We all have old books that we have read to the point of exhaustion and will never read again. Or books we bought on a whim but never really liked once we tried to read them.
They are either forgotten and left to collect dust, mold and mildew or destined for the landfill and to add to the ever-expanding carbon footprint.
What can we do with them? Donating them is a good option. (I’ve mentioned some online sites at the end that accept book donations.) And of course there are tons of amazing DIY tutorials on Pinterest and YouTube you can look up on the Internet.
But first I am going to show you simpler ways to reuse old books, which you can achieve even if you have fingers of lead. You can also repurpose newspaper and other forms of paper.
Let’s get straight into it then.
1. Blackout Poetry
Transform the words of your old books into poems by removing words from them.
In blackout poetry, you use a marker pen to black out words in a book page so the remaining words form poetry, sort of.
The final product does not necessarily have to rival the works of Coleridge or Keats. Randomness is one aspect of the fun after all. It’s stimulating and creatively gratifying if you can come up with a poem using only the words that are on the page.
Start by thoroughly scanning the page. Identify a theme or one word around which the poem will revolve. Keep looking for other words that relate to the main word.
Mark out the words with a pencil. If you are satisfied with the gems you’ve found then proceed to wipe out the rest from existence. Take photos of your work, add filters if you wish, and post your work on Instagram.
Here’s my handiwork:
There are no rules to blackout poetry and you have the license to delete parts of words. For example, if you are looking for the word “at” but you find just “that,” black out the first and fourth letters of the latter.
2. Ripen fruits
You can reuse old books to ripen fruits. Wrapping unripened fruits in paper and storing them in a dry place hastens the ripening process.
There’s more science than magic to this. Wrapping fruit in paper traps the ethylene gas inside which accelerates the process. The trick is to wrap them loosely, too tight and then there may be excess moisture resulting in mold.
This works particularly well with green tomatoes and fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines that may not always be ripe when bought. Or avocados and bananas that do not ripen on the tree. For example, you can wrap avocados in paper and keep them in a warm place to ripen. Once they do, store them in a refrigerator.
You can do the same with bananas which also must be harvested unripe or they lose their texture. Also, bananas along with apples are great ripening agents. If you wrap them in paper alongside a peach, for instance, they give off ethylene gas which will ripen the peach.
3. Eliminate bad odors and maintain shoes, handbags, hats shape
Wadding up paper and stuffing them into boots or shoes for a day or two helps absorb moisture and eliminate bad smell. For really bad odor, repeat the process once or twice. This can also dry out the insides of shoes if they get wet.
You can similarly reuse old books to maintain shoe shape in case you don’t have a shoe tree. Likewise, stuffing hats and handbags with paper maintains their shape and keeps them odor-free.
Paper also helps to stretch out shoes. For this, dampen a few sheets and stuff them inside the front of the shoe and leave them to dry. When they do, the paper will expand and harden and stretch out the shoe.
While this technique is effective, ensure that the wad of paper is arranged in a way that does not compromise the shape of the shoe. Overstuffing can damage the insides. And do not try this on leather shoes.
4. Stop leaks and odors
Reuse old books and newspapers to effectively stop leaks and odors.
Placing a few pages on the bottom of your garden pots can prevent soil from leaking.
One aspect about ink is that it helps absorb odors. So, you can line cabinets and shelves as well as garbage bins with paper to prevent bad smell.
This also works with lunch bags and food containers. The crisper drawer of the fridge is another area where paper can be placed to absorb smell and leakages from rotting fruits and vegetables.
5. Press and preserve flowers and leaves
Reuse old books when pressing and preserving flowers and leaves.
This is an age-old technique that is still relevant. Dried flowers are pretty to look at and you can use them to craft cards or you can simply frame them.
Here’s how to press flowers in a book.
- Pick the flower at its prime (free of any tear) and most colorful.
- Pick one that’s been dried out by the sun (try picking on a sunny day) as wet flowers mold.
- The flower should have a flat bud as these are easier to press, such as daisies and violas. Ferns, fuchsia and larkspur work too.
- Place the flower, head down, between the pages of a thick book and place other heavy books (or objects) on top.
- Check in about 20 days if the flower has dried.
Since flowers can give off moisture, it’s best to use old books that you are not too attached to.
6. Toys for pets
The term “bird brain” is a touch harsh. They do have intelligence, especially birds like the parrot. And if they don’t have any creative stimuli birds tend to get bored, upset and will let you know about it.
In short, they need their toys.
African greys, lovebirds, and other species of parrots need to strengthen their beaks and claws which they use for everyday activities. All they need are a few pieces of paper they can play with.
The safest option for them is paper used in children’s books, as it contains soybean ink, which is green and non-toxic.
Birds also have a penchant for shredding books so if you have some that you are not going to read, your avian friends would welcome them.
Rabbits also don’t mind books. Like with birds, you have to ensure that the ink is non-toxic. Some dogs and cats too enjoy ripping pages for fun.
7. Fire starters
Paper can be used as fire starters as well. Just roll them tightly into cigar shapes, dip them in wax and voila, you’re good to go. For outdoor fireplaces or chimeras, pages can be rolled into logs and used as kindling.
While most types of paper will work all right, the best ones for the job are paper with a newspaper-like texture. Dictionaries, phone books, thesauruses, puzzle books that you feel you will not use again, are good options.
8. Use pages for messy jobs
Reuse old books and newspapers for messy jobs.
They can be used to scoop up things that you consider too dirty for your hands, like dead flies or spills. Or you can use them to wipe off bins after they’ve be washed.
Pages are also food for slightly hazardous tasks like picking up shards of broken glass from the floor. Pick up the bigger pieces and press a few pages of damp paper into the shards to lift off the floor.
If you are using shoe polish, you can use newspaper underneath to prevent the floor or carpet from getting dirty.
They are also extremely handy for cleaning jobs, like wiping windows and mirrors.
If you are using glue gun for your craft projects, you can rip used pages from a book and the one below can act as a clean work surface.
When pan frying food, place a few book pages below one paper towel; you’ll be saving several paper towels this way.
You can also use paper to unscrew a hot light bulb.
9. Gift wraps and gift bags
You can repurpose old books and comic pages to make unique gift wraps. If you have old music sheets or Japanese or Chinese language books you are no longer using, they also make for cool wrapping paper.
Maps are another excellent choice due to their size and the variety of color they offer. You can try the same technique with pages from a big book. This is best for smaller packages but even if they’re big, you can use a number of pages to cover them.
To give that personal touch, you can finish the box with décor such as pine cones, leaves, paper flowers or ribbons, confetti, colored yarn. How about using brown paper to cover the package and pasting a cut out of your favorite quote, illustration, or picture from a book?
Deconstruct a store bought envelope or a gift bag and see how it’s made and use that as a blueprint. You can make them in all shapes and sizes.
Your handiwork does not have to be perfect. A bit of randomness is all part of the uniqueness and personality.
10. Super easy DIY projects
Confetti and bunting banners are super easy and fun to create and they look great. They make for amazing holiday, birthday, wedding, Christmas, or party theme décor.
Bunting banners and confetti
All you have to do is cut, paste and thread the flags and embellish them any which way you like. The upshot can be a fun piece or a scary one like I managed. (I didn’t mean to make it look like cutouts of burning children, but they do, don’t they? )
The best aspect about bunting is that there is no creative ceiling to what you can do with it.
Or you can try some confetti hearts, leaves or stars using a stub.
Decoupage, paper mache, jewelry
You could try a little decoupaging. It’s super easy and satisfying.
I used the pages of an old Reader’s Digest in the above photo. There was no cork so I cut a piece of thermocol in the shape of a cork (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Then I layered it with lots of brown paper bits to create one.
You can use picture books or any book pages with some Mod Podge to decorate trays, bottles, plates, and more. First, tear the page of your choice into segments. Then stick them to the surface by applying Mod Podge. (You may or may not paint the surface; that’s a personal choice.) Leave it to dry for a few hours and then apply Mod Podge again.
You can also use old book pages for paper mache projects and to make jewelry beads.
11. Seedling pots
Whether you’re a seasoned or an amateur gardener, we all know starting a garden with seedlings is more gratifying than buying grown plants.
Use your old phone book pages, newspapers or similar paper as a seed starter.
- To begin with, roll a sheet into a three-inch tall cup.
- Fill them with soil.
- Plant the seed in the middle of the cup.
- Once the seedlings are ready to be taken outside, you can place the paper pots directly into the ground. And there you have you biodegradable seedling pot.
12. Make compost
Newspapers, old dictionaries and similar-type paper are great for making compost. Tear them up and mix with the soil and they break down and enrich the soil.
As we’ve already covered, ensure that the pages do not contain toxic ink.
Plus some paper types should not be mixed with the soil or recycled. Foil wrapping and glossy paper contain chemicals and dyes and is better avoided.
13. Suppress weeds
Book pages can be a very good substitute for mulch. A thick layer of paper around plants can stop sunlight from getting through to weed. Use a thin layer of leaf mold to keep the pages from scattering.
Newspaper also does a bang up job. Dampen and layer them to the base of the plant and cover with compost. This smothers the weeds and can be tilled into the soil later.
14. Make a step for exercising
Stack old books to create a height of about four inches. The length can be extended by making a similar stack and binding them tightly with duct tape. Cover your DIY with a towel or any material that is non-slippery. You got yourself a new stepper and an eco-friendly way to stay fit.
Reuse old books to create height on tables or other furniture. All you have to do is stack a few keeping the largest as the base. You can also stack books together to make a foot stool or to prop up flower pots.
To make them waterproof, you can wrap the books with shower curtains or duct tape.
15. Dry view foils and money bills
Reuse old books to dry view foils. Place the foil inside the pages and the papers will do the drying for you.
You can do the same with wet money bills. Start by putting the bill between paper towels to dry out the excess water. Then place the bill in between the pages of an old and heavy book, which helps flatten and dry it out.
Once I found a bill in the washing machine, which I had probably forgotten to take out from my jeans back pocket. It looked far from healthy. I gasped as I picked it up and shrieked when I saw the number on the note. In classic panic mode, I obligatorily wiped it with a cloth nearby and quickly tucked the still-wet bill between the pages of a massive old book. I checked my handiwork two weeks later. The bill was dry as a bone and in perfect condition.
Packing and gift décor
Shredded paper or paper formed into balls can cushion and protect objects from bumps in transit. We are currently in the process of moving to a different city and my old books have come in very handy.
Shredded paper can also be used as “grass” on gift baskets.
So these were some of the ways in which you can reuse old books.
If you wish to donate books, try schools (not all accept donations so you might want to check with teachers who are seeking to stock their class library), local retirement homes, prisons, hospitals, and art centers.
To give to your local recycling centers be sure to understand their recycling policies beforehand.
You can also use BookCrossing and let your books travel the world through the hands of other book lovers. To swap books, PaperBackSwap is a good resource; they also accept audio books, hardbacks, and textbooks.
Which tip do you fancy trying? Are there other ways in which you reuse old books and newspapers? Share in the comments.