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Our Most Memorable (and free) Christmas Gift

Guest post from Charity of The Homeschool Experiment.

One of the most memorable Christmas gifts in our house has been huge appliance boxes. Best of all, they’re totally free!

Here’s how I’ve done this in the past.

Go to the loading dock of an appliance or furniture store. Usually if I show up back where the Dumpsters are, the workers are only too happy to get rid of whatever big boxes they have. Refrigerator, washer and dryer are all good. You could call first, but usually the person on the phone doesn’t know the box situation and it can be hard to talk to the people in the warehouse during the Christmas rush. I just show up.

“Break down” the box and put it in your van/SUV. You’ll have to flatten the box, so bring along a pair of scissors to cut any tape (and wear jeans). You might need to do this on the weekend or sometime when you don’t have the kids, since the boxes, even flattened, take up a lot of room in the car. You don’t want to lose a child’s head or anything.

Store it in a secret location. If you’ve broken the box down, it’s pretty thin so you can slip it behind something in the garage or attic.

Bring it out and set it up on Christmas Eve. Make it a box again(you might have to use some heavy-duty tape), and wrap it if you want. This is easier than it sounds. I just wrap the big rolls of wrapping paper around and tape it. Sometimes I’ve hidden a smaller gift inside the big box because I was worried the kids would be disappointed that it was empty!

After all the Christmas festivities, give the kids creative supplies (shreds of wrapping paper, markers or crayons, foil, safety scissors, tape), then ignore them and go read a book. They’ll turn the box into a spaceship, secret cave, or castle. My kids have spent days in their boxes.

Give a time limit for the box. If you’re like me, having an enormous box in the middle of your living room tends to make you a little crazy — so give clear time limits for how long the box can stay! I think last year, I said the box had to live in the backyard after Christmas Day (you could use the garage or basement if you have snow). Then, after one week, the box goes away completely.

You can either flatten it down and store it for summer or throw it away (if your kids haven’t grown emotionally attached to it like mine tend to do).

Have a blessed, creative, and very economical Christmas! (As I was working on this my kids saw the picture of “The Rocket” (their box) and they’ve requested yet another box for this year. Sigh.)

Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel. She lives, writes, and wrestles boxes in Oklahoma.

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  • Amy Lauren says:

    My parents got a new washing machine when I was about 6, and I loved playing in that box so much. I honestly don’t remember what toys I was into at 6, but I still remember that box 21 years later- so this definitely does work with kids!

  • Mary says:

    Loved the appliance boxes my Dad would bring home from his job!!! Great memories!!!

  • Melissa says:

    I agree! My parents did this s couple of times when I was a child and I still remember how much fun I had (30 years later!!)

  • Sara T says:

    If you get a chance, look for this book “Christina Katerina & the Box”. It’s a great book about a young girl and her adventures with a cardboard box….might be a fun gift to include w/ the box one year. Its’s older (originally published in 1971) but still very relevant to kids & their imaginations.

    • Anne T says:

      Thanks Sara for the book recommendation. Looks like it’s available on Amazon…and the story is about a box received in the summer. PERFECT for 2 grandsons’ summer d.days! We’ll have plenty of time to get a couple of appliance boxes & the book (as well as “Not a Box” that was also recommended). Birthday taken care of!!!!

  • Stephanie says:

    My daughter loves big boxes, so much fun! I have memories of building a Speed Racer car out of a cardboard box when I was a kid.

  • Emily E says:

    I grew up across the street from a small appliance store. My dad would occasionally go get a fridge box for us. I have very fond memories of playing with/in/on the big boxes. 🙂

  • :-) says:

    Furniture stores, especially ma-&-pop ones are happy to get rid of their giant boxes too! My family owns a furniture store and some of the boxes that come in are massive. My kids love them. Even i could fit inside and play with them.

  • denise says:

    A friend of mine used a huge box and cut out a dinosaur and made a hole for kids to take a picture as a dinosaur at a birthday party! It was so much fun painting it and I know the kids loved it and the only cost was a little bit of paint!

  • Jenny in UT says:

    Oh I love appliance boxes. They are one of the best toys ever.

  • Kate says:

    So fun! If they end up making a house or something similar, you could give them shoeboxes or oatmeal canisters to make mailboxes. We had a cardboard playhouse as kids and one of the best parts was finding a snack or a note from our parents in the mailbox.

    Also fun was watching the cats play in a long, thin box used to ship guitars. We would lay it flat and they would crawl inside and down to the closed end, and then Dad would gently lift that end so that they slid back down to the open end. They seemed to enjoy this quite a bit and everyone loved watching it (though I’m not sure all cats would like it!).

  • Jessica says:

    Right on!

    My kids also have had fun with the boxes precut and stamped into a rocket, train, playhouse, etc. Of course those are not free though! They’ve received them from others as gifts.

  • Amanda says:

    Although this is a fantasic idea, and I would love to have boxes this size for my kids to enjoy, I have found it impossible to get any store to give these away. Apparently stores get cash back for recycling cardboard and even if I offered money, I’ve only ever been denied.

    • AK says:

      Oh, oh, oh!

      You must not miss the book “Christina Katerina and The Box.” It is the tale of a girl and her friend, who spend a good week enjoying turning “the box” into a variety of things! It might be the perfect thing to wrap up *with* the highly-coveted box.


  • jerilyn says:

    We had a “box house” for 2 years that fell apart from use. Luckily we had room to keep it up and not get rid of it. My son was heart broken when it fell apart!

  • Tammy says:

    This is so funny, because my dad always said he could upstage any parent’s Christmas by showing up with a cardboard box. LOL

  • Patty says:

    “Not a Box!” by Antionette Portis is another great book that would be a great addition to the box gift!

  • bobbi says:

    Our recliner box is going on three plus years and both of our boys still enjoy it.

  • Cheryl says:

    DS (age 12) has one right now that our new heat pump came in. Thankfully, we are in AZ, so it can be outside even in winter.

  • Cheryl says:

    One of my teaching years, a student teacher collected MANY boxes and built a maze in the basement of the school. The first graders loved it. Such fun they had.

    • a says:

      One of my roomates told me her parents did a similar thing for her birthday one year–built an entire maze in the backyard, with cut-outs in odd places to peek up like a prarie dog, look out, etc. She said it was her favorite birthday of all time.

      My son has a January birthday, and this would be a great idea to do in the church gym! Just let the boys have at it–no need for party games!

  • Crystal – I absolutely love this!! We’ve been saving a box to a vacuum for a rainy (or should I say snowy) day, and my son cannot wait. One year, we saved a large box from Amazon and saved all of our packing peanuts from various boxes and turned it into an indoor “sandbox”. We brought out the buckets, shovels and sand toys and put it in the kitchen. So much fun!

  • Emi says:

    alternatives to furniture and appliance shops: Uhaul (has a section of boxes that people have used and have donated back that are FREE – don’t buy them there) also new businesses that are opening will have purchase new furniture.

    Connect several large boxes together by cutting doors and taping the openings together with duct tape to make a maze or a large house with rooms.

  • Em says:

    Another idea for your cardboard box when it is done: Flatten it and lie it on the garage floor if your car tends to leak fluids. This will protect your garage floor. You just have to make sure the decorations on the box (markers, etc.) won’t bleed onto garage floor when they get wet.

  • Sissy Sweet says:

    I remember having so much fun, playing in a box as a kid. My siblings and I would have a blast for days on end. My mom would flattern it out, and store it up against the wall, behind the couch. Then when she had a lot of things to get done, she’s bring that box out and tape the seam back together. We’d have a good ole time, drawing on it, reading in it, etc. Good memories!

  • Scott says:

    We bought a treadmill when my 12 year old was a toddler. We used the box to make a fort – cut out windows, added pvc pipe for stability, added carpet (free scraps from the carpet store), and even spray painted it. It was a huge hit in our home for YEARS. Thankfully, we had a big playroom. But as the years went on and our space got tighter as we started homeschooling, we had to dismantle it. It was a sad day…not sure who was more sad, the kids or me!

    Thanks for the post! Brought back great memories. I probably need to consider getting one for my 4 year old!

  • Kim says:

    Check out the MANY ideas on Pinterest on how to fashion these boxes into a house, stove, firehouse, etc. Pinterest is full of fascinating ideas for those who are “challenged” in the crafty department.

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