Stop that noise! (Taken with instagram)

Stop that noise! (Taken with instagram)

A question from myownfire:

Do you have a freecycle network in your area? I get--and give away--a lot of stuff in my area this way. It's serendipitous, it gets stuff out of the house and to the person who needs it, and it creates community. You can also post for things you want. The perfect desk may be sitting in someone's garage gathering dust.

I’ve checked the freecycle.org website but there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of activity in New York City. There aren’t a lot of garages here for stuff to gather dust in. Most people put stuff they don’t want on the curb and you take it if it looks good to you. That said, I’m holding off on the desk for now while we get the kids’ room sorted out. Maybe I’ll happen upon a great desk while I’m out and about.

The time and the desk

I’ve gotten some thoughtful emails about my new desk situation, and not just how to convert the crib into a desk. Several folks have suggested looking for a used/vintage desk at a second-hand shop and fixing it up. This has me thinking about the value of time to stuff. Pre-Industrialization if you wanted a wool jacket you grew Merino lambs, sheered them, carded the wool, spun it, wove it and then sewed your jacket. Carding the wool alone took DAYS of work. Now of course I can go to the garment district and buy a few yards of wool and sew a jacket. Or just buy a finished jacket in ten minutes and do something else with my time.

Somewhere between doing it all and doing the buying of a finished product is the sweet spot for me. And while no one (yet) has suggested I chop down a tree, mill it, and build my own desk, the idea of spending hours to locate a good desk and then fix it up feels “expensive” to me. Maybe it’s because I have specific desk requirements (size, storage, etc.) and the idea of searching and searching for just the right desk is unappealing. Or maybe the fixing up part isn’t something I enjoy as much as sewing or other time-consuming crafts I do undertake. Or maybe it’s simply because I know New York City doesn’t have good deals on used desks to fix up and I’d be over-paying if I tried it here. Or I’d have to drive out to the country some place to get the right price.

What I’m saying is: I think I’ll sell some furniture we won’t be using (like my son’s twin bed frame) and put that money towards a desk. I don’t know if that’s Making Do or not. I sorta doubt it is.

Coming unglued

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Tuesday I arrived at the gym to discover a gaping hole in the back of my tights! My favorite tights! My Pilates instructor said, “Well looks like you get to go shopping!” but of course I couldn’t. And even if I could, I hate shopping to replace something that was perfect. I waste hours trying to find the exact item and the replacement is never as good. During the course of my workout the hole got bigger and bigger. I kept saying, “I’ll sew it!” and my instructor kept saying, “I think you need new tights.”

When I got home and inspected I discovered that the pocket that had torn away was in fact glued (! I know, right?!) in place, and had simply come unglued. So I tore it out, and sewed the uneven hole closed.

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First time using the lycra stitch on my machine. Sloppy work. And I didn’t bother to even change the thread but hey, making do! We’ll see how they hold up tomorrow at the gym. I’m pretty confident they’ll be fine. Yay!

Tear down these ads

Somewhere along the way recently I came across this Banksy quote about advertisers.

“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else…They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you….You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”

There’s more to the quote, and I encourage you to click the link and read the whole thing. I’m no street artist like Banksy, but the temptation to do something to the ads that surround me is pretty great. He says, “Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours.” When private property, say the top of a building, is rented to another private party, say Disney, only those two parties gain. The rest of us, the public, trying to occupy our share space, say the corner of Christopher St and Seventh Avenue South, in New York City, gain nothing. We lose. In fact, we suffer. These billboards do leer. And laugh. And push their products. A few months ago, it was a poorly animated penguin movie with a crappy script. Before that, a super high-end boutique just arrived from Paris. Now? A male dating site with two nude “sexy” men.

If I could tear them all down I would. Instead I avert my eyes. I walk faster. I tell my son he can’t see the penguin movie because it’s PG, not G. I keep thinking about this one line, “They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you.” Why did we let them?

Desk from crib inspiration

It can be done, a desk from a crib. Granted I’ll need a lower chair, and have to come up with a plan for files. And get used to working in “jail” but still. Possibilities! Thanks @lunchstudio!

Running the numbers

I thought it would be interesting to see how my spending for the first three months of 2012 compared with the same time-period in 2011, so I crunched some numbers. Straight comparison of everything on my credit card showed a slight total decrease in spending (about 3%). But when I pulled out all the non-Make It Do items (gas, groceries, kids’ clothes, cable bill, etc.) I discovered something pretty amazing. I’ve reduced my personal spending by 77%!! Yes, I should be spending 100% less, but we all know I’ve cheated. But not much, and not lately.

So what have I learned? That the majority of my spending does go to family/household stuff, it’s true. But I slipped in a lot for myself. Last year 22% of my total outlay was items for myself. This year, it’s 5%. I wish our total household spending were down more significantly, but I suppose that’s not realistic with inflation. If I can hold myself to 5% or less all year, I’m going to be pretty darn happy! I’m looking forward to the end of June to run the numbers again!

Beds then desks then what?

Spring is in the air, and with it, my urge to get our house cleaned up and organized. My daughter Minna is two-and-a-half and beyond ready to move out of her crib. We bought bunk beds so the kids could share a room and we could reclaim our tiny office. I didn’t feel too conflicted buying bunk beds because Minna needs a bed.

But now with our office back, further organizing thoughts have struck. If we move our bed into the small office, we can turn our much larger bedroom into a nice big office! With rooms for all our books! With nice sunny space for productive work! And with that, suddenly, we need a desk, for I’ve been using my husband’s desk as a desk/sewing table for years. But if we have a bigger office, he’d like a dedicated desk of his own.

My friend Christie suggested (I *think* she was joking) converting Minna’s crib into my new desk. If only I had the skills and tools to do that! Even then, not sure it’s possible with the materials at hand. My initial thought was to buy a cheap desk at IKEA, but as part of Make It Do and conscious consumption, I don’t want to buy cheap products that will need replacing in a few years. If I buy a desk, I want something that I’ll use for the next twenty years, if not the rest of my life.

I don’t know if a new desk counts as something for me, or our household, or if that matters. I’m mulling this one over while we wait for the bunk beds to be delivered.

The remains of the duvet

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Eat your heart out, Scarlett O'Hara! The above crappy photo shows an old 100% cotton IKEA duvet I’ve had forever. It’s been unused since we upgraded from a full-sized bed years ago. With spring in the air, I was feeling the need for a new dress. To the rescue? My unused Japanese “Stylish Dress Book”. Though the instructions were all in Japanese, the pattern for this dress seemed simple enough:

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A few snips and some tearing and the duvet was into one giant piece of fabric. Like yards of fabric, all softened from so many washes back in the early 2000’s. (Headbands, kids shorts and dresses, and who knows what else will come along soon enough.) Some sloppy tracing on my part, a couple days of sewing, and voila!

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Not the best picture, but I’m a lazy stylist! It’s a little big, I think I could have used a smaller-sized pattern, but not so bad for my very first dress for myself. Now if only that warm weather would return, I’d be able to wear my Stylish Duvet Dress. I might even tackle another dress from this book with the remains of my duvet.

A city schism

Before I conceived the full scope of this project, I had the idea of not buying anything for one, two or three months. I gave up on that because it didn’t actually seem like a challenge. And now that I’m two months in, I’m glad I did. It wouldn’t have been a challenge. If I could go shopping for everything and anything tomorrow, I’m not sure I’d have learned much.

But looking down the long road of ten more months, I see the challenge only growing. Not just the challenge of making do, but of keeping my spirits up throughout the year. I’ve already talked about the difficulties of living in an urban environment, surrounded by ads and shops and stylish people. Now even the remnants of consumption irritate me. The streets of New York are always filled with trash: little paper receipts from the drug store, take-out coffee cups blown from trash cans. Stuff, and the inevitable waste that accompanies it, is all around!

I think I’m suffering a city schism. Me and the city? Not so good together right now. It’s a bit mixed up in my head, whether it’s the project that’s causing it or it’s the project that’s reminding me of ways I’d prefer to live. After all 2012, and the project, started while I was living in a quinzee in the Tetons. Talk about making do! Though after nine straight days in the same wool shirt, a second (clean!) one would have been nice. Being in the mountains with so little is a clear reminder of how little one really needs to survive. Not just survive though, to be very content.

If I fail to Make Do for the year, I don’t think it will be because I want to buy things and won’t be able to resist. No, it will be because I won’t like who the not-buying-me has become: irritable and judgy, misanthropic, one typewriter away from banging out a manifesto in my cabin in the woods. Can I happily remain in consumptive society without participating? I don’t know. (I do know participating fully didn’t bring me much happiness.) Perhaps this will be the journey of the next ten months.

About

In 2012, I'm not going to buy anything except what I've used up or worn out. For all else, I'll make do with what I already own or I'll do without. I've come up with some guidelines. Update: for 2013 I'm going to continue along, but not as strictly.

Who?

I'm Meg Hourihan. I live in New York City but was raised in Massachusetts. I blame my Yankee-ness for this crazy idea. Read more about me and this project.

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