/ Home & Energy

Do you make do and mend?

Men knitting

Environment minister Lord de Mauley says we send too much to landfill and should make do and recycle more. What would get you to make do, mend and sell on eBay?

I see nothing wrong with a bit of ‘make do and mend’. In fact I have a reputation for doing so  – but I needed the knowledge and confidence to take that first step.

For instance, my first few eBay transactions only took place because I was reassured that the site was safe and protected. However, as we’ve found, there are still fakes out there. Similarly, I was sceptical of joining ZipCar – an example of ‘making do’ rather than having my own vehicle – until I was reassured it’d be worth it.

Getting the know-how

The knowledge that something is actually possible is also needed. I used to throw out stale bread and bones until Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall showed me that making croutons, breadcrumbs and stock was quick and simple. Now we have some very tasty meals. I’m sure many of you have families who pass down this knowledge, but others, like me, had to be shown it was possible and how to do it.

Friends can help too. We recently bought a house and had an old dining table and chairs donated. The chairs were a bit tatty, but we didn’t realise that it was fairly painless to recover them until friends told us that they’d done the same before. In the end it only cost us about £10 a chair.

Something for nothing

Knowing that quality can come for nothing was also worth discovering. It’s something that Kirstie Allsopp has been championing on Channel 4 in her show Fill Your House for Free. Even demanding people like me can still get good freebies. I wanted an extra bookshelf and had very particular demands (it had to be the right size and made from solid wood). Yet, after only three weeks of keeping an eye on Gumtree, I found one. And I could only collect it because I had a ZipCar van.

Of course, I can’t do everything myself. I have a solid mahogany desk that was tatty and in pieces when I saw it in the restorer’s yard. But, thanks to the expert restorer, it now looks as good as when it was first built two centuries ago.

Despite this, I wonder what else I’m missing out on due to a lack of awareness of either the expert who can fix something up for a good price, the seller who’s keen to shift something, or the simple skills needed to do it myself.

Have I, Kirstie Allsopp and Lord de Mauley convinced you to make do and mend? Or are you already a pro at repairing? If so, what’s been your proudest achievement?


An enormous quantity of household articles get tipped into landfill sites because environmental legislation and municipal refuse collection & disposal systems have made it very difficult to dispose of unwanted goods easily and economically. Local councils charge a fortune to collect old furniture and appliances; I suspect a high percentage of what they do collect is dumped rather than recycled. Getting private clearance dealers to take things away is fraught with complications and liabilities. Charities are becoming increasingly picky over what they will and will not take for resale and are not as helpful as they make out [anything upholstered is always a problem]. I can see why waste carriers have to be licensed and why every load has to have a transfer note but the controls and costs in place lead to the temptation for people to break things up and hide them in the wheelie bin or dump them in a place where they know the council will eventually scavenge them. Now that ‘upcycling’ is the vogue in trendy metropolitan communities there is some hope for the “Contemporary” stereogram cabinets and “Utility” wardrobes that otherwise get wasted but this is only nibbling at the edge of the problem and many of us do not live within economical haulage distance of such opportunities. As it happens we are in the process of restoring to use a 1950’s sideboard-c*m-cocktail cabinet which, with its walnut veneers, bakelite handles, and internal mirrors and strip lights, will look gorgeously incompatible among our modern furniture; it languished in a relative’s house and was due to be scrapped when we took another look and thought we could make a feature out of it.

Sian says:
10 August 2013

Older people know all about making do and mending. We only started losing that knowledge when things became cheap and easily available to buy new.
I’m either an expert at making do and mending or well on the way to becoming a hoarder. I save old magazines for my daughters to cut up to decorate greetings cards and calendars, I save jiffy bags and bubble wrap to reuse, takeaway containers for freezing home made food.
I wouldn’t dream of buying myself a new book, always the library or bought second hand to raise money for a good cause, or just plain borrowed.
My 15 year old canvas, steel framed tent had a mishap recently, and having failed to find the spare part I needed, I was resigning myself to having to buy a new tent when I found a welder who repaired the mangled piece of frame, for the vast sum of £2.
If only shoes and printers could be so easily repared. That’s why I’m on here, to find a printer that lasts longer than the warranty period!


Secondhand furniture is probably the best bargain you can get. Wooden furniture is cheap and relatively easy to restore. Liberon do a whole series of easy-to-use products; I use cleaner and restorer that removes grime and marks before using wax polish (don’t use one containing silicone). At worst, strip off the finish and use finishing or Danish oil to get a moisture resistant silky finish.


Sadly things are made cheaper and do not last. I’m aware that most people will buy things that are in fashion, such as black and chrome small appliances at the moment, then replace them with the next fashionable colour, even if some of the previous “non-fashionable” appliances still work.

Since most people seem to prefer buying household goods as cheaply as possible and avoid the “expensive” items, now we have products which are only made in China now and cannot be repaired – only replaced, e.g. toasters, kettles, microwaves, printers, alarm clock and so on. The only “repair” you can make is to glue broken plastic parts together with Araldite, but any repairs to the inside stand no chance, and the manufacturers know this – try getting a replacement heating element for a new kettle!

I would be more than happy to buy “expensive” products if they can be repaired rather than thrown out. How will people dispose of future “made in China” products, which cannot be repaired, when landfill space runs out?


Which is complicit in this matter. It should only award a “Best buy” status for products where the appropriate repair manual is available. For example, I just purchased a Best Buy lawnmower, but there is no workshop manual available on the manufacturer’s website nor obtainable from dealers.

Of course, there is such a manual. Obviously. Indeed, my mower was delivered with a faulty carburettor. Only discovered on unpacking. Rather than return the whole mower: a major repacking task, I agreed to fit a replacement carburettor myself. The replacement part was accompanied by a photocopy of the relevant page of the workshop manual.

Why is it that Which reviews do not include the availablity of repair documentation and spares where appropriate (which is almost always)?

So long as this sharp practice is allowed to continue, make do and mend is always going to be far more difficult and expensive than it need be.

Steve Ellis says:
10 August 2013

My family and friends know me as a fixer. I tell them off if they try to replace something that I haven’t looked at first. Most of the time parts for all sorts of things can be easily sourced via the internet and You Tube is great for “How to Dos”. I once fixed a dead 40″ Samsung TV that my sister was going to dump for £1.78. It now has pride of place in her Bedroom.

Gerard Phelan says:
10 August 2013

But should landfill be our only consideration? If I soldier on with my 35 year old pots and pans, whose ceramic lining has worn thin, rather than buying a new set for say £200 am I not depriving my fellow citizens, (who might be readers here) of the wages from of manufacturing those pots and pans, the wages from delivering them to the local shop and the wages from selling them to me. Not forgetting the wages of the council recycling teams who would deal with the old ones.

Given that the money I would use is currently earning almost no interest, is it not indeed my DUTY to the unemployed to throw away all my old goods and buy new ones?


That is the way the economy works – replacing things that stop functioning, or things that are unfashionable. You could have a repair and refurbish culture if it wasn’t for the generally high cost of labour. However, I have two high mileage cars on which I replace failed parts and reckon that is cheaper than buying newer cars, and my mobile phone is now 7 years old and going strong.