The first thing that I made was a step stool out of a cardboard strawberry flat and toilet paper rolls. Sounds bizarre huh? But, it works really well - the TP rolls are very strong when lined up vertically and it makes a great step stool for my son. I cut the cardboard box at 1/3 the length. Filled the underside of both pieces with rows of TP rolls - they actually fit perfectly - the right height and width. I secured the steps together with duct tape and primed and painted it. In hindsight, I wouldn't paint it white - it gets dirty too fast. It is amazingly strong - I've used it a couple times to reach something high in a cupboard (although I try not to use it - I don't want to test its strength too much)
Another thing I made was a set of drums for my son out of empty canisters. I saved canisters from hot chocolate, french fried onions, chow mien noodles, baking soda etc - anything that came in a metal canister. I used some nail polish remover with acetone to take off the date and lot number stamps. Then I primed the outside with white primer and then let my son go to town painting them (he had so much fun and it was a great snowy day activity). Once they were dry, I linked them all together with twisty ties and secured them with a dollop of glue. My husband made drumsticks out of a dowel. And they were ready to be banged on. They definitely make a lot of noise, but I really don't mind it - my son has such a great time playing with them and seeing the smile on his face makes me forget about all the noise.
One last example is a set of blocks that I made out of 1/2 gallon soy milk cartons. After finishing a carton, I washed it out with soap and water, cut the top off and let it dry out. Then I stuck 2 of them together - one inside the other. Once we'd assembled a lot of them (about 50), we primed and painted them (it took 2 coats to completely cover the pictures on the carton). It took a while, but it was a great time for my husband and I to sit and talk with each other. My son loves them - he builds forts and plays in them, but eventually decides that knocking over the blocks is more fun than playing in the fort.
These are just a few examples of things that I have made out of stuff that would otherwise be discarded. There are several other small things that I have also made, but I don't want this post to go on for forever. I also have several more items that I want to make: a basketball hoop for my son's room, a recipe book holder, a checkers game and a trashcan for my son's room. I'll let you know how those turn out when I'm done. None of these are very big things. I know a woman who made a whole kitchen play set out of cardboard for her kids while her husband was in medical school. Now that's awesome!
I love doing this for several reasons. #1 - it saves money! #2 - I get a great sense of accomplishment from making things myself #3 - it is fun to be creative and think of new ways to use things #4 - it teaches my son valuable lessons (frugality, creativity, problem solving, hard work) #5 - just like anything hand made (meals, gifts etc) there is more love and meaning behind it. #6 - kids are hard on things and I worry much less about my son ruining things when I know it didn't cost me anything
This all may seem a little ghetto and very time consuming, but to me, living frugally and having financial freedom is more important than having my home filled with the best things. We all have to make choices as to how to spend our money. I like to spend as little money as possible. This may not be your point of view, and that's fine. But, if you're like me and want to cut your expenses as much as possible I hope I've given you a few good ideas that you can do yourself or help inspire some of your own. If you want to replicate any of these and have any questions let me know. Or, if you have your own genius uses for items that would normally be discarded let me know too, I'm always looking for more ways to save money.