Ways to Repurpose Cardboard Boxes into Storage

I told y’all about that time I took a reciprocating saw to my living room couch, only to discover that the bulk of its shape was formed by cardboard, right?

That moment changed my life– and not just from listening to the myriad of excuses from JB on why I can’t have a reciprocating saw. For all his concerns, you’d think he’s afraid that I’m going to cut a hole in the wall, or something.
The real life changing moment came when I started considering how often I paid considerable amounts of money for products that could be disposed of in curbside recycling. Which led me to all the various ways one can repurpose cardboard boxes.

Thus began my love affair with repurposing our heavy-duty cardboard boxes.

These repurposed cardboard diaper boxes lasted Z at least 6 months.

15 month old Z rocking diaper box covered in contact paper.

66 month old Z rocking his box fort.

They’ve been building various forts, beds, and hotels from these boxes all summer. Finally, a common interest.

He and E intend to grow up to be hotel typhoons (tycoons).

This has also been the summer (for me) of committing to using what’s here before buying from the store. Homeless clutter needed clearly labeled homes.

Liquor boxes are perfect– separate compartments and very strong.

So many boxes and some left over spray paint… I do love to paint.

I do love to paint.

See, the clutter just needed someone to believe in it again– to look at what-some-would-consider-trash and find future purpose.

I dig it.

I mean some of these boxes were just another brick in the wall, you know?

I had to take down a few parts of the hotel.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And, *weep* look at him, cleaning his brush!

Double imitation, double flattery, mega cheese.

You’re with me so far, right? Nodding your head, and considering all the various storage things that can be made from a leftover shoe box.

Liquor boxes, being designed to hold large glass bottles full of liquid courage are made from some really heavy-duty cardboard. Then the separate compartments? Begging to be a felt storage unit!

The best is the cost– NOTHING.

And then? Well then I saw these rough edges and thought: bias tape. But I didn’t want to use my good bias tape, because well… I have no idea. Ah-ah! Homemade bias tape– can’t be that hard!

This is where I entered the Ridiculous Zone.

Normal people don’t end up in these creative places.

At this point, the only remaining option was to:

This Old House

This old house has seen a bunch of upgrades–some easy, some not. A corner here, a room there. Slowly it inched forward from 1969.

The poor kitchen started off with a look that only a DIYer could appreciate. We got new cabinets, and I was happy for awhile. But then I decided that the new cabinets were boring and needed to some spice.

Ah, turning the old-new into the new-new.

Insert insane cackle, since that project isn’t ahem done. Though all I have left (other than decorative touches) are the faux built-in from target bookshelves and leftover scraps hack. I plan for it to look something like:

Photo Credit: BHG

My brilliant idea for an inexpensive stainless steel backsplash is still my favorite all my DIY projects.

And I did manage to get the other set of shelves hung in the coat closet last weekend. But then I had to shove all of the misplaced stuff back in there (we needed to eat dinner). I refuse to let JB hang the door back up, because out-of-sight…

So instead I’m embracing my eclectic decorating style and making a pop-art statement about the Overload of Stuff in America–

Wait. That’s IT. I’ll just label my clutter as being an ode to Warhol and suddenly it’s a statement.

And why this montage of projects of Months Past? Because I was down in the basement– doing, yeah, laundry…

…when I started fantasizing about my perfect life. One where my hair stayed stick straight despite the humidity and I had an extra 1200 square feet of space.

Wait– I do have an extra 1200 square feet of space, but it’s not pleasant– and sometimes the dark corners are kinda scary.

If only the basement were done, everything else would be perfect. Cue my Rainbow farting unicorn, please.

Hey– who needs some baby stuff? Cloth diapers? Anyone? Bueller?

Can you see it with me?

Buh-bye to clown-vomit epoxy floor,
and also to the 1970s vintage accordion door.

No to wainscoting in shades of dark brown,
Acoustic ceiling tile? You’re first to go down.

Hello to a softly carpeted place;
to new walls creating happy-family space.

Oh– and bad poetry aside– I’m totally building this system for storage.

Trying… but Just. Can’t. Stop. Myself.

Photo credit: Family Handyman

To eliminate all of the closet over-pourage.

But before I can even think about the satisfaction of ripping out every spec of acoustic ceiling tile, I first have to finish the built-ins. And the closet. But you can watch me drool over ideas on pinterest.

Perhaps I should have FINISH IT tattooed on my forehead?

Mortal Kombat for ADHDers

DIY with your kids: Mudpie Kitchen

Yet another brilliant idea from pinterest. Mud pie kitchen? Yes, please.

Why, mud pie?

1) I’m developing a moderate hatred of sand boxes. Sand on its own irritates enough; sand on a Small Person morphs to something parasitic. Hitching a ride in underwear, hair, socks, shorts pockets (grrr!) until it finds my bed sheets. Then–and only then– sand detaches from the Small Person. I’m like the Princess and the Pea with that stuff.

2) Using only upcycled/repurposed wood, the original project plan cost $5 (sink and cooking supplies from the dollar store). The final version included a $10 splurge for new lumber (1 x 2 Pressure-Treated Pine Strips). Pulling splinters out of the hands of Small People has to qualify as a circle of hell.

3) The purpose of the project made it really easy for to say “yes” when the Small People asked “can we help”.

Here’s how:

Step One (not pictured):
Determine your dimensions, make measurements, and gather supplies.

My table is 48 inches long, 22 inches tall, with a depth of 23 inches. Yes, it’s an odd height/depth– using scraps of wood for a project often requires flexibility.

Step Two: Assemble the frame for the counter
Two kids equals a need for two sinks, so the counter is a rectangle. I used standard 1x2s, repurposed from the now-dismantled fence gate.

Question: You have 2 Small People to drill eight holes, in 4 pieces of wood. If both Small People start getting grabby at their second turn, how long before one Mom gets the fake smile face?

Answer: Quicker than it should.

Patience practice– not just for kids.

Elliot drills his first hole; I’m reminded to use more oomph on chuck-tightening.

Step Three: Add reinforcements at the corners

When involving furniture with children, one should always add reinforcements at the joints.

When involving furniture building with children, one should anticipate it taking about the same amount of time as it took the tree to grow.

I mostly managed to remain cheerful. Watching E manhandle a drill that packs almost as many pounds as he does was sorta awesome. Some additional time spent debating with JB about the intelligence of letting Z use the miter saw.

Check it out– hearing protection, eye protection, my hand on the wood (keeping his hand out of blade range) while he pushes the button? I feel like the only one at real risk is, well, me.

When involving children with furniture building, one should be expectant and tolerant of imperfections. Secretly fix the tetanus risk later, while they dream the sweet dream of real power tools.

Step Four: Measure and cut the slats for the countertop
Like I mentioned, my original plan was to use fence paneling, but I just wasn’t happy with the look and feel of them during the dry fit.

So I sent JB to the hardware store to grab some more 1x2s, and used those instead.

I added a top frame of 1x2s to the base, for stability, and a place to screw the the cross slats (from the bottom). I screwed them in with the “sinks” in place to make sure that each one was snug, but still removable.

I have this thought to eventually replace the plastic bins with real sinks. Which makes me kick myself for not keeping the sinks from the bathroom remodels.

Step Five: Attach the legs

Four pieces of wood, wood glue, and some screws. I totally confess to using netflix and Spiderman as a bargaining tool for doing this part solo. Next time I run across some old wheels/castors, I’ll add those as well.

At 22 inches, I love the height for Elliot (~38 inches). If it were just Zach, I would have gone taller.

The minute the I put the drill down– literally, see the glue still dripping– I had two Small People ready to test the mud pie kitchen for the first time.

Step Six: Stain the Wood

Despite using pressure treated wood, I added stain. One, because of the table’s purpose– mud and water, and two because the stain was sitting right in front of my face from the upcycled deck planter box I’ll show you tomorrow.

Yeah, we dig it, Mom.

Vermicomposting with Kids

I won’t say it’s a boy thing– since it isn’t. But the Small People do love insects, arachnids (spiders), and annelids (worms). Vermicomposting with kids combines all of that with dirt.

Now, because they are tech-age kids, they will dig for a few minutes, give up, then move over to stand 8.5 inches away from my leg, waiting for whatever worms I find. It makes my chest hurt that they don’t have enough patience to dig for their own worms.

Which begins the choruses of “Can I help with that?” Or, and this was my favorite since it happened right when the Jehovah’s Witnesses should have (they skipped us) walked up the driveway, the gnashing of teeth and eardrum splitting screams of: “YOU JUST TOOK MY WORM. I DON’T WANT YOU TO DO THAT.” For 38 minutes, the Smallest of the Small People loudly defended his worm against what he purported was illegal worm deportation.

A few days later, they found a DIY worm bin in one of my gardening books, beginning Vermicomposting Campaign 2012.

“Mom, can we have worm pets?”

Which, my friends, was a marked improvement last month’s campaign:
“but why can’t the termite friends live in our bedroom? We promise to keep them in the bucket!”

I will warn you, our finished project lacks a certain…polished professionalism. Which should tell you that it was indeed made almost entirely by a 5 and 3 year old. Who think it’s the best worm bin, ever.

We started the vermicomposting process a website and some youtube videos. Next, I used Z’s interest in the project to have him practice copying words/letters. The squiggly letters are in worm-font. Duh.

Then I tried to find non-internet-shipped red wigglers. Apparently you can’t just dig worms out of your backyard– who knew?

First stop, Walmart- I know, I know— but it’s less than a mile away!. Walmart locks up their bait worms, by the way. Requiring a walmart manager (as elusive as photographic evidence of Big Foot) make a worm purchase. Which didn’t much matter, since Walmart only carries a warehouse worm not good for bin composting.

Back in the car, across town to the bait store we go. Success! Return trip home, where I work on convincing the children that we will need to use a dark bin, and they suggest we use a clear bin, paint it black, but leave a window– so the worms can “see us”.

Lots of tongue-biting and cheek-chewing, after all, it’s their worm bin, right? But, it was hard. So very, very hard.

Then Zach piped up with, “look, Mom. There’s black paint right here.” I still had the black paint sitting in the kitchen. Next to the white paint from the cabinets and the eventually to be up-cycled built in shelves.

Drill air holes. Actually, let your children drill the air holes. The smallest of the Small People will first insist on appropriate hearing protection. While reading a coloring book about birds. Get it? Worms/ Birds.

Gather paint and brushes. And more damp paper towels than you will think necessary. Have mild freak out moments because you are letting 2 children paint with non-washable paint– INSIDE. Why inside? Because it’s raining pollen right now. Yellow pollen + black paint + Allergic Small People = no good.

Give them a lot of paper to shred for the worm beds. Show Small People how to make strips. Walk away to check facebook fold laundry . Come back in 20 10 minutes to exactly one sheet of newspaper ripped in half.

Heave a large sigh, and begin to deliver a lecture about the importance of caring for pets. Realize pretty quickly how stupid you sound (and that they aren’t listening) and start ripping paper with them.

Instruct Small People to wet the bedding until it’s damp, like a sponge. Remember too late that damp to Small People is synonymous with dripping wet to everyone else.

Tell Small People that if they can get ready for bed without crying, screaming or yelling (mine, not theirs) that we can add the worms into the hottest new city view worm bin in the South.

Watch a squiggling wet mass of–thankfully–alive worms. Explain to the worms how they were on their way to being bait, but instead now get to live in a giant plastic bucket of newspaper and veggie scraps.

Currently, the bin lives outside as I work on the correct green/brown ratio. I have already explained to my husband that he couldn’t just put a whole apple in there– worms have small mouths, after all.

I assume the worms like it better outside, since they have stopped trying to escape. One, which I’ve named Bent Tail, seems to the be the leader of the worm revolt. Me? I’m looking at a long driveway, lots of birds, and several exuberant boys thinking, “stupid worm, you’ll never have it as good out there as you do right here.”

Crazy? Perhaps.

In my experience, there are at least two common themes among DIYers– the desire for nice things/surroundings and the inability (either tangible or mental) to fork out wads of cash to do so.

For yes, declareth the masses– she embodied all that was Cheap and Skin-Flinty. But, lo, she couldn’t deny the appreciation of the expensive items she scorned. And I’m not talking Home Depot/Pottery Barn expensive. I’m talking custom-made, one-of-a-kind, hipster-magnet-boutique. I’m not a hipster, by the way– but the boutique stores I sort of adore can generally be found right smack dab in the middle of a hipster nest. More’s the pity.

My point is that in order to have many of the things that I want– and not out-price my neighborhood–I needed to learn how to do it myself. Beyond that, the raw truth is that I get off on these adrenaline-laced, disaster-turned beauty projects, because it breaks up the minutiae. I got off on these adrenaline-laced, disaster-turned success projects at my for-pay jobs, too. It’s how the ADHD brain keeps itself from pinging into neverland. Or something. All I know is that a bored me, is an unhappy me.

So, people shouldn’t eye-roll so much when I consider making my own pendant lamps because I kinda like these from Home Depot, but now they are sold at Home Depot which means everyone will have them… and… dude, seriously they are charging how much for various sized glass bowls, upside down with a light bulb? Re-alllyyy?

Okay, so the price picture blows– my phone has heard me talking about an upgrade and it is protesting in a most unbecoming manner. But the ones I liked best were $100 bucks each. I’m not paying that for a glass cake bowl and a light bulb.

Then I googled “how to DIY a pendant lamp” and there it is: Instructions. Inspiration. Originality. Done intelligently, the first one is inexpensive– just to see if you can, and the second one can be fancier. This DIY lesson, by the way, took several expensive failures to learn. For example, 2 years ago I bought a $150 worth of fabric, notions, pattern, etc. for an uber complicated renaissance faire costume. Yeah, it’s still waiting for me.

Anyway, I guess my point is that, yes, the internet is full of a vast amount of horrific misinformation. However, every yin has its yang, and that same internet also contains an entire lifetime of useful knowledge. Criminy, you can practically get a college degree via youtube videos. Essentially, if you can think it, someone on the interwebs has probably tried–and blogged– it.

Kitchen Remodel: Phase I

Yes, it’s Phase I– of Version 4. This isn’t the first transformation for our kitchen and all the big ticket items (new floors, cabinets, appliances that aren’t brown) have long been paid for. But thus far, the total investment in Version 4 of Redesign That Kitchen is $56. $50 for low VOC Benjamin Moore paint + $6 for sponge rollers. Everything else (to include the materials for the building projects) existed down there in the region some folks call a basement. I currently call it 1200 square feet of wasted space since it’s housing a whole bunch of junk and projects to-be-determined. Part of my current obsessed motivation is getting that square footage back. Small People–and their things– take up a ridiculous amount of room.

So, version history of this kitchen?

Version I
The kitchen had blue flower vinyl flooring, complimented by the light blue dining room carpet and brown wood paneling in the dining room. And the dry-clean only curtains with giant brass thingy. Yes, we did buy this house with a dining room that looked like that picture. We replaced that carpet and the vinyl with pretending-to-be-granite-tile floors.

Version 2
Look closely– beyond the christmas tree–

We tried to salvage the original cabinets with a few coats of paint–they were, after all, real wood. However, even good paint couldn’t cover the old-lady-with-bad-kitty cabinet smell. Sniffle– look how little Z is in this picture. Totally unaware I was gestating his arch nemesis– aka, little brother.

And for 24-odd months, I lived with that kitchen.

Version 3
But at about 7 months pregnant with E– and nesting like a damn pigeon in an electric store sign– we used tax refund money to sorta upgrade the cabinets. Tax refund money and the expertise of a friend’s impulsive offer to help (meh-heh-heh). At that point, basic stock cabinets was an upgrade. A smart upgrade, since we live in a transitional neighborhood (aka, homes values probably won’t decrease, but it’s anyone’s guess if they will increase). When upgrading a house in a transitional neighborhood, one must be very careful to temper personal taste with common sense.

Was the kitchen okay, as is? Yeah, I guess so. It wastes a ton of space and it’s not very user friendly for the Small People. The Small People who really, really want to help do things– like unload the dishwasher and set the table. They are already hanging up their own laundry thanks to my installation of wire shelves and a closet rod within their reach. I feel wrong by not giving them what they want with the helping thing!

So, between pinterest, a lives-in-my-computer friend/DIY person, and the desire to use my children for manual labor, I began to get motivated. If y’all didn’t know, an ADHD person with their meds and motivation can do amazing things. Include in that a husband who leaves the country for a week, kids that go to bed at 7pm, and same ADHD lady who can’t burn off any of that gee-gee-gee-gee energy by running, and you end up with this.

By the way– don’t think I’m ignoring the children– most of this good-times-fun happened during naptime or after bed. The other little bits? Well, never underestimate what can be accomplished in 20-30 minute spurts. Of course, there was also a casualty– RIP dish drainer that was in the oven during the preheat cycle. You had a good run.

As of tonight, most everything has had its second pass of the top coat, so the painting should be done tomorrow. That’s the real bitch with painting cabinets– it takes time (most of it of the drying/preparation variety) to do a good job. But after the last bit dries, the really fun stuff is next– building!

The Beauty of Love

This was the little story that JB and I (snort, who we kidding, it was I, all I) included on our wedding announcement. Sweet, hunh?

Now, that I rediscovered the thing a few hours after screeching for him to bring me crowbar? Just amusing.
That he brought me the crowbar, with the only comment delivered being a reminder to not accidentally knock a hole in the wall? That’s trust– trust I haven’t necessarily earned.

But, hey, when I did this to the wall, in a different room, a week later, I had it patched long before he got home!

Why is the trust so impressive? Well, I ask you all– do you know what your couch looks like under the fabric and foam?

I do. I absolutely know that most couches are made of a few pieces of wood and some really strong cardboard. Why? Because I took a reciprocating saw to our old one once, just to see.

Any-hoo. I needed that crowbar because I was doing my own version of Habitat for Humanity for the homeless stuff in our house. Mostly mine. And the Small People. Not much of it is JB’s. That’s the issue with DIY (and ADHD). A person needs supplies if they are going to craft their own environment. An ADHDer goes and buys those supplies, shoves them in a drawer, laundry basket, box, bag, or closet which promptly wipes stuff’s existence from working memory. Then, while frantically looking for a missing plastic shark for the Smallest Small Person, she opens up a box, and it’s christmas all over again.

I can’t even claim this behavior is new– I’ve always been this way. Which is probably why I hooked up with a guy who moved the totality of his belongings in a Saturn Coupe, whilst I needed a 17 foot uhaul.

Then the hoarder and the minimalist had two children, whereupon they realized their stuff spreads like kudzu over a southern telephone pole. And just like kudzu, you can metaphorically burn that shit to the ground, only to step on the sharpest part of a lego brick which is lying in mocking repose right next to your bed, the very next morning. True story: I threw away a plastic kazoo 17 million times– before finally crushing it to death in the driveway and throwing it in the neighbor’s trashcan. Never underestimate the staying power of a cheap (yet costly in its annoyance factor) toy.

I started with some free wire shelving and some not-so-free tracks and brackets (why, pray tell, are those damn brackets $3.50 each? Because if you don’t want the shit to fall down, you have to buy them, that’s why). And technically those shelves were installed a few months ago– just not correctly and were being held up with duct tape, which just isn’t safe.

Thus it went from this:

to this:

Ahhh— I might not be able to get a whole room of my own, but dammit I made myself a writing nook–as per my not-resolution resolution’s list to write more. And no nook would be complete without my Quixote, ready to tilt at some windmills. And all the old shoe boxes I decoupaged, thus saving them from JB’s need to throw away the things I’m saving finishing the planned upcycling project.

One mess done, one giant one to go.

Fences Make Good Neighbors

Fences make good neighbors? Mine probably think I’m nuts. I can hardly blame them considering my “throwing rocks at squirrel in gutter” escapade. A lot of them seem to question my landscaping methods.  And again, considering the current–and past–state of my yard, is still not particularly unreasonable.

I use organic and natural methods almost exclusively.  One, because I’m frugal (nice word for cheapskate, isn’t it?); two, because it’s better for the environment; and three, because my Dad died of a cancer caused by chemicals.  All of those things combined in my psyche created the monster that is DIY-Stephanie.

Old-school methods take time.  Leaf mold doesn’t grow overnight.  Our yard gets tons of shade, because of the half-dozen mature trees in, and around, our lot.  We could rake them to the curb, letting the city of Raleigh vacuum ‘em up to turn into soil that is then resold to various homeowners.  I have no interest in buying back the finished product when I can make it myself in the relative (dis)comfort of my neighbors.

Last fall, I raked leaves, not to the curb, but into various piles around the yard. To the casual observer it might look like I forgot to finish raking, but those piles actually represented future beds.  Beds that I planned from the cool indoors during the sweltering August heat.

The past few days have been gorgeous—60 degrees—after an abnormally cold few months that included TWO significant (i.e., more than 2 inches, lasting longer than a day) snowfalls.  I totally become part of the clichéd rush-to-Lowe’s-folk when warm weather approaches after winter, my hands itching to dig in the dirt.  Unlike a lot of others, my SAHM status means I can rush-to-Lowe’s on Friday morning instead of Saturday, which limits dealing with a hundred other mulch-eyed gardeners.

My supplies included humus, compost (yes, I know I can make this myself, and we do), and some more of the border edge stuff.  Pushing a shopping cart loaded down with children while pulling a garden cart loaded down with product takes skill; doing it without looking like a moron takes grace.  I was managing the skill part, but failing on the grace, when two store employees came up and offered help.  When you happen to be the lone customer it’s harder for the employees to pretend they don’t see you struggling which often means they might help. Being a girl and having a few kids–also helpful.

Once I trek everyone back home the fun begins. Play, play, dig in dirt.  Drag sand table, sand toys, and sand into the front yard.  Set up small children with shovels, buckets, and cars.  Screech, “Elliot, we don’t eat the sand,” a hundred times.  All while I’m hoeing and placing the edgers around the new bed.  Open humus and begin to pore.  Stop to chase Elliot back into our yard while trying to explain to Zach why it’s cool for him to hunt for grubs, but not to just put them in a different, safer spot in the yard.  Rinse, repeat.

As to my neighbors thinking I’m nuts—I thought it important to defend myself before just blurting it out.  Apparently, everything was okay until I started watering the dirt.  You see, humus is light; you can’t just spread it around and expect it to stay put.  You have to get it wet enough in order for it to be heavy enough to not blow away.

Sadly for me, all of the people walking the ‘hood and/or arriving back home from work didn’t see that DIY-Stephanie bought all of the makings for soil rather than just buying pre-made soil.  All they saw was a crazy woman entertaining children (at this point teaching them how to stomp down molehills) and watering dirt.  I wonder how they’ll feel when I bring out the old area rugs to use as a super-heavy weed barrior for the bed in the back yard?  Aw, we put up a privacy fence to hide the majority of my experiments. Too bad for shock value, probably good for heart health.