Repurpose old school bags?
January 17, 2014 6:11 AM   Subscribe

I have outgrown the trusty jansport backpack that holds all of my high school and university memories, and the Timbuk2 messenger bag that carried me through five years of graduate school. I don't use these bags any more, but I want to keep them for sentimental reasons. What are some ways to repurpose them and put them to use? (I am thinking along the lines of using them as diaper bags except I don't have a baby...)
posted by redwaterman to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I like using backpacks for weekend getaways - much nicer than a small duffel bag in my opinion. (This does require you to be a relatively light traveler, though.)

A good friend used a backpack in lieu of a reusable grocery bag. I thought it was crazy at first, but it is a lot easier to haul heavier items that way than in a regular tote, I think.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:19 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I had a jansport backpack too, that I couldn't bear to get rid of, so I used it to make a little emergency kit for my car. Holds plenty of stuff, and tucks into a corner in the back :)
posted by PlantGoddess at 6:21 AM on January 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

With a pre-teen daughter and a wife who goes to annual conferences, we've got a closet practically full of beat-up backpacks and logoed messenger bags. We are always using them for one purpose or another -- as schroedingersgirl mentions, they are very handy as a "personal item" when travelling or for toting bulky things to/from work, stowing extra layers of clothing when you are doing outdoor activities in potentially inclement weather.

For storage, put as many bags as possible inside the largest bag you have.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:23 AM on January 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I store my winter scarves, hats and gloves (and any other extra/out-of-season small outdoor stuff) in an old greymarket (but very nice) canvas "Prada" crossbody bag I got in Shanghai in the mid-nineties and cannot bear to part with.
posted by Frowner at 6:35 AM on January 17, 2014

You could turn it into a hanging garden (see also).

In case you decide to part with the Timbuk2, they have a recycle-your-bag discount program.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:39 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding that they're great if you have to carry groceries or anything heavy or bulky. Your shoulders are usually stronger than your arms.
posted by bleep at 6:39 AM on January 17, 2014

Hello future pack-rat!

It would be one thing if you could think of a great way to use these items, but if you're stumped and resorting to internet stranger's ideas, I submit that you have an awesome fork in the road before you.

You can be a person who keeps random things, "for sentimental" reasons. Not things that have intrinsic value, or things that are small momentos, but things that are sort of trashy and not really useful to you any more.

I submit, that way lies madness.

Why not take a picture of each, and write a small verse explaining the import these items had in your life. Post them to Instagram, and move on.

Donate each so that some new student can get the use of them.

You have all sorts of actual memories, in your head of those times, do you really need rather bulky, unattractive and lacking for use items?

How many things do you plan to keep in your lifetime? Will you honor them by protecting them and giving them places of prominance in your home, or are you just going to throw them in a closet because the one time every 2 years you see it, you feel a pang?

Move into the light! Travel light! Lighten your load!

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:19 AM on January 17, 2014 [15 favorites]

I use an old weekender bag as a tote for my sewing machine. It keeps dust out and makes it easier to carry the machine to my work area.

You could also use them to create any manner of self-contained kits. Put extra gym clothes and shoes in one and it's ready to go any time as a gym bag. Yarn and knitting needles, you have a portable knitting kit. Throw tools and supplies inside the Timbuk2 for any projects or repairs you occasionally work on. The backpack might make a nice mobile cleaning kit -- put cleaning solutions, rags, sponges, brushes, etc. inside and carry it throughout the home as you clean.
posted by payoto at 7:19 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have a car? They make great emergency kits. Get some jumper cables, a small first aid kit, pad of paper and pen, phone charger, emergency flashlight, printout of how to change your tires, a spare $20 or two, dog leash, umbrella, lint roller, some plastic bags, small package of kleenex or toilet paper, hand wipes. Messenger bags and backpacks usually have some built-in organizers or pockets which makes this much easier to access and store than a big box.

You could do the same for your house or apartment - USB thumb drive of important materials, some spare cash, flashlight/radio, everything else that should be in a household emergency bag.

If you live near the beach or other nice outdoor area, I'd stash a pair of shoes or flip-flops, sarong/towel, sunblock and old swim suit. Make impromptu visits possible!
posted by barnone at 7:39 AM on January 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I keep a "road bag" in my car. It's got:

- bottled water
- Granola bars and beef jerky
- space-blankets
- Disposable rain poncho (you never get a flat or breakdown when it's =not= raining)
- Pocket umbrella
- A change of socks (warm wool ones)
- A change of underwear (when you need it, you'll be so happy you had it)
- First aid kit
- Cheap multi-tool
- Cheap ratcheting screwdriver with bits
- Zip ties, electrical tape and a small roll of duct tape
- Micro USB cable and wall charger
- Blow-torch style lighter
- Waterproof flashlights that take AA's.
- Spare set of 4 AA batteries.
- Paracord
- Two each quart and gallon plastic ziplock style bags, and one (unscented) large trash bag.
- Plastic dropcloth
- red handkerchief/bandana
- "To-Go" pack of baby wipes
- Waterless handwash
- "To-Go" pack of kleenex
- Lip balm
- Tide stain stick
- Mechanical pencil and spare leads
- Pocket notebook with paper perforated to tear out easily
- Obsolete but nice compact digital camera

This all fits in a medium sized gym bag - a subset suitable to your needs should fit in a daypack or largish messenger bag. You'll find yourself using this stuff far more often than you thought you would.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:41 AM on January 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

How many things do you plan to keep in your lifetime? Will you honor them by protecting them and giving them places of prominance in your home, or are you just going to throw them in a closet because the one time every 2 years you see it, you feel a pang?

It seems to me that the whole purpose of this question is to find ways to honor these bags by putting them to further use, rather than just throwing them in a closet.

OP: Keeping two bags that you carried with you every day for over a decade in total does not make you a (now or future) pack rat. For some people, taking a picture of something may preserve memories just as well as keeping the thing, and that is wonderful, but not everyone works this way and you shouldn't feel that there's something wrong with you for wanting to keep these physical objects. Provided you have room for the bags, they can be put to many many uses.
posted by payoto at 7:42 AM on January 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I use old bags to store things-- re-usable ice packs; gloves, mittens, and scarves; craft supplies. It only makes sense if you have a place to keep the bags. Over-the-door coat-hook racks can hold 10-12 bags.

Also, you can clip off the hardware for repair parts. I like to have a stash of key-hooks and quick release clips.
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:35 AM on January 17, 2014

A jansport-style school bag is great for using with a bike. You can fill one full of groceries or picnic supplies, stuff for light camping, a change of clothes for your destination if you're a bike commuter, really almost anything you might ever need to transport from one place to another while riding a bike.

Your timbuk2 messenger bag will probably be useful in lieu of a briefcase in the working world, unless you work in a very conservative field. I have a similar messenger bag which I've used to carry my laptop back and forth -- and also used as a sort of mobile office kit when I work out in the field -- for at least three years. I had a timbuk2 before my current (3-4 year old) bag and really regret getting rid of it.

Both bags are also great to carry on as your "personal item" on a plane. They hold a lot more than any handbag would, and if you're a dude who usually doesn't carry any type of personal bag, this will make your travel life a lot better.
posted by Sara C. at 8:59 AM on January 17, 2014

I have seen several articles online about converting old backpacks into bicycle panniers (if you are that way inclined)
posted by TheOtherGuy at 9:01 AM on January 17, 2014

I'm a "right tool for each job" kind of guy, so I have several bags for different purposes. I use a smallish daypack as my everyday bag, I have a bigger one for climbing or camping trips, and a waterproof backpack for photography in nasty weather, plus a messenger bag that is great for bike commuting. I have all these bags because they do different things and I haven't found a single bag that replaces all of them.

However, I get rid of gear that doesn't serve my needs, usually I swap/sell among friends. There are some great ways to repurpose your existing bags in this thread, but if you really don't need them anymore, it feels great to let them have a new life with someone else. I love knowing that the gear I wasn't using makes someone else happy.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:18 AM on January 17, 2014

I use them to store old notes and papers from school.
posted by juliplease at 9:58 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Store out of season clothing in them
posted by WeekendJen at 10:20 AM on January 17, 2014

Came here to suggest bicycle panniers as well.

I use old bags to store things like scarves and gloves, knitting, purses.

Even though I swore I outgrew my backpack, I still end up using it sometimes for running errands when walking or biking, or traveling.
posted by inertia at 10:47 AM on January 17, 2014

Every fall my county holds a school supplies drive for needy kids. You can donate pens, pencils, notebooks, calculators, etc. I bet some kid in your area would be thrilled to have your old bags.
posted by workerant at 1:07 PM on January 17, 2014

If you don't have a car, make it an emergency inside bag. Candles, matches, flashlight, phone battery extender, can opener, canned food, granola bars, water, etc. you never know when your electricity might go out for an extended time.
posted by raisingsand at 2:59 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nice strong reusable bags for groceries.

Use the backpack to make a kit for dayhikes.

Store things in them.

Put them where you keep coats, and put small bits of outdoor gear in them.

I don't know what you mean by "outgrown", but if you are thinking you will never need to carry stuff around any more you may well be wrong. Even if you've gone on to a leather briefcase for work, there are other parts of life. You can carry things in them for vacations, for hobbies, for attending outdoor events with changeable weather, for carrying water and snacks, etc.
posted by yohko at 4:25 PM on January 17, 2014

Pack a bag that is always ready for an overnight stay. See the world!

Pack a bag that is always ready for the gym. Conquer the barbell!
posted by jander03 at 6:59 AM on January 21, 2014

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