Something Old, Something New, Something mended…

If you have dipped in and out of this blog over the past couple of years you will no doubt have come across my (endless) posts on broken appliances (!). So far we have:

– had a broken cooker which was mended here

– a tatty sofa which I had rather badly mended here

– hoovers which had been repaired, replaced with second-hand, then finally bought new last Christmas

and not forgetting the second-hand breadmakers (two) and my post about Living with Broken Appliances

We were fortunate enough to receive some money the other month and, at the same time, three of our appliances died on us:

The Cooker

After fifteen years of service and a professional repair two years ago the cooker finally gave up the ghost two weeks ago. By the time of its demise both ovens had stopped working effectively, the gas ignition had died long ago and only two gas hobs actually worked! So we decided the time had come to buy a brand new one.



The Washing Machine

The washing machine has been with us for about ten years and with three children it has had its fair share of use (especially when the girls were in cloth nappies). I have a fantastic contact in Bath who has come out on many an occasion to fix it when it stops working. Two years ago he replaced the brushes and said he thought the time would soon come to replace the machine. However it has carried on working (despite getting ever louder and starting to move about in its old age). Last week, after our big camping trip, it stopped draining but my handy washing machine man came and replaced the pump…and it’s working again….!

something old, something new, something mended..

The Hoover

What a saga! We have mended two hoovers, lived with a rubbish (cheap) one and, last month our new hoover broke  and needed a new belt and brush. I’m sure we are cursed by vacuum cleaners (or maybe we live in a dirty house that tests the endurance of even the most powerful machine!). Anyway a call to the manufacturer has resulted in a new supplies of belts (we had to pay) and a free brush. So, fingers crossed, a quick mend will result in it working again.

something old, something new

Running a regular Repair Cafe at my work I see the amount of (electrical) appliances that come in that are so easily fixed. Vacuum cleaners are definitely one of the most popular ones.  WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) undertook a study of one thousands consumers in England and Wales in 2012/13 to assess what people understood about the lifespan of electrical appliances, and if this was important to them. From the study it showed that consumers expected:

-vacuum cleaners to last five years

– washing machines to last six years

– fridges to last eight years

There’s also an interesting BBC article here about the decline in the lifespan of white goods in the UK. Apparently washing machines used to last for ten years and now, on average, they last for seven.

So how are your household appliances doing?

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…


Swept away by a second-hand hoover


Last year I was very excited by our purchase of a second-hand breadmaker here. We had picked it up from the fantastic Dorothy House Furniture and Electrical Shop in Chippenham. Over a year later it’s still going strong and we’re making about 3-4 loaves a week in it. Not bad for a £10 purchase!

Today we returned to the shop to pick up a Dyson hoover. We have a long history with broken vacuum cleaners. We originally had a Dyson which, through being overworked in a house of three small children, gave up the ghost a few years ago. We then picked up a broken one from Freecycle which my my very handy Dad was able to mend. However through more abuse from our messy house this one died too. I then resorted to buying a cheap one from Tesco two years ago and have been struggling with vacuuming ever since. For the past six months the only way I can remotely get my carpets clean is by getting down on my hands and knees and using the hose!

But we received a little extra money in our pay packet this month and husband and I rushed off to the two household and electrical shops in Chippenham to see if we could find a second-hand replacement. These shops appeared a couple of years ago in town and, since then, I have noticed more appear in the area. They are a great way of picking up cheap furniture and electrical appliances, and also a good place to donate these items when many charity shops can’t take them. If you want an iron, food mixer, radio or even record player, you should be able to pick one up. All electrical items are PAT tested as well. There’s also a good choice of furniture – a sort of 1970s version of Ikea (some of the items reminded us both of our grandparents’ houses).

The Dyson cost £80 (over £200 brand new, although newer models). I have already been hoovering furiously to make up for lost years and the amount of fluff coming off our carpets is quite frightening!


(PS the only annoying thing about buying the Dyson was the plastic bag the tools came in. As you know I’m trying to give up single use plastic this month).


Mending jeans

I blogged here about my recent visit to Primark to buy (very) cheap jeans for my girls. Since then I have been thinking about how I can avoid ‘fast fashion’, ie buying things that are quickly thrown away because of quality or trend. Okay, so the latter probably applies less to me at the age of 42 but I know there’s something I can do about not throwing things away because they are broken or torn. As you may know I help to run a bi-monthly Repair Cafe but I also have a sewing machine and access to the internet so I should learn to mend more myself.

The £5 jeans got me thinking that I could really learn to mend these myself. I originally bought the jeans for my 7 and 5 year olds because the older one was already wearing a second-hand pair that had gone in the knees, and the younger one had grown out of her M&S pair. Despite replacing them with inferior (and thinner) trousers from Primark I have kept onto the old jeans and plan to make shorts out of them for the summer. I have also used fabric from them to MEND my tattered jeans which have long needed either repairing or replacing.

After the obligatory search on pinterest I came across this really useful youtube tutorial from tlc inspirations:

I basically cut material from one of the girls’ pair of jeans and pinned it onto the inside out leg of one of my jeans. I then turned the trouser leg the right way and, with some effort, slid it onto my sewing machine. I then used a simple zigzag stich to secure the fabric in place and hey presto:


from this….



….to this

okay so it may not be the best fix but I did it and I can’t tell you how empowered I feel about it. I love these jeans and couldn’t bear the thought of parting from them, or having to scour the shops to find a new (or new to me) pair. I’m also now armed with the ‘skills’ to mend another pair, or repair the Primark jeans when they inevitably go, as well as some fun ideas to turn old pairs into fun shorts for the summer.

Repairing broken things

I do believe that the act of repairing fits into the ethos of my blog which is all about second-hand living. I posted previously about picking up a second-hand breadmaker for a tenner (which is still serving us very well). I think this dovetails with the idea of repairing things that have been broken because both acts extend the lifetime of a product.Instead of throwing away a damaged product  to go into landfill we should spend some time working out whether these things can be repaired. While I know it’s harder in the age of built-in, or planned, obsolesence to repair some appliances I do believe we have a choice. We can choose to be consumers or repairers.

In our household we have recently experienced three of our appliances breaking down (well they say things always come in threes!).  A few months ago I managed to break the bobbin case in my sewing machine. This meant I couldn’t place the bobbin in the machine and so couldn’t sew. However after a brief search on Amazon I found a replacement bobbin case, ordered it and managed to replace it myself:


So I am now back to sewing (although the new bobbin case hasn’t improved my sewing skills!).

Then a couple of weeks ago the oven stopped working. I called out a repairman who told me it was something to do with the thermostat (or something like that). I could order a replacement part and he could fit it but it would cost £162 in total (to include labour and VAT). His attitude was one that is so prevalent: it would be more economical to buy a new cooker. Really? After a very quick search on the web the cheapest first-hand cooker I could find was over £400. While we were tied financially to taking the cheaper option to repair the oven, ethically this is what I believe we would have done even if we were flush with cash. The repairman duly came back to fit the part. He was a little surprised that we had decided to repair rather than consume but said that the part should now last for another six years.

The repaired oven which now bakes far better cakes!

The repaired oven which now bakes far better cakes!

And can you believe that in the same week that the oven broke the washing machine stopped working too!  Now I know that washing machines are not meant to last that long and we live in a very hard water area. Our machine is about eight years old and is the hardest working large appliance in our house. It washes clothes for a family of five on a near daily basis and, when the girls were young, also had the onerous task of washing a LOT of cloth nappies. I have a brilliant contact who repairs washing machines and dishwashers and when he last paid a visit to look at the machine a couple of years ago he did warn the drum had a limited lifespan. So I was expecting this to be the end. However he replaced the brush and for the cost of £69.50 the machine is now working fine! Thank you Mr Bath Washco! [Udate Feb 2015: the washing machine is still working!]

The washing machine in action

The washing machine in action

Now I am not professing to be an excellent repairer, nor can I say that I have never thrown away things and replaced them with new just because they are broken. I also believe there is another separate post to be written on how we place broken things on freecycle to ease our conscience when we buy new, rather than repairing.  Our recent experiences in mending broken things has given me a little boost and allowed me to feel good at taking control over whether I choose to replace and consume, or repair instead.