What Can We Buy vs. Make? Sustainability Meets Budgeting.

I like to make things. Things I need, that look pretty. That I’m able to eat, are functional, sometimes not functional. Whatever it is that I’m making, I enjoy the process of bringing something new into my life and the world. I also like to budget. When the numbers all come together, and I’m slowly but surely achieving my financial goals, it feels good. Good because I’m attuning to my own needs. Needs for security, if it’s in regards to building an emergency fund. Or needs to live sustainably, if it has to do with me paying off my credit card debt. But when these two areas come together, when I make something that would otherwise cost me time and or money, the feeling is exceptional.

It’s for these reasons that I often look for things to make that are of interest to me, or items and food that I use or eat day to day. It is in this vein that I will be going over some of the ways I make the things I would normally buy. Or turn something already owned that may be on its way to the garbage, into something of practical use. Nothing I’ll be listing here is new by any means, but it may be helpful to get a run down of how someone else puts sustainable, practical, practices into use. And maybe open the valve for your creative juices to start flowing. Let’s get started!

Most of what I make is related to my food consumption. I’m a baker by trade, so I don’t make a lot of bread at home, but I’m always looking to create something delicious to snack on or drink. I made a lot of beer in my early thirties. Clones of brews I liked, some that were staples, like IPAs and Belgiens, and some seasonal. They usually came out pretty good, and it’s something I’d like to get back into.

I don’t drink quite as much as I used to, but there’s something about opening up a bottle of a beer you crafted that feels special. The time, thought and energy you put into its making, mixed with the some of the varieties of specialty ingredients that are available to the home brewer to give your brew that special twist that makes it yours, is comforting. Plus they’re great little gifts for friends and family. There’s also a large community of homebrewers out there willing to help one another along the way. If you’re interested, check out Homebrew Talk, there are loads of recipes and advice for the new or seasoned brewer.

Also, the time spent making it has a unique feel. It’s like being in a science lab that’s been draped in old and colorful tapestry. The science meets art aspect of brewing is appealing to me because it’s creating something as you would in a lab, but enlisting the senses to bring it together the way you would your favorite meal. The elements, fire and water, but also the equipment and live cultures of yeast bubbling away that will soon turn the wort into something satisfying to the taste buds, that bring the whole experience together. There’s also the added benefit of its cost.

For the quality of beer you’re producing, you are saving loads of money. Some of the clone recipes are spot on, and if you drink occasionally, then it’s a great way to have some quality brew on hand for when you have company over, or to get in the habit of having a rotating selection of seasonal brews that will bring another dimension to your enjoyment of the time of year.

There is a lot that goes into it, so be prepared to spend some time doing the research if you decide to dive in. I once had a batch explode on me. Luckily it was in the closet, but I found shards of glass sticking out of the wall. They call those bottle bombs, which happens during the bottle conditioning phase if you put too much priming sugar in before bottling. I’m not saying this to deter you in any way, just as a reminder of how important it is to become familiar with the process.

Repurposing old furniture can be a rewarding experience. If you have a few tools and the creativity to see new purpose for old pieces. I was rooting around in my basement not too long ago when I found the bamboo bottom of an old dish strainer. I was going to throw it away when I realized it was durable, water resistant, and made for drainage. So I thought I’d use it to some degree for my house plants. I brought the piece upstairs, left it on a chair, didn’t have time for the plants and the bamboo strainer started collecting things, as things that lay around are apt to do.

It was collecting linens, towels and face clothes, to be more specific, and I enjoyed the aesthetic of the white towels on the bamboo “shelf”. So I decided to keep it as a linens shelf and find similar pieces to create an open storage concept. With the light wooden tones that remind me of a spa, a piece of “would be garbage” turned into something aesthetically pleasing, and functional as well. All I need are a few candles, a diffuser and some ambient lighting and I’m on my way to a relaxing, sustainable and functional environment. My own little spa.

Something else I’ve been making a lot of are bandanas. If you’ve read my post, “Read the Labels, No New Clothes, Well Maybe…” you’ll know that I wear a lot of bandanas. For my working life I’ve pretty much always worked in the food service industry to some degree. And as a result I have always had to wear a hair covering. Since I was already wearing bandanas, being a hippy, I just continued to wear them during work as well.

I started making them not too long ago out of old shirts I had. I used to wear paisley bandanas exclusively. I even made a window covering by patchworked together a few dozen. This gave my bedroom a Boho vibe in my first apartment when I was 19. It was enjoyable from what I remember. But the bandanas I make nowadays are of a solid color and much softer than their paisley cousins. I rotate between four of them, and made them with no sewing involved. When it’s a bit safer to go shopping, I plan on going to some local thrift shops to look for old Tee-shirts that may be suitable to make the jump from worn-out shirt to new bandanas.

If you are handy with a sewing machine, or want to learn how to use one, a project I have planned is to take some of my old articles of clothing, ones that I have a sentimental attachment to (that’s normal, right?), cut them into squares and make a blanket from them. A sort of patchwork quilt, where your memories are embedded into their very fabric (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and you’ll also have a comfortable throw laying around for the colder seasons.

Another project I enjoyed putting together was a wall of windows I created. By making a frame out of 2″x 4″s, and hanging old windows I found and collected over time inside the frame, it created a transparent partition. It had loads of character, while salvaging some windows that would have been garbage along the way. This isn’t the most kid friendly piece of furniture so if you decide you’d like to try it, find a place where it will be out of reach of the little ones in your life.

For the pantry, sauerkraut is pretty easy to make as are most fermented vegetables. You’ll need some fermentation vessels. I use mason jars as they are a convenient size and shape for storage and easy to sterilize. I made this recipe from Minimalist Baker not too long ago, Gingery Apple Cabbage Sauerkraut.

Pickled cucumbers and other veggies are just as easy. You can use the same mason jars and you need only make a brine for the veg you want to pickle. More sterilizing and pour the brine over the veg and either can them, which involves boiling them in water for a certain amount of time, or put them directly into the fridge for a quick refrigerator pickle. And making either from veg you grew yourself is most satisfying and budget friendly as well.

Speaking of veg, if you haven’t started a garden yet, there are few things more gratifying in life. Watching the seeds you planted during the colder months grow and bear fruit as the year progresses. I like leafy greens such as kale and collards. I use these vegetables often. Two to three times a week, so I like to have a few plants going to harvest from.

Other varieties, such as cucumbers and squash, are prolific producers. So if you plant some of theses guys, make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do with all the veg you will be reaping! Other treats, such as watermelons, produce once towards the end of the season. So make sure you are watering and tending to your plants with diligence.

There are so many ways to make and curate the things we need and use. We’ve been bred to believe however that we often must buy the things we desire or need. And if you think about it for any length of time, we live in a capitalist democracy. Sure, we can vote whomever we want into office to make changes to the laws that we see fit as a community or on a societal level, but they’re still getting paid by our tax dollars. And they are most likely being earned at the industries and corporations that are running and controlling the economy of our country.

The prase, “vote with your dollars” has always struck a chord with me and for this very reason. The better we are as a community at saving those dollars by embodying a thriftiness, making the things we need or shopping locally to support our local community, the better we will be at not buying whatever’s popular or trendy because we saw so and so eat/wear/use brand X. And we will embody the spirit of community that’s connected and built from a sustainable place. One that values craft and diligence in the items we use, above those of being disposable and/or with ease of use.

I’m not saying that everything disposable and easy to use are inherently bad. But that’s another topic for another post. What I feel is most important about making the things we use and need is the sense of capability in caring for ourselves and those that we love. And in so doing, creating a deeper sense of community and connection.

So go make things! Enjoy the process. Start a project you’ve always wanted to do or find something you use or drink everyday and see if you are able to make it at home. Instead of saving up for something that’s on your wish list, why not see if you can make it yourself. Who knows what a little research may yield. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy the work and how satisfying the fruits of your labor feel.

Image Credits: “Tools” by shoesfullofdust is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Self-Care Physical: Read the Labels, No New Clothes Well Maybe

Off and on I get the urge to go shopping for something new. Now a days I mostly I get candles or something to read or a new type of soap. But I always feel a bit weird walking into a store that’s trying to sell an image. The sleek lines and the bass driven rhythmic thumping of music. The smell of slick cologne or perfume laying heavy in a thick haze across the open concept display rooms.

Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to go into one of these stores once and a while to get the experience. But for me anyways, it only lasts so long before the fatigue sets in. If you’ve read my Mission Statement you’ll know where I’m coming from when I say I’m slightly nostalgic for this experience in a borderline unhealthy way.

This got me thinking about the clothes that I do own. Most very plan with only a few pieces that have some sort of writing or brand name blazend across the front or back. I have a shirt that sports the name of the city I live in, one with the name of a place I went to while on vacation and a few others for sure. Oh, the “MT. WASHINGTON 6,288′” shirt I got when I climbed Mt. Washington. But most of the clothes I own have little to no visible brand name affiliations. What can I say, I like plain clothing.

Recently on my way back from an appointment in a neighboring city I stopped into a thrift shop. The shop supports a sober living community and I stopped in to look at some clothing while waiting for my train home. I bought a pair of jeans that would have cost 70+ dollars retail and a sweater equally as expensive for about twenty dollars. I felt good afterwards. Not contributing to the cost of generating new clothing and feeling as though I helped in some small way, the mission of keeping alcoholics sober. Not to mention I saved a bunch of money to boot!

Also I realized that I hadn’t shopped for second hand clothing since high school. This seemed strange because one of my life goals is to live as zero waste as possible. Shopping second hand just seemed like such a no-brainer that I’m surprised I haven’t started doing it much sooner.

So what if instead of every time we need a new piece of clothing we don’t go shopping where we are supporting big, name-brand clothing companies. But instead why not buy from one another in the form of thrift markets or online used clothing markets like Ebay, Poshmark or Swap? Or how about going out to a good old-fashion yard sale. This builds community by connecting individuals whom are trying to express a facet of their personalities while also repurposing old clothing that would have gone to a landfill. And the need to purchase new clothing would perpetuate the unhealthy cycle of consuming for the sake of keeping up appearances. So it’s a way to recycle and break some of the fast fashion trend.

But thrift stores aren’t only relegated to buying and selling clothing. Another versatile use for thrifting is sustainably gifting. This past Christmas I was thinking about going to various thrift stores and buying people convenience kits. Something that would be useful everyday and practical while maintaining a sense of the person’s style. Like in one kit for my stepmother I may buy a travel coffee mug, water bottle, cloth bag, a pair of sunglasses, a book and a pair of gloves if I’m giving it in the winter. Or something summer related for a summer gifting.

With seemingly unlimited options the list is only limited to the stuff that people have donated. Not by a season or a product line. I know from my own experience that I’ve donated thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars worth of stuff over my lifetime. Odds are someone found a good home for the things I traded in. And that’s a nice way to think about it because I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I get a little sentimental over inanimate objects.

I’m also a big fan of upcycling clothing. Like old tee-shirts into bandanas (some self disclosure: I wear a lot of bandanas). There was a period in high school when I made my own patchwork corduroy pants that had 36″ cuffs. Asides from them being comically big on me, it brought me such a sense of joy and accomplishment from making something that I wore every day. It helped that I was a dirty hippie and often wore articles of clothing over and over without a wash 😀

Self expression is about finding what it is about you that makes you shine. If it’s clothing, why wouldn’t you want something that had your name written all over it instead of some designer you don’t know. And who’s making mounds of cash off people trying to buy acceptance at the price of others? And in some cases, the environment. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t buy the clothing we like new, but let’s make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. Let’s try to get back to what matters, connections and curating something that makes you more you 🙂

Me in High-School
Evidence of my bandana wearing hippie ways in my early years. Me (on the left) with my then girlfriend and friends on the front page of our town paper complaining about how strict the school was that year 🙂

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