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By the author of the online course Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture
In this article, I am excited to share the many creative ways I get around “I can’t afford it” so that I can have something anyhow, even if it is made up of somewhat improvised parts. Some might even say I “MacGyver” my way through life, which I would consider a compliment.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the verb MacGyver as the following: “to make, form, or repair (something) with what is conveniently on hand.” Those of us of a certain age will likely recall the adventures of the character on which this verb is based – secret agent Angus MacGyver.
While I can’t say that I was ever a dedicated fan of the series (having never owned a television in my entire life!), pop culture references have had a way of percolating down to me, so even I know the meaning of this word.
My Fancy “Standing Desk”
While I get a lot of physical activity milking the cows and working on my Half-Acre Homestead, I am a writer, too. These days, the dangers of sitting in front of a computer are becoming more recognized. It was actually a professor at the Mayo Clinic who coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Research is showing that exercising to try and counteract the negative health effect of sitting hours every day is not enough: you simply need to SIT LESS!
When the one chair I had been using to sit and write broke, I decided it was a sign to reduce my sitting. Did I get online and order myself a new standing desk for $200 – $400? Heck no! I took a look around my eco-cabin for simple MacGyver solutions. Sitting in the main room, I have what looks like a slender wooden desk. It was actually going to be my bathroom vanity until plans changed. I checked the height. It was a little too low.
Hmmmm what to do? Aha!
I simply took a couple of pieces of scrap wood, put them on top, put my laptop on the wood scraps, and voila! My one-of-a-kind improvised standing desk was born. Is it state of the art, with an electric mechanism to raise and lower it? No, but it is off-grid capable! Is it particularly aesthetically pleasing? Maybe not for a high-paid office worker, but it is great for me. What did it cost me? Nada. Now, I am able to change up my routine, check emails and do a bit of writing standing up. If I feel my legs are getting tired, I can always sit down. (We talked more about DIY home office hacks in this article.)
My “Dance Studio”
Living in an 18×24-foot eco-cabin means that space is at a premium. Overall, I don’t mind this, as my goal is to actually show how great life can be while consciously choosing to live with less. This is good both for my pocketbook and for our wonderful planet, Mother Earth. Even so, one might imagine that installing a dance studio in my one-room cabin might be a bit of a stretch!
Well, when I decided at age 53 that I wanted to pick up my childhood passion for ballet, this challenge was nothing a little creativity couldn’t solve. The first issue was the floor. Much of the interior of the eco-cabin is only roughly finished, including the bare concrete floor. It because almost immediately apparent something was going to need to be done, as the bare concrete was wearing holes in my socks and even my ballet shoes due to its rough finish. Oh dear!
My first potential solution was to bring in a light woven outdoor mat, but the weave was catching my ballet shoes in one direction. Hmmmm…..
The solution that finally worked was to buy a square of linoleum from a discount store around 6-foot square. This ended up costing around $40. It is good quality, lays absolutely flat without taping, and is smooth enough to work very well with my ballet shoes. Hurray!
However, there were a few other items required for a good dance studio. First, I needed something to use as a barre. This is the handhold that is grasped lightly for each side for a great deal of strength and flexibility training in ballet. A quick search online located prices for the stand-alone version of these between around $100 to $1,000. Solid wood wall-mounted units were around $250, but there is no wall to mount it on, as most of the eco-cabin wall space is taken up by windows for the passive solar design! It turns out that I had a folding chair with a back that was approximately the right height. When I need to work the other side of my body, I simply move the chair over there rather than turning around.
Finally, most dance studios have mirrors on at least one wall. I solved this by leaning my inexpensive wall mirror up against my standing desk (ha ha, yes, see above!) While perhaps it isn’t quite as wide as I might like, it still allows me to check the correctness of my form and posture while I do the barre exercises.
My Solid Oak “Fridge Stand” and Pot Cupboard
All of the cupboards in my eco-cabin came from Habitat for Humanity. They are solid golden oak. While it is trendy to paint over these now, I just love the bare wood. I needed somewhere to put all of my pots, as my propane range has a grill on the bottom level. To make one, I simply turned a large-size extra cupboard on its side. Voila! All of my pots fit in there. As an added bonus, I put my extra fridge on top of it, and I don’t have to bend down to get my kefir.
My Custom “Corner Shelving Unit”
When I realized that the solid red oak corner units that I had bought from my cousin were not a good fit for the eco-cabin, I negotiated a barter trade for them that I was really happy with. However, while their departure from the eco-cabin improved my view of the surrounding forest, it left me without a place to put my books. So, I invented a custom shelving unit that would fit in the corner and not obstruct my view. I made this out of a wall-mounted microwave stand with solid golden oak cupboard doors that I found by the roadside with a “FREE” sign on it.
With my free microwave stand on the floor, I simply stacked a few solid wood crates that I kept from my tiny house days. Three of these were enough to hold my modest book collection, and I was able to put my refurbished snow shoes on top of the stack. Voila! MacGyver would be proud. A custom corner shelving unit that lets the warming heat of the sun in and allows me to fully enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds me – and it didn’t cost me a cent!
MacGyver and Thrive-er!
When buying new isn’t an option, you still have lots of options available. Could you see yourself trying any of the creative tips offered here? Do you have one of your own MacGyver solutions you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.
Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient. Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, “Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture.” Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!