Repurposing repurposing: the joy of the toy-box

Repurposing repurposing: the joy of the toy box

Last week, I looked after Little Niece for the afternoon and she decided that she wanted the toy box and book basket out from their spot by the sofa.

Soon we were outside, having a teddy bears’ picnic in the shade before playing schools.  Little Niece was the teacher, I was her helper and the cuddly toys each had a book of their own.  Helpfully they also doubled up as clipboards when we had to take them on a nature walk.  She is very imaginative!

It was so much fun for both us, with the nostalgia element adding another level of emotion for me.

I’m not sure there is any greater joy than watching a small child enjoy playing with toys that you loved when you were young.  

The experience reminded me of why I put the toy box together in the first place.  I wrote about this two years ago and decided to reprise the post here…


This morning, my mum sent me a photo message showing my poorly eight year old nephew clutching a well-worn soft toy in the shape of a panda.  Pandan, my nephew used to call him, and for years he was never far from his side.  I was always extremely thrilled by how much Joe loved Pandan as I had bought the toy for him (although it is perhaps more accurate to say that I collected tokens from the packets of a well-known brand of toilet paper and sent them off with £1.99 for postage and packaging).

Now Joe is almost nine [NOTE: he turned eleven last week!], I hadn’t seen Pandan around for a while.  It was so heart-warming to discover that he continued treasured him and still drew comfort from his frankly manky and slightly discoloured fur.  It’s funny which toys find a place deep in our heart and which remain simply playthings.

I replied to my mum’s message saying that maybe Joe will put Pandan in a future toy-box too, a joking reference to the toy-box that I have recently created.  Over the last few weeks, I have been boring friends and family talking about my new toy-box (okay, so talking and making them look at it).

The toy-box is one of my latest mini-obsessions.  I love it almost as much as I love some of its contents.  I had thought about putting something like it together shortly after moving into my new home in mid-April, having realised that we live in possibly the most un-child friendly space ever (think lots of potentially dangerous items at low levels and little to distract curious small people with).

Whilst we don’t have kids of our own, I want visiting children to be at home here and want their parents to feel relaxed rather than nervous or worried.

One Sunday afternoon, I read an Apartment Therapy post that mentioned the same toy-box idea and that was that: I seized the moment and tore round the place gathering
up any suitable items.  Some pencils, plastic cups, a few children’s books that happened to be in unpacked boxes.  I had a large basket just right for the job.  I even remembered the two hand-knitted rabbits, one of whom featured in my first day at school photograph, suffocating in a plastic box under the bed.

In the weeks since, more bits have been added.  I picked up a colouring book from a coffee morning.  My boyfriend put in his childhood chess set.  I’m keeping my eye out for suitable bits (please someone somewhere get rid of some Lego!) but most of all I’m encouraging my mum to get up the loft and find more of my actual toys out.  I’ve already begun bringing things from my parents’ when I visit, including the first book I ever remember, yet I know there is more still in the attic.

Suddenly all these possessions that I’ve never been sure what to do with have had a new
lease of life.  This sense of repurposing has bought me genuine joy and contentment. Lots of the standard advice on sentimental items or such like instructs you to have a clearout, perhaps taking a photograph as a reminder of a once-prized object.  But is that really
what we always want?  Whilst drowning in reminders of the past can stop us from getting on with life in the present, surely we can find ways to forge a new path where we give space to honour our earlier treasures and let the happiness that they bought us then infuse our worlds now.

That is what I feel my new toy-box does.  It is my own way through.  It isn’t getting rid
of everything, although there will be much from my childhood that I won’t keep.  Nor is it shoving it all in some place out of sight (under the bed, the loft, a spare bedroom – preferably in someone else’s house), hoping to never have to deal with it but also never
getting any pleasure from it.

Seeing another child being entertained by toys that you also happily played with is a beautiful sight.

Of course it doesn’t have to be a toy-box.  This sense of repurposing can be applied to other possessions too.  What item in your home (or left elsewhere!) is languishing?  What stuff aren’t you sure what to do with?  Is it something that you can breathe new life into in some form or another?

If you like the idea of upcycling then Pinterest is full of amazing ideas to give you
inspiration; I’ve made a board with some of my favourite ideas.  Not that you have to be artistic or crafty; if you love reading, can you simply spare some shelf space to your favourite childhood books?

It may be that you decide repurposing actually does involve giving something a new home or to a new owner.  I used to have a gorgeous ragdoll that an older cousin made for me when I was born; when she had a daughter, I passed the doll on to her.

Or do you need to rethink in a broader way?  Is there a different way of looking at the item(s)?  It may be that a mental shift is more useful than a physical transformation.  Old toys were literally just old toys until I recognised that they still held their magic for a three year old today just as much as they had for me thirty years ago.


Thank you for reading! Share your repurposing stories in the comments or via social media (the buttons are below).  And if you enjoyed reading this post then please do share it – this really makes a difference!

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