All the aspects of minimal waste living (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot) are important, but Reusing and Recycling are the most effective ways to deal with the waste we can’t avoid producing. Repurposing is a large portion of that; by finding new uses for products past their intended lifespan, we Reduce what goes to the landfill and Reuse what we can.
This can be as simple as reusing a candy wrapper for your spent chewing gum, or reusing a single-use zip-top deli cheese bag to contain trash that might start to smell if left exposed in the trash bin. Often, it means looking at every single piece of waste you generate and asking, “Can I find another use for this before I discard it?”
Bed sheets are often overlooked as an excellent source of scrap fabric for all sorts of household needs. Good quality sheets can last a very long time, but eventually even the best ones become threadbare and worn out. The elastic on the fitted sheet may lose its stretch, or you may find a hole in your favorite pillowcase.
The easiest way to fix a fitted sheet that’s lost its stretch is to buy or make a set of elastic clip straps that secure the corners of the sheet in place. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can sew elastic bands directly onto your sheets for an easy, machine-washable solution that involves minimal skilled sewing.
Holes can be patched by using an iron-on patch applied to the wrong side (under side) of the sheet, then stitched in place for added security. These often aren’t perfect solutions, especially if there’s a sharp or rough spot on your bed frame that caused the hole, but they’ll help your sheets last a little bit longer.
If they’re fully past their usable lifespan as bed sheets, then there’s several options for reusing what may be the largest single-piece sources of scrap fabric you have available.
Napkins are typically square, with dimensions ranging from 16”x16” to 21”x21”. Even a twin-size bed sheet (fitted or flat) will easily yield six napkins. Finishing the edges by folding them and sewing them in place to prevent fraying will extend their new lifespan.
Keep in mind that the materials most bed sheets are made from will not make good placemats due to their tendency to absorb and wick moisture.
Repurpose napkins at the end of their life into cleaning rags.
Repurpose one thing to reduce waste with another: handkerchiefs are a washable, reusable alternative to tissues that can also be gentler on the sensitive skin around your nose. Finishing the edges by folding them and sewing them in place to prevent fraying will extend their new lifespan. Handkerchiefs usually range in size for 8”x8” to 12”x12”, and are folded to fit in a pocket.
Repurpose handkerchiefs at the end of their life into cleaning rags.
If you have larger areas of undamaged, unstained sheet to use up, consider making yourself a scarf. Good dimensions to start with are 12”x60”, but that can vary depending on your preferences. Patterned percales make good fashion scarves, and heavy flannels are best if you’re looking for warmth.
Repurpose scarves at the end of their life into cleaning rags by cutting into smaller pieces.
When I went to college, I quickly discovered that it was hard to sleep with the harsh light of the lamp post directly outside my window shining through the gaps in my slatted blinds. A quick call home to my parents (I went to a local university) got me one of the old worn-out sheets they kept around for whenever we need scrap fabric. I spent about half an hour cutting it to fit over my window with 3” to spare on every side, hand-sewing loops of sturdy cord onto the top edge, and sticking Command hooks onto the wall above the window. That night, my roommate and I slept significantly better.
If you don’t have your parents nearby, or they don’t hold on to old linens like mine do, just head to your local thrift store to see if you can get a set of bed sheets there. If that doesn’t work, you may get lucky at the local craft store in the remnants section of the fabric department. Just be sure to measure your window first so that you know how much fabric you need.
Repurpose curtains at the end of their life into cleaning rags, napkins, or handkerchiefs by cutting into smaller pieces.
Pretty much any fabric can be repurposed into a cleaning rag, even if stained or damaged. Cut it to a usable size, use it until it’s falling apart, then take it to a fabric recycling drop-off bin or any thrift store that offers fabric recycling. Most Goodwill and Salvation Army stores accept worn-out clothes and linens for recycling.