Physical Space

10 Must-Have Thrifted Items to Elevate Your Art Room on a Budget

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“Reduce, reuse, recycle” could easily be the art teachers’ mantra. Art teachers are renowned for their resourcefulness. You are always looking for innovative ways to repurpose everyday items. Reimagine them as tools or supplies for sustainable and affordable artmaking experiences. Turn secondhand things into stunning decor that will inspire your students and positively impact your mood. From discarded furniture to forgotten trinkets, thrift stores offer a treasure trove of materials to enhance your art curriculum and room.

Thrifted items make the perfect budget-friendly addition to your classroom. Look for these items to elevate your art room and style them to fit your needs.


1. Containers, Organizers, & Baskets 

Transform your art room into an organized oasis by repurposing thrifted containers, organizers, and baskets. These affordable finds offer a practical solution to the ever-present struggle to keep art supplies tidy and readily accessible. Build a collection of bins in every shape and size to use as table caddies, store collections, and arrange your space just how you like it.


2. Trays & Storage Racks

Invest in trays and storage racks to streamline your art room organization. Paperwork trays, lunch trays, and serving trays are perfect for prepping art materials and making distribution a breeze. Storage racks are ideal for organizing papers, supplies, and small artworks to maximize your space. Explore the Organizing Your Elementary Art Room for Success Pack from PRO Learning for more tips on managing everyday art supplies. 

Here are some ways to style these items in your art room:

  • Organize pastels in a tackle box or divided veggie tray to keep them from rubbing against each other and muddying the colors.
  • Thread yarn through holes in a plastic organizer to distribute yarn without the tangled mess.
  • Make mini-damp boxes for clay projects from plastic containers flipped upside down with a clay board resting on the lid.
  • Use a spice rack to create tiered storage for small paint bottles and tubes.
  • Repurpose a record holder or letter tray to store paint palettes or stacks of paper.

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3. Heat Tools

Artists employ unconventional items in their creative endeavors all of the time. Grab hair dryers from the thrift store to show students the versatility of everyday objects in the artistic process. Use repurposed hair dryers to dry paint and clay at record speeds and flatten artwork to give it a sleek, pressed look. Your students will love learning that heat tools are for more than just hair! What else will you repurpose in the art room?

4. Texture Tools

Thrift stores are treasure troves for texture-making tools. Collect fly swatters, doilies, sponges, kitchen utensils, toothbrushes, rubber stamps, and other objects to experiment with surface manipulations. Use these tools for one of the projects in the Experimenting with Monoprinting Collection from FLEX Curriculum, or set up a tactile and exploratory activity like the one below.

Here’s how to set up a texture-making smorgasbord for your students:

  1. Gather an array of thrifted texture tools with a variety of patterns
  2. Arrange these items on a large table so they are easily accessible. 
  3. Press the tools into different colored paints, inks, or stamp pads.
  4. Print them on white or colored pieces of paper to reveal the texture.
  5. Experiment with layering textures and combining materials to create complex compositions.
  6. Alternately, press tools into wet clay to add visual interest to ceramic pieces.

5. Yarn & Fabric Scraps

Introduce your students to the world of fiber art without breaking the bank. Repurposing items like sheets, pillow covers, clothes, and curtains provides a diverse range of fabrics for students to explore different techniques. Take advantage of the weekly deals so you can stretch your budget further, ensuring every dollar goes towards widening your students’ artistic experiences.

Here are some ways to style these items in your art room:

6. Paint Shirts & Messy Clothes

Say goodbye to worrying about getting paint on your favorite clothes by opting for designated “paint day” or “clay day” outfits sourced straight from the racks of a thrift store. Plus, it’s fun to find unique outfits to match your eclectic art teacher style! Stock up on oversized shirts for your students to pull on over their nice clothes instead of aprons when it’s time to dive into messy projects. By purchasing these items secondhand, you save money, reduce waste, and contribute to sustainable practices in your art room.

7. Picture Frames

Use the plethora of picture frames available at thrift stores in both traditional and nontraditional ways. Display student artwork by hanging a gallery wall of thrift store frames. Remove the glass and attach clothespins to make it easy to switch out the masterpieces. For an unconventional twist, turn wood frames into deckle boxes to create handmade paper, like in the video below.

8. Mirrors, Dishes, & Glass

Peruse thrift stores for a wealth of materials to fuel your mixed-media and 3D projects. Collect reflective surfaces like CDs, DVDs, and mirrors to add dynamic pizzazz. Repurpose ceramic mugs as water cups or carefully break plates into pieces for vibrant mosaic artworks. Fuse recycled glass into rings for whimsical wind chimes. Dive deeper into the world of glass fusing with the Getting Started With Warm Glass and Lampwork Pack from PRO Learning.

Here’s how to turn a mirror into an empowering self-portrait station:

  1. Choose a large, horizontal, sturdy mirror.
  2. Decorate the mirror’s edges to make it visually appealing and inspiring.
  3. Transform the mirror into a personal affirmation station by writing empowering statements around the border with paint pens or vinyl decals. 
  4. Hang the mirror horizontally at eye level for students seated on the floor.
  5. Explore the Experimenting with Portraiture Collection from FLEX Curriculum.
  6. Send students to draw at the affirmation station when they need a break or as an early finisher activity.


9. Books, Games, & Puzzles

Incorporate an element of literacy and creative play into your art room by sourcing books, games, and puzzles from thrift stores. These items educate and entertain early finishers while encouraging artistic exploration and critical thinking skills. Seek materials with well-composed designs and enriching illustrations to ignite your students’ imagination. Even older students enjoy a good picture book, board game, or puzzle now and then!


10. Furniture

Revamp your art room’s ambiance by sourcing second-hand furniture. Not only will it serve a functional purpose but it can also make your room more visually welcoming and aesthetically pleasing. Pick out small tables, chairs, or bookshelves made of solid wood so they will stand the test of time. Embrace your inner DIY enthusiast to make your art room a magical place that you and your students want to spend time in.

Thrift stores provide a wealth of opportunities for art teachers to find affordable and sustainable materials to enhance their art rooms. Use a spice rack to store paint bottles, gather one-of-a-kind texture tools, DIY t-shirt yarn, or collect glass for mosaics. The possibilities for transforming thrifted treasures into art room essentials are endless! Incorporating second-hand items into your classroom saves money, reduces waste, and inspires your students to think outside of the box and see the potential in everyday objects. So, next time you’re browsing the aisles of your local thrift store, keep an eye out for hidden gems to elevate your art room and ignite your students’ imaginations. Happy thrifting!

What’s your best thrifted art room find? 

How do you promote sustainability and resourcefulness in your classroom?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Mariana VanDerMolen

Mariana VanDerMolen, an elementary art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She enjoys teaching for creativity, with a focus on ELL and therapy in a process-based art room.

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