Nine ways to upcycle your old cardboard boxes

So you’ve moved into your new home – everything is roughly in the right place and the tuneless whistling of the removal team is a fading memory.

But now you find you’ve got a surplus of three things: to-do lists, weird muscle pains (it’s all that lifting) and cardboard boxes.

The first two you can hopefully shift in a few days, but cardboard boxes; they’re not going anywhere.

You may be thinking, ‘well, they might come in handy one day’. But I think we both know that day rarely comes. All those boxes will just clutter your spare room/garage for years, in a sort of brown-card graveyard.

However, if you read this article you’ll discover how cardboard really can be used again, whatever size it comes in...

1. A playhouse for kids

With a bit of imagination and a big enough box, you can make a building – a shop, a castle, a Punch and Judy stand – or indeed a vehicle; a car, a train, a plane or a pirate ship. All you need is a door for the building or wings for the plane – and a bit of paint to complete the transformation.


If you type in ‘cardboard box’ and the thing you want to make into Google, then you’ll even get some visual inspiration.

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2. Lasagne gardening

Talking of gardening, have you tried lasagne gardening yet? It’s a no-nonsense, no-dig method of getting rid of weeds.

All you do is spread cardboard over the part you want weed-free, soak it with water and layer on grass cuttings, manure, garden compost etc. Do this several times, finishing with soaked cardboard.

Large plants can be put in straight away; smaller ones will require the cardboard to rot a bit more. But in a year you’ll have great soil as well as losing 95% of your weeds.

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3. Sequined letters

They’re great for parties, giving a personalised message for the birthday boy/girl, however old they are. After all, how many shops can sell you a message that says ‘Happy Birthday Bryan’ with a ‘y’?

So here’s what you do. Print out each letter on an A4 sheet of paper to make sure they are all the same size, and to give you the templates. Tape each letter to some cardboard and then cut them out with a craft knife.

Cover with sequinned trim – including the edges but not the back – bought from a haberdashery (they do still exist; most markets will have one). When all your letters are completed, put them face down and back to front, and glue a hanging cord to the back. Done. Also effective with metallic paint. Or any paint.

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4. A cat house

A small house for your pet cat; basically a hole cut in a cardboard box, but with skill and talent you can make it as elaborate as you like with windows, a pitched roof and a sign above the door with your cat’s name on (see sequinned letters earlier).

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Just remember that your cat retains the right to disdainfully ignore it and sleep on top of the newly-ironed shirts in the laundry basket instead. Still, at least you’ve not wasted money on it.

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5. Desktop organiser

A cardboard-themed solution for anybody who has a cluttered desk. All you need is a cardboard shoebox and some empty toilet rolls.

Fill your shoebox with cut-down, glued-in toilet rolls so you have a container full of tubes. And that’s it. A great place to store your pencils, pens, etc.

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6. A road system

Another one for the children, particularly ones who love their toy cars.


All this requires is flat pieces of cardboard from those boxes and black paint. Paint your ‘roads’ on to the boxes – or let your child do it. If you make the roads finish half way down the sides of the flat cardboard sheets, you can then join several sheets together in different ways.

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7. Party hats

Just because hats from Christmas crackers are a little bit rubbish. In fact – let’s be honest – they’re not even hats are they? They’re flimsy headbands.

So to create your superior cardboard hat – make the basic shape by measuring the user’s head with flexible wire. Trace this onto the cardboard twice. Cut out your circle for the top (crown) of the hat, and cut out a cardboard ring with the head measurement as the inner radius for the opening/brim of the hat.

Now you just need a third piece of cardboard, bent into shape for the side of the hat. Make this piece higher and you’ve got a top hat; lower and add a peak and you’ve got a cap. Now all you have to do is paint and decorate them.

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8. Recharge station

Wires everywhere?  If certain parts of your home are cluttered with recharge wires for iPads, cameras, mobile phones etc, then here’s a tidying solution.

Use a shoebox covered with wrapping paper to contain all the electrical gubbins, and have the individual wires poking out of eyelets lined with metal washers/rings cut in the sides. Remember you have to allow room for the ends of charges, not just the wires. Label each hole so you know which wire goes in which gizmo.

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9. Egg box seed tray

One for the smaller cardboard items in your home. You know those grey cardboard egg boxes? They’re brilliant for planting seeds.

Just cut the lid from the carton, poke a small drainage hole in the bottom of each cell and fill with potting mixture (not soil – too heavy). Then place the egg box lid under the bottom to create a drainage tray.

Place the egg carton in a warm area and water with a spray bottle, because otherwise it’s very easy to over-water. Feed the plants once a week if they start to look pale, and plant out when they’re a reasonable size.

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