First, a rambling preface…
When the kids were little I spent hours (hours) on Craigslist looking for the perfect secondhand cedar playhouse.
After months of searching I found one. Untreated lumber, not too big, a slide, swing, perched cedar clubhouse, and in my price range. Cheaper than the lumber it would take to make our own.
So Pete and a buddy drove the three hours round trip to take it down and bring it home.
Yay team! We were a few hundred dollars poorer, but we were playhouse rich.
But "perfect" from an adult's perspective isn't always perfect to the kids.
As excited as they were by the idea of the playhouse, when it came to play value it soon fizzled.
And unlike a blanket fort there was no folding it up and putting it back in the linen closet when their interest waned.
So there it sat.
It sat in the yard – almost always empty – in all of it's fancy cedar perfection while the kids made forts under the bushes in the backyard.
When we moved I left it behind rather than bring it out to the farm. It just wasn't worth it.
They never missed it.
Like so many other lessons of parenthood I realized for the umpteenth time that less is more.
Or as my great-grandma stated (while my sister sat on the floor playing with canning jar rings as a baby), "Kids don't need toys."
Because yes, okay, yes – I was the mom who wanted the perfect Waldorf playroom. Like the quality of my parenting could be defined by the quality of our playthings.
And we did it on the cheap (for fancy anyway). Thanks to Pete and I both being crafty we made much of it ourselves. The rest was picked up locally at yard sales, as second-hand gifts from friends, or bought off of Craigslist, Ebay, and our local email list.
But you know, they rarely played with most of it.
I loved it like crazy, but they were rather "eh" about most of it. (Not at first, but with time.)
Sure, there are exceptions. They each had (and still have) their favorites. Toys that they played with constantly then and can't part with even now. But there was simply too much.
I took it too far. Now I know.
And as it turns out the quality of my parenting has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of toys I picked up off the floor at the end of the day. But you knew that already.
So if I can be so bold, I would tell anyone saving pennies for fancy Ostheimer wooden animals that are not in the budget, that ten years later it wasn't really worth it.
And that at least around here, the thrift store plywood dollhouse with cobbled together furniture has gotten 1000 times more play than the expensive saved-our-money-for-months German version we once had.
Live and learn. Kids don't need (lots of fancy, expensive) toys.
Having playthings on hand is lovely. We'll never be a toy-free house and I don't suggest you gut your playroom or your backyard on my experience. I'm merely sharing my realization that the fancy stuff wasn't all that.
I share this in hopes that someone who is wishing for something they can't afford will read this and say, "Oh! Those yogurt tubs in the sandbox really are as awesome as a $50 set of wooden scoops."
Now you know.
But I digress.
And we were here to talk about the playhouse. The pallets. The project!
My girl loves her mud kitchen play. She always has. A few old dishes, some yogurt tubs, and the flowers from the garden and she'll play happily for hours.
And though less is more I thought a little nook for her to play in would be a sweet (simple) addition.
So last weekend when Pete cut out a section of our barn and installed a bigger, better (salvaged) window I saw the discarded section of wall leaning against the fence I kind of freaked out.
Like I might have before at the sight of a set of wooden toys at a yard sale. (Ahem.)
I could see it in my head perfectly. In an instant.
An upcycled mud kitchen for Lupine.
A place to corral her dishes and pails and a little simple work surface to save our picnic table from it's mud kitchen fate.
Pete agreed and instead of hauling the wall to the dump he hauled it up the hill to Lupine's favorite play place – previously just two tree stumps at the edge of the hayfield.
We also brought up two oak pallets, a few L-brackets and shelf brackets, some screws, and a drill.
Thirty minutes later it was done. Boom. A new mud kitchen/playhouse for my girl.
I was thrilled, Lupine was thrilled, everyone was thrilled.
First, it's adorable. (If I do say so myself.) Second, it's upcycled. And third, it didn't cost us a penny!
And I was pretty jazzed to have done almost all of the work myself. (Cue dramatic bow.)
The process was simple and you could create one with three or even four recycled pallets instead of two plus a piece of your barn.
Old doors would be amazing here too (which I have an inexplicable affinity for), and so would a couple of discarded window screens or screen doors in the mix.
Look around. Ask around. See what you can find.
Care to make your own? Here's how.
1. Gather your supplies.
2. Make an "L" shape with two of your wall pieces to form a front wall and side wall. Secure well with screws.
3. Add second side wall and attach as above.
4. Inside use shelf brackets or L-brackets to install a few small shelves for storage and a work counter. I added one that was a scrap tree section from a tree we recently cut. Be creative and use whatever is at hand.
That's it! Really!
A word on pallets and safety: When you choose your pallets here are some excellent tips to help you find clean, green pallets and avoid the toxins that some pallets are treated with.
What have you made with upcycled materials lately? Feel free to share a link in the comments below!