It’s easy in our consumption-based society to accumulate a lot of useless junk in our homes. It’s annoying at best, but can be down right soul sucking if it starts to get out of hand. Fortunately, many common household items can be re-purposed, allowing you to recycle them into new and useful items in your home without having to actually go out and buy more things. Even better, these projects are a great way to keep your children creatively occupied while working to reduce your home’s clutter. Here are four projects that allow you to turn junk and single-use items into new toys and crafts.
Recycle Your Old Crayons:
The other day I was at a playgroup where we recycled old crayons to make new ones. The mother had specialty tools just for making new crayons out of old: little baking pans with small arrows, stars, and hearts in them. I love recycling whenever I can, but I am not fond of single-use items. The fact that there exists a metal pan solely for the purpose of cooking old crayons disturbs me in a way I’m not sure I can articulate, though I can say it has a lot to do with the concept’s privilege and over consumption. So I decided to see if I could recycle old crayons using a different single-use item that I had in the house—a muffin pan. Indeed, it can be done.
Take any broken crayons you have around the house. To remove their wrappers, simply soak them in water for a few minutes; the paper will peel right off. Alternatively, you could task your kids with removing the paper by hand, which is a tedious task but somehow mesmerizing. Put a few crayon bits into each circle of your muffin pan. The colors won’t fully blend, so they don’t need to be similar colors. Most crayons will come out with a marble effect. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees, and cook the crayons for 15 to 20 minutes. Let them cool, then pop them out of the pan.
Recycle Your Old Paper
To recycle paper, you need to cut it into shreds, soak it in water, then drain the water and squeeze the pulp into a sheet. You can use household objects to do each of these steps. If you have a shredder, you can use the leavings from it. Alternatively, you can have your kids rip up whatever paper you don’t need lying around anymore. (I would recommend against receipts because their ink contains BPA.)
Put a few handfuls of shreds into a bowl of water and mix them around until they are soaked.
To squeeze the water out, you can use cheesecloth. If that isn’t available, you can use any flat, mesh surface. In my house, we use a metal square that was at one time a part of a bookcase. The thinner the mesh, the better, because your paper will be flatter in the place where the lattice was. Put a handful of pulp between your mesh. Spread it out evenly to be the size and shape you want. Squeeze with all your strength; you can even stand on it (over a towel, of course) to get the water out. Once you have squeezed out as much as your strength allows, leave it out on a towel to dry. Flip it over every so often so both sides can dry. You can speed up the drying by putting the new pieces of paper in front of a fan or a heater. The finished result will be a thick, highly textured paper that is great for craft projects.
When I was in the sixth grade, we had an entire day called Bridge Day. On this day, we were put in teams of four, handed a few boxes of toothpicks and a tube of glue, and told to make a bridge. It had to be wide enough for a toy car to pass over and tall enough for a toy boat to pass under. At the end of the day, we had a competition to see which bridge could hold the most weight.
Some of my classmates went on to write their personal statements for college about this project, showing that it was more edifying than anything we were to do in the following six years of schooling. At any rate, this project is easy to set up, takes hours to complete, and can be done with any number of children.
This is a fun, but memorable project for your kids. I still clearly remember Bridge Day in school, including who was on my team and how we fared in the weight test. This was twenty years ago. For comparison, I don’t remember my high school graduation, or the names of any of the teachers I had in middle school.
Shaving Cream Art
When I was at the crayon recycling play date, we did another art project as well—we made pictures using shaving cream and food coloring. This project is perfect for little kids who love feeling different textures and don’t mind that the picture they’re making will end up looking like a blob. Note: your child will smell like an old man for the rest of the day.
Simply take some paper and spray it with shaving cream. Have your kid smear the cream around the page, either with her fingers or with a stick. To mix things up, add a dot of food coloring that your kid can swirl around to create a marbled effect. These things take about two days to dry, so find a convenient place to store them, or just hang them up somewhere where your shoulder won’t graze them.
Speaking of finding alternate uses for single-use objects, my house is baby-proofed with bubble wrap from packages we got in the mail. The results may not be as classy and clean as a store-bought solution, but they are effective, cheap, and don’t add even more stuff to your house.