Five ways to make do (without replacing your appliances)

Five ways to make do without replacing your appliances

When I look around our house I realise there are quite a few things that are broken, or have developed some quirk that only we know how to operate.  I’m sure we are not alone in having appliances that don’t quite work how they should do, or have given up the ghost completely.

One of the mantras of minimalism/frugal living/being environmentally aware is to do without those things we think we need. They cost our hard-earned pennies, use precious resources to make, clutter our cupboards, and require time (and money) to clean and maintain.

I think it’s a combination of this philosophy (plus a smattering of ‘can’t be bothered/don’t have the time’) that explains why we have learned to do without certain appliances in our home.

Instead of rushing out to the store to buy a brand new replacement we have tried to make do. From personal experience these are the five things I have learned about making do with troublesome equipment – or managing without:

1) Adjust to its quirks

I wrote here about our broken-down oven. To summarise it stopped working and when I called out the engineer he suggested replacing it with a brand new one rather than paying for a replacement part. I chose to go with the latter and, nearly two years later, it is still working. However it is not very warm. So I have learned to adjust to this by automatically increasing the gas mark temperature by one (GM4 becomes GM5 etc) and also being generous with the cooking time. Also the gas hobs only work by using a separate lighter or matches to ingite. Until we move house/have money to buy a new one this is how we are cooking and it, sort of, works.

Solution: we all have temperamental appliances. If you have visitors who need to use the equipment (ie babysitters) write down instructions for them – but make sure the appliances can be used in a safe way.

2) Is there an alternative that I can use?

Do I already own something – or can I purchase something smaller and cheaper – that would do a similar job? We have struggled for many years with second-hand  vacuum cleaners that haven’t been quite up to the job. Bea from Zero Waste Home manages without a vacuum and relies on a broom. She believes it saves time (no plugging, unplugging and carrying the hoover from room to room). I’ve now got into the habit of using a brush to sweep our hardwood floors although this isn’t a solution for carpets. My parents, however, keep a simple, old fashioned carpet sweeper upstairs to clean their bedroom floors as it saves carrying a heavy vacuum up the stairs.

Recently we had a (brief) power cut which made me dig out our camping kettle to use on the gas stove (ignited with a match remember!). The electricity came back on but the kettle is staying in our kitchen as our electric one is playing up.

Solution: check around your house to see if you have an alternative. Do you own a travel iron or hairdryer that could be used to do the same job? After all what’s the point of buying something that is only used for a couple of weeks every year? Make these ‘holiday’ appliances work for their money!

3) Can I live without it?

Two years ago our (second-hand) dishwasher stopped working. We have been hand washing dishes ever since and it works for us. I believe that, from an environmental standpoint, a modern and efficient dishwasher would be better. However washing dishes by hand has many benefits. It involves the whole family (the children learn to wash and wipe up). We also had saucepans that couldn’t be put in the dishwasher anyway and now, when we need a utensil, we can wash it up straight away rather than waiting to fill the machine.

Making do with what yo have: washing up by hand

Solution: why don’t you try living without the appliance for a while? Some people use the ‘frozen credit card’ system (literally credit card frozen in ice) to help them delay making a purchase. If your car has broken down can you try using your bus service for a while, or book online deliveries? Can you enlist the help of family and friends to undertake tasks ie getting the kids to wash up.

4) Is there a free or cheaper substitute?

I have posted here and here about our second-hand bread makers, purchased for a small amount from the charity shop’s electrical appliances store. However if we’d been unable to find our second replacement we could have tried baking by hand. Like many people we’ve also been able to pick up appliances for free from Freecyle or Facebook sites (and in turn offered our unwanted goods).

Making do with what you have: second-hand appliances

Solution: Can I pick up a free substitute by putting a request on freecycle? Is there a free part I could pick up that could be used to mend my broken appliance? 

5) Can I borrow another one?

As I mentioned in my recent post about lending and borrowing we plan to borrow a tent from neighbours when we go camping this summer. We don’t have the budget to buy a new tent and as we are only camping for a couple of nights it doesn’t affect their holiday plans. It also means we don’t have to find space to store a five-person tent permanently.

Making do.. without buying a new tent

Solution:try borrowing websites such as Streetbank or  ecomodo . Don’t be afraid to ask friends or family if you can borow an item; there may be something you can lend out in return.

..but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and buy a new one. For years we struggled without a heating control device. Instead we manually switched the heating on and off from the boiler which was ineffective and led to a very cold house when we were away. We finally bought a new control pad and our house is heated so much more efficiently now. It’s just a matter of deciding what does need replacing, and what you can manage without…


De-cluttering for Christmas in a small home

Toys  , Christmas tree ball on ,  branch.

Apologies for the early use of a Christmas bauble!


Last week I went to see The Minimalists on their UK book tour. I have been exploring minimalism for a while and, even before seeing Joshua and Ryan in person, I had planned a massive de-clutter session at home.

There are many reasons why I like the idea of minimalism: of owning less, spending less and using your time to pursue the simple things. There are many environmental, financial and social benefits to following this lifestyle.

There is also a very practical reason for doing this: we are a family of five living in a small 18th century cottage. Roughly speaking our total floorspace (upstairs and downstairs) is 800 square foot. Using this interesting blog post here from Shrink That Footprint you can see that this is roughly the same size as an average new home* in the UK today. Only Hong Kong, China and Russia have smaller new homes. And in the US the square footage is a whopping 2,164 for a new home (something The Minimalists allluded to in their talk).

So you can see space is tight. Particularly in the girls’ bedrooms. My eldest has a room measuring 66 square foot; my younger two share a room that is 80 square foot. They also have generous grandparents and we have lots of friends who give us hand me downs. So, despite my love for all things second-hand, I am constantly de-cluttering and making space for toys, clothes and, well just things.

With the festive season creeping upon us I have set myself the ambitious aim of De-Cluttering for Christmas. I want to pare down the possessions that we have, to keep only those things that are useful and are used. I know that, in return, we will receive more stuff for Christmas although I am working on that.

In the meantime my de-cluttering plan sort of looks like this:

WEEK 13 Oct: Kitchen

WEEK 20 Oct: Conservatory/Office Part One

WEEK 27 Oct: Kids’ small toys (they are on half term break so can help with this one)

WEEK 3 Nov: Kids’ large toys

WEEK 10 Nov: Christmas decorations

WEEK 17 Nov: Bedrooms (incl clothing)

WEEK 24 Nov: Bathroom

WEEK 3 Dec: Loft (esp kids’ clothes, books, houseware)

WEEK 10 Dec: Lounge, then put decorations up

WEEK 17 Dec: Conservatory/Office Part Two (with husband’s help as he has a lot of stuff stored here)

I’ve already de-cluttered the kitchen and given away a tonne of cookery books on Freecycle as well as paring down my utensils quite significantly. I’ve also sorted through the kids’ craft supplies, which are also stored in the kitchen. I focused on the quality pens, paper, paints etc and they can now see the wood for the trees and are starting to enjoy using the smaller – but better – selection of art materials.


Good quality pens and crayons from Djeco, Staedtler and Smiggle for the girls’ art drawer


Do you have any plans to de-clutter for the Christmas season – or, better still – any tips on reducing the festive stuff that comes into your home?


*I’m assuming this is what we’d call ‘Starter Homes’ in the UK – a lot of new builds round our way are at least four bedroom and more thna we can afford.