How to Make a DIY Simple, Built-in Bookcase (a Billy Bookshelf IKEA Hack)

Intro by Robin
Steps by Ed

A small basement bedroom is tricky.  When that bedroom is in an equally small basement that needs to function for a lot of things - it requires some creativity and mad DIY skillz.   Enter our Basement Guest Room-Library with wall to wall bookshelves.  I've dreamed of having built-in bookcases my whole life! (Is that a normal dream?)

Now, of course, if we didn't want to make our guest room beautiful as well as functional, we could have just pushed some premade bookshelves up against the wall and called it a day.

But, as you may know, that just isn't our style.  We demand function AND beauty.  PLUS we love the challenge of creating rooms on a budget.  That's what all our DIYs are about.  (Have you seen the closet we turned into a powder room? We're still gaga for it.)

This basement guest room needs to work really hard for us:
  • It must to make our guests feel comfortable and loved.
  • It needs to hold the bulk of our book collection (our house isn't huge and we LOVE books)
  • It also must have hidden storage for less than beautiful things (I'm thinking bedding, gift wrap storage and files.)
  • And it needs to look great. (And it does! Despite what my beginner photography skills show...sigh.)

Like most basements, this one has small windows. The one in the guest room is weird and it isn't centred.  This made me bonkers.  The only comfortable spot for the bed was under this window.  With the window off to one side - the bed wasn't centred.  (It made me twitchy just looking at it.)

That's one of the reasons this bookcase built-in was so perfect down here.  By building it along the left wall it took up enough of the visual space to make the weird window look a bit more centred.  Win!

Another reason this built-in bookcase was a win is the character and personality that it adds.  You know from the other built-ins we've made that we are Co-Presidents of the Built-ins Fan Club.

Last fall IKEA had the sale I was waiting for: 30% off all their Billy bookcases and matching Oxberg doors.  The bookcases are already pretty affordable, especially in white.  The Oxberg doors were more costly - a pair of the doors cost as much as the whole bookshelf!  But I knew that we needed the doors for the hidden storage they'd give us.

So I added it all to my cart and paid to have them shipped.  That was a tough extra cost to pay - but these Billy bookcases are dang heavy!  And we didn't think we could fit 3 Billy's plus 6 doors in our Rav4.  There are times that delivery is worth splurging for.

Without further ado, here is our tutorial for how to make built-in bookcases from IKEA Billy bookshelves!  (And we added library lights to them too, so pretty!)


How to Tune-up Your Old Cell Phone: Speed + Battery DIY (iPhone & Android)

By Ed

I had a moment recently. It wasn't 'flash of genius' type insight, but it really helped me frame cell phone ownership: Cell phones are little cars.

Now that I type it, it doesn't sound as insightful. Let me explain.

My phone had been running laggy and taking to periodically using all of the battery in, like, 30 minutes. I had begun shopping and talking myself into more and more expensive options.

I had done all of this online; hadn't even gone into a store - and already I convinced myself that I needed a Google Pixel 2 and that an extra 15 bucks a month on my bill was just fine and that $200 down was really a deal when you consider the phone is so great and ... and...

So yeah, I didn't do that.  Because phones are like cars.

Cars are really important. We often need them do our jobs, get food, coordinate our lives and our kids' lives. They are costly and wear out over time. They also have a style factor and even driving a nice one starts to feel old and outdated after a few years. They are also an atrocious investment, lose their value very quickly and have ongoing costs associated with them too.

You see where I'm going now: phones, like cars, are pretty necessary, cost us a lot of money over time and we will always take a net loss on their value. Add in a vanity factor to update more regularly and stay fashionable and the parallels get deeper (and more costly). 

But most houses have only 1-2 cars and they last for years. Phones are like cars that even kids can own and they wear out faster. This is a business model to get behind if you're a shareholder- or run screaming from if you're a consumer.

But when your phone gets buggy, like mine did - what can you do?  Just like cars need regular maintenance (we don't just replace them, right?) phones need tune-ups too.  There are things you can do to make your phone run faster and help your battery life last longer.  

I'll break it down for you!


I'm battling burnout with a year off work - here's how we're budgeting for it

by Robin

Last year burned me right down to ashes. The years before that didn't help much either. I felt emotionally drained and more than a little broken. And I'll admit it - midlife crisis' are for real:

  • Being a dedicated employee with at-times emotionally difficult work is an energy drain.
  • Being a try-so-hard parent takes an energy level that chronic insomnia doesn't allow. 
  • But, being the caregiver of an ageing and failing parent takes more effort and emotional strength than the other two combined.  Especially since that parent is the most difficult and challenging relationship I've ever had.
  • Add to this the death of loved ones - and the effort and grief that came before and after these losses.

If there ever was a recipe for burnout that was it - seasoned with a little bit of bad timing, trips to the hospital, jury duty, moving my mother to a home and selling her property.

But after my nuclear spring, many of my challenges have resolved - and most in the best ways possible.  I was left with a very different looking and feeling life.  A life with more hope.

The focus of my personal life and work had shifted: I wasn't managing the difficult, sad, frustrating, hurtful, important details of quite so many people and projects.  There was more room in my calendar, and in my brain, for myself.

I now had space and time for me - and also for my husband and children.  They had been patiently waiting in the wings while I focused on my exhausting performance for so many others.

But what did we want now?  What did I want now?

When the heavy stuff was shifted from my shoulders - something didn't feel right.  I didn't remember how to choose things for my happiness.  I'd been in survival mode for so very long.  I was waiting for the next crisis - that blissfully wasn't coming.  I could take some of the newly vacated brain space and give it to me.

The more time I had to listen to myself the more I knew I needed a change.

Absorbing two audiobooks on my commute led me to hear two essential things missing in my life: self-compassion and creativity.

As I was having these long and kind conversations with my soul some creative opportunities started joining in:

  • The first was an idea for a novel that wouldn't leave me alone.  
  • The second was meeting with companies that wanted to work with us here on the blog.

I am fortunate to have a job (for over 18 years!) at a workplace that was open to accommodating my request for a one-year leave to focus my time in new ways.  I hope I'll return to work there with a renewed energy.

But this year off work - while therapeutic -  does not come free - or even cheaply.  This will mean a drastic cut in our income.  At the very least we don't want this year to put us back into debt. 

We are going to need to cinch our belts even tighter and get even better at living frugally - plus earn some money in different ways.  That's what the rest of this post is about - how we're paying for my year off work!


Faux Brick Backed Bookshelves: An IKEA Hack How to

by Robin

We're working room by room to create a comfortable and beautiful basement retreat.  We are so proud of the powder room we built (from a closet!) - but it's beauty only exaggerates how blah the guest room is.  So we're fixing that!  We're adding character and colour and function.

Our basement guest room had what a guest needed: a bed, a door, functional lighting, hand-me-down furniture to hold stuff and sleep on.  A guest could not complain too loudly that we didn't provide the basics - especially since we added a beautiful powder room next door!

What the guest room lacked was any sort of character.  A beigey-peach box is the most eloquent description possible for this super bland space:

We are a family of bookworms - despite our recent Kindle love - we have lots of actual paper books that we treasure.  We needed a dedicated space to display them.  If you've hung out here before, you know we have a fixation with building built-ins too.  So, of course, built-in bookcases are on our list and this room was begging for them!

The built-in would provide lots of character - but we wanted to guild the lily a bit.  We love the look of exposed brick.  Our basement is a concrete block foundation - not exposure worthy - decidedly not romantic looking - a bit more prison-y.

We considered adding a brick look tile - it's so beautiful!  But then we added up the cost - and considered the labour involved.  Cue the sad trombone.

But on a trip to Home Depot we discovered their faux brick panelling.  Cue the happy piccolo!  The texture is wonderful!  The colours are...well...the texture is wonderful!

So we're adding a lot of character to this room with PAINTED exposed brick - including the backs of these built-in bookcases.  When lit from above the texture will be subtle and charming.  (You could also do the same look with any panelling - we did beadboard in the back of our upstairs built-in bookcase).

Here's how we added faux brick panelling to the back of our IKEA Billy hacked built-in wall-to-wall bookcase...


What to Pack for a Fun Family All-Inclusive Resort Vacation ~ including special tips for Cuba

by Robin

We just returned from a week-long tropical getaway - and while it's still all fresh in my mind, I'm sharing some tips on how to pack for a fun family vacation at an all-inclusive resort - because a great list takes the stress out of packing!

Resort travel is out of the ordinary for us.  Our usual modus operandi is more like the trip we took to Florida (and had a blast without visiting Disney - gasp!).  Our favourite way to travel is to book a HomestayAirBNB or Vacation Rental by Owner for a week and explore the area.  There are perks to this - and drawbacks.

There are definite perks for the whole family to stay at a resort:
  • There's the no grocery shopping or meal prep! Fantasy-made-real for parents.
  • There's the sunny weather and beach lifestyle for everyone.
  • There's the super-fun kids' club (which is truly a treat for parents.)

That last one has never been a reality for us.  Kids' clubs have never been our kids' jams - do your kids like them? The introvert apples fell right next to Ed and I's introvert trees.  They favour the relative solitude and security of spending time just the four of us.  We're ok with that really - our kids are pretty chill travellers and now that they're older (11 and 14) their jokes are actually great - so we don't mind keeping them around for the laughs.

Resort vacations can also be pretty affordable - especially if you can travel in the shoulder seasons or last minute.  They're easy to budget and plan for, with everything included and taken care of for you.

Our first resort experience ever was in Cuba - this time around was Mexico.  Pretty similar packing styles for those countries - with some subtle and important differences.  Cuba has some unique packing tips that I'll highlight below - packing some things will land you in hot water and some will make your stay a bit tastier.

Packing doesn't have to be stressful - and a thorough list makes all the difference - that's what we've got for you.  For our resort vacations, there are things we were happy that we packed, things we wish we packed and things we could have left at home.  Without further ado - here are tips for successful family resort vacation packing - I know I'm going to be reviewing this list next time, too!


20+ Elegant Easter Decor Crafts from the Dollar Store

by Robin

I'm not sure why, but I've got almost no Easter decorations. I have an Easter box in storage, but it only holds the kids' special Easter baskets and some refillable plastic Easter eggs.

Oh, and there's a sad little Easter wreath that I almost always forget to hang on the door.  And I LOVE wreaths!?!  I love Easter, too.  But for reasons I can't explain I've been pretty Bun-Humbug (🙄).

My Easter box is more about frugal than fancy.  I think being so focused on paying off our debt lead me to cut back in all the non-essentials.  Even though I enjoy decorating and crafting!  It makes no sense when it's as affordable as a trip to the dollar store plus some creativity.  (Years ago I had so much fun when I challenged myself to create a menu planning board from just dollar store supplies.  It turned out great and over 4 thousand of people have pinned it! I love that sort of challenge!)

This is the year my lack of Easter decor changes!

I've got a great list here of over 20 super affordable and elegant  Easter crafts with dollar store supplies.  I'm planning for a Crafternoon with a good friend (or more!).  I also have a crafty daughter (who you've met through her terrific baking recipes here) who would love to spend time creating with me.  I'm going to share this list with them and together we can choose something great to do together.