A few years ago, for the entire week of Christmas break my kids moved into a cardboard palace they built themselves. And I’m not just talking about playing in a cardboard fort for a week, but seriously, actually, living in it — with food and beds and everything.
But before I get into that, let me back up a bit and share how this giant cardboard fort came to be…
Our family loves Legos
I’ll be honest, we’re Lego fanatics. We all collect Legos, even Brian and I, and over the years we have accumulated a lot of them. The amount of Legos expands ridiculously fast when you have to buy four sets, one for each person, every time you want to build Legos.
Needless to say Legos were taking over our house. Building Legos is fun, but my kids like to play with them once built just as much. So instead of buying a dollhouse, we bought Lego houses. Instead of paying with dolls, they played house with minifigures. Totally normal.
The problem is that we almost never take anything apart. Legos were in their rooms, in our room, in the spare room, in the hall closet, in my office closet, in the kitchen cabinets, and in the playroom. They didn’t have an official place, so they just got stuck wherever we had room. But even that got out of control, and soon they were stored on our fireplace, on bookcases, and on kitchen counters.
Christmas Brought Even More Legos
Christmas brought with it a crazy amount of Legos. It was nuts and we had no room. We needed space to play with the Lego trains, to build our Lego City, and to setup the Lego Harry Potter world. We needed room to play, where the Legos could stay out and not have to be put away every day. We needed to take action.
We finally decided it was time to take our Lego storage situation seriously. We had researched, planned, measured, and created a storage plan to completely transform the playroom into a Lego room earlier in the year. Now it was time to drop some dime at Ikea to buy everything we needed to make the Lego room a reality.
The Day After Christmas We Hit Ikea
Yes, we braved Ikea the day after Christmas.
Luckily, with a detailed list in hand of exactly what we needed, we got in and out of the store pretty quickly. The hardest part was pushing multiple carts piled with heavy boxes and two kids through the store and loading up our truck.
When we got home, the first thing we did is unpack everything to make sure no pieces were missing. As Brian took things out of the boxes, I dropped the cardboard, paper, and foam pieces off the top of the stairs, making a giant pile of Ikea packaging in the front room. (Luckily the front room and dining room were both still empty at the time.)
It didn’t take long for the kids to discover the cardboard. Almost immediately after the first box hit the floor, they ran into the playroom asking if they could have the cardboard to build a fort.
Sure, we thought. Why not? When would they ever have this much cardboard to play with at one time ever again? This is kid fort heaven.
While Brian and I finished unpacking and checking parts, they started building. This wasn’t like any other day of fort building, as they had no furniture to work with. We heard the garage door open and close a few times, and figured they’d ask us if they needed help.
When I finally came downstairs to see what they were up to, the first parts of the fort were already coming together. The boxes were standing up tall, and the kids had used Brian’s duct tape to stick the pieces together to make walls and help everything stand up on its own.
Brian and I worked until almost midnight in the playroom, while the kids worked until almost midnight building their cardboard palace. This was so much more than a fort.
- It had a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom.
- It had shelving, furniture, and artwork on the walls.
- It had a door, windows, and a closet for games.
- They used the entire roll of duct tape and another roll of masking tape.
- They covered the cardboard in drawings of curtains, flowers, artwork, a fireplace, furniture, a bathroom, and more.
Living In A Cardboard Palace
They built an entire house from Ikea cardboard packaging and they wanted to move in — more importantly, they were quiet, getting along, and having fun.
They were even ready to negotiate. They had pulled all of the cushions off the couches to use as beds. They dragged sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets into their “rooms” to make their beds warm. Their “kitchen shelves” were full of food, which included not only all of their Christmas candy, but granola bars, yogurts, fruit sticks, and cereal.
How could we say no to that?
They were prepared to live in their new cardboard palace, and all I could think of was, “Sure Why Not?” It was Christmas break after all. They had no school, we had no work, we had no plans, and it was keeping them busy and happy.
It took Brian and I almost the entire week to finish putting together the cabinets, hang the shelves, create the “Lego doughnut” for the trains and city, and then reorganize all of our Legos and condense them into this one room, instead of taking over our entire house.
While we were working, the kids kept building and enhancing their fort. It got bigger and bigger. Eventually they added a second cardboard fort that acted as a restaurant and art studio. More food disappeared into the fort and all of their arts and crafts supplies disappeared in there too.
Our only rule was that the front door needed to be able to open and close.
Imagination Trumps Everything
My kids ate, slept, and played, in their fort for an entire week.
They barely played with any of the new toys they got for Christmas. They didn’t play videos games. They didn’t watch television. They didn’t even bug us about anything. They used their imaginations to design a house, create artwork, invent stories, play pretend, and play together.
For the whole week we couldn’t sit on our couches as they had no cushions. Our downstairs was a disaster and we barely saw our kids, as they were in their own pretend world. We let them pretty much do whatever they wanted, go to bed when ever they wanted, and eat whatever they wanted as long as they got along.
It was glorious.
As Brian and I worked in the playroom throughout the week, we could hear them giggling and laughing and making plans. On a couple nights, we could hear Natalie reading to carter in their beds on the floor. As a mom, I wanted them to have this time. I wanted them to make this memory. I wanted them to love to be together. I wanted to remember this.
At one point, we had some friends over and they were quite amazed at the mess and the size of the fort — they could barely get in the front door. I remember them saying something like, “I can’t believe you’re letting your kids do this” and again, all I could think of to say was, “Why not?”
And today I urge you to do the same. Next time your kids want to do something a bit crazy, like sleep in their fort for a week, ask yourself, “Why not?”
What About You?
Do your kids love building forts? Have they ever moved in to their fort? Have you ever done anything fun with your Ikea cardboard?
I’d love to hear from you!