The nice thing about the occasional Polar Vortex is the unplanned bonus time you get to spend with your kids.
Last week, the kids’ school was canceled four out of five days due to the extreme cold. Sure, it was trying in some aspects.
This is the time of year when projects start to get rolling at work. Taking a few half-days off to watch the kiddos makes you wonder why childless people aren’t dominating the workforce…
So, what did we do to keep the kids occupied, while being stuck inside the house with minus 20-degree F temps outside? LEGO, of course! And this is a post that I’m sure will resonate with many of you.
Who among you fine readers didn’t grow up with those magical bricks? And those with kids? You probably have a few bricks stuck in your rug naps, dryer vents, and deck planks too…
Homemade LEGO Sets to the Rescue
Here’s the thing. LEGO ain’t cheap. You’ll pay about 5 to 10 cents per brick, and with most kits averaging around 300-400 pieces, you’re dropping $30 for a pretty basic set. The co-branded kits, like Star Wars and Harry Potter, are especially pricey, at about 10 to 15 cents per brick.
Some people go hog-wild over LEGO. They can be an addiction of sorts. One guy built a large replica of the Titanic with 40,000 pieces!
From what I’ve read, adults have been using LEGO as a way to destress and decompress. Building something either from the instructions or with your creative blueprint can provide a form of therapy. I watched a YouTube video with my son about a troop stationed in Afghanistan who had kits sent overseas to him. Now back in the states, he builds sets to keep the PTSD at bay.
So, we know these toys are very expensive, but they’re also a source of joy and can offer some real mental-health benefits. I hope to keep our little household collection alive and well, but with a frugal spin on the situation.
Step 1: Combine Your Existing LEGO Kit Bricks
This is easy enough. If you had LEGO as a kid and you’re still hanging onto them, don’t let them sit in the attic collecting dust. Dump ’em in with the kids’ collection and be glad they’re being put to use.
I had a five-pound tote of plastic from my childhood — all classic LEGO space kits.
The kids have no problem plugging those gray and blue pieces into whatever they create.
Step 2: Download the Official LEGO Instructions
Now you’ll know how we spent our free time during the Polar Vortex last week. Papa had a crazy notion that all the random kits combined, including some donated pinks and purples from my daughter’s Friends collection, would be sufficient to build a… LEGO DEATH STAR!!
For some background, the LEGO Death Star kit is massive. It’s a $500 kit ($500!!!) before tax… and includes 4,016 of the finest black and gray plastic bits you could ever hope for in your collection. But who’s going to deny the most fanatic of Star Wars fans??
This thing SELLS. I have a colleague who bought this kit for his sons for Christmas a few years back. They proceeded to drop the completed ball of parts on the kitchen floor, to simulate its destruction. Ugh. A friend of our kids got the same kit just this past Christmas. She’s 5. And LOVES IT. (Apparently, Daddy only gets to sort and supply parts to the builder.)
But ask Cubert if he’s going to plop down $535 and change… Nope. Thanks to LEGO’s altruistic understanding of how the instruction booklets often get lost or shredded by the dog, they offer PDF versions online. So, I decided to download the official LEGO Death Star instructions and go for broke.
Want to know how many pages this novel is? Two Hundred and Sixty Four!!! Gulp. But we all chipped in though, and before long, the Death Star began to take form. Only this version would be known as “Disco Death Star”, thanks to those beautiful purples, blues, oranges, and yellows that blend in with the grays and blacks that dominate the real deal.
Step 3: Find Key Missing LEGO Pieces on eBay
Nothing like a Midwest cold snap to reaffirm your love of plastic bricks, right?? Well, to be honest, we got about 75% of this monster completed before we ran out of vital pieces. As Darth Vader said at the end of Episode 3, (or as I said at the end of The Last Jedi) “NOOOOO!!!”
What’s a loving father and mother to do? We both scoured eBay and Facebook markets for spare parts, of course! Eventually, I stumbled upon a five-pound collection of a mish-mash of Star Wars kit pieces. Buy it Now cost? $30. Granted, shipping was $20. Still, for $50, we were able to finish this project 99.7% to specifications (if you are color blind).
Bonus: We now have lots of extra gray panels and parts to begin construction of the Millennium Falcon. Yay!
Ultimately, we had little problem plunking down $50 to complete what otherwise would’ve been a $535 kit, if purchased from Amazon, Target, or wherever. Our kids would probably disagree, but the added challenge of hunting to find pieces we weren’t sure we had was all part of the fun.
When you buy the kit – it’s all there in sorted packages. You just do the grunt work. On the flip side, if you try a hair-brained idea like mine, and download instructions with the HOPE of having the pieces, you’ll be playing scavenger hunt for hours in those multi-colored bins.
Oh, that reminds me. One last tip – It helps to sort your pieces by the color groups before taking on a project like this. Happy building, kids!!
We Even Made a LEGO Millennium Falcon With Random Bricks
Here’s the latest from our overflowing LEGO studio (i.e., my home office): Notice once again how we’ve ignored color if favor of form and function. You would surely love these “Disco Star Wars” creations. Last I checked, the LEGO Millennium Falcon kit we built costs $160, before tax.
So again, check the LEGO.com site for instructions and you might be surprised what your monster collection can build. Save the planet, one plastic brick at a time!
Alternatively: Find Custom LEGO Projects on YouTube
We built a sweet little Minion my daughter thought was the bomb. That was just the beginning. I then helped my son build a very cool LEGO Optimus Prime.
There’s no limit to what you can build with these amazing bricks. In most cases, our ideas are better than the original kits themselves.
So, if you’ve got a big pile of LEGO bricks to start with, find an interesting project on LEGO.com with retail instructions, or, get creative with those YouTube clips.
Either way, you’ll find hours upon hours of fun without dropping major money on expensive plastic!
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Very impressive work on the homemade Death Star! Also, glad to hear you survived the no school days last week. I was getting worried of delays this morning with all the ice but everyone made it to school in good time :).
Thanks, Eric! It was a rough week for figuring out kid coverage and all the ramp up of projects going at work.
Cute little humans you have there!
Thank you! 🙂
Matt in Michigan says
Nice death star hack! Good to know they have instructions on their site, we’ve lost all sorts of them.
Here in Michigan we also had a few days off and Lego’s were pretty much the main form of entertainment as well. No star wars here though, all girls. Their big thing currently is making giant travel trailers that their people live in as well as their horses?!?! Not entirely sure where that is coming from but hey, it keeps them occupied for hours and uses creativity, this dad and mom are all for that! 😉
Funny enough, you can even find classic set instructions off third party websites. I couldn’t believe it when I stumbled upon the classic space series instructions.
My daughter has a fifth-wheel kit from Christmas that she eventually donated to the Death Star’s cause. 🙂
Great job on the Death Star! That’s awesome.
We got some basic bricks from Amazon for a pretty good price. They’re not LEGO, but works with them.
I’ve purchased a few sets from Ebay too. That’s much cheaper than buying new in a box.
We’ll start a new LEGO project after we’re done moving. 🙂
Thanks, Joe! Funny how these little projects yield a sense of accomplishment. Something tangible while your work world is often just shuffling emails and meetings…
What LEGO project do you think you’ll take on? Something grandiose like a Death Star or Disney Palace?
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life says
We’ve been keeping our mini co-branded kits entirely separate, but you may have convinced me to combine a few of them into a single box. Still separated in their own baggies of course, because I’m not QUITE ready for the massive comingling 🙂
We’re hoping that one of our neighbors with older kids is going to want to dump all their Legos soon and we can get them on fire sale. Cross your fingers!
The joys of communal LEGOs offer many rewards. Granted, my daughter still keeps a bin separate for all of her kits. She’d rather not mix up the Friends and Little Mermaid with all the mish-mash her brother and father have collected. Can’t blame her!
Good luck with grabbing pounds of bricks in a fire sale. If you’re desperate, check out Craigslist. 🙂
We have a Lego table down in our basement, and various Lego builds residing there in various states of disarray. There’s nothing better than hunkering down with a good set of Lego instructions and building something from the ground up. It’s a ton of fun. We had the 4 days off last week as well, and we finally got around to building one of the Lego sets my son was given at Christmas – a Minecraft Lego set.
It is a fun idea, however, to download the instructions from the Lego site and build some of the projects on there using all of our spare parts. I think we have a project for our next cold snap!
Ooohhh… A LEGO table! I’ve thought of that. A low slung surface with raised edges to keep pieces off the floor. Smart.
How many pieces are in your son’s Minecraft set? You’ll have to share if you stumble across a “download project” to take on.
The Lego table is awesome, we used an old Thomas the Train set table that we already had and installed a bunch of green lego baseplates onto a fiberboard backing, and slid it into the table. It works great, but I was astonished at how much those little 12″x12″ green baseplates cost. We spent well over a hundred bucks on those alone.
The Minecraft set we did looks to be about 457 pieces, so not tiny, but still a relatively small set. We’ll drop back by and share what set we end up downloading and trying if we do!
Brilliant idea! I kinda wonder if MegaBlocks sells those flat panels. Anything LEGO is super expensive anymore. Maybe eBay to the rescue again?
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early says
My mom actually thought ahead and saved a HUGE box of legos from when we were kids. My youngest brother (of the four of us kids) is 15 years older than my son, so they have had to store them for the last ~10 years or so, but they have the space and now our kiddo has a ton of legos to play with. Price per play is definitely pretty good at least!
Same here! Most of my other toys got the bad end of the Toy Story treatment. Thank goodness the LEGOs and baseball cards survived…
Ben Zabulis says
Great stuff ! I also grew up with Lego and perhaps that’s why I went into construction many years later !! Of course Lego back then wasn’t quite as elaborate as it is now, but still good fun. Your kids are showing an amazing creative streak – keep it up because as you say it is very educational.
Thanks, Ben! I can totally understand the connection between a LEGO youth and a desire later on to build stuff. At first I wanted to be an architect or civil engineer. Then I went for broke with City Planning. Haha.
Money Beagle says
Really cool ideas here. My son loves Lego. He’s pretty picky about everything being exactly right, so I’ll have to see how he’d feel about things not being the right colors. If he could get past that, we could set him up with some videos, and it would really expand what he’s able to do.
Thanks, MB! Funny how my son can be particular one minute, then the next, he’s like “just use that piece!” and it’s a way off color. Maybe you show him the way and he’ll come over to The Dark Side… 😉
Savvy History says
This post is so awesome I’m showing it to my husband. We were right in the thick of the polar vortex, so we stayed home with our little one. He would only put Leggo’s in his mouth at this point, but now my husband has something to look forward to in a few years… Cute kids btw!
I’m glad you like it! I’d love to see others’ creative work to use existing Lego stashes to build official kits. If your husband can’t wait and wants to get a two year head start, I’d completely understand. 😉