Repurposing Toys For Your Kids

It’s amazing to me that I can put two toys in front of my children—one brand new and the other previously loved and tattered—and nine times out of ten, they will choose the pre-owned toy to play with. If you ask me, that’s a win in a number of respects—for my wallet and for the planet. Plus, if you think about it, once you’ve removed a toy from its packaging, it’s no longer new.

If you’re considering buying your kids second-hand toys, there are a number of things to keep in mind. The first thing you’ll need to do is research, depending on what you’re getting. You’ll want to know prices for  buying items new, what the toys should do, and how you can fix them or clean them safely.

Before you buy any previously-used toys, it’s important to inquire with the seller as to what kind of home they are coming from. Personally, I don’t like to buy anything from a home where there are smokers due to the risk of third-hand smoke (THS). According to Georgia Health Sciences Health System, “Researchers have identified that third-hand smoke (THS) also has adverse effects, especially in young children.” The article goes on to state that particles from cigarette smoke settle into places like, clothes, furniture and even toys. According to a NY Times article from 2009, “Among the substances in third-hand smoke are hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; butane, which is used in lighter fluid; toluene, found in paint thinners; arsenic; lead; carbon monoxide; and even polonium-210, the highly radioactive carcinogen that was used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006. Eleven of the compounds are highly carcinogenic.” So, do your homework. Make sure any toys (or any other second-hand items you are buying) come from a smoke-free home.

Another thing to keep in mind is whether or not toys have come from a pet-friendly home. For me, this is a non-issue since I live in a pet-friendly home. But, if I had a child with an allergy to pet dander, I might have a different point of view. If allergies are an issue, you may want to be a little more conscientious about items you buy. For example, stuffed animals may be out, but toys with a hard, non-porous surface may be fine once cleaned.

The three most popular items in our playroom were Facebook and ebay finds—saved from the junkyards. One is the Rose Petal Cottage. It’s basically a fabric playhouse to be used in doors. It’s no longer available in stores, so I purchased it from a family whose children were no longer using it. The vinyl was easy enough to wipe down with a mix of warm water and vinegar. The softer, cottony bottom, I simply sprinkled with baking soda and vacuumed up.

Another big hit in my home is the Mickey Mouse Talkin’ Bobbin’ Clubhouse play set. We received the clubhouse as a hand-me-down from a friend, but have completed the set with the help of Facebook and ebay. Since the set is hard plastic, I simply wiped them down with a mix of warm water and vinegar. I also used the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to remove scuff marks to help the set look almost as good as new. And, before anyone asks, I have looked into the safety of the Magic Eraser, especially after all of the email hoaxes that went around a few years ago. According to Snopes, the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser does not contain formaldehyde (although an ingredient has formaldehyde in the name, it is NOT formaldehyde), and none of the ingredients pose a health risk. However, the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser does not break down to nothing as would be optimal for the environment, so it does come with its drawbacks. I try to make each one last for as long as possible, and I feel that if I’m using it to keep a number of other items in their best shape (so they can continue to be used), then I am helping the environment by using them.

Our other favorite second-hand toy is LEGOs. We have so many of them, and I think my son builds with LEGOs more than he does anything else. First he builds, and then he plays. Buying LEGOs new can become a full-time job after a while. I will admit that we have bought some LEGOs new, a bulk of our collection is either from my childhood (thanks to my mom the saver) or from ebay. You can get great deals on LEGOs by buying them by the pound on the internet (ebay or through Facebook groups). Before Christmas, I scored a medium flat-rate shipping box stuffed to the gills with LEGOS for $35. There were over seven pounds of the bricks in the box, and there were probably 2,000 pieces in there. I was able to determine a few sets, but mostly they ended up being loose bricks for my son to use his imagination. Since they were previously used, I thought it would be a good idea to clean the LEGOS. I used a big bowl and used a mix of warm water and lemon juice, and soaked the LEGOS in them. After soaking for an hour or so, I dried the LEGOs on a towel (careful to keep them out of direct sunlight).

With all of the second-hand toys we have, we have never gotten sick from them. We’ve never had anything bad happen. The only results have been hours of endless fun and tons of money saved by me. And, we’ve avoided sending toys and unnecessary packaging to the landfills. I hope these tips will help others find some great previously-loved toys for their kids to enjoy!

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