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6 Ways to Save Money and Reduce Waste in the Name of Outdoor Fun

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Fun is everywhere if you know where to look. Don’t stock up at the store — create toys for the pool, beach, or yard with normal household recyclables.


This time of year, when the pool, beach, and park all beckon, my instinct is to head to the store to stock up on sand toys, outdoor games, and all the other accoutrements of fun. But all that stuff adds up, and since I know stuff will get lost or damaged over the course of the season, I know I’ll be paying this price again come next year.


So I started thinking — are there outdoor games and toys that can be fashioned from household waste that would otherwise be destined for the trash or recycling bins? Of course there are, with a little bit of imagination and a bit of online research.


1. DIY dive toys. When I was a kid, we would dive for quarters my dad would flip into the pool. Today, the “water fun” aisle is filled with weighted torpedoes, hoops, fish, and other toys that sink to the bottom of the pool so kids can test their underwater swimming prowess by retrieving them. This year, I decided to save some money by filling a few 6-ounce individual water bottles with marbles (just enough so they sink slowly, but not so many that it’s too heavy for my kids to carry). Sometimes, when we swim at night, I’ll even stick an illuminated glow bracelet in there.


2. Make a pool toss game. For more pool fun, I found instructions to make a pool toss game out of an old T-shirt, packing peanuts, and vinyl banner material. It’s somewhat involved, but it would make a great gift for an environmentally-conscious friend who invites you over to use their pool!

3. Create a cornhole set. Cornhole is an addictively fun beanbag game that’s growing in popularity. A new set from a sporting goods store can cost upwards of $100. But if you’ve got some old plywood or boards lying around, you can make your own. As for the beanbags, sew up a set yourself with old T-shirts and some dry beans or rice! I like the ones on The Red Kitchen blog.

4. Assemble a set of sand toys. During an impromptu trip to the beach once, we found ourselves without sand toys. My kids ended up having hours of fun with an empty water bottle they found and a plastic food container I unearthed from the car. It made me realize that the sand toy sets you see in all the beach shops aren’t that much different than the plastic containers you likely have in your recycling bin (and they’re probably not even as sturdy). I’ve started collecting a few choice plastic tubs and containers, rinsing them well, and letting my kids paint their exteriors with fun colors and patterns. I’ve punched holes in the bottom of one to use as a sifter, and in a big quart container I attached a strap to make it into a passable bucket. Squirt bottles, like those for dish soap or shampoo, make great water guns. I even made a couple of scoops with detergent bottles.

5. Blow bubbles with homemade wands. Bottles of bubbles are not expensive, but I often feel guilty about how quickly my kids end up using up or spilling the solution or losing the wands. Then I came across this great article about DIY bubble wands that you can make from ordinary household items. Paired with homemade bubble solution, you and your kids will have hours of backyard fun.

6. Make an at-home water park. Use a soda bottle to make a sprinkler with your hose, or use the tarp left over from your last house-painting project to make a slip ‘n slide. Just be sure not to run the water for too long, and to move your water play around the yard periodically so that your grass gets evenly watered while you’re having fun.


Have you created any fun outdoor games or toys with household goods? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • Lynne H. 3 years ago
    Please do NOT throw away your mascara wands. Instead, clean JUST THE WAND with dawn soap, place them in a ziploc bag and mail them to a Wildlife Refuge accepting donations. These little wands are able to be upcycled to clean away oil, larvae, fly eggs, mites, infections, mud and other contaminants from wildlife. Works great for medical care and wound treatment

    Pick your refuge to mail to:

    Appalachian Wild
    P.O. Box 1211
    Skyland NC 28776


    Wildlife Wands
    P.O. Box 1586
    Southwick, MA 01077.
  • Chris G. 3 years ago
    I repair my hose whenever I can. I get the parts at Lowes. If it can't be repaired we made a soaker hose out of one. I made bowling pins out of creamer bottles.
  • Barbara C. 4 years ago
    You can easily make a set of "bowling pins" from the drinkable yoghurt bottles. Just remove the shrinkwrap, and keep the bottles the original white, or you can add a few rings of paint around the side, to make them look like an authentic bowling pin design. Use an old rubber ball for the bowling ball, or even a whiffle ball if you're playing inside on a rainy day.
  • tommy b. 4 years ago
  • Diana R. 5 years ago
    Years ago, my Dad made an ice skating rink in our backyard.
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