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

I like to DIY things. Things I need, but also things that fit my style. Things 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 for security. For example if it’s in regards to building an emergency fund. Or my need to live sustainably. Another example would be 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 DIY that are of interest to me. Or items and food that I use or eat regularly. 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 useful. 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 practices to use. And maybe open the valve for your creative juices to start flowing. Let’s fire things up!

Food for Thought

Most of what I DIY 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. Such as IPAs and Belgians and some seasonal beers. They usually came out pretty good and it’s something I’d like to get back into.

DIY Your Beer

I don’t drink nearly 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 crafting it, mixed with the some of the varieties of specialty ingredients that are available to the DIY home brewer, to give your brew that special twist that makes it yours, is satisfying. Plus they’re great gifts for friends and family. There’s also a large community of home brewers out there, willing to help each other. If you’re interested, check out Homebrew Talk. There are loads of recipes and advice for the new or seasoned brewer alike.

Also, the time it takes to DIY your beer has a unique feel. It’s like being in a science lab that’s been draped in old and colorful tapestry. This science-meets-art aspect of brewing is appealing to me. Mostly because it’s creating something as you would in a lab, but enlisting your 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.

DIY Beer on a Budget

And for the quality of your DIY beer you’re producing, you are saving loads of money. Some of the clone recipes are spot on too. 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 just a way 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 brewing your own. So be prepared to spend some time doing the research if you decide to DIY your own beer. 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. Those are called “bottle bombs”. This is something that happens during the bottle conditioning phase. If you put too much priming sugar in the batch before bottling, they become supper carbonated. 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.

Pickles in the Pantry

For the pantry, sauerkraut is pretty easy to make as are most fermented vegetables. Though you’ll need some fermentation vessels first. I use mason jars as they are a conveniently sized for storage and easy to sterilize. I made a recipe from Minimalist Baker not too long ago. It was Gingery Apple Cabbage Sauerkraut that turned out great. And it only gets better with age.

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. This means more sterilizing jars. Then you pour the brine over the veg in the sterilized jar and either can them, which involves boiling the sealed jars in water for a certain amount of time, or put them directly into the fridge for a quick refrigerator pickle. And making either of these recipes from veg you grew yourself is most satisfying and budget friendly as well.

Grow Your Own

Speaking of veg, if you haven’t started a garden yet there are few things more gratifying in life. While also being able to save you loads of money to boot. Watching the seeds you planted during the colder months grow and bear fruit as the year progresses, brings with it a sense of satisfaction that few other activities deliver. I like growing leafy greens such as kale and collards for their prolific yields. Mostly because I use these vegetables often, two to three times a week usually. So I like to have a few plants on hand to harvest from throughout the season.

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! That’s why pickling is so popular. It gives you a chance to use up a lot of the produce you’ll be harvesting. Saving you loads of fridge and freezer space. 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 to get the maximum yield.

DIY Your Living Space and Wardrobe

Furniture

Repurposing old furniture can be a rewarding experience and add another dimension of DIY to your life. 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 and left it on my chair. I didn’t have time for my plan and the bamboo strainer started collecting things. As things that lay around are apt to do.

In this case it was collecting linens. Towels and face clothes to be specific. I enjoyed the aesthetic of the white towels on their new 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. All I need now are a few candles, a diffuser and I’m on my way to a relaxing, sustainable and functional environment. My own little spa : )

Clothing & Accesories

Another DIY project of mine is I make 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. During my career 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 at work as well.

I started making them not too long ago out of old shirts I had. I use to wear paisley bandanas pretty much exclusively. I even made a window covering by pinning together a few dozen paisley bandanas. This gave my bedroom a Boho vibe in my first apartment at 19. It fit my style for sure, but the bandanas I DIY nowadays are of a solid color and made from old Tees. And much softer than their paisley cousins. I rotate between four of them, all made with no sewing involved. When it’s a bit safer to go shopping, I plan on going to a local thrift shop to look for old Tees that may be suitable to make the jump from worn-out shirt to new bandanas.

Sewing Throws

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 my memories are embedded into its very fabric (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And I’ll also have a comfortable throw laying around for the colder seasons.

Built Additions

Another project I enjoyed putting together was, a wall of windows. I DIYed a frame out of 2″x 4″s and hung old windows I collected in it. This created a transparent partition. It had loads of character, while salvaging some windows that would have ended up in the garbage. 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.

Bringing It All Together

There are so many ways to make and curate the things we need and use. We’ve been bread to believe that we must buy the things we need. And if you think about, we live in a capitalist democracy. Sure, we can vote whomever we want into office to make changes, but they’re still getting paid by our tax dollars. And they are most likely catering to the industries and corporations that are running and controlling the economy of our country.

The phrase, “vote with your dollars” strikes a chord with me and for this very reason. The better we are as a community at saving those dollars, by being thrifty, 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 embrace the spirit of a community that values craft in the items we use. Above those values of being disposable or easy of use.

DIYing From a Place of Caring

I’m not saying that everything that is disposable and easy to use is 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. Substitute some DIY instead of saving up for something that’s on your “wish list”. Why not see if you can make it yourself. Because who knows what a little research may yield for you. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy the work and how satisfying the fruits of your labor may feel.

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

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

Self-care and clothing runs deep in my upbringing in relation to my perceived elf image. As I’m sure is the case for most people. So off and on I get the urge to go shopping for something new. Now a days I mostly I get candles or a new type of soap instead of clothing. 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. It doesn’t feel natural

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.

What’s in Your Wardrobe?

This got me thinking about the clothes that I do own. Most very plain with only a few pieces that have some sort of writing or brand name blazoned 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 my question is, what if instead of every time we need a new piece of clothing, we don’t go to stores that 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 personality, 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.

Thrifting, It’s Not Just For Clothing

But thrift stores aren’t only relegated to the buying and selling of 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 for the 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. Also who’s making mounds of cash off people trying to buy acceptance at any price. In some cases, harming 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 🙂 Peace, and thanks for reading.

Updated: 2/3/22

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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