Friday, October 25, 2013

DIY Efficiency-For Fun, Profit and Necessity

 For those of you who've asked how I'm dealing with the Colorado weather as opposed to Texas, here's my up to date fall evaluation: First, it is sunny virtually every single day.  I understand this is a huge difference between, say, the Pacific northwest. Even on days it rains for awhile it is always sunny and so far I have had two days in the fall that were cloudy all day.  Even in Texas there were "gloomy" periods of more than one day. Second, there is a huge temperature difference between night and day-again, very different from Texas. In the summer one can open windows at night. At this time of year it has gotten as cold as 27 at night, while getting to 68 and sunny in the afternoon in the same 24 hour period. This means I am learning to adjust my heating requirements but as long as I get those warm, sun filled afternoons I am fine. 

Third, I am loving the change of seasons and the visual-ness of a real fall. Fourth, it's true what they say, dry heat and cold are different from humid winters and summers. The end result, so far I am doing well, and expect to continue my adjustment into the winter. And finally, I expect the time when the change will be most difficult is not winter, but spring. I have  lived most of my adult life in Texas or Virginia-both places where spring is spring in the truest sense most years. In Texas, I was planting in the ground in April, as opposed to Memorial day. So while I'm not sure I am ready to be a snowbird, this I expect, will be my escapist, major travel period....

Recently I've had the opportunity to both talk and write about maximizing profits, time and enjoyment in home businesses and income streams (freedom businesses, if you will).   While I talked mainly about making money with crafts, hobbies or services, a friend recently reminded me that some of what I was talking about really applied to any do it yourself activity, or life in general.

In real terms I am not always an efficient person-as an artist who has a business or in other parts of my life. While I am not an expert, there are a few things I've learned along the way, especially as a low energy gal who wants to maximize her free time and finances. To whit, there are basically three (and perhaps four) things I do in life ad in my income streams to free up time  and money (and maximize profits as well).  As often happens in retirement (and life) all the parts of my life are not separate. By trying to do or know the three things below, it helps me be as efficient as a non efficient person can and decide whether doing it myself is the way to go. The first two I do all the time, the other two most of the time. Remember, this is me, and I do these things to maximize money and time and enjoyment, not to be an organized person.  There is no help to be found in that last area!

I know, and always tell other people to know, how much time a given job or project takes. Don't just assume you know and say "it takes me a long time to clean my house" or " I spent a week on this quilt".  Know exactly (or close to) how much time it really takes.  When I first started considering quilting for profit, a had a tiny notebook in my studio. Every time I sat down (sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for three hours), I just wrote down what time I came and went and what I did. Now I have a very good idea of how much time it takes to cut the pieces for say, a queen sized quilt. Admittedly, the creative process is more difficult to quantify in terms of time (sitting with my sketch book next to me for a day while watching football and designing quilts, for example) but the basics are there.

I hate, hate, hate cleaning my house. Recently, I've forced myself to do the new house from end to end all at one time to figure out just how much time it takes (I normally clean as I go and do dog hair daily). You know what? It was less than two hours to completely dust, vacuum, mop and wipe the bathrooms (it would be even less without a ceiling fan in every room and three hairy active dogs). Two hours a week plus picking up every night and vacuuming is not the end of the earth-and both easier and cheaper than putting my dogs outside for three hours and paying $100 a week for strangers to come into my house.

Although I am not now a do it yourself person as such, I lived for many, many, many, many years in a 1940s brownstone duplex in Washington DC. Lets just say that I learned early on that it helps if you accurately assess the time it will take to rip out warped hardwood floors or remove tile from walls and bathroom floors.  

Combining or dovetailing tasks is not un-creative! As a crafter and quilter I regularly, for example, cut the pieces for many quilts at one time. This cuts down on the time required and allows time for the more creative processes. When it comes to baby quilts and sets, I've been known to cut four quilts at the same time, sew one after the other (in different patterns and so on).  I give dozens of dozens of Christmas cookies as gifts as well as selling dozens to folks who have neither the time nor patience to make their own.  As of the first of November, I'll start making big batches of my personal recipes-general four or five in a day and refrigerating or freezing the dough, putting my expensive mixer into serious service. This allows me to spend the creative time later flavoring, shaping and decorating.  For the record, cookie dough is one of those things that freeze wonderfully, baked or otherwise. Its all that butter, after all!!

Recently I've begun making altered and unique mini houses for centerpieces or mantels. I spent a day attaching all the papers to the houses, and a day painting all the roofs and bases. Once that part was finished, I could spend as much or as little time as I wished on each individual house, making it unique.

I was unable to wait to move into this house or unpack. That said, it would certainly have been more efficient (but still creative) to have had a weekend painting day in an empty house, even though all the rooms will be different colors. As it is, we will do at least two rooms in one weekend, doing all the "moving to the center" in a single day. As a basic cook who simply doctors up recipes to make them different, I almost always cook a really good slow cooker recipe, freeze two third and eat one third and then do a few things to a thawed recipe to make it "different".

It helps if you have a dedicated space-no matter how small, and the stuff you need.  In a perfect world, we'd all have our own double garage sized studios or workshops. The world is not perfect, and in retirement many of us have downsized.  This is where I say, consider what I say before you downsize too much. And if you've already downsized in the extreme, rethink your space.  Years ago, when I was sewing for children, I took out my sewing machine and put it on the dining table-which meant we had to either eat in the living room, or put everything away every night. I am blessed to have my own sewing room.  If I did not, my sewing machine would still stay out on a table very night-even if it meant it was in the bedroom and I had to share a dress with my husband.

Although this is not fixer upper house, there are as always maintenance and improvement issues. there is a spot in the tiny, one car garage for a small tool bench, and we've added a few small tools to what we had. I've shared before that thinking I was moving into a condo, I sold all of my garden tools before leaving Texas. My sister has a garden but no grass in her old house-none. If I don't want to pay a lawn service, logic says I have to have some kind of mower and rake, and a plastic fertilizer spreader at a minimum before winter-along with some kind of tool holder. Oh, and a snow shovel.

I own three slow cookers because much of my cooking is of the throw it in the pot kind. On the other hand, my son has his own crepe and omelet pans (he got it from his father). I have a large, heavy, kitchen mixer. Which always, always remains on the counter ready for use.  Every human who has tried to get me to put it in a cabinet or on a shelf has regretted the suggestion. And even I, the least organized, un-planner type in the world has a small corner with a few files and a monthly calendar.

Know what your time and effort are worth in terms of some kind of valuation. It doesn't have to be monetary as such.  I actually hate, hate hate, bringing this one up.  Why you may ask?  Because of the people out there (most often in the working world) who say that "it's not worth my time", or "I can make more than that by working, or "It's better to buy than make".  Well, that's only true IF you are an hourly paid person who can get more work at will, or IF you can (and will) get a part time job that pays well at will. And frankly, being worth your time also sometimes means freeing up money for a whole different area of life. For most folks, working or retired, that's an unfair comparison. Never mind that money saved is untaxed-and the doing itself enjoyable.

Still, it's worth considering on a couple levels (maybe more).  First, if you are considering some kind of income stream, it's nice to have a realistic idea of what you value your labor (physical or mental, in terms of hourly or project), if only to compare that to real world pricing. Second, when it comes to the DIY area, it's nice for everyone to set their own tipping point in terms of time versus effort versus money, versus enjoyment.  When we look at that continuum, we make choices.  On any given project or need, we may decide to do it ourselves, hire it out, ask someone else to do it, or eliminate that item from our lives.

I was both unwilling and unable to do the needed lawn work required in my previous house. I was also unwilling to "hire it out". My solution was to move to a location where that was not a requirement-even though it meant expending energy and possibly money in another area (dog walking at seven am). As we all know, the end result is different.  No money expenditure, and the task taken over by someone with appreciation and skill. On the other hand, the rotating lazy Susan cabinet in my kitchen is stuck beyond repair (I think they put a childproof lock on the cabinet and destroyed the balance). I've decided that having a handy man replace or repair this item (along with the cabinet I raised to make room for that non fitting refrigerator) is worth the financial cost.

For me, in my life, doing it myself is the logical choice most of the time from both a financial perspective and otherwise.  How about you?

Oh, and who knew that refrigerator magnets did not stick on stainless steel?  What AM I to do with that  magnet collection, anyway?


  1. I love your term "freedom businesses," but 27 degrees ... that's coooold! And, yeah, what's the deal with the stainless steel refrigerators? Now I've got my magnets on the side of the toaster oven -- pretty lame.

  2. I was thinking of getting a brand new cookie sheet and mounting it on the pantry door for notes and such............

  3. Good points Barb.

    Hey 27 is not cold..... Wait, it might get colder like up here.

    God bless.

  4. I am not crazy about doing DIY's around the house but the cost of hiring it done is just too costly, plus waiting around to see if they show up!! I am on a mission to repaint/update each room in our dowstaires this fall/winter. Powder room is complete now working on the den, it's hard messy woek. I would rather be quilting!!!

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