Chances are that you encounter some form of can almost every day. Maybe it’s the small can from the dog/cat food. Maybe it held vegetables or another canned good. There are also bigger coffee cans and paint cans. And don’t forget soda cans. While cans are recyclable almost everywhere, they are also very handy for many other uses.
Metal cans are very durable and the wide variety of sizes available make them versatile. Some come with lids, making them great for storage. (Hint: If the can doesn’t come with a lid, like a vegetable or dog food can, you can buy lids for these cans in the pet store or in the kitchen aisle of most big-box stores. They’re designed for keeping half-used cans of food fresh in the fridge, but you can buy them and use them for whatever you need. You can also buy lids for paint cans at the hardware stores.) Here are some things you can do with old cans.
Tall cans make great pencil holders. Small tuna/cat food-sized cans make good holders for things like paper clips, thumbtacks, or rubber bands. Large coffee cans can hold small toys, jewelry, hair accessories, or any other do-dads that you need to corral. If you’re looking to add a bit of organization to your life, cans can be a great way to get started.
If your can has a lid, you can cut a slit in the lid and slip your change in that way. Even without a lid, a can is a great place to keep spare change. Decorate it with pictures of what you’re saving for for even more motivation.
Flower Pot or Herb Garden
Cans make cheap flowerpots or you can make a kitchen herb garden with a few cans lined up on the windowsill. Poke some holes in the bottom of the can for drainage.
If your laundry room is like mine, the top of the dryer tends to accumulate change, pocket knives, nail clippers and other things that go through the wash. I don’t always get them to their proper places as soon as the laundry comes out, so a can on top of the dryer gives me a place to corral these items until they are claimed or I distribute them.
Cans make good scoops for pet food and bird seed.
Large coffee cans can be used to store flour, sugar, or dry goods. Decorate them to match your decor, or find vintage cans at thrift stores for the retro look.
Cans are great for corralling screws, nuts, bolts, small tools, and other small bits that end up scattered all over the garage.
If you fish, you can haul your earthworms to the lake in a coffee can. I remember fishing with my dad and we’d go out and dig up worms before we left, put them in a coffee can, and haul them to the lake, dirt and all.
Paint cans with handles are great for hauling seeds and small tools out to the garden, or for moving cleaning tools from room to room.
Treasure Hunting or Time Capsule
We went to the beach every summer when I was a kid. One of the highlights of the trip was taking a can and burying it next to one of the pier pylons. (Yes, I know, not the most environmentally friendly things to do.) We’d bury it deep and I’d make a map showing where it was. The next year, we’d come back and try to find the can. We found it every year but one, and I think a hurricane got it that year. Anyway, you can use cans for treasure hunts in your own yard, or you can create a time capsule. Put some objects in a can, bury it, and dig it up later.
If you’re creative, you can turn cans into almost anything. You can make a lamp out of an old coffee can, or build a sculpture. I’ve seen holiday lanterns/luminarias made from cans, as well as wine racks and shelving units. Whatever you can envision you can make.
You shouldn’t put kitchen oil and grease down your drain. Rather than keeping it in a bowl or something you’ll eventually have to wash, just keep it in a can and when the can is full, toss it out.
Keeping Things Dry
When you go camping, a plastic or metal coffee/paint can with lid is great for keeping things like matches, small electronics, toilet paper, or napkins dry in the event of rain.
Trick-or-Treat Buckets / Easter Baskets
Drill holes on either side of a coffee can and secure rope/string through the holes to make a handle. Decorate the can and you have an instant trick or treat bucket or an Easter basket.
If the stuff under your bathroom cabinet tends to roll around and get out of control, use cans to organize perfume, toiletries, medications, or cosmetics.
Cans make great targets for shooting practice. (Please practice all applicable gun safety actions and make certain shooting is legal where you live.)
Organize all your crafting odds and ends with different sized cans. Big cans can hold things like yarn, scissors, or fabric scraps. Small cans are great for beads, scrapbook ornaments, bobbins, or needles.
If you make cookies for gifts, a festively decorated coffee can is a great way to present your gifts.
Candle Holder or Base
When camping or in a pinch, you can put candles in cans. The can will catch the drips and keep the candle upright.
Dorm or Camp Caddy
An old paint can makes an easy way for a college kid or camper to carry their toiletries up and down the hall to the communal bathroom.
You probably remember making a telephone with two cans connected by string. It’s still a fun game for kids.
Stilts for Kids
You may have used a pair of these when you were a kid. Easy to make and still fun.
Lunch or Picnic Pail
When I was a kid, I went through a Little House on the Prairie phase. I didn’t want a regular lunch box, I wanted a lunch pail like Mary and Laura had. An old coffee can with some rope attached for a handle made a perfect imitation.
When you’re trying to grow small plants, a can (with both ends removed)placed over the plant can protect it from nibbling pests or high winds. A can with a lid or the bottom still on can be placed over a plant to protect it from frost or hail. Larger cans can be cut in half and placed around trees and larger plants to protect them from mowers and weed whackers.
There are only a couple of rules about reusing cans. First, never use anything for food storage other than another food can. For example, never use an old paint can as a flour canister. No matter how clean you think you’ve gotten it, some chemical residue likely remains and you don’t want to eat that.
Second, make sure you get the metal edges smooth. When you open a can with a can opener or cut off the top of a soda can, you will probably leave jagged edges or little pieces of sharp metal behind on the rim. Make sure you file these down well so you don’t cut yourself when taking things in and out of the can.
While I’m not saying that you should keep every single can you encounter for some other purpose, it can be a good idea to keep a few around. They make great storage containers and you can easily decorate them and use them for more artistic projects.