Create a Sensory Room on a Budget

Our family of five lives in approximately 1100 square feet. We don't even have a dining room; we have a folding table stored under our love seat that we pull out for meals! So when I decided to set out making a sensory room, I had to get creative. We definitely didn't have an entire room to dedicate. The boys' bedroom was already bursting at the seams, so we couldn't even give up a corner in there. Then one day, Elijah was having a meltdown and went to his closet to hide. Aha! That was it! The perfect spot. 

The next part was figuring out what to put in our sensory room. There are so many fun, shiny, EXPENSIVE things out there! I was sure I could make some things and get creative with items we already had. All in all, I spent about 3-4 DIY-ing hours and around $60. Not bad, I'd say! 

This is what I started with:


I moved the drawers against a wall in their bedroom. We didn't really need the hanging space because 1. They're boys. They don't care if their clothes are wrinkled. 2. We home school, so most of the time they're not even wearing clothes anyway! (Side note: if you ever pull up to our house unannounced, look in the windows. You will see a mad scramble of little boys rushing to put on pants!). I put two robe hooks on the wall in their bedroom and hung up a few items for the rare occasion that they need to wear real, decent clothing. I did reserve the upper shelf for storage because...five people, 1100 square feet.

The first thing I did was replace the bare bulb in the ceiling with a disco light bulb. If you haven't seem them before, you are missing out! They screw into any standard light outlet and spin on their own. They shower the entire room in mesmerizing, moving lights. Really, this could be your only light feature and you'd be set. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this bulb! 

Total cost: $6

Next I tackled this:


The closets in our house have these neat little cubby holes. I'm sure they were a great feature when the house was first built. But 60 years later, they're the stuff of nightmares. Literally. The boys won't go to sleep at night if their closet door isn't shut ALL.THE.WAY. All because of this cubby hole. I mean, I can't blame them. This is what's inside:

I keep telling myself some day I'm going to clean this out and make a fun little hideout. That's probably not happening any time soon, so I covered the doors with black fabric tacked on with neon push pins we already had. Then I hung a fun painting their older sister made for them over it all. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Total Cost: $0

After the monsters were sealed off, I had to decide what to do with the giant bare wall in the back of the closet. I didn't have anything planned for it, but I didn't want to leave it bare. So I took one of their 600 blankets and tacked it up to cover the entire wall. It is incredibly soft and makes for a neat wall covering. So the bare wall became...a BEAR wall! 

Total Cost: $0

All sensory rooms need some sort of seating. Elijah received a bean bag for Christmas, so we tossed that in there. Bean bags are great for deep pressure input. If you don't have a bean bag, pile up some blankets and pillows and make a nest in a corner. I've also seen bean bag covers made to be filled with stuffed animals. We could fill about 200 of those in our house!

I decided to make the next wall a texture panel wall. This sounds fancy, but it was really simple and really fun. I bought picture frames from Dollar Tree (our favorite store!). Then I raided closets and bedrooms and craft bins to find interesting textures. You'd be surprised what you can find around your house to make sensory items! For our wall, I used a microfiber car wash mitt, pony beads, bubble wrap, craft pom-poms, decorative glass stones, sandpaper, and a non-skid mat. I tried to use bright or neon colors knowing I was going to add a black light later. I cut everything to fit and hot glued them directly to the glass in the frames. My favorite part is the center panel. I DIY'd a gel pad panel. The top half is a blue gel pad that you can write or draw in with your fingers. The bottom is filled with water beads! So fun and interactive. I'll write up another blog post later with directions on how to make that. 

Total Cost: $8 for picture frames

And under the black light...

I put a small table beside the bean bag. It was the perfect size for his books, phone (for listening to his "Joni and Friends" and "Insight for Daily Living" podcasts), and of course, an amazing Jellyfish Lamp. This is another awesome item with a lot of bang for your buck! We used it as a replacement for a bubble column, which seems to be in EVERY sensory room. (Have you seen the prices for those things?! BTW, I'm going to attempt to DIY one...I'll blog about that later, too!) Edited to add: since publishing this blog, we have since found AFFORDABLE Bubble Tubes. Find them HEREAnyway, back to the lamp. I didn't have high expectations for it when it first arrived. We followed the directions but the jellyfish just seemed to stay in a glob, floating at the top. We gave up on it and set it on a shelf. A couple days later, I pushed the power button on a whim, and the jellyfish came to life! They started drifting and swimming and the lights seemed to make them glow. We all agree, we could sit and watch it for hours. Above the table, I installed a corner shelf ($8 at a local store) for more sensory item storage. Elijah chose a mini fiber optic light and a glitter calm jar that he made himself. 

Total Cost: $26.50 for Jellyfish lamp, shelf, and fiber optic light.

Most sensory rooms I've seen have had multiple lighting options. I decided to make an interactive light display. That's just fancy talk for Dollar Tree push lights tacked to the wall. I attached four battery-powered push lights and two of our LED Foam Batons. The foam batons have different settings for solid colors, gently fading/changing colors, and flashing colors. I was going to attach all of these lights symmetrically, but I am symmetrically challenged when hanging things on a wall. I also knew if I tried and missed by even just a few centimeters, Elijah would catch it and it would bother him. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he refused to use the room if the spacing or alignment was even the least little bit off. So I opted to randomly place them on the wall, and I think it turned out OK. And Elijah didn't run out screaming when he saw it, so that's a win.

Total Cost: $12 for four push lights and two LED Batons

I hung a 24" black light fixture ($10 from a local store) along the side door frame and ran the cord under the door jam so the door could still shut. Because what's the point of a sensory room if you can't shut the door and escape for a bit? You don't have to buy a whole black light fixture. You can get the same effect with a single black light bulb for around $3 if you want to save even more. I chose the fixture because we already had the disco bulb in the ceiling light. 

Total Cost: $3-10 for black light

The last detail I added was some neon para cord to make a curtain or "shower" in the doorway. I wanted something interesting for him to look at besides the closet door when sitting in the bean bag. I hung strands of the cord vertically and tied the bottoms in knots to keep them from raveling. It makes a pretty neat effect when the black light is on. Para cord can be purchased inexpensively at a craft store. You could also use yarn or streamers or strips of cloth. Get creative with items you have in your home!

Total Cost: $4 for para cord

So that's it! For a few hours' work and less than $60, I created a safe, special place for Elijah to chill out, melt down, relax, and self-regulate. I'll post again with directions to DIY a gel pad and (hopefully) a bubble column! I think we could squeeze a couple more things in there in the future. We have some neat items due to arrive in our store soon that I'm sure we'll try out, too.

All of the mentioned items in our store are available here.

Check out the reveal:

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