Thursday, 26 June 2008

Poor But Happy; low-budget home-making

DIY furnishings. Moving into an unfurnished place can be an expensive time. Look out for (clean) furniture and useful materials discarded in the street or in skips. I found the chair I’m sat on by the bins in 1986 and it’s still going strong. While you’re raising the money for ‘proper’ furniture, here’s alternatives you can make with minimal skills from cheap or found materials.

Breadbasket chest of drawers. Discarded Sunblest baskets can be stacked on top of each other to store clothes.

Brick bookcase. Put planks of wood/ chipboard on stacks of old bricks to make a bookcase. Paint or varnish the bricks to stop damp seeping into your books.

Breadbasket desk. Stand two Sunblest baskets on their edge. Fix a piece of board on top by screwing through the edge of the baskets into the board. The small plastic joint blocks sold in DIY shops add strength. Use old interior doors for a bigger version.

Pallet futon. Wooden pallets laid on the floor work well as a makeshift futon base.
Alcove wardrobe. If there’s an alcove in your place about the right size, fix a length of 1 inch diameter dowelling between the two walls using a couple of wardrobe rail brackets to hang clothes on.
Door clothes hanger. Fix a strong hook on the back of a door. Tie knots in a long piece of string so there are small loops at regular intervals. Hang the string on the hook, then hang coat hangers in the loops to hang clothes on. Coathangers often get dumped after street markets— collect some at the end of trading.

Paint tin coffee table. Make a low coffee table by screwing an empty 5 litre paint tin to each corner of an old piece of board, in an upright position. Old paint tins also work as wastepaperbaskets. Cover them in old wrapping paper.
Emergency curtains. Buy a big enough bit of material. Old bedspreads from charity shops are ideal - old sheets or blankets will do. Fold the material at what will be the top of the curtain like you’re going to sew a wide hem. Secure the fold with staples or safety pins – safety pins are best as they can be removed if you ever wash the curtains. Instead of curtain rail, screw two hooks just above the window at each end. Hang your curtains on curtain wire between these two hooks, or substitute string if you’re really broke.
Unless you plan to do loads of DIY it’s best to borrow tools if possible - the average electric drill gets 15 minutes of use in its lifetime(2). Ask friends or join a LETS scheme (see later).
Second-hand furniture. Street markets and car-boot sales sell second-hand furniture but rarely deliver, and I’d avoid buying anything electrical there. Luckily, many charities now sell second-hand furniture. My local British Heart Foundation shop has all types of furniture including TVs, and white goods. I bought a TV there last year when my old one packed up for £60 including delivery — the cheapest equivalent in Argos was £112. If it lasts four years I’ll save 25p per week (2mins).
For charity shops selling used furniture, visit , and . When buying furniture etc new, visit to compare prices. If you buy from major chains online, visit their sites via and the stores will donate 2-3% of what you spend to charity.
Utensils and odds and sods. Those same car boot sales, markets and charity shops are good for utensils like saucepans etc. For cutlery, cups etc try poundshops – they’re almost certainly horribly unethical but I can’t walk past a poundshop like some people can’t walk past a pub.
Low energy light bulbs are often available free; power companies, local councils and government bodies promoting energy saving sometimes give them away. I mostly got mine for free at local environmental events. Use rechargeable batteries where possible. They last for up to 1000 rechargings. You can buy solar powered chargers for about £10 from or from branches of Maplin’s ( .
Decluttering. Obviously it’s best not to buy things you don’t want in the first place, but if you’ve got stuff you want shot of, you may as well get a bit of money back on it, or at least make sure it doesn’t go to waste. You can sell your stuff at , , . If you want to give it away, charity shops are the obvious choice, but for anything that won’t find a home there, try which lets you give away a whole range of items.

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