Minimalist Workhorse: Mason Jars

Those who’ve read my book know I’m a huge fan of versatile items – from both a minimalist and ecological standpoint, I think it’s better to own one multi-functional item than several single-function ones. In my opinion, the more uses something has, the more worthy a place in our households.

When it comes to multi-functional items, I’m hard-pressed to think of a better workhorse than the humble mason jar. Besides their obvious use for canning and storing food, they can fill myriad other roles in our homes: from serving as lanterns, to drinkware, to impromptu piggy banks.

The best part: they can do double-duty as both storage and décor. Instead of buying mass-produced tchotchkes, consider “decorating” your home with the stuff of your everyday life. It’s elegant, inexpensive, and makes you truly mindful of what you own.

Consider the following ways to put mason jars to work in your home:

1. Kitchen storage/décor. Displaying dry foods in glass jars – like pasta, beans, coffee, and spices – are a wonderful way to add warmth to your minimalist kitchen.

2. Bathroom storage/décor. Use them to hold cotton balls, q-tips, or bath salts for a serene, spa-like look.

3. Laundry room. Powdered detergent is prettier in a glass jar than commercial packaging. (Make your own, so you can skip the packaging altogether!)

4. Vase. A mason jar makes a lovely, simple vase for a single bloom or small bunch of flowers.

5. Lanterns. I love the look of white candles or tea lights in glass jars – so beautiful!

6. Office supplies. Use them to corral all those loose paperclips, rubberbands, or pencils.

7. Paint. A great way to store your paint so you can actually see the color.

8. Hardware. Fill them with screws, nails, bolts, and all those other bits and bobs on your workbench.

9. Drinkware. Nothing says summer like a mint julep or iced tea served in a mason jar.

10. Terrarium. For some low-maintenance greenery, make a terrarium: all you need is potting soil, pea gravel, activated charcoal, and some moisture-loving plants.

11. Piggy bank. There’s something very satisfying about seeing all that spare change accumulate.

12. Craft supplies. Beads, buttons, and embroidery floss are gorgeous in their own right – and make more interesting décor than mass-produced trinkets.

13. Natural décor. Glass jars of sand, stones, seashells, and other natural treasures lend a nice organic touch to any room.

14. Gifts. Homemade mixes in mason jars make wonderful gifts. Layer the dry ingredients for a decadent treat – like hot cocoa, or chocolate chip cookies – and attach a label with the recipe.

Do you have any other ideas for using mason jars? Please share them with us in the Comments!

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Related posts:

  1. Storage is Not a Solution
  2. How a Minimalist Loses a Vase
  3. Minimalist Home: Adding Warmth Without Adding Stuff

43 comments to Minimalist Workhorse: Mason Jars

  • SallyGirl

    Speaking of mason jars… if you’re ever in Norman, OK, there is a WONDERFUL restaurant called ‘The Earth’, and it only serves drinks (tea or water, fetched by the customers themselves) in mason jars. They are super environmentally aware and their food is delicious; it made me want to have some mason jars of my very own. Love your blog, by the way! I’m a new reader and new to minimalism, but there are so many principles of this concept that I love and will be embracing in the future!

  • I’m planning to fill mason jars with wild flowers for my table centerpieces at my wedding reception next fall. Thanks for the tips on what to do with them when it’s over!

  • Love, Love mason jars!
    I have an 11 year old daughter with Autism who has many collections – we use the jars in her room. She can easily look at her things without always having to open them. Right now she has jars with small rocks, shells, beach glass, and her favorite – the insides of music boxes.

  • hi francine,

    yes, i love mason jars too. i use them for everything.

    i just cleaned out my closet again and mentioned my favorite (most helpful to me) line from your book.

    hope all is well with you.

    ~janet

  • such great ideas! I have a stash of jars I kept buying from IKEA. now I see how many I have…BUT I will put some of your suggestions into practice and have more appealing storage for items like cotton swabs and office supplies!

  • JLouise

    I’m a huge fan of the Mason Jar. I’ve used them for all the tasks mentioned as well as their original intention, jars for preserving food. Mason Jars are also good to use as sprouting jars and containers for soup to take to work or store in the frig.

  • I use them for a whole lot of my food storage needs, they’re wonderful. Freezing, vacuum packing coffee beans, and storing things that come from the store in plastic bags like oatmeal and brown sugar (add a piece of pottery soaked in water to the brown sugar and it’ll last a loong time). They’re practically the only storage I’ve found that can actually resist the infiltration of grain moths, which are a problem in my house for several years. They fit wonderfully into the Ikea deep cabinet drawers I have, my pantry is so organized now.

    I also had my hub drill some holes in the top of one, I use it as a shaker for baking soda next to my sink.

  • Grandy

    Great ideas. Does anyone know of a source for one piece Mason jar lids?
    Unless you are using the jars for their intended purpose of canning, the two piece lids are inconvenient. Thanks.

    • Dynelle

      Our Meijer store sells white plastic screw-on caps for mason jars in the canning section. (obviously not for canning, but great for just storing things!)

  • This is not original (I think I saw it in a shelter magazine), but how about a lineup of Mason jars filled with a string of tiny white Christmas lights? Or, I suppose, orange ones for Halloween. Do they make orange lights?

  • Wendy

    I got so excited about terrariums that I found a mason jar, some outdoor plants and dirt, and sat down at my kitchen table and made one. Fun!

  • Thanks for the great ideas. I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t been utilizing Mason Jars, but the are tough and versatile….You just gave me some new ideas.

  • Maureen

    Small ones make excellent glassware for drinking too. There’s even restaurants near me using them. The old timers called them ‘jelly jars’.

  • I just finished your book this morning and remember you mentioning mason jars. I think I’ll be using some of mine for the smaller “modules” you talk about in the book, which, by the way, blew me away. So, so good.

  • Deb

    Great idea, so much nicer than all the horrible, sensible plastic containers that always get separated from their lids.
    I think I might do Mason jars for christmas presents, filling them up with useful things little for each person that I know they will personally love.

  • MW

    I use old spaghetti sauce jars (about the same size as mason jars) to collect cooking oil and fat drippings. I don’t have a garbage disposal, so I keep it in the freezer until it’s full, then toss it. I guess maybe I should recycle the glass instead though…

    • Canis Caeleste

      I always use old coffee cans for oil and fat and the weird stuff you can’t rinse down the drain/dispose of. Sometimes the cans are made from this shiny cardboard stuff made to look like metal, so methinks it biodegrades faster.

  • Springleaf

    Found your website today and I love it!
    I’m a committed minimalist myself -but even so I have had to stop reading twice to go on mini purges (one unwanted gift, one spare pumice stone, one unwanted toiletry item, 5 pens, one book).
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  • My friend’s daughter got married last weekend and she had both flowers and candles in mason jars for the decorations. It was a beautiful classy wedding in a hip, urban facility and the jars looked great.
    Pics here – http://www.janetober.com/2010/10/27/thankful-thursday-post-3/

  • Isabel

    I’ve used them to hold make-up brushes or pencils and to hold a toothbrush and toothpaste.

  • Heather

    Love all the ideas here. : ) I used them to collect my sons items he finds on our walks…we talk about each item and make a little “memory” in a jar. I store just about anything in them…they look so pretty no matter what is store in them. : )

  • Heather

    Grandy,
    My mom has been saving the lids off mayo jars for years, because they fit. She has a bunch of metal ones, but all the mayo jars come with plastic lids now. The plastic ones fit too. In fact, Walmart sells one piece plastic screw on lids to fit on both the regular and wide-mouth jars.

  • Heather

    Grandy,
    Also, if you are ok with purchasing online, you can google “one piece canning jar lids.” Here are a couple I came up with.
    metal lids: http://www.canningsupply.com/product/Gold_caps_1-piece/canning_jar_lids
    plastic lids: http://www.amazon.com/Bernardin-Mason-Jar-Caps-Standard/dp/B000FRUO0Y

  • It’s like you’re a mind reader! I was just walking by the row with huge cases of mason jars at the store recently thinking, I just love those, I wonder what other uses I can come up with for them. Now I don’t have to because you’ve come up with so many! And so many ones I never would’ve thought of. Thank you! Right now I use them for cotton balls and bath salts, but now I have all of your wonderful additions too. You rock!

  • Amy

    I have always kept jars from spaghetti sauce & used them to store things like buttons, safety pins, paper clips, and kinds of various craft supplies & office supplies. ?It just seems so wrong to throw out these perfectly sturdy little gems with so much life left in them. I have recycled the ones I ended up not using (due to size, type of lid, etc).

    I am really artsy, so I even make my own candles. Sure, I have bought a dozen or so candle molds (years ago) & made them in those shapes, but honestly, nothing looks or works better than making the candles in these jars. There is no drippage, no spills, and they burn evenly since the candle is warmed all the way to the glass. The jars are thick enough that they don’t shatter or crack or anything crazy, and they just look so much neater than any molded candle.

    I am not a hoarder or anything, but I hate to waste things that I KNOW I would use, so when I have a candle that is burned out (the wick), but there is still wax left, I collect these pieces in a gallon-size ziploc bag & then once its full, its time to make more candles. I separate the wax pieces by colors & melt them accordingly. I might throw in a broken crayon to intensify the color, and add some scents. After setting up the wicks, I pour the wax into the jars to make more candles. It is the ultimate in recycling & I always have colorful, scented candles burning in my home. My fiends all think I’m Martha Stewart, but this is just something that I’ve always done….I can’t help it. I love candles, love creating, and love using up things without wasting. So, yes, glass jars are great & can be used for soooo many things.

  • Amy

    Ooops, I reread my post & it says, “my fiends think…” Obviously, they are not “fiends,” but FRIENDS…see how distracted I get when thinking about candles?

  • Leah

    I bought my pint-sized mason jars to make Vietnamese yogurt in a broken rice cooker, and have used them for making cold-brewed iced coffee and for storing salt, among other things. I’m looking forward to using them for some of the other suggestions here!

  • Hey girl,

    Great idea for those mason jars that have been in the cupboard for years. We put them on the top shelf of our “lazy susan” cabinet. Looks great! Using 1 each for lose change, sugar, salt, brown sugar, raw sugar, M & M’s & rice.

    BTW -my wife and I lived in England for 2.5 yrs… 40 miles north of London in Shefford. She was stationed at RAF Chicksands.

    Thanks again for the great tip. Have you ever heard of the Tightwad Gazette? The newsletter ($1 per issue) has been out of print for years but you can still find some of the old (still very relevant) stuff over at Amazon.

    Cheers from Iowa

  • miss minimalist

    Wow — thank you everyone for sharing such great ideas and uses!

  • Vespa

    I have lots (actually too many) mason jars. Some are new, some antique. Many sizes half pint to gallon jars. I actually made my family eat pickles that came in gallon jars with lovely lids for a year. I have 10 of them, in a former home my DH built a shelf for the 10 jars, rice, flour, sugar, beans, oats, millet, more beans, etc. Mason jars often can be found at thrift stores.

  • Who knew? :) I really like the white candle in the jar…that’s nice. Being a single-dad and minimalist, you can imagine how spartan my home is already. But these ideas give me some hope for warming up the place. :)

  • I have been a Mason Jar user for years. My favorite and most frequent use is for my fresh brewed green tea. Just pop a tea bag or two in the jar, fill with water of appropriate temperature, steep, toss tea bags, put lid on and stash in fridge. Easy, quick and a good way to keep track of the amount you consume. Just pour over ice and enjoy. Also very portable for lunch box. I also have kept several jars with chunky candles in each in an easy to reach spot in power outages.

  • I like to use them to make and store salad dressing. No need for a measuring cup because the measurements are on the jar.
    I also like the 1 cup jars to freeze, refrigerate and serve hummus, and other spreads. They are small enough that they thaw quickly and are pretty enough to take to a shared supper or on a picnic.

    Great blog! Enjoy the journey!

  • I had never thought of using mason jars to hold candles, but that is a wonderful idea! Thanks!

  • anne

    I love using mason jars, but does anyone know where to find lids that are all one piece? The jars I generally buy/use are the canning jars that come with two part lids, and while I love using them for canning, they aren’t great when you’re using them for q-tips…..

  • Canis Caeleste

    A friend of mine got me into storing things in jars because he claimed plastics made things toxic. Iuse them for all the things listed here so far, and it’s not just Mason jars, but ANY jar. Baby food jars, pimiento jars, pickled herring, spaghetti sauce, minced garlic, commercial jelly jars, you name it. Of course, all the lids to these are not universal, so I either put their lids on when I wash and dry them or keep them in a separate place. As far as using a jar for a tea mug, heck yeah I do that! If I want hot tea and it’s too hot to handle after you pour the water in, find a stray sock and slip it over the jar. I call it a “ghetto thermos” but it avoids buying speicalty-use things like a cup holder or an actual thermos..when the tea is gone, I use the sock for something else, as well as the jar.

  • Jody

    I love mason jars!! I use them for daily drinking glasses, storing fresh carrot juice, freezing carrot juice, saving coins, freezing left over home made soup, dry beans,and just all kinds of things.

  • Abby

    I use jars for tons of things – food storage (leftovers, rice, etc.), for bathroom products, to hold make up, to hold pens and pencils, for my homemade cosmetics, etc.

    I move a lot and glass jars are the one thing I always buy (ideally second hand), they seem infinitely useful!

    Also, unlike plastic, glass is infinitely recyclable, so I try to buy my food in glass containers too & then either re-use them or recycle them.

    We have a ton of those flip-top beer bottles, and aren’t brewing anything ourselves these days, so I’d love to hear alternative suggestions for re-using those.

  • Theo

    Love the idea in #14 – to put dry indredients in and attach a recipe. Will definitely try as a gift!

  • Maid Mirawyn

    I’m from the South, so mason jars are nothing new to me! We used them for extra drink ware at big family events (and still do), and my grandfather used them in his workshop. My husband and I store practically everything in them. At work, I make sweet tea at my desk, with a quart size jar and electric kettle. Even carry leftovers in them.

    Yeah, it’s an addiction. . .

  • Kerri

    Ahhh, my love story with the canning jar. My favorites are the vintage jars with glass lids and wire fasteners. The square jars are easier to store and handle. My local health food store lets me fill my jars right from the bins, instead of wasting a plastic bag. They weigh each jar before I fill them, then subtract that weight from the final tally.
    I also have vintage glass frogs that fit the openings of my vintage jars. Perfectly beautiful for arranging roses and peonies from my yard.
    I fill vintage, s
    hort, wide-mouth jars with homemade bath salts, attach a thrift store sea shell or vintage silver spoon, and give as Christmas gifts.
    Every week, I make healthy, homemade soups, divvy it up in glass jars, and each day I put one in my lunch basket to take to work.
    Thank you for this beautiful and inspiring blog. Very comfortable.

  • Bettina

    I love reading your blog and your older posts and friends writing in.
    I truly believe that the quality of life is better when you have fewer possessions. Kids don’t need a lot of toys and used ones work as well as new. Crayons and paper or Lego blocks can fill many hours.
    You can always make clay out of flour, salt and water. Trade things in your neighborhood, get used whenever possible. Don’t hoard things up.

  • BC

    I just discovered your blog after seeing the link from Zen Habits which I also just discovered and am loving reading through all the old posts.

    I use canning jars for almost all the the things you mentioned in the article and for canning. This year I canned over 100 quarts, almost as much as my record the year before. That is one of the things that makes me feel left minimalist, my supplies for self-sufficiency activities. The canning supplies, the carboys for cider brewing, the chainsaw for getting wood for the wood stove, etc. I am working on finding the balance but it’s hard. I think minimizing my dependance on the industrial system is part of my minimalism, but it sure does mean storing more things. Though we share with friends and neighbors as much as possible–we give them cider or chicken eggs in exchange for the use of their pickup truck for getting firewood.

    For folks who don’t have mason jars but want some, don’t buy them new! If you keep your eyes out at the thrift store, there is almost always a grandma who is getting rid of their supply. They might not all match but they work well. I finally have enough that I now high grade and don’t bother buying the narrow mouth (except for really small jars).

    Also if you are a canner and are trying to minimize your waste/trash, they now make reusable sealing lids (I know you can reuse the standard ones, i have in a pinch but they aren’t designed for it). These ones you can reuse 14 times or more: http://www.acehardware.com/product/index.jsp?productId=22862366&KPID=16436430&pla=pla_16436430

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