Make it from scratch?
September 20, 2006 11:01 AM   Subscribe

What things are worth the time and cost of doing/making myself? For example, tomatoes from the store are miles below the ones I grow in my garden. Fresh-baked bread is amazing. But knitting socks or a sweater seems hardly worth it, despite the fact that I can customize it, because of the high cost of the time and materials.

Nearly everything is so easy to get from the store. So what IS still worth the effort? Cooking, canning/preserving, gardening, furniture making, sewing, keeping chickens...anything. I'm not talking about cooking my own meals in general, or changing my own oil because it's cheaper, but producing the things I use, making things from scratch.
posted by sLevi to Home & Garden (48 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
The things you enjoy making from scratch are the things that are worth making from scratch.
posted by oliver at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2006 [4 favorites]

As far as gardening goes, you've hit the maximum payoff with tomatoes. Home-grown cucumbers are pretty great, but they're still cucumbers. Fresh herbs are fantastic, and fantastically cheap, so growing those may be worth it to you. I make my own wine and beer, but, honestly, that's as much about enjoying the process as getting truly outstanding results.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:12 AM on September 20, 2006

It really depends on how you assign value. I've got a friend who lives on a homestead that he cleared the land for, built the cabin for, dug the graden for, etc. Many of the things he does could be done more easily or quickly or cheaply, but in addition to the tangibles (tomatoes that taste better), he simply values the whole idea of the process and the challenge of doing all that stuff himself. And yet, he uses a chainsaw rather than an axe, because that's where his personal valuation lies. Similarly, people who knit usually do it because they enjoy knitting, not because they think the socks are cheaper.

That said, it sounds like you may not value craft that much (per your knitting example), so I'd say that the things to look for are those that produce a product that is hard to get reliably in a store. Good pot, for instance, or fresh tofu.
posted by OmieWise at 11:12 AM on September 20, 2006

It's a highly subjective question, of course, so here are some highly subjective answers:

*Make your own pasta sauce - this one is 100% solid, it's so much better than anything you can buy.

*Fixing the kids' bikes - It's easy (for me) cuz I have invested in tools to fix most common things on their (and my) bikes.

*Home repair - quickly becomes fantastically expensive. Take some time to learn how to do it right (books are a lot of help) and you will get a lot of satisfaction.

*Sewing - my wife sews, semi-professionally really. She makes stuff for craft shows, also does all our curtains and things, plus decorative pillows, etc. Very lovely, takes a lot of time but she likes selecting fabrics, cutting, sewing, the whole process.

*Growing herbs - if you have the room, go for it. THis goes for growing just about anything, really. My father has a couple of apple treees; very little work and really good fruit, albeit strange-looking.

*Picture frames - you can get really cheap frames almost anywhere, but it's fun to make funky personalized ones. As an alternative, buy cheap frames and then paint, lacquer, or what have you...
posted by Mister_A at 11:14 AM on September 20, 2006

I just realize that my comment could be interpreted in the exact opposite manner I intended. I mean, do only those things you enjoy, because doing something you hate, no matter how good the end result, isn't really worth it.
posted by oliver at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2006

That depends on a number of things. When you go dollar-for-dollar, there is little chance of doing better than store bought due to economy of scale. From there you have to weigh in what's important to you. For food, it's probably going to be taste, but for some it might also be satisfaction in producing it. In other cases, the convenience weighs in heavily.

Then there's the notion of trying to be as self-sufficient as possible in a society that encourages capitalism dependency.

How do you measure those things in dollars?

For example, is furniture making worth it? From a cost point of view for me, hardly. However, I love woodworking and consistently produce items which can't be found without hiring someone or are cost-prohibitive only if you ignore the tool and space costs. Unfortunately, as I get to be a better furniture maker, I hate most manufactured furniture more and more. How does that add in?

In other words, you're going to get a bazillion different answers, most of them personal because of all these factors.

gardening, woodworking, some sewing, some processed foods (ie, jams, ketchup, etc), most meal cooking, most home repair, lawn work, snow clearing.
posted by plinth at 11:21 AM on September 20, 2006

Response by poster: It was very hard to frame this question...I do enjoy the process--I do like to knit and sew, but quality materials can make the end result 5x more costly than the store! So I guess I am wondering what other people consider worth the effort. So thanks for the suggestions thus far!

OmieWise, please tell me about tofu...what am I missing?
posted by sLevi at 11:22 AM on September 20, 2006

As plinth said, you seem to be talking about being practical - saving time and money - in doing things the old-fashioned way, which always requires more time and often more money or materials.

If you take practicality out of making things from scratch, then there's the immense feeling of accomplishment that can't be derived from plucking something equivalent from a store and then paying for it. Even though you've earned what you bought, it's an indirect achievement.

Personally, I have lots of fun out of making greeting cards for friends, and, even though it's a little more expensive and takes a ton of time. But anything that doesn't involve me depending on another's service makes me happy.

I also enjoy working on the yard, fixing/rejiggering computers, cooking.
posted by i8ny3x at 11:23 AM on September 20, 2006

Cocktails! Fun!

Seriously. If you've got space in the garage/basement/attic, consider building or buying a bar, and investing in some bar tools (shakers/strainers and such) and liquor. All you need then is a cheap dart board/pool table/ping pong table/games console. You can kill a lot of time and have a lot of fun with friends while saving a boatload of money. Especially if your make your own beer/wine as suggested in an earlier comment.

Fun is expensive at the bar, it's cheap at home - and you get to pick the patrons!
posted by terpia at 11:27 AM on September 20, 2006

Make your own pasta to go with that sauce.
Fruit trees. Most of them get really beautiful flowers too.
posted by leapingsheep at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2006

Things I personally consider worth the effort to do myself:
-Teaching my children to read and do math (as well as other things). It is so great seeing those lightbulbs go on when they get the concept!
-Cooking. My food always tastes better than store bought.
-Sewing some things. Dresses for my daughter (that don't make her look like certain female singers), Halloween Costumes, Christmas Stockings
-Gardening, which is going down on my list in my current location because of the fight with gophers.
-Painting the interior of my house
-Yard work - cutting grass, pruning bushes, weeding the flowers

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2006

Grapes. Oh my, but fresh Concords and Interlachens are amazing. The grapes in the store are feeble substitutes. You need space, you need some cuttings, and you need to put in a couple hours a year to keep a 20-foot row of vines maintained, but man what a reward.

My neighbor across the street strung his grape vines along a fence ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. He has half an acre. That's a lot of fence, and he has a lot of grapes, all of which he's willing to share. It's like heaven.

Greeting cards are also worth the time and effort to make. They're fun to create, and the recipients are always much more pleased to get them than run-of-the-mill Hallmark cards.

The possibilities are endless. I look forward to reading other answers.
posted by jdroth at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2006

Beer is worth making, but not so much wine.
Cooking, in general, is worth it once you know what you're doing.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:38 AM on September 20, 2006

sLevi writes "OmieWise, please tell me about tofu...what am I missing?"

Well, not much if you don't like tofu. Fresh tofu, though, is really good and pretty easy to make. You can get fresh tofu at large Asian markets if there are any near you and you want to try it. But if you've had edamame then you know that soy beans are quite tasty. Fresh tofu is like that, subtle and beany, and, well, fresh tasting.

The Book of Tofu is a great resource for how to make it, but basically all you need is some quality soy milk, a curdling agent (tofu is basically cheese made from soy milk), and a strainer. I'm sure you can find recipes online. The Book of Tempeh and The Book of Miso by the same authors are also both great DIY books, although the process in both cases is more laborious than is making tofu.
posted by OmieWise at 11:41 AM on September 20, 2006

Another subjective list...

hemming pants with simple hemlines - hemming costs about $10 at my tailor, and hemming simple hemlines is quite easy, so that's one task that I genuinely do to save money. Pants these days run so long, I find this really does save me money.

dry cleaning - for a lot of clothes dry cleaning is optional, so I do them at home on delicate and then dry them flat, or whatever the instructions say. Bonus - avoids dry cleaning chemicals.

pasta sauce - I agree - not hard, and definitely tastes better - I make a whole bunch and freeze it

pedicures - I don't always do these myself, but in between professional pedicures, I get out my kit of stuff, soak my feet in the tub (or bidet at my mom's house! Yuck, I know), and do a touch-up. Saves lots of money, and makes my feet look nice until I can get a professional pedicure. Plus, avoids the danger of fungi, etc. And it's fun to do with friends/sister.

massage - along the pedicure line, although for this one I need my boyfriend

mustard - not cheaper, but can be fun and a great gift

plumbing - fixing clogged toilets/drains is the extent of my talent

That's all I can come up with for now. I actually find that having my house cleaned saves me money, because I make more on overtime than it costs to get the house cleaned, so I tend to pay for that.
posted by Amizu at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2006

Music? I'm gettng a great sense of accomplishment, and cheap entertainment, by learning guitar and ukulele.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:46 AM on September 20, 2006

Can someone post one of these awesome pasta sauce recipes?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2006

I was beaten with the grape idea. I grow my own -- four vines -- here in central Iowa. I don't spend but half an our in the winter pruning back to the trunk, which I leave about 5 ft tall. Remeber, grapes only grow on new vine.

Expanding the idea, anything that you plant once and harvest more than one year is almost a sure thing. An apple tree is great if you don't mind picking up half rotten apples from the yard for a few weeks a year -- unless you eat all of them, of course.

Carrots. You cannot buy anything close to home grown carrots. You can grow them in almost pure sand.

A budget pays many times over the time it takes to create and maintain. Before you get your first paycheck for the month, have that months money spent on paper. Use the balance for paying down debt and creating an emergency fund. I keep mine in Excel and would be happy to share. Email me if you'd like a copy.

Bird baths, bird feeders, and other lawn decorations are terribly expensive for what they are. Learn how to make them and sell them from your front yard. Even if you don't sell them, what you have made will last for a long, long time.

Set up a good clothesline.

Depending on circumstances, graywater reclaimation could be worth the time and money.

Grow berries. Be warned that they will attract birds, animals, and kids. This applies to grapes too.
posted by kc0dxh at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2006

I am a huge fan of home coffee roasting... Coffee is sooo much better when it is truly fresh, and green coffee beans cost between $3-$7 a pound. I use a run of the mill hot air popcorn popper that I bought at Walgreens for $10. You can buy a grinder on Amazon for $17.95, and your beans at all manner of sites, but my favorite site of choice, as linked above, is SweetMaria's... they have all the supplies (beans, bags, cleaners), and after a month or two of home roasting, you've recouped your costs! And fresh roasted coffee makes a great gift...
posted by wonderwisdom at 12:24 PM on September 20, 2006 [4 favorites]

Composting. Goes along with great tomatoes, grapes, etc.
posted by Gungho at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2006

At first I thought your examples were bad because in these times, home-cooking is still cost effective and healthy (as opposed to restaurants {wherein fast food is the cheapest but not healthy}) and most children no longer learn to sew clothes because Old Navy and Walmart can sell a decent product so damn cheaply. But then I thought that if you did invest the initial time to learn how to cut patterns and use a sewing machine, you might find out that it's a lot cheaper and quicker to make your own clothes (or at least repair them) and yet you are still buying the fabric from the store rather than weaving your own textiles. THis is the story of the industrial revolution in a nutshell.

Here is a quote for you:
"The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in "advanced" countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in "advanced" countries."
posted by mattbucher at 1:17 PM on September 20, 2006

Fresh baked bread and home-grown tomatoes top my list as well. Especially the tiny heirloom tomatoes, they are harder to stop eating than a bowl full of candy. Carrots are good too. Home made sun-dried tomatoes (made in the oven with skinned home-grown tomatoes and plenty of garlic are just about the best thing there is. Homemade berry pie (a little lemon juice to add tartness) paired with home-made vanilla ice cream is divine. I've never found a commercial or restaurant made version that compares to my mother's recipe.

Whatever your passion, it is worthwhile to become expert in the construction and maintenance of the tools that facilitate that pursuit. Personally, I highly recommend building your own desktop computer, perform complete maintenance on a bicycle, fixing dings on your surfboard, and building/wiring your own fencing weapons from parts should you engage in any of these activities.

Learn how to use a soldering iron, and before throwing away any piece of home electronics, disassemble it and see if you can't find the fault and/or put it back together again.

An emphatic second for home-made greeting cards. I treasure every one I've received.
posted by Manjusri at 1:22 PM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I recommend maintaining your own gear above, not because it is cheaper, but because by doing the work yourself your equipment will achieve a higher state of optimization and performance than occasional visits to the shop will provide.
posted by Manjusri at 1:29 PM on September 20, 2006

Gotta defend the knitting--it does take a bit of effort to learn, but now that I've learned cabling and such I've been able to copy high-end brand-name scarves and toques, with the same (and sometimes better) fiber content, for a fraction of the retail price. I'm not a sock knitter, but I have friends who can make a pair in less than a week, and pure cashmere or wool/silk blend socks are some of the most luxurious things on earth.
posted by casarkos at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2006

When you go dollar-for-dollar, there is little chance of doing better than store bought due to economy of scale.

I think this is really only true if you assign some dollar value to your time. But if what you're doing constitutes a hobby, or something that you do in "free" time for your own enjoyment (perhaps one of the reasons cooking comes up in this thread so much), it can be quite possible to beat a store/restaurant on parts/ingredients. I really think that if you are a moderately good cook, and do not choose to place value on the time you spend cooking and shoping, no restaurant (producing similar quality food) can beat you dollar-for-dollar. If you value your time even at fairly cheap wages, the situation changes completely.
posted by advil at 1:55 PM on September 20, 2006

Some foods that are really worth making yourself:

-Hummus (this costs $2 at the store for a small container, or less than $1 for a huge bowl's worth that you can make yourself in five minutes)
-Tabouli (same deal)
-Salsa (in bulk, homemade salsa is both cheaper and better than store brands)
-Pasta Sauce (as others have mentioned)
-Chili (this is WAY cheaper to make and freeze than it is to buy in cans!)
-Soup (ditto, homemade soup is dirt cheap and tastes better than the canned kind)
-Jams and jellies (especially if you can score free fruit, check your neighborhood for people with trees!)

The corollary to this is home freezing and/or canning. A canny canner (sorry) can save an awful lot of money per year on food.

One thing I've always dreamed of doing myself, but have never been able to do because of my location: raising goats. They are relatively easy to care for, and give a generous return in milk, cheese, and meat.
posted by vorfeed at 1:59 PM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sewing/alteration/clothing repair skills are especially useful if you like to buy clothes at thrift stores.
posted by fidelity at 2:27 PM on September 20, 2006

Can someone post one of these awesome pasta sauce recipes?

Dice one medium onion, 2 carrots, and 2 sticks of celery (proportions need not be exact, and adjust to taste). This is mirepoix. Heat a small amount of olive oil (enough to just cover the bottom of the pot) over medium heat in an 8 qt or so stockpot. Pour in the mirepoix and turn down the heat to medium low if it's sizzling loudly. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 mins or so. Turn the heat to high for a few seconds, then pour in a splash or two of vingear you like. If you can find tomato vinegar, use that - it's awesome. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the vinegar smell mostly dissipates, 2-3 minutes tops. Turn the heat back down to medium and add one small can of tomato paste. Stir to break up, and cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring periodically. Pour in 3 cans of crushed tomatoes with the juice. Use San Marzano tomatoes if you can find them. Bring just to a boil on high heat, then turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 40-50 minutes. If you like dried herbs, add them with the tomatoes. Oregano's good, and a little garlic if you like. Less is better than more - you can always add more later and they'll bloom in the sauce. After the tomatoes are cooked, stir in about 4-6 tablespoons of cold butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. This will enrich and thicken the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste, and if you like a sweeter sauce, stir in some sugar. If you want a smoother sauce, puree with a hand blender.
posted by Caviar at 2:35 PM on September 20, 2006 [6 favorites]

I'll second growing your own berries (any variety) and many fruits. Storebought stuff rarely compares, unless you live close to where they're grown.

When it comes to fruit, I miss my old yellow plum tree. They ripen too fast to be carried in most stores. On the other hand, I'm just as happy to buy firmer fruits like apples and pears.
posted by Yogurt at 2:37 PM on September 20, 2006

I love the tomato sauce suggestion, that really is a money saver and quality booster - even if you just do it from canned tomatoes, which isn't that DIY.

Your do it yourself muscle needs exercise to be effective, and lots of parts and tools. Once it is rolling, lots of things get cheaper. For example, electroluxs that some people pay $400 for, you can have for free.
Okay, so technically you need to exercise your garbage picker muscle too..

The number of things I've done with the futon frame my upstairs neighbors threw away last year.. Truly, one key is not paying Home Depot prices for materials.
posted by Chuckles at 2:38 PM on September 20, 2006

Making the gifts you give out at Christmas is worthwhile, in my opinion. It doesn't really matter what they are, as long as they are nice. You can tailor each gift to the person you are giving it to. Imagine getting a pair of "hand-knitted wool/silk blend socks" for Christmas (or whatever gift-exchanging occasion you like) as casarkos mentions above. Almost everyone likes getting something handmade.

Obviously this doesn't work as well for most children.
posted by melvix at 2:39 PM on September 20, 2006

cakes, biscuits, scones & pancakes.
posted by b33j at 3:11 PM on September 20, 2006

Mostly, creative stuff. Arting up the house with furniture that the kid says is too funky, but I love. Refinishing good quality furniture has a big payoff. Upholstery is hugely expensive, and has great creative potential, if you sew.

My family teases me, but also looks forward to whatever recycled paper project I wrap gifts in every year. They often like homemade gifts, and they certainly remember them better than I remember a store bought generic gift. This year, it's going to be magnets with pictures under glass blobs, packaged in Altoids tins.

Landscaping has been fun for me. I now have a low-maintenance landscape that looks pretty good, and there's room for the all-important tomato crops. Lettuces are easy, and it's nice to have salad stuff available. I grow basil, other herbs, and arugula because they're available in good quality, but ludicrously overpriced. Homemade pesto is so good, and freezes really well.

Cooking. Salad dressing is very easy, and great. Lasagne, macaroni and cheese, pancakes, waffles are all better, especially if you use the recipes from The Best Recipe.

If I could sew, I could make clothes that reflected my personal style, but it's pretty expensive, compared to what's available retail and thrift-shop.
posted by theora55 at 3:39 PM on September 20, 2006

While I completely agree that knitting is an expensive hobby, if you're a frugal knitter, you can find sales that give you a sweater comparably priced to a similar one in a store. The part that makes it *better* than a store-bought sweater, though, is that you can make a knitted garment fit your body perfectly.

And even though knitting socks is often time-consuming (unless you use thicker yarn, in which case, the cost can go way down and they can be made a lot faster), I can't think of anything that feels nicer than a pair of hand-knitted socks.
posted by monochromaticgirl at 3:39 PM on September 20, 2006

You really have to do a sort of cost benefit analysis for everything before you decide to do it or buy it.

Your formula might look like this:

Homemade item = Time spent (research, shopping for supplies, actual labour) + cost of materials — level of hassle + level of enjoyment in task + enjoyment of final product.

Bought item = Time spent (shopping) + cost of item + enjoyment of final product.

I quite often consider things this way... Let us say I take home $100 for a day's work. So, if I can save $100 by a few hour's work, it is definitely worth the time.

I do fine art, all kinds of needlework including knitting and sewing, stained glass, upholstering, most of my own cooking, most home maintenance and renovations.

Making my own art is cheaper than buying it, plus I enjoy it.

I love knitting, so I do it though it's not cost efficient. But I tend to limit my knitting to "dead" time, i.e., time spent on the TTC, or watching TV, or on the phone.

Sewing my own clothes is generally cost efficient because it takes me less time and far less money to make a dress that I love than it would to shop for one I like. I do tend to avoid making tops as they are time consuming and hard to get just right. I calculate that making five sets of curtains yourself will save you the cost of basic sewing machine. Stained glass is quite expensive, so I just do it when I can't find a ready made piece I like and would have to have it custom made.

The upholstering I don't mind doing, and it saves me a lot of money (I can get a thrift shop couch and redo it in 25-30 hours of work for a few hundred, as compared to a thousand or so for a new couch) but it KILLS my back, so I wouldn't do it very often. But then how much furniture do you need. I've done three pieces in my life, and may soon do one more, but don't forsee myself doing anything beyond that for quite some time.

The cooking and home maintenance type stuff I would probably never do if it weren't for the practical advantages of money saved and a better end product. I don't mind doing it, but I don't love doing it either.
posted by orange swan at 3:47 PM on September 20, 2006

quality materials can make the end result 5x more costly than the store

Ah, but the storebought clothes aren't made precisely to your specifications. This, to me, is the ultimate goal that makes the screw-uppy process of learning to sew worthwhile. But I'm a bit of a fattie, so ready-to-wear is not always a very viable option. I'd still suggest looking at it more as sewing-vs.-hiring-dressmaker, not sewing-vs.-mall.

That said, I nth the suggestions of growing tomatoes, berries, and herbs. And jam, especially if you have any wild blueberry or blackberry bushes nearby.

(A counterpoint: Once I helped a friend re-roof his parents' house. It was instructive, in that I now know that there's no way in hell I'll do that again. Professionals all the way.)
posted by Vervain at 4:04 PM on September 20, 2006

Agree with wonderwisdom -- if you're still caffeinated, do your own roasting and grinding. And don't believe any of that nonsense you see in gourmet coffeeshops which implies roasting is difficult -- that's propaganda, in reality it's easy. (I've learned to tell when the beans are just right by a subtle change in the crackling sound they make, while roasting. Note that good ventilation is mandatory for the home roaster.)

A thing I consider worth the time and cost of doing myself is changing my car's oil.
posted by Rash at 4:07 PM on September 20, 2006

Making shelves! You can make them to fit exactly.

Although I'm still working on my own skills...
posted by amtho at 4:32 PM on September 20, 2006

Making beer is definitely worth the time, because there's practically none of your time at all involved. I spend about an hour bottling the old batch and making a fresh batch and then there's nothing to do except check when it's ready for bottling, about a week later.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:03 PM on September 20, 2006

I make my own furniture because it is cheaper than buying the equivalent. Sure I could get something marginally effective from Ikea but for something that is both perfectly sized and high quality you can't beat making it yourself even including the capital costs of my tools. And I can cop designer stuff for mass market price.

I also knit my own scarfs because you can not buy an eight inch wide by 6 foot long wool scarf. Store bought scarfs are little dinky things that you have difficulty wrapping around your face and tucking the ends into your parka. Plus you might as well not bother with a polyester scarf, 90-100% wool is the way to go.

If you have land fruit trees in general and apples specifically are fantastic to grow your own. My grandmother-in-law had a couple dozen different varieties of apple on her farm, some of which just aren't available in even farmers markets because they either don't travel well or ripen too fast. Johnathan apples for example ripen early and are an awesome eating apple, and there was a variety she grew specifically for whole baking.
posted by Mitheral at 5:52 PM on September 20, 2006

What you consider worth it should reflect your values. Are you concerned about use of resources? The lost art of craftsmanship? Thrift and value for money? How your free time is spent? Being seduced by ease and plentitude? The answers to these (and other) questions might help you figure out your own sense of what's worth doing from scratch.

Me, I like to know what's in my food and I like to keep a well-stocked pantry. That's why I garden and can my own food (tomato sauce, salsa, relish, pickles, jam, tomato soup base). I'm not much of a cook, but I think it's worth it to make my own bread (whole wheat, French, English muffin loaf), pasta, and cookies.

I like learning. The joy of learning has made it a worthwhile endeavor to pick up rug hooking, natural dyeing, interior painting, refinishing furniture, small home repairs, and all sorts of cleaning tricks.

I worry about the chemical basis of so many things around the house, so I make my own cleaning mixes (baking soda, vinegar, salt, soap, and hydrogen peroxide are your friends).

I am concerned about consumption. I make gifts (that's where canning jams comes in handy, or knowing how to make soap), and I write letters so that friends and family know that I've spent time on them.

I derive a great deal of satisfaction from my theoretical knowledge and my practical skills. The way I do things takes much more time than the way most people do them, and I know that not everybody gets it. Trust me, I got funny looks from the neighbors when they saw me smashing walnut hulls for my dyeing... and then there was the time I took a Sawzall to an old cast iron bathtub on my porch... OTOH, I get to avoid the mall, skip the crap on TV, and spend less when shopping. Plus, there's ALWAYS something to do. I may be exhausted -- but I'm never bored.

See also: What Should I Learn Next? and What Should I Learn for Doomsday?

Whatever you do, have fun. That's the best part about learning to live from scratch.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:20 PM on September 20, 2006 [4 favorites]

Pesto. Pesto. Pesto. Any and every pesto I've bought in a jar has been crap. Two handfuls of basil, two cloves of garlic, 3/4 cup of parmesean reggiano, pine nuts, and very good extra virgin olive oil. None of this walnut stuff or (god forbid) brazil nuts. No spinach or mixture of basil and spinach. Pecorino Romano can be substituted. Use a food processor. The stuff is great on pasta or just a little dab on pan-seared salmon.

Another nice pesto is cilantro (lots, 2 or three bunches), mint, peanuts, garlic, rice wine vinegar, chili paste, and either vegetable or peanut oil to make the emulsion. Excellent on fish, or mixed into any mayonnaise-based salad (like tuna salad).
posted by ontic at 7:08 PM on September 20, 2006 [6 favorites]

Grow your own marijuana.
posted by flabdablet at 7:08 PM on September 20, 2006

The Complete Tightwad Gazette has a lot of great ideas -- and lays out ways to figure out the cost effectiveness of buying vs. making.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

I love the tomato sauce suggestion, that really is a money saver and quality booster - even if you just do it from canned tomatoes, which isn't that DIY.

For most of the world, fresh tomatoes aren't as good as canned. You MUST buy fresh tomatoes locally - anything from the supermarket is likely so far from its birthplace that it probably shouldn't be called a tomato. Also, you must buy fresh tomatoes in season, which is just about over in many places. If you've got good fresh local tomatoes, use those. Otherwise, use canned.
posted by Caviar at 1:45 PM on September 21, 2006

Coming back to the sock knitting. For $20 I can get one hank of Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn (enough for a pair for me and then some baby booties). For another $6-10 I can get a set of 5 pretty good sock needles which I can use until I break two. Over the course of 20ish hours (I'm not a very fast knitter) I will complete a pair of socks. That is 2 or 3 bucks an hour for pure entertainment and learning. Cheaper than renting a movie! Also, I have seen some $20 pairs of socks, and I have a hard time believing that they could be more comfortable than the socks I make for myself.

Also, they are great conversation starters in public places, and a wonderful ego booster when other knitters insist they could never do it and I manage to get them to walk away thinking maybe they could, or better yet, have them try it.

Other things - I give my cats their vaccines and medications (when it makes sense for me and not the vet to do it), as well as bathing them. We keep a pot of lemongrass on the balcony but have killed both baby tomato plants and I own two sewing machines because I am sure it makes more sense for me to make us pants because neither of us has much luck with store bought. I just need to learn how. We also do most of the cooking and baking. I have replaced the alternator and the slave cylinder in my Isuzu Rodeo and do my oil when I am confident it will be disposed of properly.
posted by bilabial at 3:59 PM on September 21, 2006

posted by DenOfSizer at 4:42 PM on September 21, 2006

Good gift/Bad gift?
So I thought that this year I'd get this same item for my son, my daughter, my adult neice and a couple of strays too.
It's pretty clear that they'd enjoy the fact that it's not another flashlight or safety kit...
The item? A handheld battery operated sewing machine.
These recipients are not handy people but I think that we can, all of us, use this from time to time to fix stuff around the house? 1: in theory, do you think it's a good idea? 2:do these things actually work? It almost has to work on it's own. Idiot-proof. Very simple for us to use. (did I mention that we are not handy people?)
posted by lois1950 at 12:53 AM on December 9, 2006

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