DIY for dummies

DIY for dummies

Aaaaand we’re back! I finally won my fear of failing at arts and crafts and produced some [reasonably] lovely looking containers. Unfortunately I don’t have any ‘before’ pictures, but I suppose all of you know what a tin can looks like… I did not have any professional DIY tools so I just wrapped the tin cans in whatever I could find – wrapping paper, an old promotional postcard, a paper bag from a [fancy] linen shop. It took me approximately half an hour to find the materials and wrap the cans. It was incredibly easy…and fun!
Encouraged by the success I also used some old maps as a wallpaper/lining for the shelving unit. It looks surprisingly well!
In the background you can see another example of my so called creativity – an upcycled yoghurt jar-turned-candle holder. I simply cleaned it, filled it with sea salt and stuck a candle inside. Simples!

And here you can see the mapIMG_0010

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10 things I’ve learned since I stopped buying new

Since the 10-item lists have been tremendously trendy of late, here goes my own.

10 things I’ve learned since I stopped buying new

  1. …to always ask the question: Do I REALLY need this? Usually, and sometimes to my utter disappointment, the answer is no. The follow-up question is “Why do I want it so bad”. If the answer satisfies me – I buy.
  2. …to plan purchases (and therefore not to buy on a whim)
  3. …to replace the “retail therapy” with other, more meaningful ways of cheering myself up (I have taken up hiking and yoga and enjoy them more than I ever did shopping)
  4. …to make all-natural beautifying concoctions.
  5. …to value the things I’ve got and to treat them well (because I might not be able to find a second-hand replacement any time soon) and…
  6. …to use everything until it is completely used-up and even then…
  7. …to recycle, upcycle and repurpose. Before I throw anything away I think what I could use it for in its present shape and condition. Admittedly, it’s not always an entirely successful operation.
  8. … to accept small failures and compromises. You can’t always play by the book (I bought a brand new kettle and a toaster, because I couldn’t live without my morning toast any longer. Do I regret it?Maybe a little, but come on, a life without toasted bread is not worth living!)
  9. …to enjoy my frugal life, sparsely dotted with moments of “conscientious splurge” – remember the Himalayan salt?
  10. …to stop fantasising about the person I could become by BUYING some particular things (as in: elaborate cooking tools would allow me to become a world-class chef, fitness machines would make me a goddess of.. well…fitness, pieces of clothing would make me the best dressed person in town etc.), and to start DOING things in order to become the best version of myself, using the resources at hand.

And here there’s me, enjoying a rather inexpensive but nonetheless lovely seaside holiday (uhm, ok, just a weekend, but it’s the intensity that counts, isn’t it?)


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You say: “Vintage!” I say “Ghent!”

Remember when I told you I felt free because I didn’t have to follow trends anymore. Well, that’s MOSTLY true. Sometimes, however, not being able to buy new clothes is rather frustrating. It gets difficult when you see a perfect pair of high-heeled sandals in the window shop. When you need a sharp suit and all you can find in a second-hand shop are hippie skirts. When all you need is an immaculate white shirt. I would love to tell you I found a perfect solution for when it happens, but, sadly I did not. While I can reluctantly say no to a new pair of shoes (I have more than enough, after all), the need for professional-looking clothing cannot be easily satisfied. I am lucky that I don’t need to wear a pantsuit every day and the dress code in my office is not very strict. However, there are moments when a well-tailored suit with a spotless, perfectly pressed white shirt would be the right thing to put on. And that’s when things get tricky. The only consolation is that I cannot afford a well-tailored suit anyway! For now I am happy to use the black Zara slacks got for a fiver at Kringwinkel Ateljee and an old jacket that, quite luckily, matches them.

Fortunately when it comes to less formal attire, the opportunities to get a nice piece in Ghent are countless. I’m not able to make a full list, but it would be a shame not to mention my favourite places (and this post is not sponsored, mind!).

  1. Think Twice in Nederkouter and Ajuinlei http://thinktwice-secondhand.be/ where I got most of my clothes – they do monthly sales when everything costs only 1 euro, happy days!. it’s a really affordable vintage clothes store with tasteful retro décor and good atmosphere. It gets crowded during the sales so be prepared! Below: me in a dress from Think Twice (bought at full price of 18 euros)

    Don’t worry, I didn’t lose a leg (yet)!

  2. Kringwinkel franchise http://www.dekringwinkel.be/kw/home_1.aspx: my love for Kringwinkel will never dim – it’s extra cheap and you can find some really lovely stuff: got my Levi’s jeans for 3 euros there. You need to be patient though, there are (literally) heaps of things so you need to sort through them.
  3. MarMod https://www.facebook.com/marmodshop – a really cool place! You can have a fresh soup while browsing through a selection of handpicked vintage pieces (OK, maybe not “while”. “Before” or “after” might be better). I didn’t buy anything for myself but got a smashing pair of red trousers for my BF. The shop is really hip, the owner is friendly and there’s lemonade. Basically perfect.
  4. Pop-up 2nd hand store set up by Swishing at the DOK (which is, by the way, a VERY interesting place and I just love going there. Also it’s beside 2 secondhand furniture shops. Someone might call it “heaven”). It’s small, but the pieces are extremely well chosen – you can find anything from a no name (but cute) beach dress to beautiful designer jackets. I got a lovely, 100% silk dress for a tenner. If it’s not a bargain then I don’t know what is. And if you’re tired, you can have a pintje or a piece of cake, sit on the lawn and enjoy the sun… ok, this might be going to far. Just enjoy your pint and try not to think about the weather. Here you can find some info about the next Swishing event at the DOK.

DIY beauty

My new employ in Brussels, the commute, and several (ok, only two) language courses I follow have kept me busy and away from these friendly shores for a good while. But now I am back!  For the first 3 weeks of my new job, during the weekends, I would just shop, clean and then collapse, exhausted, as I was still unused to the busy schedule I imposed myself (or, it kind of imposed itself, since I had already started the language courses when I got the job and I didn’t want to give up any of these things).

This is the first weekend when I’ve chosen to do something different and definitely more pleasant . Cleaning can wait; a little dirt never killed anyone (or did it?). Instead of scrubbing the bathroom tiles I decided to devote some time to myself. IF you think I turned to philosophical readings or other intellectually engaging tasks, you’re sorely wrong. Instead I decided to get rid of the dead skin accumulating in rather disgusting layers over the humble temple of my soul (i.e. my body).  To do so, guided by the principles of Nothing New, I turned to DIY. As you might remember I have what you may call an anti-talent for the DIY, I was born with my both hands completely unable to draw, sew or do anything at all that requires a minimum of manual skill. Except maybe typing, which I’m quite good at, after decades of practise. But then again, so is everyone else born after 1975.

To make my scrub I used this 40-second recipe by Alexx Stuart. I didn’t have any coconut oil (I will buy it though!) so I used extra virgin olive oil instead. Luckily enough I’d been collecting spent coffee for quite a while before making my scrub, so I had enough for a big portion. And it worked like a charm! Seriously. Even for a totally inept DIY-er like me, it was super easy and super effective –I am still admiring my skin, it is so soft! I applied it after a quick jog so it felt twice as good as it normally would have – my tired legs loved the massage with the energizing coffee mixture! I will never again use a shop-bought scrub and advise you, dear readers (and especially those of you who use ground coffee daily), to do the same. Especially because it’s easier and cheaper than buying a tub of expensive and chemical-filled scrub that will do exactly the same job.

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We are not alone

Welcome back! So apparently, Nothing New is part of a larger movement. Who would have known! It’s called the Compact and it follows the same principles as we do. Recycle, simplify, declutter. Or how the Non Consumer Advocate very appropriately puts it “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. The only difference is I wouldn’t say that I “frown upon consumerism” (the Compact’s Wikipedia page says they do that) because it sounds pretentious and supercilious which are the two things I like the least when it comes to people and/or movements. And I don’t want to get the awful angry wrinkle from all that frowning anyway, I’d much rather a nice set of laughing wrinkles instead. Oh, and the Compact members are supposed to buy nothing new only for a year, while I am planning to continue for as long as I can.

It’s been about 4 months since I started blogging on Nothing New so it is probably time for a recap. I will try to fit my findings into 3 categories: 1.Reduce and 2. Reuse (Recycle – Repurpose) 3. What’s new?

  1. Reuse – Recycle – Repurpose

    I have been trying (and not always succeeding) to reuse disposable things such as freezer bags and ziplocks although it’s somewhat difficult to wash the smoked mackerel smell off a plastic bag. But I do try. Here‘s some more info about reusing disposable stuff. Also, as you know, we freecycled the horrid wardrobes and a few other things, one of which was a coffee machine which we repurposed as a water kettle (but we also still use it as a coffee machine so the tea made using the water from this “kettle” always tastes a little bit like coffee. 2 in 1, isn’t it a great deal? OK, maybe not).

    Recently we also got a set of 2 storage units from our lovely friends who are renovating their house and therefore needed to get rid of some things we gratefully accepted. We completed the units with some French wine boxes (also freecycled).

    Not everything worked out perfectly, though.

    Some things we bought broke almost instantly.

    Some things never worked (remember the story of the syphon?).

    Some things worked poorly from the beginning and ultimately stopped working altogether (see the red alarm clock you see on the top of this page? Yep, it’s one of those things).

    I am not giving up on them though. The syphon is very decorative (pics will follow), so is the alarm clock, but I am actually going to get it fixed. Nothing gets dumped if it’s not really BEYOND saving*.

  2. Reduce

    This part didn’t go that well. We’ve been uninterruptedly buying and freecycling stuff which made our flat rather cluttered. However, my mom said that the flat felt “roomy” which is a polite version of “empty”. It means that we’re doing ok, after all. However, we’re almost running out of space, so maybe it’s time to give up some things we don’t use often. Maybe this guy will help.

  3. What’s new?

    Unfortunately I was forced to buy some new things – it’s difficult to start a new life in a new flat without buying anything. After a few months’ long search for a second hand one I purchased a new mop and a bucket. We still live without a sweeping brush though! For now I borrow the communal one…

    I also buy spare parts new as a way of encouraging their production. Letting the manufacturers know that you actually want to FIX instead of buying new might make them want to make sturdier products that will last longer. OK, it probably won’t but I try nonetheless!

We are also (slowly) converting to DIY. There will be more about it in our next post, so stay tuned!

*Reusing, repurposing, recycling

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No-shopping trip

During my long and somewhat monotonous hours of work at an industrial farm (yep, that’s my latest gig) I was trying hard to think about something to write here. Physical, extremely repetitive labour is great for clearing your head up; it’s even kind of zen. Or so it seemed to me, anyway. Sure if I were to do it for decades probably it would be just boring and frustrating, but this way it is a perfect break from the worries and the responsibilities that come with any office job. Also, it pays the bills.

This weekend, with my head well cleared up and ready to receive stimuli I wandered into my new hometown. It was then that I realised something that is, in a way, connected with the purpose of this blog. The city I live in, Ghent is gorgeous and it is able to sell its beauty very well. The medieval buildings the city is packed with are its main touristic attraction. Or so it should be, but sometimes it seems to me that the buildings are only luxurious props whose only purpose is to showcase prettily all of the expensive objects sold within them and to invite tourist to spend all the money they have (and some more) on designer clothes, handbags, local sweets, meats or beers. Everything is local, everything is unique. Infinite ways to spend money, everyone will find something appealing to buy and consume. The shop windows in the city centre, filled with attractive objects tastefully arranged in aesthetically pleasing ensembles, radiate an air of sophisticated and discreet opulence. No tacky souvenirs (or very few of them anyway), but plenty of products that a person who takes pride in his (or her) good taste would love to possess. It is a perfect city for an elegant shopping trip.

I must confess that I’m not immune to the charm of all the beauty on sale in Ghent. But I am not buying it. That makes me wander off the main touristic track and into the run down back alleys with their crumbly buildings, old shop fronts and bars of dubious nature. Nothing there is prettily polished, not much is sold, but somehow, when I’m there – I feel the pressure ease because no one is trying to please me. I am not a customer anymore – I am a person. So I just walk and enjoy the sun-filled, deserted streets where no one is trying to sell me anything.

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Spring cleaning in the blizzard

It was not easy to start writing this post. The words flow fast when everything is going as planned, but when you need to face your own shortcomings – well, then there are a million things to do and there’s no time to sit down and get writing.

I was waiting for something nice to happen to balance my failures out because writing a post just about failures would be depressing and ultimately useless. Well, nothing really happened, but my frame of mind changed as a minor revelation took place and now I am ready to write about the bad and the good.

I planned, as you know, to spend less time online and to organise nice and costless activities for myself this month in order to learn to appreciate things that have no value in terms of money. Last weekend both my good resolutions failed miserably. On Saturday we went to the Retro Expo which was e deeply frustrating experience. First of all, a scarily big crowd of people was crammed in a relatively small space and that alone was anxiety inducing. Second of all, and even worse: everyone, EVERYONE, except me, was finding something nice and unique for themselves. In the end, out of desperation, I bought a soda syphon which later turned out to be broken. After the fruitless morning I was in no mood to give up internet which always comforts me as a security blanket, not even for 24 hours. We spent the rest of the weekend shopping for things we were supposed to get at the Expo. Hardly a costless activity.

Fortunately, life is unpredictable. Completely down-to-earth and even boring activities, such as, let’s say, a spring cleaning, can contribute to your overall happiness more than any planned entertainment – gratuitous or otherwise. When I was cleaning and tidying up our place and my partner was sowing vegetables to put in our back yard (which was getting covered in snow in the meantime), it dawned on me that our tiny and less than luxurious apartment reflected who I am better than any other place I’d ever lived in before, even if I only lived there for a couple of months. This is because every single object has a story and I remember how, when and why we chose to get it. Each one is useful even though not each one looks good. Nothing is immaculate or colour-coordinated. There’s still room to spare in our cupboards, there’s not a single useless thing (well, maybe except for the silly, broken syphon – but it’s there to remind me not to buy things out of desperation, so it is not COMPLETELY useless).. While furnishing it, often we had to find a compromise solution, bend the rules a bit or settle for something a little ugly. But the result is a place that is less than perfect, sure, but full of warmth and character. And I’m crazily proud of it.

Here is our windowsill garden, which will sometime soon turn into a backyard garden. Well, as soon as the snow thaws.

P.S. I managed to stay off line for a full day this weekend, so YAY me J

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