overalls, productivity, work, home, life,

The other day I had a friend ask me how I’m able to get so many cardboard projects done with two little girls running around.

I told her about my loving and helpful husband and play-focused kids, but I forgot to mention what has previously been a kind of trade secret here at The Cardboard Collective:


Not actually a word, but an equilateral MATH equation whereby overalls = a state of flow.

overalls, productivity, work, home, life,

Here’s how it works.

  1. Find an amazing pair of overalls at your nearest charity, recycling or vintage/thrift shop. Mine are light weight so I can wear them in summer and fit over all my clothes including jeans.
  2. Find a special storage place for your Flow=veralls,  (a special box in your drawer, a hook in your mudroom, or the trap door space under your kitchen floor are all good.)
  3. Take your Flow=veralls out ONLY when you have time and space cleared to do your work, and by work I really mean Play.
  4. When you’re done (or your time is up) immediately remove your Flow=veralls and put them back in their special, designated storage place.

The Cardboard Collective

One thing I realized about Flow=veralls early on is that they send a clear signal of intention. “Hey! I’m ready to work on a project….here I go!” Everyone in your family instantly picks up on this signal and is able to do something that doesn’t require your attention for a while, which feels pretty amazing.

Working from home, there are no shirts and ties, no flight attendant blazers and pill box hats…there are only stretchy pants, jeans, plaid flannels, and the plain colored T-shirts that you try to keep from getting stained.

These clothing items basically only communicate the fact that you exist…

Flow=veralls on the other hand, have kinship with a kind of ancient knowing. Uniforms, monk’s robes, turbans, aprons, house dresses, smocks, scout kerchiefs… These are all costumes that we wear to prepare for the work that we do, and to signal our belonging within a group or our commitment to an idea. That idea could be a clean house, or peace within a spiritual one.

The Cardboard Collective

…..so in effect, I’m letting you in on my secret. I’m also inviting you to join a group of people that love to do work that is actually play, who can’t help but do something that they feel passion about, but are not always clear on where they will find the time to pursue that passion.

Whether you are knitting an afghan, tying fishing fly, or hauling cardboard by bike, Flow=veralls are ready to escort you to that time and space where you can make it happen.

I hope you do.


Brighten up Your Cardboard


Winter is grey and cardboard is brown! I’ve been feeling the need to share some of my favorite ideas for bringing energizing color into your cardboard projects…

The Cardboard Collective

Layered columns of boldly colored Origami paper…

The Cardboard Collective Decoupage

What I call Amazon Chevron. (Textured cardboard that requires a coat of decoupage glue.)

The Cardboard Collective Decoupage

Coloring book pages, kids can decorate them with marker after you’ve decoupaged them. These are from Tokyo Street Art Coloring book by my friend Chris B of a Small Lab. https://gumroad.com/l/tokyo-colour-in

The Cardboard Collective Decoupage

Water colors: Add a coat of decoupage glue to preserve the intensity of color.

The Cardboard Collective Decoupage

Tiled Chiyogami papers

The Cardboard Collective Decoupage

Spliced album covers.

The Cardboard Collective Decoupage

Cheerful graphics from the Produce Department.

And don’t forget all the good old decoupage ideas from around the web!

Cardboard Play Days 4&5

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This week was filled with lots of play, lots of cardboard, and lots of discovery. I learned a lot by watching children and parents play and build together during the two events that took place.

The first was a play event for my daughter’s Yoji group, a play group that meets weekly at the local Jidokan (a kind of youth community center). The other was at a local park called Kajino Koen. The Kahjino event hosted lots of local groups that support the park, like Play Park: a local adventure play organization that facilitates weekly play events for children.

Play Park built an amazingly tall and steep wooden slide with wooden handholds, as well as over-sized hammocks, rope walkways, and braided swings. I’m in love with the work that they do and I’m hoping to deepen my relationship with their community in the coming year.

A few things I learned this week:

  • Crayons (bright, waxy pastel ones) play really nicely with cardboard. Markers wander, and paint is a pain to clean up.
  • Parents love to play like children. Children give them a great cover for indulging in the kind of play that they used to do…. and at the same time children fall in love with their parents all over again. There is an amazing playful connection that Is kindled, and when I see parents leave cardboard events smiling, I know an imaginative little fire has been lit and will grow into something more.
  • pre-teen boys like to kick cardboard boxes and stab them with screw drivers. At first I bristle, and then I watch for a while and see the totally therapeutic effect of this activity for them. They calm down, start talking to each other and then start to cooperate and build. Cardboard stabbing boys, I welcome you, and I love to see the amazing things you can build with cardboard.
  • Girls can bring a quiet measured intensity to building with cardboard. I love watching them deliberate while considering all the details like widows and shelving…their excitement is contagious.
  • I love connecting with people through cardboard, seeing parents build something for their children, seeing children build something else for themselves, watching three year olds rip their older brothers around in the back of wheelie cardboard boxes.
  • What can I say? I’m hooked.

Resources: How to put wheels on a box and instructions for Tanaka Satoshi’s Giant Cardboard Windballs

Cardboard Kid’s Chair Makeover

Cardboard Kid's chair remake by The Cardboard Collective

The Japanese book with the pattern for making these chairs is available in my Etsy shop.

Our beloved cardboard kid’s chairs are almost 3 years old. They’ve been in desperate need of a makeover for a while now, and I thought those of you who read the blog would be interested in seeing how cardboard furniture wears over time.

These chairs are regularly used as vaulting boxes by my two little ones so I can’t imagine a better stress test.

Cardboard Kid's chair remake by The Cardboard Collective

I started by addressing the corners that had worn, and cut small strips of cardboard to use as shims.

I glued them into the worn areas to give the chair corner rigidity again and reshape the edge.

Cardboard Kid's chair remake by The Cardboard Collective

Next I trimmed off any loose cardboard and traced the different pieces of the chair one at a time onto (new) post consumer cardboard and cut the pieces out. After some gluing and clamping, this is what we got:

Cardboard Kid's chair remake by The Cardboard Collective

Not bad huh? Almost as good as new……and the chairs will be even more smashing after we treat their exteriors to a new look:

…..catch that in my next post.


Grocery Bag Business Cards


Grocery Bag Business Cards by The Cardboard Collective

Meeting new people here in Japan involves developing more formalized graces. As a farm girl from the Midwest, this is always an area of improvement for me.

One artifact of the Japanese getting to know you ritual is the business card and/or name card. When you meet someone new in Japan it’s considered polite to exchange your contact information in this tangible, well organized way.

I for one love the practice, as it’s elevated me from the frantic find a pen and write your name and phone number on an old receipt routine to a calmer more professional approach. Proper procedure involves offering your name card with both hands (as shown above) with a little bow of the head.

Grocery Bag Business Cards by  Amber Dohrenwend at The Cardboard Collective

Now that the blog is becoming more of it’s own entity, I put together a name card using some brown Kraft paper grocery bags that I found in someone’s recycling the other day. It’s not as heavy as a traditional business card, but I think it’s really nice, and still very durable. If you have a business card template on your word-processing software it’s a very easy process.

I originally wanted to print onto post-consumer cardboard, but my ideal specimen would be a cereal box, and unfortunately we’re an oatmeal and eggs family. Cereal is not widely eaten for breakfast in Japan, so it’s also been hard to find used cereal boxes. I’d love to hear if anyone has tried printing on cereal boxes, did your printer take them?

I also wanted to share this great link with you, showcasing a letterpress printer that prints business cards onto old cereal boxes. (If I ever get a business info stamp, this could be a possible approach for my old tea boxes.) They are BEauTiful! Lots of other great ideas there too…

So hey, even if you’re business-less, how about a name-card or blog-card to step up your game? Why not?