Save the Toothbrushes!

“Save the Toothbrushes!”

This is the battle cry–not of dentists or environmentalists. It’s the battle cry of art teachers and/or mothers of young children.

Why, you ask? Because toothbrushes make cool tools for flicking paint onto paper.

Courtesy of Instructables

For decades I subjected myself to stringent Reduce, Reuse, and Recycling rules even before those words came into vogue. Actually, not so much the Reducing aspect–primarily Reuse and Recycle. Creative, artsy people constantly have an eye open for objects with multiple uses. 

For example, egg cartons go way beyond holding Easter eggs. Practically, they make great containers for tiny objects–brass fasteners, beads, buttons, etc. Better yet–cut out the cup parts and add pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and more–Voila! You have a centipede or an insect. What child hasn’t found joy in doing this?

Courtesy of iheartcraftythings
Courtesy of KiwiCo

Soup cans are more than potential pencil holders. They are body parts for robots. 

And of course we all know what Andy Warhol did with soup cans.

Andy Warhol, 1962. Synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases. 97″ high x 163″ wide.

Don’t even think about throwing out old crayons. Short, stubby crayons are still valuable! They can be used sideways, even melted down for a batik project on paper or fabric. In fact, for years, I had an old muffin tin I refused to throw away because I kept crayons of various colors in them for future melting. 

For weeks I saved up eggshells and later dyed them in rainbow colors. The broken pieces make beautiful mosaics.

When my girls were little, we kept pockets from old jeans and made little pocket purses.

Discarded wallpaper samples and old wrapping paper are crucial for collages of all kinds.

Old stuff and ordinary objects aren’t limited to artists. Such things produce creative thinking. In Comedy Sportz, participants playing “What is it?” take turns picking up the same object to demonstrate a brand new use for it, whether a wooden spoon or an iron. 

I have terrible memories of peering into the wastebasket only to find discarded stuff that could have became a beautiful work of art. 

I call this the Art Teacher Syndrome. I hate to see something go to waste. Others might call it OTT Syndrome — Over The Top. Or a sickness. 

Syndrome or Sickness . . . either way, it may not be curable in some people.

Blame it on the knack of seeing potential. The ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, as I’ve shared before. The way my previous guest artist Marie Scott does.

Unfortunately, this knack sometimes expresses itself in panic. Panic has overtaken whenever I saw someone headed toward the wastebasket. Throwing something away meant no more finding creative uses for that object. That’s antithetical to creativity!

If you throw out old leaves or foil, you, your students, or your children/grandchildren will never be able to make this: 

Printmaking with leaves

If you throw out old cotton balls, you’ll never be able to make this kind of hair: 

Courtesy of JumpStart

If you throw out old fabric scraps, you’ll never be able to make this:

If you throw out old ties, you’ll never be able to have this very cool display:

If you throw out old duct tape, you’ll never be able to make this:

If you throw out old feathers, you’ll never be able to make this:

If you throw out old tissue paper, you’ll never be able to make this:

If you throw out old paper scraps, you’ll never be able to make this mobile or this taco:

And all these fun projects made of found objects can later lead to confidence in drawing original pictures:

By Alex, age 8, oil pastels

If you have this “Fear of Wasting an Opportunity” syndrome, take heart. There are worse things to suffer from. But it also might dissipate with ages and stages of life.

My kids are grown up. I no longer teach art. I still recycle–more so by putting things in the recycle bin rather than the art closet. 

I no longer experience that same panic when things are marched to the wastebasket.

So maybe I’m over it. The other day I threw away a toothbrush and didn’t even hear it calling my name. Am I heartless? Have I lost some of my creative soul? 

I think not. Yes, I can finally let egg cartons, coffee filters, and pipe cleaners go more easily. But I think it’s because now I have other creative obsessions. 

More on them later!

Where do you stand on recycling stuff? Are there things you hang on to for a long time because you can put them to good use someday? Or do you easily get rid of things?  

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


9 thoughts on “Save the Toothbrushes!

  1. I’m guessing you already know my answer to that question, but I’ll reconsider the next time I have to throw out an egg carton now that I have grandkids in the house!

    1. I’m glad you’re open minded to the idea of hanging onto egg cartons! Just throw craft materials into a separate box for creative times.

  2. Hmmm. I have to limit what I hang on to. My allotted space is one closet for craft stuff. But I do save all kinds of boxes and milk cartons and spools and rubber bands and try to come up with some way to use them. When I taught nursery school before I married, I challenged myself to come up with crafts that didn’t use the expensive construction paper. It was fun!
    Great ideas here, by the way. We’ll have to try the can robots when my littles are a little older. They are still at the age when they can’t be trusted with glue—hot or otherwise!

  3. Oh man, I was a daycare provider for 10 plus years. And I could NEVER throw away or recycle anything. It was always a potential craft.
    I still keep certain things for my grandkids, but now I can part with lots of things recycling them.
    Your article resounded with me so much.

    1. Yes, it sounds like you can totally relate to the concept of hanging onto stuff! It’s a relief to be able to let some things go now.

  4. In this day and age of Marie Kondo, those of us who hang on to potential crafts are often called hoarders. But as a mom and elementary school teacher, I ignore them. It’s much easier to reuse something than have it go to some expensive facility where they may or may not recycle it. No, I don’t keep everything. But I have my favorite collections! (I admit I hadn’t thought of using a toothbrush for art. I usually thought of it as a cleaning utensil for those are to reach grout spaces. But I love the blue background for the leaves. Just might have to try that one soon 🙂 )

    1. Crafters are not necessarily hoarders, because they use (or plan on using) the materials they save. They save for a purpose, for creating. People who don’t create don’t usually understand this.

      Toothbrushes are very versatile! They’re great for cleaning grout as well as for making art!

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