If you are anything like me, you cannot bear to throw away glass jars. Something about them cries out to be filled with interesting things. Or maybe you just haven’t gotten around to throwing out all those salsa jars. Rather than putting another thing in a landfill, or playing right into the hands of the recycling conspiracy, take a third option. Apparently it’s called upcycling, where instead of breaking something down for its component materials, you take the wreckage of civilization and give it a makeover.


The first step is to clean out those jars. The inside should be easy enough, but the label and the label glue will take some persuasion. Hot running water is a big help here, loosening the paper and melting the glue a little. No matter how careful you are peeling, you will probably end up with a stubborn patch of glue. A firm scrubbing will take care of most of it, though some glues will resist everything because they are just sassy like that.


So you have a nice, plain glass jar. Now what? Fill it with outside things. You could conceivably have a jar for each season, although there is no easy way to preserve snow, so you might end up using pine needles and cones for winter.

jar on windowsill

It’s always nice to have a variety of leaf colors, but it’s not essential. The nice thing about leaves, is that they are pretty persistent. Kinda like human hair, if they are kept in a dry place, they will last for a long, long time.


If Mother Nature is too uninteresting, go to the nearest craft store and pick up a bunch of colored sand. Pour it into the jar in uneven layers, and have yourself a merry little abstract art. While you are in the aisle, you might pick up say, colored pebbles, shells, and weird dried moss thingies.

jar with rocks

At this point, you may be wondering where I got carefully preserved pieces of glacial ice. Either that, or you got the same epiphany I did, and chopped your leftover soap in the name of art. It may take some experimentation to get the scene right, and don’t be overly surprised if you end up with a small container of mixed pebbles and sand. I’m not really sure what to do with it, but keep it around. You never know when your next project can use that particular mix.


True lava lamps are troublesome, and I am not entirely sure what they are made of. So instead I give you oil…lamps…jars?

items for filling decorative jars

What you are looking at is a computer screen. What the screen is showing you is a jar mostly full of water, and ¼ full of vegetable oil. Like any science project, you should dye the water red, but I mysteriously lack food coloring. At any rate, the science happens when you drop salt onto the oil. It sinks through, and carries off a drop of oil as it sinks. Then the salt dissolves, and the oil rises like the break of dawn.

decorative jar

If you are thinking that the tiny amount of oil shifting around is kinda lame, you are in good company. You have two options. Option one is to have a jar with ¾ oil and ¼ water, and add Alka Seltzer. Lots of bubbles rising and falling. Option two is to turn the jar upside down and watch the oil scramble to adjust to the new gravitational arrangement.

decorative jar

Dance, my puppets.


Maybe putting things in jars is a little tame for you. You were promised makeovers, and come glue or hot water, you will have a makeover. Fair enough.

Acrylic paint is quite nice for painting on glass. If you want good edges to what you are painting, painter’s tape is really handy. With scissors, you can make nearly any shape and tape it to the jar. Paint over that and you have a nice little hole for light to come through.

jar decorating stepsI actually didn’t need the tape you see in the left side of the picture, but it helped to visualize the tree I wanted to paint. On the right I went the opposite direction, leaving a tree-shaped hole in autumn colors.

jar decoratingPutting on a nice base coat of orange upon which all else is built. If you paint thin enough, it will dry quickly and let a bit of light through.

decorated jarFor the curious, I used one of those sponge-brushes that look like a very narrow birdhouse. The corners of the brush were quite useful for that tapered leaf look.

decorated jar

Candles are always a good choice; fragrant, good mood lighting, and you get to light a fire. And since it is a jar, you can simply put the lid on and the candle will go out.

Hopefully I have given you a few ideas about what to do with your cooler pieces of trash. Or maybe I am patient zero in a hoarding epidemic. Either way, the dread recycling conspiracy will be deprived of its precious glass, and I think we can all agree that is worth any sacraftfice.

Brandon Quist About Brandon Quist
Brandon is originally from Olmsted Falls, Ohio. He has studied both at Baldwin Wallace college and Brigham Young University, and is currently pursuing Chemical Engineering, among other things. He considers himself a jack of all trades, and a master of none. In his spare time, Brandon enjoys knitting, guitar, reading, origami, writing, and photography.

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