they’re creating art? Do you buy retro-style clothes and furniture? Have you successfully added value to your old junk? Share your experiences with other readers in the comments below…

[Related feature: How to sell your stuff]