Upcycling Toys: Transforming Trash into Treasures

Fact: Toys are expensive. If it is marketed for a baby, toddler, or child you can count on it being overpriced. And if it’s licensed, forget about it! Not to mention the said toys have a shelf life of about 7 ½ minutes before they become decidedly boring to the aforementioned baby, toddler or child, making the sticker price even harder to swallow.

Fact: (Most) toys are ugly. I think we can all give a collective “amen” to that statement.

I must admit the “sophisticated” adult in me WANTS to purchase organic, trendy, modern and aesthetically pleasing educational toys for my children. The realistic mom in me knows my children would feel no mercy inflicting “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” type of revenge on me if I suggested they get rid of their obnoxious number of monster trucks and Thomas the Train engines. Meaning, they would light fire (in the driveway) to all said organic, trendy, modern and BORING toys while jumping joyously into a pile of every non-biodegradable plastic toy within reach.

As a way of compromising, I have been able to upcycle a few flea market finds and hand-me-downs, taking the big plastic-y thing they desire and transforming it in to something that does not completely destroy my design loving and price conscious soul.

Capitalizing on budget friendly finds at local flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, and hand-me-downs are a great way to find lightly (or heavily in some cases) used items that require a little TLC for an updated look. It will feel brand new to both you and your kids. Thanks to Pinterest, or a good ‘ol Google search, ideas and inspiration are just a click away.

The largest undertaking I have tackled was a $65 Little Tikes playhouse. I probably overpaid for the faded, dirty, spider haven but bargaining isn’t my forte. $20 of spray paint, tape, and inhaled fumes later, the house looked completely brand new. In fact, it was better than the new version that would have been purchased for almost triple the price. It became a custom house, meant to mimic our own home, my kids will use and love for years to come!


Before: Dirty and faded

Before: Dirty and faded


toy house

Another upcycling opportunity I tackled was transforming a hand-me-down IKEA LACK coffee table into a car table. Two designs of washi tape completed the “road,” and within minutes it had a new use and provided HOURS of entertainment.


The important thing to note is neither one of these projects turned out perfectly. The spray paint could use touch ups, and the lines on the car table are far from straight. I am admittedly lack in crafting ability, but my kids couldn’t care less. They only know that mom proudly gave them a new toy.

Vintage Finds on First Fridays
For those of us living in the Kansas City area, we have an amazing resource to find unique items with a ton of potential. The First Friday Weekend event in the West Bottoms  has become a celebrated affair for food truck seekers, antique enthusiasts, and Kansas City urban lovers alike. It is a family-friendly destination where everyone can come home with something great!

Recently, I was able to nab a few great items for my little ones, as well as one or two for myself! The goodies required a little cleaning or fluffing and they were ready to use. Wet wipes, windex, and even dish detergent are great ways to scrub off grime. Some of the steals I took home were:

  • An old milk carrier, perfect for housing art supplies.
  • Two child-size folding chairs, great for the playhouse in the warmer months and to bring in for a reading nook during the winter.
  • An old railroad lantern, ideal for decor in my oldest son’s room and for re-enacting Thomas the Train adventures.
  • An antique truck serving dual purpose as decor and toy.
  • A wooden toy mailbox for pretending and block sorting (seen in the AFTER picture of the playhouse).


Tips for scoring great finds
After scouring for treasures and visiting with patrons and storeowners, I have compiled a few tips to make your next treasure hunting trip more successful:

  • Go early. Most stores open on Friday mornings.
  • Make a list of wanted items, but keep an open mind. Know what you are looking for, but be open to inspiration that may be waiting
    behind each corner.
  • Look beyond the current color; it can always be changed. From chalk paint to spray paint, a little sweat equity is all it takes to change the feel of an item.
  • Taking a small umbrella stroller for grabby children can prevIMG2777ent you from “buying what they break” and is also perfect for navigating the often crowded aisles of goods.
  • Markets outside the immediate city limits tend to have better prices due to a smaller consumer base. They can be a perfect resource for finds begging for renovation, as they will not be picked over as quickly.

Stores not to miss on First Fridays:

Restoration Emporium

Utilizing the free water to make a MUCH needed bottle

Utilizing the free water to make a MUCH needed bottle

  • Opens at 8:30 a.m. with donuts and coffee! This is an ideal incentive for the kids to behave for at least five minutes while they scarf some sugar.
  • The store provides water on the first floor for the thirst-inducing shopping.
  • An old freight elevator at the back of the store is fun for adults and kids! It is also handy for avoiding dragging a stroller up stairs.

Bella Patina 

  • This store also has a fun freight elevator.
  • Has. A. Bar. Third Floor. Enough said.

I hope these tips will inspire a new way to look beyond the conventional. Good luck in your treasure hunting!

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