Friday, February 25, 2011

Link: IKEA Hackers Earring Display

The IKEA Tolsby frame is pretty impressive-looking for something that costs under a buck.

IKEA Hackers has managed to find another use for it... an earring display.

The concept is pretty easy, and you could probably do it with almost any frame. Basically, you just install a piece of cheap plastic cross-stitch canvas (yeah, the stuff you might have been subjected to in grade school where you "cross-stitch" with yarn and a monstrous plastic needle... you can pick it up for under a buck a sheet at craft stores) in where the picture would go. On a Tolby frame this takes a whopping 30 seconds to cut the plastic cross stitch canvas to the right size and drop it in the top of the frame.

I just made one earlier tonight for about $1.25. Oh boy... I'm a big spender! There'd be pics, but I dropped my camera the other week trying to get some photos of another project I'm working on and I completely busted my fabulous Canon point-and-shoot. Just... just take my word for it, okay, while I go sit in the corner and sob over the corpse of my beloved camera that I'm feeling too cheap at the moment to replace.

You know, for something that took less than a minute and cost about the same as a chocolate bar, it's pretty damn spiffy looking.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Link: "What I Learned From Wearing 6 Items For a Month"

The Globe and Mail just featured an article called "What I Learned From Wearing 6 Items For a Month". Apparently, as a means of showing that you can actually make do with way less clothing than the average North American keeps in their closet, the writer challenged herself to only wear 6 different pieces of clothing (not including accessories and undergarments) for 30 days.

It's an interesting read for anyone who either has a closet stuffed with clothing or looks in their closet and, regardless of how much stuff is in there, always feels like they have nothing to wear. There's a great message in it that these types of people need to hear: when you're buying clothing, buy strategically.

It's not hard to keep your clothing budget low by only buying things that are super cheap, but that can be the easiest way to a pile of clothing that isn't flattering, is of low quality, doesn't match, and/or you don't love to wear. The trickier proposition, but the one that brings the most joy (and the least clutter) in the end, is to buy less things, but make sure the things that you buy fit beautifully, are made well so they'll last, make you giddy to wear, and, most importantly, all match each other.

Seriously, the matching thing is the secret to a budget wardrobe. If everything you own can pretty much be worn with everything else you own, then you've got an obscene amount of outfit combinations that all look great. Take a look at the six pieces of clothing picked for the Globe and Mail experiment. Everything in that capsule wardrobe can be worn together in a flattering way.

So why doesn't everyone do this? Well, there's a lot of reasons, but mostly because it's not the easiest thing to do. It's only in the last year or so that I've felt I've gotten remotely competent at this approach to fashion. It's hard, but it's pretty damn satisfying once you get it to work.

I figured an affordable, non-cluttered wardrobe that you love to wear fits in with the more expanded scope of this blog, so over the next few months I'm going to be writing posts about some of the tips I've used to work on building a functional, pared down wardrobe... it's a process, so we'll be taking it one small step at a time.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mini Project: Customized Tape Dispenser / Cost: $

More often than not, tape dispensers are boring and utilitarian. Dull as dirt. And when they're not... well, they tend towards the idiotic.
Seriously, Scotch? This was the best you could come up with? I'm embarrassed for both of us.
So, for every one one kinda stylish tape dispenser like this:
Reasonably clever. If you don't understand the joke, then you've just made me feel old.
You get a thousand plain black hunks of plastic and at least one monstrosity. or example:
What the f%$k?! This makes me want to give up on humanity completely.
So, in short, it's tough to get a tape dispenser that doesn't put you to sleep or make you want to pour acid on your eyes just so you can't see the horror anymore.

So what's a style-minded, budget focused girl (or guy) to do? Tweak an existing tape dispenser on the cheap. Yeah, it won't be fancy, but it'll at least match the rest of your office stuff and look different from anything you can buy.

Basically you're going to get a plain, old plastic tape dispenser... yeah, the kind you normally throw out when you're done with the roll of tape.

This'll run you, what, maybe $3 if you spurge for the name brand stuff... less if you go for something from a dollar store (but really, why not treat yourself to the nice stuff... you're worth it!). What's key is that you get the tape that comes in a clear plastic dispenser and that you make sure the plastic is reasonably strong and that the tape cutting edge looks like it's there for the long haul. It'd suck if you do this project and the thing breaks... okay, it's not the end of the world, but maybe a waste of about 10 minutes total. But really, why would you want to do this twice? Are you bored? If you are, come over to my house and do my laundry then, rather than make up busy projects for yourself.

Okay, now that you've obtained an appropriately sturdy clear plastic tape dispenser (and have possibly done my laundry), pop the tape and the label out. This is surprisingly easy to do on a decent roll of tape (if it breaks now, at least you saved yourself from a waste of time. Now go out and buy nicer tape!) and it's the reason you can make what's supposed to be a temporary tape dispenser more permanent.

So put the tape roll off to the side and then toss out the paper label (or, alternately, scrap the rest of this project and then follow the steps from the Custom Post-it Holder project to make a matching tape holder. Look at you, thinking outside the box!).

All joking aside, a small flat craft brush is a good choice for this project.
Now you're going to need some decent quality paint and a paintbrush small enough to paint a tape dispenser, but large enough not to make the process take all year. I used a craft brush and some acrylic paint I'd had since... well, I'd had it for long enough not to remember when I picked it up. The point here is not that I'm forgetful, the point is you don't need fancy paint.

Yup. I taped the center part.
Now, the trick that keeps this project looking slick and professional is that you're not going to paint the outside of the dispenser; you're going to paint the inside. This makes the spiffy effect of a color with a thick layer of gloss over top of it. It looks much more expensive than just a plain old Scotch tape dispenser, that's for sure. You'll to need to be rather precise so that the paint is on the inside and ONLY the inside. If it gets on the outside the whole effect is lost and it just looks sloppy and accidental rather than like something you paid exorbitant amounts of money for. Of course, you didn't pay obscene amount of money, but why let people know that? Try masking off the edges with tape (I know you have some) if you don't feel you've got the coordination to keep the paint where it needs to be. Goodness knows I needed to.

See... I suck at painting too!
Once you get the painting done, chances are it'll look like ass. This is because you suck at painting. Okay, it's not... it's because a lot of acrylic paint is somewhat translucent, especially if you use a lighter color like the bronze I used here. You'll need to let your first coat dry and then do several more layers of paint (the lighter/cheaper your paint, the more layers you're likely to need. If you used something like wall paint, though, you might be fine with just one coat). Don't get ahead of yourself and not give the thing time to really dry. You'll just end up scratching the semi-wet paint coat at some point and mucking up your hard work. Take some time. I did this project in between other stuff, so I likely waited a full day between coats. You probably don't have to wait that long, but play it on the safe side. Paint often looks dryer than it actually is.

After a number of paint layers you'll notice that the color has become opaque (AKA: "it's not letting light through it anymore" for those of you who skipped art class). Once this happens and the last layer is dry, you're ready to reassemble it.

Many... MANY layers of bronze paint. It was stupidly transparent
Pop the tape roll back in (make sure the sticky side of the tape end is pointing down or the damn thing won't work) and call it a day. You've now got a nicely coordinated dispenser that doesn't look like a stupid plastic shoe. Congrats. That means you're one step ahead of anyone who actually owns the stiletto dispenser, and that's gotta feel good.

A tape dispenser in the wild... well, in the wilds of my old desk, that is.
Remember, it's easy to find the plain tape rolls at office supply store, so just stock up on those when the original roll runs out (this is why I told you to splurge on the nice tape dispenser... so it'll last).

Final project cost to me: $3
Time to complete project: About 10-15 minutes

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A refocusing of efforts

Hey there! Long time no see.

Where have I been? Well, in the time since I last posted I finished grad school, took a contract job over an hour and a half away from where I lived, moved to an apartment closer to work, and then got a permanent position where I was contracting.

All and all, this didn't leave me a lot of time to work on home improvement projects. However, now that I've got less driving to do and a new apartment to pretty up, I'm back to blogging. However, I still don't have the project time I used to back when I was a lowly grad student. Hence a bit of rebranding for the blog. Rather than keeping it as the decorating-focused "My Cheap Ass Home",  I've moved to the broader "My Cheap Ass Life".

So what does this change mean? Well, I'll still be posting about bringing my bland apartment up to snuff for as low a cost as possible, but in between projects (AKA: when, in the past, I didn't have any content to post here) I'll also be writing about other ways I enjoy doing and acquiring the things I love without going broke in the process. Basically, I'll be talking about how to work with the seemingly impossible problem of having expensive taste but a limited budget.

Maybe you're like me and are paying off debt (thanks student loans! *smirk*), maybe you've got a limited income, maybe you're saving for big ticket items (like retirement, a home, children, or say a wedding), or maybe you just don't like paying more than you have to for the things you want and need. Whatever the reason, I promise you that there are loads of ways to have and do the things you want affordably, and this blog will help you discover some of the paths to getting there.

So, to sum it up, there'll more content coming out at a MUCH more regular pace. Or, to make it even simpler, yeah, this blog isn't dead. Hooray!