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Transform Your Family’s Seashell Collection into a Trash Can Treasure

Updated on November 28, 2015

Crabby Granddad’s Caravan

Every summer around the first week of August, when it’s as hot as a firecracker in Atlanta, we stuff our Caravan till it’s about to explode — with swimsuits and towels, sand pails and fishing rods, snacks and sunscreen — and head to the beach for our family vacation. There’s a half-dozen of us wedged into the van like shrimp in a taco, setting our sites on Tybee Island, about 30 miles east of Savannah, Georgia.

“Why is there garbage on top of the van?” Little Elijah asks innocently. This makes his already-crabby granddad even crabbier! Gramps says that since we have so much stuff in the van, he’s packed the bedding in a black garbage bag and tied it to roof. We shake off the embarrassment of our disposable "turtle topper” by talking loud enough to drown out the annoying flapping of the plastic bag in the wind. Inside the van, there is a constant rumble of excitement as we catch up on family stories, play the “Category Is…” clap game and sing nursery rhymes with Elijah—hoping to tire him into naptime. Of course, most of us nod into sleepyland long before he does.

Cabin Fever

Our van looks like an overstuffed sausage slinking into the drizzly Rivers End Campground. We peel out of the van like sardines, slowly and carefully, so as not to upset the Jenga-like balance of bags, boxes and beachware. We squeeze into the compact cabin that will serve as our home for the next few days. Our tiny house is big on the comforts of home, fitted with bunkbeds, cable TV, central air, a mini-fridge and, most importantly, an indoor bathroom. We lay out our sleeping arrangements and work up a schedule to stagger our showers.There’s no working stove but there are electric outlets, even on the front porch, so we came prepared to do our cooking outside on an electric griddle and the charcoal grill. We are looking forward to rustling up mouth-watering victuals like pancakes and sausage, hot dogs and turkey burgers and fresh seafood.

Georgia's Tybee Island
Georgia's Tybee Island

Coming Out of Our Shell

Overnight, the weather cleared and we enjoyed an early morning stroll. We stumbled upon a tucked-away stretch of beach directly behind our cabin. It was an unspoiled oasis for shell collecting and we couldn’t resist picking through the treasure trove of naturally-scuplted pieces of art. Shell hunting became our new family pastime, trying to one-up each other with an unusual discovery.


Each morning of our vacation, we combed the sands searching for shells of diverse colors and shapes. We found various shades of white, brown and gray. There were dozens of shapes: convolute, turniate, turreted and bi-conical. The most common type that we collected was clam shells. We also found a variety of small corals. We were careful to collect only empty shells, so as not to disturb any living creatures. Every now and then we witnessed small hermit crabs side-walking their way out to sea.

Shelling Out the Trove

We rinsed the shells in water and dried them on paper towels. Then we separated them by shapes and packed them into sandwich bags padded with tissue for safe traveling. After we arrived home, we laid open our collection on the kitchen table and marveled at the beauty of our bounty. We added in a set of shells that we found on previous trips to the beach. Then we began to wonder --what could we do with such an exquisite selection of shells?

Set Up for a Shellacking?

We had recently renovated our master bathroom with a beach motif and I had been searching for a seashell trashcan as an accent piece. Why not create it myself using our splendid shell collection? My husband gave me that familiar eye roll (translation in a nutshell: She has about as many unfinished projects as grains of sand on a beach and this will be yet another).

Share: Don’t Be “Shellfish!”

Hubby laid claim to the largest portion of the collection. He wanted to use them for school projects, but I really needed some of his take to have enough shells to cover a small can. Luckily, he didn’t use as many as he anticipated. He agreed to share some shells for my trash can so I decided to take a crack at it!

Very "Shellective" Process

I found a tan-colored unfinished wooden trash can at Hobby Lobby that was 10 inches tall and 8 inches wide. It seemed to be just the right size. I coated the exterior with Krylon Coarse Stone Texture Spray Paint. This would provide a sand-like background for the shells. Then I laid out a shell design on the table – a pattern that I would ring the basket with – starting with gray, then brown, white and coral.

A Little Shell-Shocked

When it was time to stick the shells to the can, I used needle nose pliers to hold each shell so that I could use the hot glue gun to outline the inside edges of the shell with glue. I then quickly placed the shell into position while the glue was still hot. I tried to alternate the shells, large to small, fan side up then fan side down. I veered away from the pattern from time to time to equalize the sizes (occasionally I merely forgot to apply the pattern). I had to use my fingers at times to correctly position the shells and the glue was shockingly hot, singeing my fingertips! I tried to remove as much excess glue as possible to make it look as professional as possible. Sometimes I would use a box cutter to trim away the excess glue.

"Sheltered" Family

I utilized the shell design around three connected sides of the can, but decided to shell only the lower section of the fourth side and leave a space where I could add a family beach photo to customize the project. I found a couple of unfinished Mini-Broken Plaques at Michaels that had uneven edges, reminiscent of a battered sign you might find hanging outside a beach tavern. I dug up a picture of a Tybee outing a couple of years ago of our family and several cousins at “The Crab Shack.” Since my picture was 4-1/2” x 41/2,” I glued two of the plaques together (after cutting off the string from the bottom one) to accommodate the photo. I spray painted the plaque first with the stone texture spray paint. I decided to offset the muted tones with a coat of light blue on the edges of the frame. I printed the photo on some Avery canvas-like transfer paper. I cut it out, then washed and blow dried it to give it a weathered look. I ironed it, then glued it to the frame. I glued the top string of the plaque to a spot near the center top of the fourth side of the trash can

It “Shell” be Done

The top of the trash can had an arc design, which I accentuated by using a number of unusual mini shells--mostly turreted, clam and snail shells--to create an ornamental outline. I used some of the leftover shells to create lines to “frame” the frame.


I decided to spray the inside of the basket with the same light blue color that was used on the frame, resulting in an ocean look. I then sprayed the shells and frame with Clear Mod Podge Sealer to coat the shells and surface of the can.


It's a Bombshell!

I am in awe of the final product, so much so, I can’t imagine actually using it as a trashcan. Most likely, I will use it as a flower vase or maybe a craft basket. As a conversation piece…it is a “bombshell!”



How to Make a Seashell Trash Can Video

Tybee Island, Georgia

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    • Your Cousins profile image
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      Your Cousins 21 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      I appreciate the compliment. It is a project that I actually finished and I love it!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 21 months ago from Queensland Australia

      What a great project to make from shells. The finished product was wonderful. Thank you for sharing.