To DIY or not to DIY…

…that is the question.
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous DIY misfortunes,
Or to take Charge (or cash) against a Sea of handmade troubles,
And by buying something ready-made, end them?

OK, that’s as far as I can go with that. Here’s the point:

Much as we like to say that we put the “why” in DIY, events of the past few months have revealed to me that we’ve never delved deeply into the question of why, perhaps, we shouldn’t DIY. 

It’s not just my recent chair debacle that finally has me questioning the whole (and, I think, largely unquestioned) notion that DIY is somehow superior to going out and buying what we want/need–which would mean that if you can DIY you should DIY.

This (sorta) Old Life: stupid chair project

The case against DIY: Exhibit A

While The Comedy of Chairs was unfolding (as described here in Acts  I, II, III, and IV), we also made two pivotal decisions in our bedroom project–and in both, we came down on the side of not DIYing.

You might remember that before the chair business started, I was pulling hair and gnashing teeth over a craigslist set of bedroom furniture that got away from me.

This (sorta) Old Life:  bedroom set

At the end of that post, I shared that we had pretty much abandoned the idea of finding some chunky 70s furniture (too big for the room) and were thinking about buying some Ikea Malm dressers and DIYing them into a set of low, built-in dressers that would fill the wall below our bedroom window. For reference, here’s a shot of the wall taken nearly 3 years ago during the pre-buy inspection:

This (sorta) Old Life:  bedroom

We were feeling inspired by this image:


But, shortly after that, I found another set of craigslist dressers:

This (sorta) Old Life:  mid-century steal

And they only wanted $200–for both pieces!

As soon as I saw them, I realized that this was EXACTLY what I wanted. The light, clean lines of the Ikea dressers–but in real, solid-wood furniture that would require nothing more of us than a little cleaning.

No wordless instructions. No tiny Allen wrench. No worrying about particleboard that might fall apart in a few years. No paint, no overlays, no additional construction, no nuthin’.

ikea directions

If you’ve been reading us regularly, you know we love us some Ikea–but not this time.

Of course, I did not get this craigslist deal (denied once again of achieving my dream of an amazing craigslist score, despite responding within 15 minutes of posting!), but I got what I needed from seeing them:  I finally knew what I truly wanted:  real furniture, of this particular vintage, that I wouldn’t have to DIY into respectability.

The rub, of course, is that this kind of real furniture is so often expensive–and expense is the reason we have done so much DIY in our home. BUT:

When I added up the cost of the Ikea DIY option, I realized we were looking at a minimum of $300, just for the dressers. Plus, there would be wood to create a new seamless top, paint, new hardware, and other unforeseen costs. (For us, with DIY there seem to always be unforeseen costs.) If we were going to spend that kind of money, I didn’t want it to be on particleboard.

This (sorta) Old Life: Malm dresser

We’d need two of these to fill the wall under our window.

Still, $300 won’t normally go very far in the world of mid-century modern furniture, especially for furniture in good condition.

That’s why, when I saw these for a bit over $300, I jumped on them:

This (sorta) Old Life: dressers

I don’t have the original photo that was on craigslist; we took this one after they were delivered, so the drawers weren’t all in.

I broke the most fundamental of craigslist rules for these:  I bought them full price, sight unseen, over the phone. As in, I gave the woman on the other end my bank card numbers and she ran them through before I even saw the furniture. I took her word for it when she said that they didn’t have damage and didn’t have any funky odors. And I did this without consulting Cane. (Cause, Duh! I knew he’d tell me not to.)

In my defense, the dressers were owned by a consignment store rather than a private individual, but still. Not sure why I did this. I just knew it was what I wanted and that it was available at a price I don’t often see. I know I’m lucky it turned out well, but I’m glad I acted impulsively because, well, it turned out really well.

Originally we thought we’d put them side-by-side under the window (much like the inspiration shot), but we’ve decided they work best like this:

This (sorta) Old Life: dressers

I couldn’t be more pleased with them. All we had to to was clean them up with a little Restor-a-Finish and move them in. They look so much nicer than anything we might have made/refinished ourselves, and I know they’ll last as long as we do.

This (sorta) Old Life: dressers

The photos above show our other non-DIY choice in the bedroom. Shortly after getting the dressers, Cane and I were killing time one night waiting for a movie, when we found a pair of brocade pinch-pleat curtains in a vintage store.

We just knew that in combo with the dressers, our room would be well on the way to the Italian restaurant feel we’re going for. (Not sure what that means? Think it sounds really weird? Get caught up here.)

This (sorta) Old Life: pinch-pleat curtains

I was slightly more patient this time, going home and measuring the windows to be sure they curtains were the right size. But we went back the next morning to get them. Cane was able to talk the woman into a bit of a discount, and so we got them for $50.00.

They are lined, heavy, clean, and well-sewn. I don’t know if you’ve priced fabric lately, but there’s no way I could have made curtains of this quality for anything close to that price–even throwing in the $30some I spent for a traverse curtain rod and hooks.

This (sorta) Old Life:  pinch-pleat curtains

But it’s not just about money. Now we both have plenty of space for all the things we want in dressers, which means the closet is less crowded. Originally we thought that we’d need to re-do the closet storage system, but now it’s working just fine as is.

The curtains, too, are far more than an aesthetic perk. They block the light so much better than the previous blinds (and the bare window we’ve been living with since December) that I’m sleeping better. And, the insulating quality of them means that our room has been warmer.

I love the better functionality, but I love even more that I didn’t have to sew, sand, paint, screw, hammer, or otherwise transform anything to get it. That feels a little strange, seeing as how we’ve created this whole blog focused on DIYing our home.

This (sorta) Old Life: dresser

While in the midst of pondering the source of my DIY weariness, I read this post from the lovely Katie at House of Humble, and much came clear to me. In it, she talks about her vision of living a simple life and what it looks like in practice for her. I love these words of hers:

“I tend to be a very “all or nothing” kind of person and either give something 110% or give it up, but I have to remember choosing this lifestyle wasn’t about becoming a shining example of simple living. It was about escaping the cycle of accumulating material stuff for sake of keeping up with the Joneses. It was about living within our means and without debt. It was about having more time. It was about growing and cooking and creating things with our own hands. It was about living a more sustainable, slower, happier life and doing things that brought us joy.”

Cane and I embraced DIY because we had a similar kind of vision, for similar reasons. Doing things ourselves allowed us to have things we couldn’t afford to buy. It allowed us to fill our home with things that were meaningful because we’d made (or remade) them ourselves. It gave us a creative outlet, which satisfies a deep want that both of us have to imagine and design and do.

Katie’s words helped me see that I’ve gotten a bit off-track of late. Another favorite blogger, Lisa of Trapped in North Jersey, confessed in the comments to our last post that she’s feeling more pull to buy than DIY these days and wondered if it’s sign of a character failing.

I think not. There is no moral superiority in Doing It Ourselves if doing it ourselves costs more than we can afford in terms of time, money, or emotional well-being.

Sometimes it is better to buy than to DIY–for all kinds of reasons. We’re DIYers from both love and necessity. We’re thrifters for the same reason. But doing those things when we’re overwhelmed with other things, doing those things only because we somehow feel we should, in order to live up to some ideal of being a thoughtful, responsible, resourceful, small carbon-footprint making person in the world–well, I just can’t see much sense in that.

Katie describes all the things we might do in the name of living a “simple” life, which could include making our own cleaners and cosmetics and clothes, growing and preserving our own food, building our shelters, etc. While I strive to make our life simpler, too, it occurred to me that if I attempted to do all those things, our life would be far from simple.

Honestly, it would be a fuster-cluck of gigantic proportions–because I’m not good at a lot of that stuff and it would make our life much more complicated to try to do all those things I suck at! I would waste far more resources than I would preserve because of all the things I would screw up from my lack of time, experience, and skill! (Hello! Remember those chairs?) That’s true of “simple living” and it’s true of DIY projects.

This (sorta) Old Life:  fail!

See what happened when I tried to make an old-fashioned sweet potato dish for Thanksgiving last year? Now, just imagine me doing all my cooking from scratch! (In case you’re wondering, those tumor-looking things are marshmallows. Or, were.)

We have no plans to give up our thrifty/DIY ways. We’re still not made of money and although we did try growing some of our own vegetables last year (and will do so again very soon), we know we can’t grow it on trees, either. We need to DIY when we can because of economic necessity. More importantly, though, some of our best memories come from our DIY adventures–and misadventures. We wouldn’t trade them for a house full of new furniture any day.

However, I know a lot more I did even a few months ago about what kind of DIY is good for me and what kind I need to steer clear of.  I’m letting go of thinking that I need to be able to do it all myself. I just can’t–and I’ll sleep way better than Hamlet at night knowing that, in our bedroom furnished with lovely items we didn’t make ourselves.

This (sorta) Old Life:  bedroom

Speaking of sleeping…next up is to figure out what to do about the headboard and nightstands. We probably will DIY some of that, unless I can score another fabulous vintage find.

What about you?

Do you know your DIY limitations? Do you have any? If you do, what are they? As always, we love to chat with you in the comments.

Original Shakespeare image credit: tonynetone via Compfight cc