hippie alert, you guys. though we look every bit the conventional couple (maybe minus the makeup and frequent haircuts), we like some things that put us firmly in the crunchy category. hippie or hipster? you be the judge. :-)
we have always loved doing things ourselves. before we moved into our current house, we diy’ed a kitchen, two bathrooms, a fireplace, and a home office, and we’ve done loads of house painting. and we’re the people that friends and family call on for help with their projects — we once stripped eight rooms of wallpaper in a weekend, and are now staunchly against wallpaper for life, no matter how pretty it might be. we also just love getting our hands dirty, and were stoked to finally have room for canning equipment in our house, for example. moving out of our city condo and into our mountain house represented a lot of the diy ethos to us: finally being able to make more of the things we use and consume.
what’s funny in retrospect is how little the money piece has mattered to us in questions of diy, at least with the small stuff. (it for sure mattered when we were talking about spending $3K to diy a bathroom vs. $20k to hire it out!) for us, the joy was always in the doing, and in knowing exactly what’s in something, and not in knowing how much money we’ve saved. like when bloggers talk about making their own laundry detergent to save money, we always think, “we’d do that to avoid the harsh chemicals that are in regular detergent, but we doubt we’d actually save any dollars.”
but of course that was then. and this is our running-like-hell-toward-early-retirement now. money matters. especially the saving of it. so now when we diy things, it’s just as much about saving money as it is about the joy of making something. though, as we’ll share below, there are a few things we still insist on diying, even though we’re pretty sure we pay more to do it that way.
how we save by diying:
growing our own sprouts — probably the quintessential hippie food. :-) also one of the priciest foods you can buy at the grocery store. fortunately, growing sprouts is one of the easiest things you can do, and the start-up costs are super minimal. you need a sprouting jar lid and some seeds, which last a long time. here’s a great tutorial to get you started.
making our own kombucha — you were warned on the hippie front. :-) another thing that’s expensive at the store, but cheap to make at home. you can get started for next to nothing if you can get a scoby (the yeast colony that ferments the tea) from a friend — and if you have a friend who makes kombucha, they are probably drowning in extra scobys!. all you need is a big jar, a scoby, and some sweetened tea. here’s a good breakdown of how to do it.
canning our own food — this one is on the line, because we certainly spend more on the food we turn into jam and conserves than we would on some jar of welch’s that’s full of high fructose corn syrup. but we value quality a lot, and want to know that we’re not ingesting pesticides or weird preservatives. so our homemade jams are certainly cheaper than buying top-of-the-line organic preserves at whole foods.
sewing our own curtains and pillows — we like for our home to look nice, and think of home design as an amateur hobby of ours. but curtains and pillows can be absurdly expensive. so instead of buying them, we sew ’em ourselves. mucho dinero saved, and you get more fabric choices.
composting — we compost mainly to keep food scraps out of the landfill, but we also think of it as diying our own fertilizer, the best fertilizer there is. composting takes almost no time, no skill and requires very little start-up cost. we built a bin out of old fence slats, but you can make one out of just about anything — no need to buy some $100 tumbling bin!
maintaining our own lawn — a no-brainer, especially if you have as little lawn as we do. our bigger problem is falling pine needles, which we have to pick up regularly lest they increase our fire danger. paying folks for this would cost a lot, but doing it ourselves costs only our time.
cleaning our own carpets — if you have pets, you understand. carpet cleaning costs a fortune, but renting the rug doctor costs $20 a pop. it’s more work, but worth it.
maintaining the “toys” — bikes, skis, mountaineering gear… we do as much of the maintenance on ’em as we can. it may seem intimidating to sharpen crampons by hand, but it’s really just spending some quality time with a file. occasionally, we still have to take skis in for a base grind, though we do all the tuning and waxing ourselves, and likewise bikes sometimes still need a pro’s expertise. but we want to up our skills and do even more of the work ourselves in retirement, which leads us so…
how we’d love to save even more by diying:
making more of our food from scratch — we make a lot of things currently, but we’d like to regularly make our own ice cream, tortillas, chips and bread. all of them are doable but time consuming, and when we retire we’ll have the time!
brewing our own hard cider — we love hard cider, and it can be pricy. we’d love to try this approach from sustainable life blog, which he swears is easy and cost-effective. plus maybe over time we could experiment with different juice blends and different yeast, and even be so presumptuous as to label it “artisanal.” ;-)
sewing our own technical gear — we have sewing skills, and would love to make our own sleeping bags and technical jackets when our current ones wear out. it would be cool not to advertise for any name brands, and to be able to customize them exactly how we’d like. tech fabrics like goretex are available at specialty fabric stores, so this isn’t as wacky an idea as it sounds.
doing our own car care — every winter and spring, we have to swap tires, which we could easily tackle. people have been changing their own oil since cars were invented, and we feel like we could tackle that. so far, we’ve basically replaced windshield wiper blades and washed our cars, but we know we can learn more skills and do better.
taking on large home maintenance projects — right now we still have to hire out big jobs like restaining the exterior of our house, or putting in a fence. we hope to be able to take these on once we have more time on our hands.
how we splurge by diying:
making our own almond milk — we’re almost positive that buying almond milk at the store would cost less, but then we’d be throwing away a carton that we’d rather not waste, and we’d be consuming the carageenan and other stabilizers they add just so you don’t have to shake it up before pouring it. we can handle shaking a bottle, thanks. here’s a tutorial similar to how we make ours, though we use agave instead of a date, and no cinnamon. bonus: you have almond flour leftover that you can bake with! (here’s a great link from ditching the daily grind that also includes a recipe for using the almond pulp.)
making our own personal care products — this falls in the category once again of things that we could definitely buy for less, but then we’d be using products with questionable ingredients. we’d rather pay a little more to know what’s in our stuff. some of the products we make for ourselves include: hand salve and cream, body and face scrub, toothpaste, headache balm, “vaporub,” lip balm, and face masks. (we’ve made our own deodorant, too, but let’s be honest — no natural deodorants work especially well.) we make all of these products from oils, clays and emulsifying waxes sold in bulk at our local food coop and essential oils sold by our local hippie oil purveyor. so on top of feeling good that we know exactly what we’re putting on ourselves, we like not throwing away all the packaging that comes with conventional products.
if you notice a common theme throughout all of these diy tasks, it’s this: none of these things are hard to do! sometimes diy seems intimidating, and we would for sure think twice before trying, for example, to restore a 3000 square food victorian home from 1890. but none of what we’re talking about requires that level of know-how. some of the tasks are intuitive, and at most they require five minutes on youtube to figure out. so don’t let the mystique of diy projects psych you out!
what do you diy? have you found some tasks that save you money? or anything like our almond milk or care products that you diy even though you know it’s costing you more? any projects you’ve been dying to try but haven’t yet? share your ideas in the comments!