Tag Archives: reuse

4 Great Children’s Toys You Can Make Rather Than Buy

Children’s toys can get really expensive fast. That’s one thing parents learn pretty quickly. There are some great toys out there, but the expense can be hard to deal with.

Add in that many are plastic and really not so environmentally friendly, and it can be a bit of a problem.

But some toys you can make rather than buy, saving money and even reusing things that might otherwise have been recycled or even thrown out. Here are some ideas to get you started that don’t require a ton of sewing or construction skills.


What child doesn’t love a good playhouse? The popular ones are plastic and can be left outdoors in all weather or kept indoors. And they’re pricey, ranging from about $30 for a cardboard one they can color on, to a few hundred dollars for the fancier ones.

Even that $30 for a cardboard one is expensive when you realize you can get the cardboard pretty easily for free.

My children for a couple of years had a cardboard playhouse that was made from a double thickness box my husband got from the blinds department at Home Depot. He worked there at the time, and just had the night crew save him one. Not a hard thing to ask for, as they’re going to dispose of it anyhow.

That house was strong enough that the kids climbed on its roof regularly as they played. No problem. It tolerated pretty much everything they could throw at it, sometimes literally.

It took some time with a utility knife to cut the doors and windows, but it worked out really well. And being free was a great bonus.

When the box finally broke down enough it went into the recycle bin. We’ll be doing the same soon with a washer or dryer box we happen to have handy.

Play Kitchen

Play kitchens are also very popular with children, and once again can be rather pricey. You can make one on your own fairly easy, however.

My sister made one from a short dresser she bought at a garage sale or some such for her daughters. All she had to do was paint the burners on there and the kids were happy. That’s just enough for imagination.

You could also make one from a cardboard box, obviously a smaller one than you’d use for a playhouse. Draw on what they need, maybe cut in an oven door and there’s a play kitchen.

Bowling Set

You’ve probably seen the plastic bowling sets at the store. While they’re not all that pricey, relatively speaking, you can make your own.

All it takes is soda or water bottles (20 ounce or 2 liter size, your preference) and a ball. If you don’t drink much soda in your family and don’t buy bottled water (yay!), you can always talk to friends about giving some to you. You probably know someone who would have bottles available.


Kids love to be just a little bit taller. You can buy plastic stilts for fairly inexpensive, but they’re really easy to make. My daughter’s preschool had these, and the kids loved it when the teachers pulled them out. There was usually a line for them.

Take two coffee cans and two pieces of rope. The rope should be long enough that, doubled up, it can reach from your child’s hands to the floor with just a little to spare for knots and of course growing room.

Punch two holes in each coffee can, on opposite sides, a short distance from the bottom. Thread the rope through each hole and tie a knot on the inside end. This will form a loop for your child to hold while walking on top of the cans.

Any of these toy ideas can be painted or decorated as you like, but I think it’s best to let the kids decide how to decorate them. It’s just one more part of the play for them.

If you’re really into making homemade toys, consider buying Learn and Play the Green Way: Fun Activities with Reusable Materials or getting it from the library.

8 Ways Being a Green Parent Can Save You Money

Having kids is expensive. You can find all kinds of numbers for it, some covering just the first couple of years, others including the cost to raise to adulthood and even getting into projected college costs. They’re always pretty intimidating estimates when you think about it.

Some costs can’t be avoided. Kids have to eat, after all, and they need clothing and shelter. But you do have control over a lot of this. Considering the environmental impact at the same time can actually help you to save money.

These are some ways to be a green parent that aren’t going to increase the costs:


While there are some costs associated with breastfeeding, overall it’s going to be far, far cheaper than formula feeding. Most breastfeeding moms still need at the very least a manual pump and sometimes an electric one, and that means bottles and so forth will also be needed. Not to mention that the mother is burning more calories, some of which may come from weight gained during the pregnancy, but also comes from any extra food she eats.

But you’ll likely need fewer supplies since you probably won’t be giving so many bottles. You also won’t have empty formula canisters to dispose of. And having baby’s food supply always right there is a real help in those early, sometimes challenging days.

Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapering is a bit expensive to get started, although you can decide how expensive you want to deal with at the start. Just remember that disposables add up over time and would eventually probably cost you more. You can go with plain prefolds and diaper covers, buy all-in-one diapers or pocket diapers, depending on what you want to deal with and what you want to spend.

If you choose cloth diapers it’s important to consider the detergent you’re washing them with. I like to use Country Save detergent as it’s pretty environmentally friendly. I use it with all my laundry, not just the diapers.

If you’re in an area with a water shortage you may need to consider buying environmentally friendly disposables instead. Not as friendly to the wallet or to the environment overall, but in some areas water supply is a big enough issue.

Encourage Simplicity

This can be a tough one, especially as children start feeling peer pressure and watching television. You’ll know when it starts happening, as your child who was content with simpler toys suddenly wants whatever the latest hot item is. Plus whatever was just on the television. And that one too. The demands start coming and keep coming.

When this happens, talk to your child about why you like to keep your lives simpler, with fewer things. Children can be amazingly understanding. It won’t stop all of the begging, but anything that cuts it back a little is a help.

Accept Hand Me Downs

My kids get tons of hand me down outfits, especially my youngest. It’s really amazing how much this saves. Babies in particular don’t really need new outfits, and an outfit can go through a few babies before showing significant wear because they outgrow them so fast.

Toys can also be handed down.

Buy Used

What you can’t get given to you, buy used. Thrift stores and resale shops can be your friends. You’ll spend less on clothes for your family while being good to the environment. You’ll probably even find some really great outfits.


Whether it’s a tiny kitchen herb garden or a big garden in the back yard, grow some food. Not only do you then get control over what goes into growing the food with fertilizers and such (go organic!), you’re teaching your children about where food really comes from.

Be careful, as gardening can get expensive if you let it. Don’t overdo it on supplies and seeds. If you know another family that gardens, consider going together on some things. Seed packages can be split up if you aren’t going to use the whole thing, for example. Tools can be shared, although you need rules about broken or damaged ones.

Cook from Scratch

Well, maybe not everything. But as much as works for your family cook from scratch rather than buying convenience foods. This will save on packaging and can cost less. It also allows you to have more control over what goes into your food, so you can avoid the excessive amounts of sugar and salt that go into so many convenience and prepared foods.

It can also be fun, trying out new recipes and teaching children to cook as they get old enough.

Set the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Example

Always remember that Reduce is the first rule for a reason. Try to live it. Then reuse what you can, and send off for recycling whatever is possible in your area when you’re done with it. Many areas accept a wide range of recyclables, but in other areas you’ll really have to work to get much recycling at all done.

But reuse can be so much fun for children! Teach them to make crafts from things that would otherwise be thrown out. It will save you money on craft supplies and encourage them to think of ways things can be reused.

Use Those Old Cereal Boxes

Many families go through cereal boxes quite regularly. The good part is that they’re recyclable, but what if you could add a step before recycling your cereal boxes?

Depending on the ages of your kids, you might be able too.

A simple idea is to just cut the boxes up and let the kids paint or draw on the plain insides. Kids don’t have to have fresh paper for that, and sometimes a firmer surface is nice to have.

Boxes can also be cut up into simple puzzles. This is nice for kids who are just starting to enjoy puzzles but aren’t up for anything too complex yet. They probably know pretty well what the end result should look like.

You can also cut out the larger letters for children who are just learning their letters or how to form words. Playing with the letters can be much less frustrating than having to write the word when first trying to figure out how to make a word.

And of course, you can leave the box whole to wrap appropriately sized gifts.

The nice part about these ideas is that in many cases you can still recycle the boxes after the kids are done with them. You’re just making a little more use out of them first.

What to Do with All Those Christmas and Holiday Cards?

Much as you may try to limit your own use of cards and such at this time of year, you can’t easily stop other people from sending them to you. What do you do with all the kind Christmas and holiday wishes sent by card by loving family members and friends?

For a time, they do make nice decorations. You can hang them around a door frame or have them set up on a table or shelf. But what about after?

I know some people keep them all. But I’m not into cluttering up my life that way.

They can of course be recycled in many areas as well.

But I like to give them a little bit of reuse before they hit the recycle bin. I have kids, after all, and they love to do crafts. Cards give them something fun to work with.

Kids are good at coming up with their own ideas, which is nice for temporary use before you send their projects off to the recycle bin… those that the kids don’t want to keep for a time, of course. But you can direct their creativity a little bit as well. There’s a lens on Squidoo with some cute card craft ideas.

Another good use is to send your used cards to St. Jude’s Ranch. They are accepting cards now, and will continue to do so until February 28, 2010 for the current program. They do this many years, so keep it in mind for the future also.

Gift cards can also have the backs cut off, and then they can be reused as gift tags the following year. Just be sure nothing is written on the part you’re reusing.

Reuse Glass Jars – Green Step By Step

Washing out and reusing glass jars is not only easy, it can be habit forming.

The glass bottles I use the most of are spaghetti jars. They’re great for holding things that I buy from bulk bins, such as popcorn or flax seed. They hold a nice quantity of these products and I find them easier to organize.

Having a baby means that I occasionally buy baby food. Not often, since I make most of mine, but store bought is easier when traveling. And that means baby food jars.

Some people like these for crafts. I’ve given some to my kids to keep some of their smaller craft supplies in.

Larger jars don’t come around too often, but sometimes they’re really useful. The really large pickle jars are nice for holding coins if you like to keep your change until you have a bunch to bring in.

Jars that are bigger than a spaghetti sauce jar but not too big are nice if you like making sourdough starter. I tried this my first time in a spaghetti sauce jar, and there just really wasn’t enough room to work with, even throwing a lot out regularly.

It’s always important to remember that reuse comes before recycle and after reduce in priority. You’re pretty likely to buy some foods in jars. Make the most of what comes with the food and reuse jars when you can. Recycle the rest or find a friend who needs jars.