Ebay is one of the best places to find secondhand and preloved bargains. Buying secondhand reduces waste and carbon. It used to be easy to find the secondhand and preloved stuff on Ebay but now it’s a bit harder. This article will give you the seven best tips to become a bargain ninja and find exactly what you want on Ebay (if it can possibly be found).
First, if you’re looking for something generic (e.g. “black skirt”), make sure you’re only searching for things that are “used” not “new”. Otherwise you’ll be presented with a million mis-priced badly-made “new” items from abroad with 30-45 days delivery. If you’re looking for something branded, this shouldn’t be an issue as 99% of real brands don’t sell on Ebay, and Ebay is very good at clamping down on fakes.
Ebay doesn’t actually work to give you the search results in the best order for finding what you want, and hasn’t for about ten years, since they changed the way they showed their results. Back in the early days of Ebay, items were automatically sorted by “time: ending soonest” so if something was about to end, you’d see it right away and be able to jump on a bargain.
Now, however, they automatically sort by “best match” which is usually neither best nor a match for your search term. I did complain to them when they changed this and I got a patronizing mansplaining nonsense reply which basically said “we don’t care what customers think we’re doing this anyway”. The default sorting of the search results is basically the worst way to try to Ebay. It’s disorganized and means you’ll miss items that might be exactly what you want at the price you want to pay. There are two MUCH better ways to sort search results and I suggest you do one at a time.
Buy it now
Filter the results so you’re only looking at “buy it now” then sort by newly-listed. Things that have only just been listed sometimes are available at a lower price than the rest of the “buy it now” items. As people buy secondhand items, they disappear from sale, so seeing the newest listings is the best way to find the good stuff before someone else gets it.
Filter by “auction” then sort by “time: ending soonest”. Things that are available at auction sometimes get to the end of their allotted time and no one (or only one person) has bid on it. Snap it up when it has only a minute or two left to run (this is called sniping, by the way, and some people think it’s bad form, but HONESTLY it’s a f**king auction site not an etiquette party, there are no points awarded for letting someone else win your child’s Christmas present).
Don’t waste your time bidding on things with more than an hour left to run unless you’re going to be in bed or at work when the item ends. Everything before that last hour is effectively meaningless posturing because the real price the item will end at won’t become apparent until the very end of the auction.
Bidding far in advance is also a bad plan for another reason: Artificial inflation of the price from fake bids. Basically, some unscrupulous sellers on Ebay will get their friends or family to bid against you on the item to try and get you to increase your bid. Ebay has taken steps to clamp down on this over the years but it’s still happening.
Save your searches.
This can speed up finding the items you’re looking for when you’re spending more than the one day looking for something. Just hit the “save search” button. If you can’t see it, be sure you’re logged in properly. However, if you want the gift to be a surprise, don’t do this on a shared computer (probably best not to let your children have access to your Ebay account anyway).
Vary your search terms
Be sure to change your search terms. Just because you know an item by a specific name doesn’t mean that’s what other people call it.
A prime example of this is any branded handbag or shoe. You might know a specific pair of shoes as Irregular Choice Cookies for Santa, but someone who bought them secondhand or threw out the box might only know they are Irregular Choice shoes (or not even know the brand name). Also, they might have listed the size in European sizes or UK sizes.
So in this case, start with a narrow search for exactly what you want. “Irregular Choice Cookies for Santa size 39”. This will show you any exact matches. If nothing comes up, widen your search. A search for “Irregular Choice size 40” (without the name of the shoe’s style) would give you a long set of results to trawl through, but it means you’ll catch all the shoes which have been correctly listed as Irregular Choice under your EU shoe size. IC shoes are sold in EU sizes so this is the most logical second search. Then, if that shows nothing, change the term to “Irregular Choice size 6”, which is the UK size closest to a 39.
Lastly, if you still can’t find them, try describing them by their most distinctive feature. “Cake heel shoes” might give you something. By this point, however, you are unlikely to find anything, so the best move is to save your search and try again later or tomorrow. Using this search method, you can find pretty much anything you want, no matter how rare or unusual, on Ebay. However, it is very time-consuming.
Time your searches
The vast majority of people list their items at the weekend, so Friday evening until Sunday evening is when you are most likely to find newly-listed items and items that are about to end. If you only want to spend a couple of hours on Ebay looking for something, Sunday night between 4pm and 8pm is when most items end. This all means that if you pick the right time, you will have more choice and potentially get the item for a better price. However, the flip side of this is, more people are buying on Ebay between Friday and Sunday night, so you may have to compete harder if you’re buying something at auction.
Check out the seller’s other items
If you’ve lost out or if you’re looking for a complete set of something (e.g. Teletubbies dolls), click on the seller’s username (not his feedback number) then hit “view other items” or “visit their store” and scroll through their other items for sale. They might have more varieties of the thing you’re looking for (they might have nothing). Don’t spend time doing this before you bid on a last-minute item or before grabbing a buy it now bargain, however, or you could miss out on the original item!
Always pay sellers as soon as possible so they can send you the item quickly and leave you positive feedback. Customarily, sellers should leave feedback first because your part in a transaction is over as soon as you’ve paid. I don’t waste time leaving feedback for sellers unless I’ve received feedback from them first because some sellers don’t bother and it’s annoying. If you’re always returning items or if you open Paypal disputes for stupid reasons, sellers can and will blacklist you from shopping with them in the future. Remember, there are plenty of online seller forums and groups where Ebay sellers can talk to each other, and they will share your username with each other if you’re a bad customer. You should treat Ebay sellers with the same respect you’d use in a charity shop or other face-to-face setting dealing with real people.
This is part of a series on buying ethical Christmas presents. Find the others here:
This was a great fun project to do and you probably already have everything you need for it as it’s 100% recycled. I did this project in September 2020. We were living in rented accommodation last year and one of the issues is you can’t attach anything to the walls (pretty standard rule in rented houses in the UK, where we lived at the time).
Senses: Touch, vision, sound.
Skills: Helps refine baby’s motor skills.
Baby age at time: 13 months old.
Time to make: About 30 minutes.
Start off with a big piece of cardboard. We used one of the boxes that Jellyfish’s cot (US English: Crib) came in. We had been using the box as a fireguard (we didn’t use the fire at our old house as it was a real smoke fire and I don’t think they’re great especially around babies).
For a few months I’d saved empty packets of wet wipes with the plastic clasps (rather than the flimsy sticky lids many of them have). These are great for a peekaboo wall. Using a pair of scissors, I cut out the clasps, leaving a decent-sized square of the packaging around the clasp so there was something I could tape down.
I taped the clasps to the cardboard on all four sides. Next, I got some old leaflets and packaging out of the recycling. I chose ones with brightly-coloured pictures and I cut them out. I taped the pictures behind the wet wipe clasps and also put pictures on top to ensure Jellyfish knew these were something interesting.
I also got some multicoloured rainbow washi tape from Amazon and used it to attach empty toilet roll tubes to the sensory wall so he could have fun pulling them off again.
Baby’s verdict: He saw the pictures of cars on the clasps and immediately went to play with them. He pulled the clasps open and found more pictures behind them! He had a lot of fun with these little “mystery doors”. It took him about two or three weeks to rip all the pictures off the wet wipe packets. I stuck them back on a few times. When we moved to a new country, however, the sensory wall was no more, but his motor skills did improve from playing with this toy regularly and he was able to open other things more confidently.
It’s a super-simple toy but he’s had a lot of fun out of it! I was sad to finally consign this to recycling when we moved to our new house in Ireland.
I’ve decided to put in a high raised bed on one side of the back garden. We are still working on the drainage problem and I will write a lengthy article about this once it’s all sorted. Part of my waterlogged clay drainage plan is to build a high raised bed (30cm tall by 2m wide by 1m deep) which can accommodate a whole load of the displaced soil from other areas of the garden (it should take about 0.6 metric tons of soil, if you put those measurements into a calculator).
This came about because we have about 3 tons of soil that’s been displaced from digging 50 metres of drainage trenches around the garden. The soil type we have is heavy clay soil, and although we have a south-facing garden, the fence at the bottom is 4 metres high so that part of the garden is in shade for most of the morning, and even in this heat (I measured a 45 degree ground temperature two days ago) the clay soil just can’t dry out because behind the 4 metre high fence is a huge garden whose ground level is 2m above our ground level.
This means all the water from their garden comes to ours. Their garden is the lowest on their street (the street goes uphill from there) so we’re getting water from about 20 houses percolating into our back lawn.
Even with the drainage ditches (which have created a beautiful stream water feature in our garden), it’s too waterlogged to grow anything useful or interesting. And I can’t have a pond and a water garden because I have a toddler (and will soon have 2 under 2) who can drown in an inch of water.
So instead I’m building up. The positive about clay is, it’s fantastic for holding nutrients in the soil for plants. It’s just the drainage that’s an issue. So I’m making adjustments to the soil (more on that later) to make it drain better.
The plan is to grow onions over winter in this raised bed, or to plant green manure (to fertilise it naturally), and dig that in, ready for squash or pumpkin planting next year.
Being quite pregnant, a very raised bed is great because it means less bending over to work with my plants. I used offcuts of recycled wood and built each side separately (long sides are 2 metres by 30cm, short sides are 1m by 30cm). Once each side has been made, you can nail them together using square chunks of wood in each corner to give them stability and strength.
First of all, I prepared the site by laying down some thick (but not waterproof) weed control fabric (aka weed proof membrane) to kill the grass and weeds that were already here. The membrane stops the sunlight getting to the grass and it dies because it can’t photosynthesize.
There was a lot of moss in this area and weed control fabric isn’t much use for that. However, iron sulphate works well for moss. Usually, iron sulphate is used to acidify soil (to make so-called ericaceous soil, suitable for erica, heather, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, citrus plants and other acid-needing plants). Since moss thrives in waterlogged alkaline conditions (especially in shady areas), acidifying the soil can help with this.
My problem with this method was, when the soil is this waterlogged, all that will happen is the water will dilute the iron sulphate until it’s not very effective (any pH of acid or alkaline can be neutralized when diluted with enough water). We would need to drain the area before using that remedy on the moss. Instead, I dug over the whole area after removing the weed control fabric so the moss was dug into the soil. It needs light (even a little bit) and oxygen to survive so this was another effective way of getting rid of it.
The wood needs to be thick enough to hold a ton of soil and remember, that soil will be wet, which will shorten the life of the wood if it’s untreated. However, untreated wood is better for your plants because the chemicals from treatments can leach into the soil. With a large bed this is less of an issue.
The structure was easy to make and here’s instructions, if you want to make one, too.
Instructions for making a high raised bed:
You will need:
6 pieces of wood (length 2m, width 2cm, height 10cm)
6 pieces of wood (length 1m, width 2cm, height 10cm)
4 square corner posts (length/width 5-ish cm, height 30cm)
12 screws or nails
Step 1: Attach 3 pieces of 2 metre wood to 2 of the square corner posts, using one corner post at each end of the wood. Repeat this step with the other 3 pieces of 2 metre wood and the other two corner posts. These are the two long sides of the bed.
Step 2: Attach 3 pieces of 1 metre wood to one square post at the end of each long side. These will make the short sides of the bed. Repeat with the final 3 pieces of 1 metre wood. See diagram above (the green lines are the square posts and the grey dots are nails or screws).
Step 3: Put your bed where you want it. That’s it!
Once the whole structure was complete, I sited it in the ground. I left a 6-inch (15cm) gap between the end of the bed and the fence, to protect the fence and to ensure better drainage from the higher garden behind ours (I don’t want their garden draining into my onion bed haha). In the images below, the bed isn’t in its final resting place, yet.
Because I used recycled wood, one of the long sides has an extra piece of wood nailed on the inside that doesn’t appear on the plans.
Next, I filled it with soil. This soil was all extra stuff from digging drainage trenches all around the garden, so if we didn’t find a use for it, we would have to figure out how to dispose of it, which seemed weird, because it’s soil.
The soil needed to be adjusted to it useful for growing plants, which involved adding sand and manure. The sand will improve drainage and the manure will increase the nutrients available for plants. You can’t use just any old sand, however, and there are several ways of adjusting soil.
You also need to take care not to use the soil too soon after you’ve made adjustments to it, because the repaired soil needs time for its structure to change after you’ve worked on it. I’ll go into detail on how to adjust your soil in another article.
I removed the turf all around the bed, too, and replaced this with gravel for better drainage and access to the bed. Clay soil suffers badly from compaction when it’s waterlogged, and walking on it will literally damage the peds (the individual cells of soil) by making them platy, so they can’t absorb water, which makes the waterlogging worse.
Compacted soil also makes it hard to grow anything. You can see this out and about if you’ve ever walked past a farm gate where cows have stood around, compacting the soil with their hooves. In summer, when that soil dries out, there will usually be a bare patch around the gate where things don’t grow so well. Compacted soil can produce dangerous conditions around farm animals (especially cows) as their feet can get stuck in it and then they might get injured.
In a garden, the main issue with compaction around walkways (where you’re not growing your flowers or vegetable crops anyway) is that it looks really unsightly. It also usually produces a very sticky mud that attaches itself to your shoes and refuses to let go, resulting in lots of scrubbing to get them clean!
Overall, then, soil compaction is not great for a number of reasons, and it’s best to avoid it wherever possible.
Switching the turf for gravel around this bed should also reduce the chance of excessive grass/weed growth around the edge of the bed, which has been a problem with my much smaller (120cm by 120cm by 15cm high) bed which is currently housing most of my crop for this year.
Also, the gravel looks pretty and will mean I can work on the bed without having to wear wellies to keep my feet dry!
So there you have it, that’s how we changed this dark, squelchy corner of the garden into a large high raised vegetable bed.
So after I did my chalkboards (tutorial here), I had some very small offcuts of chalkboard stickyback vinyl just sitting around, looking sad and lonely. When I got another Amazon delivery, I finally had a box I could turn into these super-cute DIY chalkboard magnets!
You can make the little chalkboards by following my easy DIY chalkboard tutorial. For magnets, make them small (2×3 inches or 5x7cm rectangles work perfectly but other shapes and sizes are also good).
Write a cute message on your tiny chalkboards. If you suck at calligraphy/lettering as much as I do, draw the outline of your chalkboard onto a piece of paper first and plan out where to place the letters. My first chalkboard worked perfectly first time and all the letters went exactly where I wanted. The second one took about 7 attempts of cleaning it off and starting again because I just kept messing it up. Drawing out a plan helped me a lot.
Let the chalkboards dry thoroughly before doing anything else with them. This should take about 5 minutes. I made a little door sign for my baby’s bedroom out of a slightly bigger piece at the same time (I’ve skewed the bottom line to the left slightly on the room sign as he is getting a brother or sister in 6 months’ time so I will want to change it to “little ones” but not yet):
Once you have the chalkboards ready, turn them over and cut 3-4 strips of magnet tape (you might want to use less but I like them to stick really well to the fridge when they’re holding up baby art). The magnet tape should be about 1cm smaller than the edge of the magnet. Peel back the protective film and stick the magnet tape onto the back of the chalkboards. Press down firmly.
Voila! You’re ready to put up some baby artwork. Or a shopping list. Or your favourite postcard. The sky is the limit!
You could even use these for gifts, although I will say I’m not 100% happy with the finish, because it scratches easily. To figure out how to make these into gifts, I will do some experimenting with varnish spray to see if it preserves the writing. However, the flipside of that is once the writing has been fixed to the chalkboard, there’s no option to wipe it off and change it to something else.
I loved making these chalkboard magnets for the versatility and they’re an easy way to bring a classy look to your refrigerator. I’m using mine to display baby art that my little one made with these Crayola Finger Paints (here in the US, in a bigger pack).
At our first house, we discovered a significant issue with the bathroom. The people who had the house before we did were experts at DIY bodge jobs. We found this out when we replaced the shower after it caught fire while I was getting ready for work one morning.
I kid you not, the shower LITERALLY caught fire. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation but there’s this terrifying moment of “Whaaa?? There’s water pouring out of something that’s on fire?!” It was like a bad dream. It was also the first day of my new job, barely four weeks after my mother died (and not long after I started this blog) in the dark ages of 2015.
When it stopped burning, I didn’t know if we needed to call a plumber or an electrician. We went with an electrician. He cut the wire to the shower from the fuse box to make it safe. We were left in the difficult situation of having no money to fix this. Add to that, we found out the bathtub was actually child size and my husband looked like a beached whale in it. He is not overweight. With no functioning bathroom, I did what any sensible person would, and attempted to get three quotes from plumbers.
I got a quote from a plumber and he reckoned £2500 to do it.
I tried to get another quote from a second plumber but he never even turned up so that was a waste of time. A third plumber came and looked at the bathroom then didn’t bother emailing us the quote. So that was our three quotes.
Stumped (and with no shower) we knew we had to do something, so we took on the huge job of doing a DIY bathroom renovation.
The entire shower enclosure was in a bad state, the white plastic parts were stained orange from years of iron-rich water being poured on it. The shower tray was chipped, revealing dark patches, and also stained. There was disgusting black mold underneath the shower enclosure door and the whole unit was very dated and falling apart with cracked plastic. The wood around the shower tray had gone rotten in places and the floor-to-ceiling plain white square tiles looked like they belonged in a prison.
We had known about some of these issues when we bought the house, but we had put every penny into our deposit and couldn’t even afford a sofa for over a year after we moved in. So it wasn’t until the shower caught fire that we were able to give ourselves permission to do something about this (also, we were finally both working by this point, where we’d just had 18 months of one then the other of us getting short contracts, never at the same time as each other). Ahh… buying a house in your twenties. It’s an adventure.
We also weren’t happy with the lack of an airing cupboard (hot press in Ireland, linen closet in America) in our house. So I spent hours and hours looking online for inspiration, and jotting down ideas. After about a week of this, I started to get a coherent plan for how to completely renovate our bathroom space.
It took about two years for us to complete this project while we were working full-time. My husband did all the plumbing work (he is not a plumber). Here, finally, is a write-up of what we did.
We started out by measuring everything and drawing a plan of the existing bathroom. From this, we could see the space we had to work with and also what complications there might be.
We discovered several issues that were going to limit our bathroom renovation.
First, the wall to the right of the bath is not an original brick wall finished in wet plaster, it’s a plasterboard (drywall) one. These are more susceptible to damp permeating the outer layers in a bathroom.
Second, the sewage stack (the black square between the sink and toilet) was unmovable without paying a plumber. We had already had problems getting a plumber, so this had to stay where it was. That meant the bath couldn’t be placed anywhere else.
In my original idea for the bathroom, I’d hoped to get a larger bath (this one didn’t fit adults in it) or a double-width shower enclosure and put it in the space where there was currently a shower and a toilet. Due to the sewage stack we had to put the new bath where the old one was.
The third complication was the unusable space over the stairs, especially with the radiator hanging in front of it, because it rendered the space in front of it completely unusable, too, as that was where the door arc was. Bathrooms are steamy and have to have a door.
There was a floor to ceiling wall between that unusable space and the shower, and two very dated plywood cupboard doors on the front, creating what should have been an airing cupboard, but it was so high off the ground, and the radiator prevented you from standing in front of it, so no one could put anything at the back of the cavernous, flat first shelf, never mind getting anything on the second shelf! This was also where the shower wiring and off switch were situated. It was so much dead space!
The fourth complication was the wiring for the bathroom light. It ran from the switch beside the door to the light, which was partly above the bathtub. Building regs state the minimum distance between an electric light and a shower (this same building regulation also meant the way the old shower was installed was dangerous and caused the fire), and this meant we couldn’t put a shower over the bath due to fire safety.
The fifth complication, not clear in my diagram, was that this 1930s house had a sloping ceiling on all external walls. The wall where the original shower was, and the wall with the window by the toilet, were both external walls, so we had two feet of sloping ceiling around those walls, which reduced the height of the walls, limiting things like where to hang a shower curtain rail or the height of any shower enclosure or glass panel.
We thought these were all of the complicating factors when we planned our bathroom renovation. In reality, that was just the start of our problems. As work began, we realized the true extent of the issues we were dealing with.
Removal of the shower enclosure
The first task we needed to accomplish was to get rid of the entire old shower enclosure. Aside from being very old and damaged, it was really tiny, at 75cm square, and our original plan was to replace it with a more modern 90cm squared shower, with room for elbows.
The glass enclosure had plastic around the sides and this was attached to the wall then filled in with lots and lots of sealant. The internet said there would be nails to remove with the back of a claw hammer. This was not the case. We actually couldn’t figure out how this was attached because it was nothing like anything I could find a tutorial for on the Internet.
Taking it apart bit-by-bit, first, we removed the aluminium frame from around the top of the glass. With a crowbar we lifted the glass shower enclosure away from the wall and off the shower base. The sealant was really solid, so we used a kitchen knife to cut it away (a Stanley knife wasn’t long enough to reach) while applying pressure with the crowbar.
The glass was put in the back of my car and taken to the recycling centre. I hope it became ketchup bottles or something.
The plastic strip that held the glass to the wall was attached with screws, we finally learned once the glass was out. Unfortunately, we couldn’t remove this tall plastic strip from the wall because the previous owners had tiled over the sides of the plastic strip so it was impossible to remove until the tiles were off the wall.
Before tackling the shower base, the next job was to remove the tiles because they had also attached the tiles to the shower base using shower grout. Crazy, crazy people.
Removing two layers of tiles
This should have been a relatively simple job for a careful person with a chisel, hammer and some goggles. If the tiles had been put on properly. How does someone put tiles on wrong? Oh, boy, I’m glad you asked.
See, when they tiled the shower enclosure, there were already tiles there. Instead of removing these, as any sensible person would do, they tiled over them. There were two layers of tiles (which didn’t have edges in the same places) for us to remove.
Wait, I hear you say, tiles have a really smooth surface, they wouldn’t give a good surface to stick another tile to.
Yup. The previous owners of the house figured that out, too. But instead of thinking, “let’s just remove the old tiles” like sensible people, they used an almost-solid layer of tile grout to attach the second layer of tiles to the first.
Because of what they had done, we had to chip the top layer of tiles off the wall in tiny pieces that shattered and flew everywhere. This took us weeks because doing this at ceiling height is exhausting.
Once we had the top layer off, we started on the layer underneath. These were relatively easy, and had definitely been put in properly, with little blobs of tile grout behind them. However, removing them left us with a wall full of holes in the plaster where the plaster came off along with the grout. This is fairly normal for removing tiles.
Looking at the extreme damage, I thought we were going to have to admit defeat at this point and call in a plasterer to remove and replaster the entire wall.
It got even worse. The tiles on the left hand wall turned out to be on a fake plasterboard wall. When we removed the electric shower unit, we found a huge 8-inch hole behind it, where someone had ham-fistedly made the hole for the plumbing and electric wire. When we removed the tiles from this wall, we found out they hadn’t put in a waterproof membrane behind them. A waterproof membrane is essential to protect the plasterboard from water damage. The wooden joints holding up the single layer of drywall were black and completely rotten and the drywall was soaked so the paper on the outside had disintegrated.
Between the hole, the water damage and the rotten wooden frame, the wall was so bad, it had to come out. At this point, we were deeply worried about whether water had gotten down to the floor level, in case the floorboards needed replacing beneath the shower tray.
We ultimately removed the entire wall on that side, floor-to-ceiling, even the part that was an enclosure for the top of the stairs.
Removing the plastic strip from enclosure
Now the tiles were gone, we could finally remove this plastic strip which had been quite a nuisance while trying to get the tiles out because it got in the way of the chisel.
It just unscrewed, which was a bit anticlimactic after all the work I’d done to excavate it from under the two layers of tiles, but I was happy to take the win.
Removing the damaged wall
When we finished removing the tiles from the left hand wall, we discovered that the tiles were attached straight to the plasterboard (no waterproof membrane down here, either) which meant the bottom half of the plaster wall came away with the tiles. The top half came away with careful application of a crowbar and once the plasterboard was gone, we could take out the wooden joints carefully. Finally, we had completely removed the wall. It hadn’t been on our original plan, but sometimes DIY is like that.
We were amazed when we discovered what was behind the wall.
Change of plans
See, we had thought that the reason this boxy enclosure next to the shower was taking up so much space in our bathroom was because it had thick joists behind it, holding up the house structurally. We were surprised to find out it was basically an empty space and that none of it was needed to protect the diagonal staircase ceiling.
When we found this, it inspired us to change our plans a bit, because we realized we had all this unused space.
We sat down and talked about what we might do with this space. First, I wondered about removing the boxy area completely, only, that would mean our radiator would need to be moved, and there was nowhere to move it to because the wall opposite it was a plasterboard DIY job, and given the quality of the work these clowns had done around the shower, I didn’t want to move the radiator and discover that wall was actually a portal to another dimension or something.
I had an idea to put a floor-to-ceiling cupboard in on the side of the space that went almost to floor level, but we decided not to because the access to the cupboard would be blocked by the shower enclosure, rendering it totally unusable.
All the same, I really wanted to use this awesome empty space we had found. It seemed insane to just put drywall back over it.
Removing the shower base
Next we had to remove the shower base, which was hard because it obviously had a drain attached at the bottom and we didn’t want to pour icky drainwater through the ceiling below. I didn’t know that shower bases are made of concrete covered in fibreglass (it makes sense, so it doesn’t move around when you stand in it, but I didn’t know).
This one was also surrounded by wooden skirting (which was partly rotten). We removed the wooden skirting with a crowbar and my husband eased out the shower tray, disconnecting its plumbing as he went.
When we removed the shower tray, we found this amazing newspaper article that dated the shower tray installation to September 14 1984!
Putting a cupboard above the stairs
I had this crazy idea that maybe we could cut a hole in the diagonal ceiling of the staircase and install a storage area that was fixed inside this big empty space, accessible from the stairs. I looked up houses with hidden storage but nothing was even vaguely close to what I wanted to do.
My husband understood what I was imagining, and he promptly measured and cut a perfect rectangle. He drilled a hole in one side then used a jigsaw to cut the rectangle.
This led to a hilarious but slightly embarrassing few days when we had a 2 foot square hole between the bathroom and the staircase while my husband sourced the wood and made the custom cupboard insert to put in the hole. Thankfully, none of our visitors at that time needed to use our loo!
The view from the staircase :O
After the cupboard insert was made, however, the problem we had was the space was obstructed by the third diagonal piece of wood (in the centre of the last pic) and the cupboard couldn’t go in. We had planned to wiggle it in past the beam and use that beam as the centre of two cupboard doors, but alas it wasn’t to be.
The diagonal beams hadn’t looked very thick from the bathroom side, especially when compared with the horizontal and vertical beams, but when we looked more closely, we were concerned that the diagonal beams might be holding up the ceiling above our front door and supporting the wall above the hole we had cut. We didn’t want these to fall down but we really wanted our cupboard, so we did some careful structural work to make this happen.
My husband ensured the middle beam was still supportive by attaching the top and bottom of it to the two other wooden beams either side of the hole using horizontal pieces of wood. Once it was supported like this, he cut out the middle so we could get the cupboard in.
We put the cupboard in and anchored it to the thick beams. I sadly never took a photo of this because we shifted our focus to the rest of the bathroom almost immediately. I always thought we were going to finish it with some doors (or hide it behind a painting) but we decided to leave it open and then moved to China in 2017.
Repairing the ruined wall
To repair the ruined wall, I used spackle (Polyfilla, although I didn’t use that brand). I actually had a lot of fun filling the holes in. You have to do the deeper holes in thin layers of under 5mm of spackle at a time and leave them for about 12 hours, sand them flat, then add the next layer. Some of the holes took three or four layers to repair (I know they don’t look that deep in the photos, I was learning how to use my first-ever DSLR and I really struggled to show depth in these pictures). It took about two weeks to fill all the holes (bearing in mind I was doing other things, too, like going to work).
Once all the holes were filled, the next job was to sand them flat with the rest of the wall. This is important so the paint or wallpaper has a smooth surface to adhere to, otherwise you will end up with lumps and bumps.
Then, we covered the wall with liner paper and painted it all. We didn’t want to paint dozens of coats (remember, this whole time we had no shower and an inadequate bath with no shower attachment) as this was where we were going to install the new shower. The previous owners had painted this room an obnoxious fluorescent yellow which was showing through the liner paper (as were the white patches of spackle, which are making the wall look lumpy in the picture below when it was actually smooth). We painted over everything with a cute lemon yellow.
Installing a new shower
We decided for our new shower that one of the fully-enclosed units from Better Bathrooms would be best. It has glass panels on all the sides (except the doors) so there’s no need for tiling or other wall-work like plumbing. There were several reasons we chose one like this.
First, it was cheaper than buying all the components like tiles, shower enclosure etc. Second, it was going to save us a lot of time because I hadn’t tiled before and so it was going to take me a while to learn. My husband hadn’t tiled, either, but he was adamantly against doing it. Third, the self-contained shower unit would minimize the chance of water leaking into the house beams ever again, something I was now concerned about with a regular shower. Fourth, we wouldn’t need to work out how to hide the pipework going up to the shower control unit.
The fifth reason? The shower unit we had fallen in love with had an overhead drench head as well as a regular shower head and six body jets, as well as a thermostatic control. And it required no electricity, something I really liked to save money on our electric bill which had mysteriously been through the roof since we moved into this house until the moment the shower caught fire. We were paying double in electricity what we had paid at any of our old houses and this house was only half the size of our last place – a badly-insulated Victorian townhouse spread over three huge floors.
So we were very excited to get one of these. It cost £300, which was a lot less than the cost for the enclosure, shower tray, pipework, boxes of tiles, tile grout and electric shower unit if we had bought it all separately, even without using a professional tiler.
Our excitement sputtered a bit when it arrived in six ginormous and very heavy boxes. We hefted them up the stairs and read the instructions. Putting this shower together was possibly the hardest DIY job I have ever done.
After we put it together, the first time we used it, it leaked through the ceiling downstairs. It turned out that a normal amount of sealant was nowhere near enough to stop the water escaping and we had to put so many layers on, it started to look like the bottom joints of the shower enclosure had survived a collision with a Vaseline factory. It was still leaking. Arrgh.
At one point, we were catching the water in old margarine tubs and emptying them down the toilet after showering. We tried sealing it one more time and we were out of clear sealant, so we used white stuff this time. Guess what? White sealant is (for some bizarre reason) better than clear sealant. It stopped the water getting out and finally our shower was trouble free.
Replacing a tiny bath with a bigger one
The next job for our bathroom renovation was to remove the tiny old bath (in a stylish 80s cream colour) and replace it with a normal-sized bath. We had gone to five local bathroom showrooms and at every single one, I climbed into the baths I liked, to see whether they were big enough. We settled on a great model with the taps and drainage in the centre. It was 1700 long where our old one was 1200 long, so we had to take care that it would fit.
Removing the old bath while leaving the cream tiles in situ was less of a mission than we thought. My father-in-law came up one weekend and he and my husband took out the old bath tub and fixed the new one in place. We had used modern plastic pipes to plumb the shower unit in, so we decided to use these to do the bath, too. My father-in-law didn’t like this idea but my husband had researched all the options extensively beforehand so we went with it anyway and guess what? It was cheaper than copper, easier to work with, quieter when the pressure changed, and it caused no problems at all.
Re-defining the bathroom
The end of the new bath lined up precisely with the end of the big boxy area that covered the ceiling of the stairs. I wanted an airing cupboard (linen closet, hot press) and storage that wasn’t going to get damp when the bathroom was in use. It needed to not be in the bathroom. No one wants moldy bedding.
We decided to build a thin plywood wall at the end of the bath and cover it in vinyl to make it splashproof. We built another wall stretching to the ceiling where we had removed the damp, rotten wall. Between the two, we put a wooden lintel and above this, some frosted perspex to allow light to get to the new airing cupboard storage space which was also an atrium between the bathroom and the landing.
Beneath the perspex, we hung a thin folding door, which we found on sale for £20 at a local DIY store because one of the landlords of one of York’s many student rentals had ordered it then decided he didn’t want it. It was a custom size of 60cm which was exactly the width between the two new walls. We could have left it open without building a wall and effectively making our bathroom smaller but it was worth it for that extra storage space.
By doing this, we were able to remove the original bathroom door, maximising the storage space in this new area of the house.
My husband built shelves up the wall that was closest to the original bathroom doorway. There was 6 inches between the door frame and the wall, and beneath it, we put the laundry basket (for dirty clothes) and this wooden storage thingy his dad had made for us.
On the other side, above the big boxy area, we added a shelf at a height of 160cm. It didn’t come all the way to the front of the space, to make it hard for anything to get lost in there. It was made of wooden planks for air circulation.
Making an upcycled X-shaped towel store
Beneath that, using some MDF we had salvaged from an old shelving unit we had found under the stairs when we bought the house, we made an X-shaped towel store in which towels could be rolled up and stored. We took the sides off the storage unit to use as the main X-shaped part of the towel storage rack. There were four quadrants, and we used two for bath towels, one for hand towels and one for tea towels, so we could always find the right type of towel.
Before, we’d had the towels all folded flat and stacked on top of each other which meant playing a guessing game of unfolding towels and folding them up again to find the right size towel for any given thing.
Our new X-shaped towel store was efficient and it also meant we didn’t need to ever reach the back of that big cavernous space, because we could slide the towels in horizontally and pull them out from the front. I got the idea from some kind of supermarket magazine and between us, we reverse-engineered how to build our own, but I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.
Here’s a drawing of how I designed it (imagine the grey things are towels sitting in an X-shaped rack). Wood sizes were length 50cm, width 80cm, depth 15mm (the depth of your wood is the exact same size the cut needs to be):
In front of the X-shaped towel store, we attached storage containers to the walls for cosmetics and we had a nice shelf made of more wooden slats. This was a great spot for mixing hair dyes which was really important to me at the time as this blog covered a lot of hair tutorials back in 2015 and I was Youtubing new hair videos every week as well.
We used wood-effect vinyl flooring in the bathroom because it was waterproof and easy to clean, which is ideal in a bathroom. We cut it to size and nailed it down to the floor.
So that was how we finished it all off and this was the incredible result:
What I learned
Bathroom renovations are hard work but they are the perfect opportunity to learn new skills and a great way to save a lot of money. You don’t need to rely on professionals if you do your research.
Total cost: Under £500.
DISCLAIMER: Don’t DIY electrics, we got a professional to disconnect the dangerous old electric shower. Mama Adventure is not liable for any injuries or losses arising from your inability to fully research or learn skills prior to taking on a big project like this. Turn your water off before doing any plumbing task and check it is definitely off!
This is a super-easy home recycling or upcycling project. I love this project because I have ADHD and chalkboards around the house help me keep track of things. This is really simple to make and you don’t need any specific crafting skill or equipment.
Do you have old cardboard boxes lying around? All you need to make a load of chalkboards are the following:
Place the cardboard on an unrolled length of Fablon. When cutting the Fablon, make sure to leave about 1-2cm around each side of your piece of cardboard so it can stick properly (I judge this with the squares on the backing paper).
Cut a diagonal line in each of the four corners of the Fablon to help it fold over onto the cardboard.
Now carefully remove the backing paper and line your card against it. Do a little at a time to avoid any air bubbles or creases and press it down moving toward the unfinished part of the chalkboard.
Last, fold the edges over, one at a time, and press them down. Cut any extra bits off.
Voila, you have a chalkboard. Now you can get some chalkboard pens and start drawing on them. The Chalkola chalkboard pens I use are here (or here in the US). To remove chalkboard pen ink from your chalkboard, use a wet cloth. The longer the paint is on the board, the more likely it is to stain.
You can also do the same project with whiteboard plastic, available here (or here in the US). The result is less pretty (IMO) but more functional for things like a classroom where you want to get feedback from your kids as part of your AfL strategy.
Level up your chalkboards: Make them magnetic!
Buy a sheet of sticky magnets, or magnet tape, and stick them to the back of your chalkboard. If it’s not sticking to your fridge very well, double the amount of magnet stickers/tape you are using (as a rule, the amount of magnet should be abut 5-10% of the size of the chalkboard).
10 uses for your new chalkboards:
Write your weekly meal plan on a board and stick it to the fridge.
Have another chalkboard for your grocery list.
Make a beautiful sign welcoming people to your home.
Keep one empty for mindfulness – with a pack of chalkboard pens, you can doodle, draw or write down what’s bothering you then wash it away when you feel better.
Make a note of any important tasks you need to get done today and number them in order of importance (don’t overload it though). It’s really satisfying to wipe this board clean at the end of the day.
Give one to your child to entertain them. This is especially good as a high chair tray activity or a car activity that’s easy to clean up. Remember to get non-toxic chalks, and NEVER give children under 5 chalk pens.
Make tiny chalkboards for a doll’s house.
Frame postcard-sized chalkboards and write some inspirational messages on them. To make a frame, cut out a bigger piece of card so the inside edge is a little smaller than your chalkboard, and paint it white.
Use chalkboards to help organize your cleaning schedule by writing each cleaning task along with the date it was last done. When you clean that thing again, just wipe off the date and write the new one in! Stick this in the cleaning cupboard to keep it with your cleaning products.
Use chalkboards to help your child learn new words, you can draw a picture and ask them to tell you what it is, or to write the word under it, or give your child a word and ask them to draw it to tell you what it is.
What will you use your new chalkboards for? Let me know in the comments!