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Russian Dolls, Piggy Banks and Other Upcycled Urns

Follow these three simple rules to transform everyday objects into beautiful, personalized urns, and I'm not talking about the Folger's can from "The Big Lebowski."

Have you ever looked at a thing and said, “well, hey now, that [item] might make a great [insert another item that serves almost no conventionally similar use].” No? Well, I have.

I grew up in what I like to call a “gas station town.” You would never visit there, but you have to go through it in order to get anywhere else. It’s blue-collar, rural, and as such, I was taught to squeeze every last drop of use from a given object. Then, when said object outlives its usefulness, you turn it inside-out or make it into something else! 

It’s a poor cosmological joke that I became a funeral director. I say this because we are by far the worst hoarders. To us, any and all items have value, whether it is sentimental, instrumental, imagined…Lord help us!

Seasonal decluttering? We don’t know her. 

KonMari? Is that a new Ru Girl?

It may be a sickness.

So, now I am going to drag you all into my sickness by listing some everyday objects that would honestly make beautiful, personalized urns.

What are the qualifiers of a “good” urn? 

Unless you’re someone who has been around the block, you wouldn’t necessarily know that cremated remains are usually returned to families in a thick, zip-tied plastic bag, which is encased inside a hard plastic temporary container. The plastic bag is key. It is a practical measure for easy transfer of remains and ensures there’s no dead people dust left behind in the container once the process is complete. Additionally, it prevents any unwanted scattering, should that outer casing become damaged.

There are really only three rules to follow when sourcing a non-traditional urn:

  1. It must either be hollow or contain an internal cavity that will accommodate the amount of ash you aim to inurn.
  2. It must be structurally sound. Cremated remains for an adult usually weigh anywhere from seven to ten pounds.
  3. It must be completely sealable (duh).

Why upcycle an urn?

There is an undeniable bevy of urns available on the market today. However, they’re generally overpriced, mass-market quality, and have limited ability for personalization. Sourcing something from home (yours or theirs) or at a local thrift shop forces you to engage with your feelings in a way you cannot do when picking from a catalogue or show room. The act of touching, considering, feeling the texture and weight of the item in your hands, personalizing the urn, and preparing it to be filled, can be a cathartic experience; a sort of grief exorcism which can be experienced alone or within a group.

And, let’s be honest, after dropping a few G’s on the cremation itself, if it’s for free, it’s for me!


Things that would make great urns:

  • Matryoshka (a.k.a. Russian Nesting Dolls): Pick one already decorated or opt for some of the unpainted ones to customize. They’re perfect for splitting remains because they come in multiples of various sizes. If you’re not artistically inclined, but have a little extra cash, you could spring for these personalized ones from Etsy!
  • A Favorite Hardcover Book: Honoring a book worm? Hollow out their favorite hardcover book, and store their ashes inside it. Check out this easy tutorial.
  • Antique Pillbox: A touch of vintage flair as a nod to your fashionable friend with classically great taste. These cute little keepsakes are the perfect size for a small portion of remains.
  • Kitchen Ceramics: Looking to memorialize a big personality? Try a vintage cookie jar or a pair of kitschy salt and pepper shakers for a kooky couple. 
  • Sculptural Décor/Piggy Banks: Both of these items come in a variety of shapes, styles, materials, and colors, which makes them highly customizable.

But what if I’m not comfortable splitting or inurning cremated remains on my own? 

No problemo! Go back to the funeral home that assisted with the cremation and ask them to do it for you. In most cases, they will say yes even if you didn’t buy an urn from them. Why? Because funerals are a service-oriented industry; not retail. It is in their interest to court your future business. Also, it will be a good story to tell at the bar when you show up with a Mjolnir sculpture for them to fill with Marvel-nerd ashes.

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