Upcycled Milk Carton (Scarf) Organizer

Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  I actually don’t mind that most things in Europe are small – tiny cars, itty bitty apartments, skinny streets.  But one thing that drives me bonkers is the fact that milk is only sold by the liter.

I know this is totally a first world problem, and I realize that there are more important things to complain about.  But, week after week of getting “the look” from the grocery cashier just wears me down.  No, I am not nursing an army of baby cows back to health.  I’m just trying to keep up with my milk-chugging boys, thankyouverymuch. 

After said boys have consumed the liters, we then have the litter to look after.  I obviously know by now to put it in the correct trash bin.  But, all those cartons really add up, and I find myself annoyed and inevitably putting off the dreaded trip to the dumpster.

What to do?  Well, in the spirit of Real Simple, find new uses for old things, of course!

I’ve collected a zillion and one scarves since moving to Germany, and the horde is getting a little to rambunctious for my OCD tastes.  As part of my biannual deep clean, I wanted to make the menagerie into a pretty, neat grid that would facilitate my appreciation and usage of all the options.

But, even if you’re not a neck wear nut, you could use this upcycled milk carton doodad to corral any number of other loose items like jewelry, makeup, hair accessories, toiletries, ties, office supplies, etc.

Since I can’t seem to make anything without giving it the topographical treatment, you know there will be maps involved in this project.  If you don’t have this same addiction, er I mean problem, you could use high quality wrapping paper or decorate simple brown paper.  A nice hand-stamped design would be totally fab.

My apologies in advance for the poor lighting and creepy fingers.  A hand model I am not, and my only time to get creative is well after the sun and sons have gone to bed.  How else can I swipe my kid’s Lightning McQueen ruler without him knowing and obviously objecting?

All right, let’s git ‘er done.Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!


  • Clean, dry milk cartons*
  • Box cutter or razor blade
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Clear packing tape
  • Serious craft glue like E6000 or Uhu Kontakt Kraftkleber (optional)
  • Clothespins (optional)
  • Electrical or washi tape
  • Old map, heavy duty wrapping paper, or decorated brown paper

*A note about the milk cartons… Rinse and dry them as soon as they’re empty.  However, you still might discover some brilliant fuzzy friends when you open them up.  No problem – just wash and dry again.

Also, the number of milk cartons is completely up to you.  I used 15 because I like odd numbers, but don’t be afraid to make the grid smaller (especially if you have access to half gallon cartons) or larger.  Something asymmetrical/abstract could be super cool, but only attempt this if you have less than 3 children and an excess of time and patience.

But, if you do try any funky shape variations, please do post a link to your project in the comments below.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Cut Your Cartons

Determine how deep you want your bins to be, and use your (pilfered-from-the-resident-six-year-old) ruler to mark each milk carton.  Lop the tops off with a box cutter.  Careful, now, those blades are wicked sharp!

Rinse and repeat.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

Okay, no rinsing is required unless you discover the aforementioned fuzz inside the containers.  Just keep cutting until you have as many headless milk cartons as you please.

Add the Adhesive

Arrange the cartons in the formation that suits your fancy.  For me, this was 3×5.  Once they’re set up, you might notice that some of your razor cuts came out uneven (or was that just me?).  Use sharp scissors to trim the edges until it looks good (enough).

Cut off pieces of clear packing tape, roll them around your fingers, and wedge them between two cartons.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

Optional: If you want the edges flush, you’ll need to use some strong craft glue (see Supplies, above, for recommendations) and clothespins to hold the seams in place.  Allow the glue to dry overnight.

In any case, go to town again with the packing tape, wrapping it around the whole organizer in a giant sticky hug.Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

Details, Details

If you’re only stashing your organizer in a drawer and filling it with rubber bands and thumbtacks, feel free to stop here.  But, if you want to make it pretty, it’s time to dive into the details.

Tear off tiny pieces of electrical tape (I used white) or washi tape (didn’t have any on hand) to conceal the carton corners. Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Cut strips out of your map big enough to cover the milk carton seams and extend as far down as you want.  I knew each scarf would take up nearly an entire bin, so my map pieces are only about an inch wide.

Once you’ve arranged the strips how you like them, glue or tape the papers to cover the carton seams.Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

Wrap It Up

Treat your newly smoodged-together organizer as a Christmas present, and wrap that puppy up.  A few tips..

  • Trim the excess off your map so you’re not battling a paper dragon that keeps folding back on itself.  Leave a margin of several inches all around.
  • Attach the sides before you do the ends.  This is because the ends are easy and the sides are a pain in the you-know-what.
  • Speaking of the sides, start in the center of your milk carton formation, and work out from there.
  • Cut small slits from the edge of the map to the top of the carton to line up with the seams between cartons (see second photo below).  Fold down the flaps, and attach with tape or glue.
  • The first side is the hardest, and things get easier from there.
  • Once the sides are done, finish the ends as you would when wrapping a birthday present in a box (third photo).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Fill ‘er Up

Now it’s time to use your darling creation to organize!  Stuff with scarves, and display with pride.Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

What would you fill your organizer with?  Can you think of any other upcycle ideas for my myriad milk cartons?Signature-Marigold

13 Practical Gifts for Traveling Families

Thrifty Travel Mama | Inexpensive, Practical Gifts for Traveling FamiliesOkay, okay, I’m hopping on the holiday gift wish list bandwagon… but, I’m kicking and screaming the whole way.

Confession: Gifts are just not my thing.  I love to give and be generous, but I’m better at offering my time… or cupcakes.

When it’s my turn to pick out a present, step one is usually to panic.

Step two is to accept help, usually in the form of gift guides scattered around the Internet.  But, most of the guides for men and kiddos (I’m the only female under this roof) are technology-laden.

We don’t need any more electronics, and my five year-old is just not getting a Kindle.  Or his own iPad… mini, gigantic, telepathic, whatever.  Ain’t gonna happen.

And, if I do manage to find a few items I like, I start hyperventilating when I see the price and end up suggesting to the intended recipients that we do handmade gifts, consumable gifts, or no gifts at all.  (aaaaaand we’re back to cupcakes!)

However, I don’t like being a Scrooge, so this year I’m putting out my own list, a mix tape of gifts for traveling families. 

Practical.  Affordable.  Fun.  Suitable for male recipients.  Enjoy!

Oh, and before I begin, you should know that at this time I do NOT use affiliate links.  I have not been compensated in any way by any of the companies below. 

  1. Streamlight Septor LED Headlamp Fun for kids and adults alike, headlamps can be used for your next after-dark adventure whether it takes place in the mountains or under the covers on the pages of your favorite book.  I like the extra strap on this headlamp, but other models with just one strap are less expensive.

  2. Handmade Silver Travel Necklace with Globe Charm Show off your wanderlust with this pretty, pretty necklace.  Choose from four chain lengths and four font options.

  3. Nibbles Apple iPad Charger Holder.  Keeps unruly cords in check both at home and on the go.  And, it’s hilarious.  Also available for iPhone chargers.

  4. Deutsche Bahn German Railway Map T-Shirt Not just for expats, this tee is travel nerd fashion at its finest.  Good thing they have men’s and women’s sizes!  Be sure to check out the other art, science, and travel t-shirt designs in babbletees Etsy shop.

  5. Scribble It! 30 Postcards My boys are constantly asking if we can mail the drawing of the day to a friend across the world.  I’d love to reduce the bulk (and save on postage!) by using these postcards which they can color and then send.  Plenty of margin space for doodling and personal messages.  The hardest part will be convincing the boys not to send all the cards at once!

  6. Airplane Mode Pouch Unisex packing organizer, pencil case, camera holder, catch-all clutch, etc.  Just one Fab’s fabulous travel accessories.

  7. Curious George Magnetic Tin Play Set What toddler doesn’t love Curious George?  Leave the stuffed animal at home, and take this traveling tin with you.  Features three scenes and loads of magnets sure to delight and entertain your favorite pre-schooler.

  8. Men’s Grunge Airplane T-Shirt Order one for the pilot, mountain man, or armchair traveler in your life.  By the way, OhSudzGifts also has clothing sporting bicycles, Chucks, compasses, and the Eiffel Tower.  Yeah!

  9. NYC Metro Cuff Not recommended as a suitable tool for navigating the New York subway, but fashionable and fun anyway.  NYC not your thing?  Designhype offers cuffs with San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago, Brooklyn, London, Paris, Berlin and Milan maps in several finishes.

  10. Sticky Mosaics® Vehicles Set.  Finally!  Fun crafts for boys that are easy enough for kindergarteners to tackle.  Take this kit on your next holiday or bust it out when cabin fever sets in, oh say about mid-January.  Also available in girly and grown-up kid versions.

  11. Pirate Passport Cover.  With five passports to juggle (thank God none of us have dual citizenship..), we’re always fumbling with the stack at check-in.  From cars to camo to cupcakes, Pokey Passports has you covered with dozens of designs that are sure to please every member of your traveling family.

  12. iTunes Gift Cards.  Personalize an impersonal gift card with a list of recommended or favorite apps.  My boys love Smart Fish: Frequent Flyer, Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure, Toca Kitchen Monsters and Hair Salon, and Minion Rush.

  13. Skip Hop Zoo Neck Rest Stash this adorable travel pillow in the car for naps or shove it in a backpack so you (er, I mean your child) can snooze in style.

If you love this list but your extended family could max out a cruise ship, don’t miss the following suggestions from other family travel bloggers:

But, what if you’re like me and homemade is more your style?  Everything Etsy has an excellent list of 25 DIY Gifts for Travel Lovers.  (I might need to make some of these for myself!)

Which of these gifts would your kid(s) love?  Which one are you secretly adding to your own wish list? Signature-Marigold

DIY: Map Wrapped Floor Lamp

Thrifty Travel Mama | Map Wrapped Floor LampHey y’all!  Today I’ve got a fun DIY project to spruce up your home with a little travel style.  I love decorating the house with little touches of trips we’ve taken (or even just imagined).  With an hour and a few materials, you can transform a boring lamp into a conversation piece!

This restyle uses the IKEA HOLMÖ floor lamp, a bargain at $9.99 (€7,99), but you could use any barrel-shaped lamp shade.

Want to make this yourself?  Hop on over to Renee Angela Photography to see the full DIY post.

For more project inspiration, follow me on Pinterest and check out my Travel Crafts & Projects board. 

More of my map projects!  Wall Art & Pencil Holders.Signature-Marigold

DIY: Map Flower Wall Art

Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtEvery now and again, I just need something new in my home to make me smile… a cheerful little reminder that there’s more to life than diapers and dishes.

The easiest fix for me is to print out some recent family photos and update my gigantic cork board.  This time, though, I decided I wanted to make some wall art using a map from our Salt Lake City trip.

This cute flower canvas inspired the design for today’s DIY project.  However, I don’t own a hot glue gun, and I didn’t have a canvas lying around.  Being thrifty and all, I hunted for a canvas substitute.  The answer?  A shoe box lid!  Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtTo make your own map flower wall art, you’ll need a large shoe box lid (mine was from a boot box), a roll of brown paper, an old map, scissors, tape, and a glue stick.  That’s it!Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtStart by cutting a length of brown paper several inches larger than the lid.

Optional step: I wanted my lid to stay in place, so I covered all but a two inch strip around the edge with my glue stick.  Then, I smoothed the brown paper over the lid, glue side down.

Wrap up the lid like you would wrap a gift.  I used my glue stick as well as a little tape to secure the edges of the paper to the back of the lid.  Now your “canvas” is ready to go.Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtFor the flower petals, cut 2″ strips from your map, and then cut each strip into 2″ squares.  Perfectionists will be glad to know it’s not imperative to measure or cut exactly.  Eyeballing is acceptable in this case.Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtNow, cut leaves from the map squares by starting at one corner and cutting a wide curve that extends to the opposite corner.  Repeat the wide, corner-to-corner curve on the other side of the square.  Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtYou could also fold the square in half diagonally if you only wanted to make one cut per square.  I didn’t want a fold down the center of my flower petals, so I made two cuts per square.

Once you have a pile of petals, it’s time to design your flower.  Choose a center point, and place petals in a circular pattern extending out from the center point.

Layouts will vary based on the size and shape of your shoe box lid.  Since my lid happened to be more of a long rectangle, I added a few detached petals in the empty space.

When you’re satisfied with your design, use a glue stick to adhere the petals to the lid, one by one.  Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtSince this is a map flower, I thought a small compass would be perfect for the center.  I found a small compass printed on the map itself, but you could also draw one directly on the brown paper.

To up the adorable factor (and, ahem, cover up the AAA logo), cut out a small heart and place it in the center of the compass.  Glue the heart to the compass and the compass to the lid.  Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtVoila!  An inexpensive, pretty little pick-me-up ready to hang on the wall in your home.

Want more map crafts?  Check out my DIY Map-Covered Pencil Holder. and discover lots of other ideas on my Travel Crafts and Projects board on Pinterest.Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Travel Journal

Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalI’ve long ogled the amazing travel journals littering Pinterest, and I finally decided it was time to make one myself.

Honestly, I haven’t used travel journals much, and I think that’s probably a big mistake.  I have to write down each and every little nit-picky thing that must be accomplished for the day in my planner.  If I don’t put pen to paper, I’m lost without a thought in my sleep deprived brain about what I need for the day.  So why not use the same strategy when I’m traveling?  Doh!

Before now, a travel journal was just one.more.thing that I had to remember, pack, keep track of, and protect from flying food and other luscious infant substances.  But since I seem to want to keep traveling and telling you about our adventures, maybe I oughta make a note or two.  Just sayin’.

And, just maybe making a pretty place to put my thoughts will help with that?  Fingers crossed!

Here’s how I made my journal – you should make one too.  Don’t have any trips coming up?  Make one anyway.  It doesn’t have to be just for traveling.  Your journal could be anything you want it to be – thoughts, notes, grocery lists, whatever.  Just make sure you like it, so you’ll be more inclined to write in it.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFirst, you’re going to need some materials: cardstock, paper, scissors, tape, glue, ruler, pencil, eraser, and, oh right, a notebook.  Actually, you probably could just staple a stack of plain white copy paper right smack in the middle and fold it over to create a little booklet.  But my stapler is teensy weensy, so I went with a ready-made notebook that cost me a whopping 49 cents.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNext, you need to make a cover for your notebook.  Since I only had one sheet of desirable cardstock, I decided to make a template from IKEA packing paper.  Better to completely bomb out on something I’m going to recycle anyway than to irrevocably trash my one and only piece of pretty (thick) paper.

To make a template, trace the outside of the piece of cardstock you will be using.  Then, line up the notebook inside of the cardstock and trace the edge of one side, then the spine, and then the other.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalLop off each of the corners and a v shape at the spine so that the cardstock cover will wrap around the notebook’s existing cover.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalWrap the template around your notebook, and make sure the cover will fit the way you’d like.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalEven if you’re satisfied, I’d recommend expanding the outline of the notebook’s cover by an additional 1/16″ or 1/8″ all the way around the outside.  Better to have a little extra than to have the card stock fit too tightly. Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNow, lay your template on the card stock.  Trace the areas to remove in the corners and at the spine.  Grab the scissors and snip, snip.  Gently fold the cardstock around the notebook’s cover, and glue the edges.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFind some complimentary (or contrasting!) cardstock and cut it to fit over the ugly old notebook cover.  We can’t have that ruining our travel journal vibe.

Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNow it’s time to have some fun, and really make the design your own.  Think about how you will use your journal.  I am always collecting receipts, ticket stubs, product tags, etc., and I never know where to put them.  An envelope inside the cover is a great place to stash these items to write about later.

Create an envelope for these treasures by folding a piece of colored paper as shown.  Cut off the top with decorative scissors.  Use regular scissors to cut out the squares in the corners.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFold over the two side edges and place a little glue near the bottom flap in the corners.  Next, swipe your glue stick around the folded edges, and then press it down inside the front cover.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalBut, we don’t want to stop there, now do we?  Let’s add a bigger envelope in the back.. and while we’re at it, let’s make this one with a flap.

Fold the paper the same way we did with the front envelope.  Then grab another piece of paper (either the same or mix it up with a different color or pattern) and fold to be the same width as the bottom piece.  Fold it in half to create the top flap portion.  Cut the corners in a triangular fashion, if desired, to cut down on bulk.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalBefore gluing the envelope to the back cover, poke one brad through the top piece, and one brad through the bottom piece.  If your envelope paper is thin, strengthen the brad with tape on the back side.

Attach the top flap with glue first and then the bottom piece.  Add a pop of color underneath the lid if you’d like.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFinish with a thin ribbon or string to keep the envelope fastened.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalMany of the travel journals I’ve seen have themed pages (what we ate on Tuesday, our top 10 on Saturday).  This stifles my creativity.  I find I have more to say if there’s just one question to start, and not a whole template to fill in.

If you’re more of the template persuasion, have a gander at my Pinterest board featuring loads of travel journals and other Vacation Memory Makers.

I found these really, REALLY good prompts at GoNOMAD.com, and when I get ten kid-free moments, I’ll scribble them on the front page. Then, it’s just a matter of picking a prompt and doodling about our day.  (Full disclosure: the link above does have a few words in it not suitable for children, so use with caution.)http://pinterest.com/thriftytrvlmama/vacation-memory-makers/You’re almost done!  Just add embellishment to your little heart’s desire, remembering that the prettier your journal, the more likely you are to use it.  Later on, I plan to add tabs to separate the different trips using this tutorial.

I’m looking forward to filling this notebook up with memories, starting with a trip to the Netherlands next month.  Yay!

Have you made a travel journal?  Leave a link in the comments so we can see your creation!  Signature-Marigold

DIY: Map Covered Pencil Holder

Thrifty Travel Mama Map Pencil Holder

When I visit a new place, I always bring a map.  Whether it’s a custom one I’ve created in Google Maps or a traditional printed one I’ve purchased or picked up from a tourist office, I’m never without directions in my pocket.

But once I get home, I usually just shove the tattered streets in a file for “next time.”  Often I know there won’t be a next time, but I still can’t bring myself to get rid of the old things.  There’s just something about a well worn path with memories of the stops I’ve made.

Well, why not upcycle some of that map stack?  I decided to do just that with these map covered pencil holders.  They are super simple even for non crafty types, and they certainly spice up the bill corner.

Map Covered Pencil Holder Supplies:

  • An assortment of old maps
  • Empty drink cartons, washed and dried
  • Marker
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • A ruler (optional, except for perfectionists)

Thrifty Travel Mama Map Pencil Holder

Start by gathering your milk or juice cartons.  You could also use other types of boxes or even tin cans if you’re going for round pencil holders, but adjusting the height of the containers won’t be as easy if they’re metal.

Thrifty Travel Mama Map Pencil Holder

Make a small horizontal line with your marker where you will cut off the top of the cartons.  Use a ruler to make all the sides even if you’d like.  I made three pencil holders at the same time, and I made them of varying heights.  Be sure not to make them too shallow (pencils will fall out) or too tall (pens will be buried).

Thrifty Travel Mama Map Pencil Holder

Using scissors (or a box cutter), cut off the top of the cartons.  Don’t worry too much (perfectionists) about making the edges amazingly even.  Covering the containers with maps will disguise minor flaws.

Thrifty Travel Mama Map Pencil Holder

Lay your container down on one of the maps and wrap it up like a Christmas gift, tucking the excess map inside the carton.  Use tape to secure.

Thrifty Travel Mama Map Pencil Holder

Repeat for as many pencil holders as your little heart desires.  Stand back and admire how nicely your writing instruments look in Berlin.

For more travel-themed handmade items, check out my Travel Crafts and Projects Pinterest board.