Thursday, February 9, 2012

Valentine Mailbox Love

Do you remember making Valentine mailboxes back in grade school? 

I do. I loved that tradition.

We would each bring in an old shoe box, and then, depending on the creativity of the teacher and the grade level of the students, make some clever adjustments to turn that plain ol' box into an object of beauty and fully functional receptacle for the deluge of classroom Valentines. For some inborn desire to organize, my fascination with artistic transformation, my love of getting mail...I found the whole process to be immensely satisfying and fun.

So as a homeschooling mommy, I have been bound and determined to make sure my daughters have ample opportunity to make their own Valentine mailboxes. Over the years, depending on my creativity and the age of the girls, we've experimented with lots of different basic materials...paper lunch bags, giant plastic ice cream tubs, and oversize homemade envelopes as well as the classic shoe box. 

But a few years back, we hit upon a new idea that is the best one yet. Here is how it looks in action:

And this photograph, taken from one of the girls' beloved I Spy books, served as the inspiration:

As you can see, the basic form is a cardboard box sectioned off into cubbies and decorated to the red, pink and purple hilt. Clever, functional and very easy to store. We've kept this one around for four or five years now. Here is my Valentine mailbox, just in from the garage and reporting for duty for another season. 

Yes, my mailbox is swaddled in plastic wrap.

That may strike you as a little weird. But it's super functional in two nifty ways:

1. As you can see, I keep a few reusable Valentine-y treasures inside. It's the easiest thing in the world to just stash them here for the off-season, and the plastic wrap keeps everything from falling out as I move the mailbox hither and fro.

2. At the same time the wrap keeps the goodies in, it is also keeping dust and other undesirables out. Since I keep my holiday stash on open shelves in my garage, there are a lot of undesirables (spiders, to name one) that need to be keep out.

When Valentine's Day rolls around again, I grab a pair of scissors and make one quick cut through the layers, setting my mailbox free. And that is what we call a win-win, my friends. I highly recommend mummifying with plastic wrap any holiday decor that fits this model, and the shareholders of the company that produces Saran Wrap heartily endorse this suggestion.

I have a lot of great memories of making this mailbox with my daughters; they were old enough to help me troubleshoot the construction details and of course they had strong opinions about the decorative decisions. If they had been younger, I would have done the structural work myself and let them help me with the decorating. Honestly, it's a fun and rewarding project that can work for a family with kids of any age..might be a very sweet experience for grandparents and grandchildren to make one together.

Here's the tutorial.

Step One:
Find a box with built-in cubbies. Light bulb boxes are ideal; this is the box that I currently have in the house, and as you can see, it's divided nicely into six compartments.

The boxes I used for my mailbox were slightly different. Rather than dividers, the bulbs each came in their own individual mini box, and then the six sleeves were tucked into one big outer box.

So check out your home inventory of light bulbs and see what you find; maybe you want to take an impromptu trip to Home Depot to stock up on whatever kind of light bulbs come in the box with the best cubbies.
{Or maybe you can find another box that serves the same purpose. Wine boxes have great cubbies, though they are a bit narrow and deep. You could also improvise by rounding up a bunch of matching boxes that are the right size for a cubbie...maybe half gallon milk cartons or the upright style of Kleenex boxes. Cut them down to the appropriate depth and use packing tape to secure them together. If the resulting sides are flimsy or uneven, you can create an outer box by cutting cardboard to fit the top, bottom, sides and back of your custom-made cubbie unit.}
We decided to use two light bulb boxes with six cubbies each, so that each person in our six-person family would have plenty of space for incoming treasures.
{If you decide to use multiple boxes, use plenty of packing tape to secure them together as a solid unit.}
Step Two: 
Collage decorative papers to the back, sides, top and bottom...we used a variety of Valentine-y tissue papers and watered-down tacky glue. 
{If the cardboard box you used has bold graphics or text, consider first painting it white or covering it with white paper to keep the patterns from showing through.}
{Mod Podge is a perfectly suitable medium for this project, but I much prefer to work with tacky glue watered down so that it is easily painted on with a paintbrush.} 

Step Three:
Decorate the inside of the cubbies. You could paint them, as shown in the inspiration pic at the top of this post, or line them with cute papers. We liked the natural look of our cubbies' interior so we opted to skip this step.

Step Four:
Make name tags for the cubbies. My youngest daughter has taken responsibility for this step and she comes up with a new idea every year..she has used colored papers and white papers; she has written our names by hand, used stickers or printed them off the computer; she has used fancy scissors to trim the edges or just left a clean, straight cut. It might be fun to let each member of the family create their own name tag.
{For a clean look, affix the tags by taping them to the underside of the cubbie.}
Because our cubbies are individual boxes, we can slide the name tags into the space between them. 
Step Five:
Load up the treasures! Ever since the girls were toddlers, we have used our mailboxes to exchange  homemade Valentine cards and sweet chocolate treats. Now that my daughters are older, we have amped up the anticipation by filling the mailboxes several days in advance. Over the years, I've gathered up a few little boxes and buckets that fit into the cubbies and can be used by anyone to hold small bits of candy or stash a special cupcake. I also like the way their volume helps to visually fill in the cubbies.



  1. I loved decorating my mailbox in school! I love the cubbies in yours. Very fun! Our favorite mailbox ever was a monster and you put the Valentine's in his mouth!

    1. Sigh, I'm glad you have fond memories too. I'm so nostalgic about those mailboxes. A monster mailbox sounds pretty perfect for a spunky little boy!


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