Archive | May 2015

Hacking Mini-Blinds

So I mentioned a few weeks ago that one does not count lightbulbs when one is looking at houses. You know what else you don’t notice? Whether or not the mini blinds have strings in them.

Yes, all the mini blinds that came with the house are missing at least some of the strings used to open the blinds. I don’t mean that they are broken. Someone clearly took the blinds down and carefully extracted the strings. Why, you ask? Excellent question. The sellers had small children, so I suppose it’s possible they removed the strings in a burst of excessive caution. Except, then why did they leave some of the strings behind?

Regardless, the situation was this. The main living area had four sets of blinds. Only two of them went up and down. And those two had broken slats.

Kitty Paragon reclines by the window. Maybe their children broke the slats?

Kitty Paragon reclines by the double window in the living room pre-repair. Maybe the sellers’ children broke the slats?

Now, I was seriously tempted to throw them all away and go buy real wood blinds (I have ethical and environmental concerns about vinyl). But… real wood blinds are expensive. And while I think it would be “better” to buy real wood, the best case is generally to fix what you have.

See below for details, but here’s a quick summary of tips:

  1. You can restring horizontal blinds. It’s easy.
  2. If you hang new blinds, when you shorten them, save the extra slats from the bottom to use in future repair jobs.

Step 1: Restring the dining room blinds

These weren’t too bad. This set of blinds originally had two strings, only one of which was missing. These blinds had been shortened correctly and none of the slats were broken.

Horizontal blinds laid out on striped rug.

The string on your right was removed for unknown reasons.

So I took it down and restrung, using this excellent tutorial and some twine we had lying around. The cotton twine was not really the ideal string for the job, but it worked with a little finessing. Because it tended to separate at the ends, I used a large plastic yarn needle to help thread it through the slats.

Working the new string through. You don't need the needle if you are using the proper kind of cord.

Working the new string through. You don’t need the needle if you are using the proper kind of cord.

This is what happens if you get a slat backwards. I had to start over. Watch out for this!

This is what happens if you get a slat backwards. I had to start over. Watch out for this!

The new string needed a tassel and a cord stop, which is a little clear plastic doodad. This doodad is EXTREMELY important (not but pictured). It prevents small children from being able to strangle themselves with the cord, which is a real thing that real children have done (not just a theoretical danger). Fortunately, I had some on hand. You can order them for free from the Window Covering Safety Council.

The hardest part was getting the string out from under this part of the mechanism at the top of the blinds.

The hardest part was getting the string out from under this part of the mechanism at the top of the blinds.

Tip: If you try this at home, make sure to run the new cord to the INSIDE of the ladder strings holding up the slats. It will help the slats stay in place better.

Step 2: Single living room blinds, broken slats

The set of blinds facing the street, miraculously, had both its strings intact. It was, however, missing three slats. It had also never been shortened, so when fully extended, it hung perhaps a foot below the end of the window. In a rare case when two wrongs DID make a right, I was able to take the excess slats off the bottom and use them to replace the missing ones.

This part I found easier to fix with the blinds still hanging–no need to take them down since I was not restringing. The process involved taking the little buttons off the bottom and cutting the knot off the bottom of the strings. Then, I pulled the string out above the broken slats, slid new slats in from the sides, and worked the string back down.

Pulling out the string.

Pulling out the string.

Sliding in a new slat.

Sliding in a new slat.

Step 3: Double living room blinds, broken slats and missing strings

On the side of the living room was a double set of blinds 41” wide. The ones on the left had only one string, while those on the right had two strings out of four (enough to function). Both sets had been shortened and they both had several broken slats (see picture above with Kitty Paragon). Boo.

Nothing to do here but buy new blinds, since I had no extra slats to work with. However, I had the brainstorm of buying only one set. Our 2” faux wood blinds come standard from Home Depot. We measured the space between the strings to determine that they had been cut down from a 42” set. We hung the new ones, shortened them and saved the extra slats for future repairs, and then cannibalized the now-defunct set for the spare slats we needed to fix the other old ones.

If you look closely, sure, you can tell that the ones on the right are old and the ones on the left are new. So what?

If you look closely, sure, you can tell that the ones on the right are old and the ones on the left are new. So what?

I could have run two new strings through this other old set, of course. But since two do the job, I decided to leave them alone. I’m not a fan of doing extra work just for the hell of it.

So instead of buying four new sets of blinds, I bought only one. Is it better environmentally to buy one set of vinyl blinds or four sets of wood? Well, I’m not sure, but I suspect that once you factor in all the energy and waste from the manufacturing process, plus the shipping, I did the right thing.

It was certainly the right thing for my pocketbook. The new blinds were about $40. The wood blinds would have run at least $280 for the most basic, more if I wanted upgrades like cloth tapes over the strings.

What have you saved from the trash bin or avoided buying recently?



The Joy of Fixing

When we decided to go temporarily back to being a two-car family, we found ourselves with only two harness car seats and a need for four. Since Big Brother has turned four, we decided to put one harness seat in each car for Little Brother and buy a booster seat for Big Brother. Not finding anything on Craigslist or after making a few calls, I bought one new for $30.

I only bought one. While harness seats are bulky and a major pain to install properly, booster seats are light and portable and pop in and out easily. I bought one partly to save money, but equally importantly for the environmental impact. I didn’t want to cause a whole new thing to be manufactured, not to mention creating all the packaging trash.

But lugging it in and out of the cars was a bit of a pain, especially because often I drop off the boys at daycare and Mr. FP picks them up. You should have seen me when Little Brother had his cast on–giant casted toddler on one hip, booster seat on the other, walking into daycare!

So I was thrilled to find one at a large yard sale for $5.* No packaging! Hardly any cost! Saving something from the dumpster! Money for a good cause! (Presbyterian youth group, as I recall–service trips, maybe? I’m an atheist myself but I was certainly happier giving the money to them than Walmart.)


The only problem was that the elastic straps holding the bottom pad in place were a mess! They were all stretched out, knotted together strangely, and in no way doing their job. The pad slid around each time Big Brother got in, in an annoying way.

This is the kind of messy knot the stretched-out elastic was tied into. Blech.

This is the kind of messy knot the stretched-out elastic was tied into. Blech.

So I bought some replacement elastic at Jo-Ann’s for $1.99. My strategy was to cut off the old elastic, but leave perhaps a quarter-inch stub,  and then hand-sew the new elastic directly to the old elastic.

Close-up of the repair. As you can see, I should have actually bought wider elastic, but this seemed to work.

Close-up of the repair. As you can see, I should have actually bought wider elastic, but this seemed to work.

Another view of the repair in place.

Another view of the repair in place.

Because I’m slow, this took me about an hour. But it was an hour that I spent with my sewing basket on my porch watching the kids play. I could make $20-$25, the amount that I saved, working on my computer, but I would not have gotten to:

  1. Be outside.
  2. Be with the kids.
  3. Remind the kids to look but not touch.
  4. Practice my sewing.
  5. Practice my general problem-solving skills.
  6. Save waste from the landfill.
    And perhaps most excitingly:
  7. Take a Broken Thing and make it once again a Useful Thing.

What have you fixed lately? Did it give you that warm fuzzy feeling?

*Not even my $5. I didn’t have my wallet and I asked Grandma FP if I could “borrow” $5. She later gave me such a generous housewarming present–thanks, Mom!–that it seemed rather churlish to insist on repaying the $5.

Disclaimer: As you probably know, used car seats should be accepted with caution. I feel confident that most human beings would not donate a car seat that had been in a crash–remember, they did not personally get the money. And the seat is not expired, etc.

Unpleasant Number Crunching: BMI

Disclaimer: This blog post is about me. No judgment about the size, shape, appearance, or health of any other person is intended.

Friends, I have never been what you would call svelte. I haven’t had flat abs since puberty and empire waist dresses only looked good on me in the adorable second trimester of pregnancy. My “skinny” jeans have a high waist and control top, suggesting that the garment is somewhat misnamed. I’m not ashamed of this. I’m a mom and I like ice cream.

But I do exercise (to the extent that I enjoy it) and make some effort not to just shovel whatever I want into my mouth, so, it was a bit of a shock last week when I was filling out an online health questionnaire (as part of an effort to get a $240 bonus from my employer) and realized that the last few pounds that have snuck up on me have pushed from the high end of normal to, technically, “overweight” on the BMI scale.

Digital scale showing 125.9 lbs.

This would be a “good” weight if I were not 4’11” tall. More than I have weighed at any point when I was not pregnant or post-pregnancy.

Yes, this is a seriously flawed measure, but it’s the one that the software was using. (The latest evidence seems to suggest that the scale may need shifting upwards–people who are slightly overweight on the scale seem to be less likely to die at any given time than people at the low end of normal.) To be clear, I don’t think that there is anything particularly unhealthy about my current weight.

So why am I talking about it at all, and in particular why am I discussing it in my frugal living blog?  Well, I am clearly eating up more dollars, in the form of food, than I need, and fluctuating weight can also make maintaining a wardrobe a pricey proposition. (Fortunately, I have not, thus far, actually outgrown anything.) And the technicality of the word “overweight” really got my attention. It feels like some weird mid-thirties, post-motherhood rite of passage that I never saw coming.

Most importantly, though, steady weight creep threatens things I value. Like being able to take the kids to school by bike. Walking across downtown. Hiking in the mountains. The general sense that I am strong and capable.

The cause of the weight creep is, on reflection, totally obvious. I was biking six miles several days a week for preschool dropoff, but now that we have moved across town, I’ve been driving. And I can remember too many times when I got up from the dinner table feeling fuller than full. So… portion control and upping my activity level. I have already gone to an extra Body Pump class and walked by a bag of donuts in the break room at work.

Not because I’m ashamed of myself, or think I look bad, or because I want to look better than other people. For the sole reason that I think my chances of continuing to enjoy an active, frugal life are better if I stop gaining inches and maybe shake off a few.

Do you see a connection between your size/weight and frugality?