How a small bit of DIY can be the biggest boost to your self esteem

My dad had a garage full of tools. He came from a generation of men who made things and fixed things. He had jam jars full of screws and washers. He had a big old vice, piles of wood and the sort of tools I see at antique fairs these days. If a small knob got broken on something in the house, he'd say "I think I've got something in the garage just like that"… and he'd rummage through crates and come up with a bit of plastic or metal.

He was the sort of bloke who wore overalls and looked right with a pencil behind his ear. He owned a blow torch. If the gearbox went on the car then he'd fix it…

A generational thing

Me? I paid a group of blokes at the shopping centre to clean my car.

I considered changing a lightbulb in the house as DIY. God knows how you changed a fuse.

I thought that adjusting the brakes on a kids bicycle was right up there with quadratic equations and astrophysics.

And, of course, I had a tool box.

What's in the box

Although unlike my dad's plethora of tools, this was more like an oversized fishing tackle box. It sat in the garage next to my golf clubs and was brought out for special DIY occasions, almost ceremoniously

I don't think I was alone in this respect and would argue that my tool box was typical of today's generation of men who sit at a computer most of the week.

They say a bad workman blames his tools. Some of the worst criminals in my case included a butter knife that substituted for a flathead screwdriver, 27 Allen keys (all the same size) and a picture hanging kit.


And then, things changed…

I set up a home office and framed some book covers to hang above the desk for inspiration. Pulled the covers off some novels (sacrilege, I know), trimmed them with a craft knife and bought random frames from Vinnies. Everyone thought they looked great.

So my daughter and I did a charity shop sweep and made about a hundred of these Book Frames and we had a stall at Kirribilli market. It was fun father/daughter bonding and felt like a small sense of achievement. We broke even and ate a lot of market food.

I realised in the process that I loved charity shops and started buying more stuff – art, books, and then the odd bit of furniture. I started getting interested in retro furniture online and joining groups.

Rob the builder

I came across a mid-century sideboard for 70 bucks, sanded it and polished it (just using common sense) and sold it online for $695. I was hooked.

Polishing something up progressed to upcycling and a big Pinterest account. I became one of those people who made things out of pallets, and the weird thing was – it was easy…

I applied Lego principles and a punk ethic to wood, metal and crap I retrieved from Op Shops. It didn't have to be perfect, just have character. I made shelves, coffee tables, became a regular at Bunnings, and loved it. Bought tools, learnt by my mistakes and just copied things that I'd pinned on my Pinterest boards.

Then one day, I was having coffee with a mate who actually is a tradie. He liked what I was doing and said we should do some bigger projects. Somehow the subject of Tiny Living came up. A week later we bought a crappy '60s caravan for $2000. Chucked in a grand each and towed it home.

Personal upgrade

By this stage I had invested in electric tools – drill, sander, jigsaw. I knew how to paint and make basic things. My tradie mate helped me take it up a level.

Over three months we restored a caravan and sold it for a profit. I fitted a kitchen in the van – bought a worktop and sink, fitted the whole thing; used filler and varnish.

Last week we finished our fifth caravan and I've become a weekend warrior – embraced my inner tradie. I have tools in my garage – it's not full like my dad's was, but it's outgrown a fishing tackle box. If something needs fixing in the home, I relish the challenge rather than fear hiring a handyman.

And it's actually improved my confidence and self-esteem. Crazy though it sounds, fiddling with wood and metal in the garage has given me something that sitting in an Exec Meeting doesn't. Something tangible and creative.

Give it a go lads – there is life beyond Allen Keys and kitchen knives used as screwdrivers…