Cultivate a Do-it-Yourself Mentality

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Photos by Lois Hoffman

Call me self sufficient and frugal or just call me stubborn — either way is probably right. I am talking about doing and making things that I need for myself. I have always had a passion for DIY projects but this past year has probably brought this even more to light. Being at home more, coupled with shortages of goods in stores, prompted many to make do with supplies at hand and to be ingenious and make whatever they needed at home. This is the way I was raised, to use what was on hand before buying.

This subject comes to mind, because of all the extra time we had this past year. Boredom is a great motivator to take a gander at what you have at hand and what you can do with it. People that think they have no talent for doing their own projects maybe just haven’t tried before.

Finding Inventive DIY Projects Around the Home

This past week has been the week of accomplishment for us. A lot of projects that we started got finished. We have had a set of four corn planter plates setting around collecting dust. Ron welded three of them together and fashioned a tripod around them with chains to hold a kettle over a bonfire to cook in.

He also took some leftover steel plates and made two heavy-duty stands, one to work on and one to mount my scroll saw on.

I have needed a small side table to set a cup of tea on by the sofa. I knew that I wanted one with a rustic look, so an old pallet provided just what I needed. Tearing it apart, sawing the boards to length and then staining it, I now have the perfect little stand.

Perhaps I got in this mode years ago when I worked at a woodworking factory. They graciously let the employees use all the machinery and any scraps of wood that were left after orders were filled to make anything we wanted. There were a lot of Christmas gifts made there!

I used some cherry lumber and made a simple table to hold a glass table top. I also used leftover laminated plywood and other stock to make a small end table.

Glass mirrors left over from a former project became bases for clocks with a little etching added to them. A small piece of muslin that almost got tossed has become a needlepoint piece with an inspirational verse on it and is framed in a unique wooden frame that has been taking up space in the basement for years. The same is true of some decorative jars that were serving no purpose. With a few marbles added (that were also setting around) and some solar fairy lights, the jars now decorate our railing around the deck. OK, I did buy the fairy lights, but of all the projects, that is the first item I purchased.

There is nothing special about these projects in the least. Many folks “tinker” and make beautiful and useful things. The point is that sometimes we are all guilty of just going to town to buy it or ordering something online when we could save money and use up materials that are just taking up space. As much as I love to make things, I am also guilty of this.

The fact is whenever we do something, there are always leftovers. Who doesn’t have some lumber, metal, ceramic tiles, scraps of yarn and other odds and ends from past projects tucked away because they are too good to dispose of and yet there is no particular use for them at the time.

That’s when it’s time to get creative. I have this thing lately that “stuff” either needs to be put to use or it goes. No more just taking up space. I also can’t bring myself to part with some things, so I look for ways to put them to use.

Perhaps the best example of this are three 12-inch square ceramic tiles that became part of our bathroom wall. Both of our bathrooms and kitchen had some outdated 4-inch square yellow-and-white ceramic tiles on the walls. Wanting a change, we decided to remove them. Not a problem in the kitchen and one of the bathrooms, however, when we pulled them off in the other bathroom, the plaster came with them so we had a hole right down to the rafters.

With a little ingenuity, some plywood covered the hole and then I painted a garden scene on the tiles and attached them to the plywood. A whole new look to our wall that fixed a small disaster. The tiles could have easily been stenciled or used as they were for those that don’t want to put quite as much effort into it.

Reason to Just Make It Yourself

There are so many reasons to get in the habit of repurposing materials that you already have on hand. Some of the biggest reasons that I do it are:

Save money. The materials have already been purchased for one reason or another. Why not put them to good use instead of spending more money.

Stave off boredom. During long winter months and even in the warmer times of year, sometimes there just isn’t a lot going on. It’s easy to end up on the sofa in front of the TV, but even that gets old after a while. The hardest part is getting up and getting started, but once you do, you’ll probably get caught up in your project that you won’t want to quit until it’s all finished.

Enjoy a sense of accomplishment. There is just something about knowing you created something useful yourself. There is satisfaction in knowing that not only could you do it, you actually did it. It doesn’t even have to be perfect, there is a place for perfection but if it suits you, then it is fine.

Use what you have. This is half of the fun. So many folks think that you have to have the biggest and the best. If you want to make a small wood project, you don’t need a whole wood shop. For my little stand, I bought a small jigsaw and used the clamps, screws and sand paper on hand. The beauty of this is that, after trying your hand at something new, you may discover that you never want to try that particular thing again or that you do really enjoy it. If it is something you enjoy, then is the time to expand your tools and supplies for that hobby.

Learn a new skill. It doesn’t matter what you choose to try, whether it be woodworking, painting, sewing, brick laying, or a host of other activities, you will never know if it is something that trips your trigger or not until you try. Don’t let being a newbie to it discourage you. Believe me, there are videos on YouTube that will show you exactly how to do anything from tying knots (which is an art in itself!) to sewing to building boats to–whatever you want to do. Don’t forget that there is also something to be said for trial and error.

Make something unique. Whatever it is that you are doing, your piece will be unique, one of a kind. You can’t buy this in a store. That will make it special.

I know that I always feel better when I have a project in the works, and I get something to show for it in the end. Ron always jokes that when it is my time to go, I will be asking God for just a little bit longer because I have something to finish. I hope he is right!

Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Pennsylvania. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.

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