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…


Lending and borrowing – a solution?

I know the old saying goes “Neither a lender or borrower be” but I have to disagree. Over the past few years we have found one of the solutions to living in a small house is to loan out some of our possessions.

While I promised I would never talk about our house sale one of the solutions I have found to de-cluttering our space is to lend some of our furniture to friends. For example we have a lovely sofa bed that is well made (and expensive) that no longer fitted in the bedrooms when baby number three arrived. We lent it to a friend for a few years and it has only just come back to us (squeezed into a corner of the girls’ room). My friend found the sofa bed to be really useful until they bought their own and we knew it had gone to a caring family who would make good use of it.

This comfortable sofa bed is 13 years old and was on long term lend to some friends, The wooden highchair to the right has - sort of - been on loan from my older cousin since 1973!

This comfortable sofa bed is 13 years old and was on long term loan to some friends. The wooden highchair to the right has – sort of – been on loan from my older cousin since 1973!

Likewise some friends moved into a larger property but didn’t have much furniture. As we were clearing space for our impending house sale we lent them an armchair, chest of drawers and bookshelf. The furniture is good quality and all second-hand/taken from a skip/inherited. We don’t want to let go of it and dream of being able to fit it into a larger house, if we move. In the meantime our friends have made good use of the pieces and it’s always lovely to sit in ‘our’ armchair when we go and visit!

Of course the lending works both ways. This summer we will be without a tent, as our old one died in Scotland last August. However with a couple of camping weekends already booked we plan to borrow a tent from neighbours and friends, rather than buy a new one.

The biggest lending venture I am embarking on at the moment, though, is a cheat’s way of de-cluttering the bookshelves. I have a small pile of books that I am lending to friends, either because they’ve requested or because I know they will enjoy them. In return I have borrowed a couple of novels which I would like to read but don’t want to keep.

As with all lending there is the slight chance that items may not come back in the state in which they were given, or will be forgotten completely. There’s a great story  here about the former Lord Lieutenant of Bristol who has recently returned a library book that was 65 years overdue!

I know that I am guitly of harbouring a couple of items in our loft that should have been returned years ago (oops).

It may be a cheat’s way of de-cluttering but I believe that lending – and borrowing – items fosters a sense of trust and community. Instead of being selfish about our possessions we are sharing them with others who will benefit from them. One of the reasons that the lending website Streetbank was set up was to foster a sense of community between the lenders and borrowers. So, like them, I disagree with the old saying and think we should lend and borrow more. What have you lent or borrowed recently?