If you’ve ever changed jobs, chances are you have a stack of old business cards sitting around somewhere. Those of us with the packrat gene hesitate to throw them out. After all, we spend our hard-earned money to have new business cards produced. And let’s be honest, there is something special about those uniform little rectangles, isn’t there?
They certainly aren’t very useful sitting around getting musty in the original box from the printer. Crafting gurus and environmentalists alike will agree this is the kind of challenge upcycling was created for.
What is upcycling?
Upcycling goes beyond the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), putting outdated materials to a different, “higher” purpose. The term was coined in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, two environmentalists committed to create a new paradigm for how we view materials. In addition to saving resources and energy spent recycling, upcycling generally inspires creativity and fun, transcending utility and becoming a form of entertainment and artistic expression.
Of course, the challenge many of us face is where to begin, especially when the material in question seem so mundane. Take a look at these next four ideas, and let’s get your creative neurons firing.
Exploring the Web will reveal an infinite number of arts and crafts projects you can make using old business cards. One of my very favorites is a page on devoted to making origami from old business cards. And these are not your grade school origami designs, either. Some of the pieces are quite extraordinary.
Of course, if you want to go all out, try making this business card lamp. Featured on inhabitat.com and originated by artist Michelle Whale, the lamp was created for aktiv architecture. If you don’t feel creatively inclined, you can have one custom made.
Try creating a family chore organizer. All you will need is a couple of business card holders, a marker and some old business cards. Write one household task on the blank side of each card. Label one business card holder, “chores to do,” and the other card holder, “chores completed.” As chores are completed, simply move the card from one holder to the next. Move them back at the end of the week or whenever needed.
If you want your children to earn money from completing chores, you can add dollar values to each of the cards and give each child a place to keep completed tasks until the end of the week. At the end of the week, add up the dollar amounts and start over.
Contain Your Small Trappings
You can create a small container for your earbuds to keep them from tangling and getting damaged in your pocket or purse. The resulting pocket could also be used to hold ear plugs, scrap paper with phone numbers, or a few tissues.
Decorate Place Settings for Your Dining Table
Last year, I saw my name on a place card at a dinner party, and I loved knowing that someone thought about me ahead of time. There’s just something wonderful about that classic touch. Reinvent your old business cards as place cards to evoke that classic sense of hospitality and style.
- Step 1: Choose a color you love. Paint each side of an old business card with this color. Be sure the color is light enough to provide a contrast to a darker print. Use a paint brush for a solid color, or use a sponge and a slightly different shade to create a textured look.
- Step 2: Find a stamp with a pretty border or draw your own.
- Step 3: Choose a contrasting ink, and write each guest’s name on a card.
Upcycling has me noticing things I had not noticed before. Now that I’ve been upcycling, when I throw things away that still have value, I notice it subtly diminishes something that is hard to articulate — something like beauty or joy.
Taking the time and energy to elevate the use of a material gets me connected to the time and energy of the people who touched it before me and the value of the material itself. It also forces me to slow down and appreciate the time I have and the materials I have access to.
Hopefully these ideas will help spark your interest in upcycling — a pursuit which is not only fun, but can transform your relationship to materials. Just be forewarned — upcycling can be addictive!
About Author: Janis Bookout is a freelance writer and branding facilitator from Austin, Texas, with experience in social media. She has written manuals, curricula, web content, and blogs. Janis has more than ten years of experience in the field of personal and professional development, training others in accountability, team management, leadership and brand implementation. She is also a professional artist and co-founder of a teaching software company, and is a regular contributor to ChamberofCommerce.com.