Even before this current economy took the wind out of our collective sails, I had always been a big proponent of minimal, reused or DIY decorations and games for a baby's nursery or a kid's room. This does not mean you have to know how to knit or sew. Trust me. I don't know how to do either, much to my chagrin.
I remember vividly being in those first few completely sleep-deprived weeks with an infant and reading about/having a nurse in a pediatrician's office tell me that infants really respond to black and white patterns, that developmentally it's a good idea to expose them to them. This explains why so many of the earliest baby toys animals that rattle and crinkle and coo have black and white components.
So during the next 3 a.m. session when the babe's dad was bouncing her on my birthing ball in an endless attempt to get her to sleep, I took out a few pieces of paper, drew black and white designs on them swirls, checkerboards, what have you and fastened them to the places she'd be most likely to see them. The ceiling above her head. The wall near where we nursed the most. The wall next to our/her bed. I even wrote about how to "make" these "mobiles" in The Complete Organic Pregnancy.
This exhausted attempt to parent helped cement in my sleep-deprived brain that there was very little I couldn't provide for my daughter for free (basically), especially when it comes to entertainment, stimulation, and room decorations. This continues to be true to this day.
Here are some other cheap/green/DIY decoration and game ideas. And I'm calling on all of you organic parents reading this to post your own genius/obvious projects in comments. Come on, you know you want to share them.
Two words: home movies. String together all of the home movies you've taken of the kids so far to entertain them (and you) on long car rides, or distract them on sick or rainy days. You can follow along, telling them the stories behind the clips. It will further amortize the ridiculous cash you spent on the video device in the first place. Alternate: "rent" some actual DVDs from your local library for free.
Hang their art. Nothing personalizes a room or a playspace more quickly than displaying the kids' own work. String a rope across the room and hang the raw works off that with binder clips or clothespins. For a more polished look, put the drawings, paintings and collages in inexpensive frames. It's their own gallery. Rotate the works of art from time to time, swapping in new work.
When the kids destroy their books, or the bindings fall apart (and they will), rescue intact pages of book drawings, fasten them to a long string, and display them floor to ceiling like a long, tiered wall hanging. Or break down a cardboard box, paint a "frame" around the edges, and create a wall-space-worthy collage with glue sticks, scissors and scraps from wrapping paper you mean to reuse to ribbons, cotton balls, and so on.
If the pure-grown wool puddle pads that make excellent crib/twin mattress wetness barrier protection are prohibitively expensive for your budget, use an old wool blanket instead. First test the wool blanket to see how moisture repellent it still is by pouring some water on it (lanolin is nature's wetness barrier and it can diminish/wear off after time). If it beads up and nothing gets through, wash it in the washing machine to clean and kill dust mites (adding dry cleaning chemicals to something you're going to let your baby inhale all night long is a very bad idea), and line dry it. Next, cut it to fit over the mattress and under your fitted sheet without bunching up. Ideally you want a blanket that contains very little dye, and one that has never been chemically treated. Use some common sense if your old blanket reeks of mothballs, opt for something else. That's also not something you want around growing baby lungs.
You can spend a fortune on clothes for baby dolls at the store, not to mention another fortune on mini doll-branded diaper bags filled with "wipes," changing pads, food containers and spoons to feed the babies and so on. Try this instead: take one of your old, out-of-favor purses and fill it with a few washcloths or burp cloths to use as diapers (clip into place with barrettes) and wipes. Add a little container in there as "baby food" and a small baby spoon (or a disposable one that comes with take-out food). And so on. Use your imagination. For a baby carrier (stores sell these too), take a scarf and make it into a sling. The smallest of their infant clothes (remember those white 0 to 3 month side snap kimonos?) usually fit baby dolls perfectly well. Having the bag already packed for them, and even wrapped and offered as a present, makes it seem as exciting as the store-bought version. In my apartment, anyway.
Take yet another old bag or purse you're not currently using, and maybe an old wallet, or something that can be considered a wallet. Fill this with expired credit cards or other plastic cards you might have but aren't using any longer, and play money you can draw yourself on paper. Set up an area of the house with any and all food items you might have from a play kitchen, or use blocks and call them various food items. Use a calculator as the cash register. Let the kids shop, check out, and load their items into canvas recycling bags or paper bags with easy to tote handles you might have from stores. Take turns being the storekeeper, the checkout person, the shopper and so on. A big hit with the 2- and 3-year-old crowd.
I could go on and on about everything from fashioning a kid's desk out of an old door and two filing cabinets to painting your own nursery mural with safe paints (or allowing an older sibling to do this for a younger sibling's room). But as I'm constantly looking for more ideas of this sort, I'm dying to know what you're doing in your home (beyond sewing and knitting!).
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