Category Archives: Diy

To frugality and beyond.

There’s nothing like an interstate move for ridding oneself of pesky savings. My accounts were mercilessly savaged over the past month, and while many of the expenses were unavoidable (like relocating my stuff and paying for motels until I could find a flat-share), I’ve also been guilty of swanning about in “holiday” mode, dropping cash thoughtlessly on meals out and expensive drinking sessions. But the time has come to get real: with no incoming cash flow I have adjust my spending habits or face the unthinkable: returning to the land of suspicious moles and cashed-up bogans with my tail between my legs.

With a Coles and a fruit & veg market within walking distance of the flat, I’ve got no excuse for spending more than $5-10 on meals. Reducing my alcohol intake will also help me get leaner and fitter, which is another one of my goals. I’ve also taken to carrying around my own water bottle everywhere I go, which saves me around $5 every time I leave the house (yes, I drink a LOT of water. My body needs something other than caffeine to dilute the alcohol).

And while I’m still relatively new to the art of living with less, I’ve learned that minimalism and frugality are total BFF’s. Saving money on essentials is great, but not buying non-essentials is better (not only for your finances but also the environment; it’s not all about you, k?).

Unsurprisingly, the blogosphere has been a massive source of inspiration on my journey toward a more frugal existence. And while I’ve benefited from the advice of others who’ve embarked on a similar journey, I’ve had to remind myself that just like minimalism, frugality means different things to everybody. Priorities differ. My definition of a “non-essential” item is not going to be the same as another person’s, so comparing my own spending habits to theirs is counter-productive. Was it frugal to spend $50 last week on terrarium supplies, when that money could have gone towards a more comfortable retirement? Not if that was my immediate goal (and without any children to finance my increasing number of eccentricities, it probably should be).

Nonetheless, if my most pressing desire was to personalise my living space with something that brings me joy, should investing in an object that fulfils that goal be considered wasteful?  And if I were able to procure that object at a fraction of the cost of buying it ready-made from a store, would that not in fact be an act of frugality?

Or to put it another way; if buying pretty shit on a budget is how you roll then I say own it, bishes. Just don’t pay retail.

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Terrarium #2. Just two miniature toadstools and a plastic deer away from perfection.

Gardens under glass.

Last week I felt the need to personalise my new room, but the last thing I wanted to do was clutter up the space with more “stuff”. Cue the terrarium! Gardens under glass are all the rage in Melbourne, and while they do fall under the category of “stuff”, they serve the added purpose of filtering the air as well as providing a source of natural beauty. They also take up minimal space, depending on their size.

After visiting a few florists and nurseries to scoff heartily at their $100+ price tags, I decided to DIY. I bought a set of secondhand glass cookie jars, bags of potting mix and charcoal, some rocks (my inner scrooge revolted fiercely at this) and three plants specifically recommended for terrariums. While I do love the look of cacti and succulents, I decided to avoid using them after reading this article. My total outlay was $50. The result? Erm, I’ll let you judge for yourself.

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In my defense, manoeuvring plants and rocks into position through a small hole is harder than it looks. While I continue to work on creating something pinworthy, here are some examples of terrariums at their most artistically arranged and lush to inspire you.

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For those who find jars of nothing but foliage frighteningly dull: delightful miniature scenes can be created with the addition of moss and figurines.

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*repeats mantra “creativity is not a competition”…*

Ikea minihack #1.

I bought the TÄRNÖ as a temporary balcony filler at my last rental, intending to replace it with a more durable setting at a later date. I’ll be moving again soon, so the new setting is on hold. While I’ve yet to attempt a “real” Ikea hack, I decided to use the green paint left over from my dining table project to give the TÄRNÖ a new look.

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The setting is made from unfinished acacia wood, so I didn’t need to do much preparation. I sanded each piece lightly and taped up the steel sections before applying two coats of green (I didn’t bother with primer or an undercoat this time). Although I like the lightly distressed look of the dining chairs, I amped up the sanding on these to create a more weathered effect.  I brushed on a couple of coats of varnish to finish.

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I’m sure I’ll get tired of the distressed look eventually, but right now it’s a good match for my fledgling skills.

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Photos by Madame Squee

The delightful centrepiece is Hans, my three month old dachshund and the reason behind the move. Although I love the unit’s easy-care gardens, the lack of lawn is an issue. Every time I pass the depressing mountain of boxes in my living room I remind myself how much he’ll enjoy having a proper yard to play in, and how much I’ll enjoy him peeing outside in the sunshine rather than in my shoes.

Use a coaster or I’ll punch you in the throat.

My first DIY refinishing project was a dining table and chairs.  I’d seen my first French Provincial/Farmhouse dining table a week earlier and immediately squeed myself. “Rustic” seemed like a pretty hard effect to screw up, so I decided to buy a cheap dining set and attempt it myself. This is what I was aiming for:

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My first port of call was Gumtree, where I spotted a pine table and chairs advertised for $100. According to the ad, the set was in good condition and the owner was only selling because she wanted a square dining table. What a steal, I thought. She’s practically giving it away! I called her and once she’d assured me that both the table and chairs were structurally sound, the bf and I hired a trailer and drove over.

The set had clearly been in her shed for some time. It was grimy, dinged up and rather curiously, speckled with glitter paint. Never mind, I thought – I’ll be stripping it anyway, and the knocks and bumps will add character. It wasn’t until we’d loaded up the trailer and were halfway home that I noticed one of the table legs shaking like a chihuahua on Red Bull. Turns out it had a substantial chunk missing at the base and had been “fixed” with a metal bracket. Structurally sound, my ass. What a rip, I thought. She should have paid me to cart away her trash! Lesson learned: inspect second hand items thoroughly before buying, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you’re not satisfied. In this case, I decided to keep the set, use the chairs as planned and convert the table into an outdoor workbench.

I hit Gumtree again and found another table advertised for $60. The seller had already stripped the top and base for his own aborted project (score!), so all I had to do was pick out a wood stain, some white paint and sandpaper and get cracking. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I figured if I stuffed up too badly I could just sand it back and start again. I didn’t take a before pic, so here it is as it appeared on Gumtree.

table before

I painted the base with a coat of flat charcoal, then a flat white. I experimented with various grades of sandpaper until I found one that stripped the white back to the charcoal without exposing the wood. I concentrated on the corners, where the table would naturally experience the most wear. When I was happy with the effect, I sealed it with a few coats of spray varnish.

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 I used Cabot’s Interior Stain in Walnut for the top. It took three coats to achieve the look I wanted.

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The chairs proved a more difficult undertaking. Even with my mum’s electric sander, stripping them was a right bitch. I suffer from weak wrists (shut up, it’s a thing) so I had to spread out the task over several weekends. Rather than paint the chairs to match the table, I decided to transform them with a bold green. This was my inspiration:

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Bunnings didn’t have the right shade of green in enamel, so I brought in a green decorative box lid for them to sample. I primed the chairs in white, gave them two coats of charcoal, and finished with two coats of green.

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I didn’t go as crazy with the sandpaper this time, as I wanted a more subtle distressed effect. Hint: unless you’re a sadist, don’t use a white primer under a dark top coat, because white flecks totally ruin the effect. Either mix a darker paint into the primer so it matches the undercoat, or skip priming altogether.

I finished up with a couple of coats of spray varnish. Even though I had bought a tin of varnish specifically for the chairs, I was completely over brush application by this stage.

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My dining room is so freaking small that I couldn’t get the entire set in the frame, but you get the overall effect. Total cost including paint and varnish was around $250.

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