Tackle your own DIY tasks with these inexpensive tools

When I moved in to my first flat I felt a huge weight of responsibility. It was my job to keep the place maintained, to put up shelves correctly, to know what sealant to use.

Invest in a simple set of tools and with a little common sense you will be able to tackle most jobs around your home.

For each new job that needed done I’d do my full research. I’d google the issue, watch YouTube videos and learn the pros and cons of various tools involved. Over the years I’ve done loads of DIY jobs and collected a range of tools.

So don’t immediately call your male friends and family members to fix something in your home. Empower yourself to take care of it yourself. (Within reason. Don’t start cutting through pipework or anything!)

But tools are expensive

The old adage is ‘you get what you pay for’. Take that with a pinch of salt though. Something bought from the local bargain store may not be the most robust. But you don’t need to spend hundreds on the most top of the range items.

Buying individual items rather than a cheap multi-set is likely to get you better quality. Plus it saves spending money on things you won’t use. 

What do I need to get started?

Here is my list of the key things you’ll need.


HammerThere are different shapes and sizes of hammer. Avoid the very teeny and the massive mallets and get something in between. Get one that’s made out of metal and has the ‘claw’ on the back so you can remove nails with it or use it to pry things apart.


DrillYou can get an electric drill for not too much money. You’ll need it to make holes for putting up shelves or joining things together.

There are different drill bits for things like wood, stone, tile and metal. Get a drill that comes with a good variety of drill bits. Or if it only has a few you can buy a separate set. Always use the right type of drill bit for the material you’re drilling into.

A drill with a ‘hammer’ function means it’ll be easier to drill in to stone if you have brick walls in your house.

Screwdriver (Interchangeable one)

Screwdriver setThis is one of the most useful and versatile things you can buy. I recommend getting a screwdriver with interchangeable heads. That means you always have the right kind to hand. Remember to use the head that best fits the kind of screw you have otherwise you can mash it up and it’ll be unusable.

Getting one with magnetic heads really helps you to not lose the screws too.

Spirit level

Spirit levelJust line it up so the bubble is in the middle of the two black lines and your shelf will be exactly level.

Stanley knife

A lot of DIY involves cutting. A decent knife will be more sturdy and reliable but you can get sets of sharp disposable knives for just a couple of pounds.

Those lines on the side of the blade mean you can just snap off the end when it gets blunt. But it also means you should never ever use it sideways or the end could snap off and go flying. Only use it in the cutting direction.

(You might think that’s obvious but I had to explain that to a few women recently who were using them to ‘dig’ and it was terrifying.)


pliersPliers are vital for gripping at awkward things, pulling out nails, holding things together, twisting difficult nuts and bolts etc. Get a couple of pairs.

Tape measure

tape measure“Measure twice. Cut once.” Get a good tape measure and make sure you use it accurately. After all, you can’t un-cut something.


hacksawaThese little things are very handy for a variety of small jobs. They’re not really built for big bits of wood or anything complicated. But they will do in a pinch for small bits of wood, plastics etc.

Stud finder


This is a handy tool for detecting metal pipes, electrical wires and joists behind walls and floors. Pass it over the area and it’ll beep where it detects something.

It’s really important to know you’re not going to drill through an electrical cable or water pipe so it’s well worth a few pounds for one of these. Better than the call out charge for an emergency plumber (not that I’ve ever done that. Cough cough)

Any job will take at least twice as long as you think it will

I’m scared I’ll destroy everything!

It can be scary to start on some DIY if you’ve never done it before. Your mind races with images of the roof falling in or a water pipe spraying the whole house.

But it’s really not that complicated.

Just take it slowly and use a lot of common sense. Think about what might be behind the thing you’re working on. Wear protective goggles, gloves and a dusk mask if appropriate.

As a rule of thumb any job will take twice as long as you think it will. If you’re new to it then add a bit more time to make sure you’re not rushing and making bad decisions.

Satisfaction is all yours

It’s incredibly satisfying to step back and look at what you’ve achieved. Whether it’s putting up your favourite picture or fixing squeaky floorboards.

I once spent an entire weekend stripping, wallpapering and painting my hallway. Ok some bits weren’t amazing but the difference was astounding. And the sense of empowerment I felt by doing it myself was wonderful.

So do your research, use the right tools and give it a go!


DIY girl

Builders coming while you’re alone? Here’s how to be safe and feel safe

Having workers in your home can be stressful and scary. Especially if you’re a woman on your own.

Horror stories run through your mind as you open the door to a burly builder. After all, aren’t we constantly told not to meet people we don’t know, not to let strangers into our homes?

Cat opening doorFirstly, it is much safer than your racing mind will tell you at the time. The overwhelming majority of trades people are upright professionals.

Secondly, there are things you can do to make yourself safer, and importantly, feel more safe and confident.

Be sure who you’re letting inman in mask

  1. Ask for advice from friends, colleagues and family on what the issue might be. They may be able to share a similar experience and offer guidance.
  2. Get personal recommendations for a good company.
  3. Look for wider recommendation schemes like local council approved, Trustmark, Which? Approved or memberships to professional bodies. Double check their credentials with the approval bodies themselves.
  4. Check they’re registered with Companies House (or an official company registration database in your country). You can also see if they’ve ever been made bankrupt or failed to file accounts.
  5. Write down a set of questions you need to ask.
    That way you’re asking the same things of everyone and won’t forget anything. Think about how long the work will take, what possible fixes are, or anything else relevant to the job.Plumber 1
  6. Get multiple quotes
    At the very least get 3 quotes. Make sure they give you a written quote after their visit with information about whether tax is included, length of guarantee, what exactly they’ll do and what the cost breakdown of parts and labour is. If they won’t write it down they don’t get the job.
  7. Politely decline anyone who you don’t choose. It’s better to know they haven’t got the job (and why) than to leave them hanging.


Security on the dayBuilder 2

  1. Tell someone which company will be coming to your home and what time.
  2. Ask what happens to your keys each night if you’re getting longer term work done. Will they be returned to the office and locked up? Do you need to keep them and give them out each day?
  3. Keep your pets out of the way. They can be a pest, could get hurt, or the worker might have allergies or phobias.
  4. If possible stay in the house but out of the way. Don’t hover over them, it can make people uncomfortable. Plus jobs always look worse half way through so you might get the jitters.
    Give them a drink, chat briefly about the weather and what work they’ll do then retire to another room and let them get on with it.

“45.6% of trades people said being watched closely while they worked was annoying”
– RatedPeople Survey 2016

Tips for being alone with trades people

  1. Do your research before they come
    Look up what the problem might be and what possible solutions there are. The more you know on the topic the more confident you’ll feel in trusting (or not trusting) what they’re telling you. And that they’re doing the correct work.
  2. Lay out fake ‘partner’ items in your home
    Borrow some men’s shoes and a big sports bag and leave them in the hall. Put out a second toothbrush. They indicate that a man at least stays over regularly. It’s a sad fact that the presence of another man can often deflect unwanted advances or scammers.
  3. Use ‘we’
    Talking about a pretend ‘other person’ you need to discuss things with reduces the pressure to make a decision on the spot. You don’t need to outright lie and create a huge backstory. Just drop a friend’s name into the conversation and say ‘we’ not ‘I’.Cookie plate
  4. Offer food and drink
    Offer a drink to anyone making a short visit. Offer food and drink to anyone doing longer works. Making a point to leave out tea, coffee, mugs, sugar and cookies will make the workers feel welcomed and it means they won’t raid your best china when they need a cuppa.
  5. Hide or remove your valuables in advance
    Especially if you’re staying away from the house. Partly for safety as there will be tools, building materials and equipment moving through your property. But knowing your things are safe will make you feel better about having people over.Builder 1
  6. Remove or hide paperwork
    Even if the vast majority of workers are fine and upstanding people you’ll feel better knowing you didn’t leave all your personal bank details on show.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
    If you’re not happy with the way something is going don’t bite your tongue. If you’re not comfortable speaking up call a friend or neighbour to come over, ‘spot’ the issue and raise it with the workers.
    Better to have a slightly awkward moment than have to look at something wonky for years to come.

    Do you have any other tips to share? Leave them in the comments below.

Why you really should invest time in your neighbours

I met Laurence when I moved into my flat in 2010.

He was King of the Block with a strict schedule for the bins and high standards for mowing the shared lawn.

“Great to know someone’s looking out for the place” I thought.

But when he yelled at me for putting up a simple notice in the shared hallway I was devastated. I didn’t want to confront everyone individually about the late night music so crafted what I thought was a friendly sounding note.

I’d only been there a few months and felt like I couldn’t face a future in the building.

“You’ve upset everyone in the building. They’re all scared they’ve done something wrong!”

When the King is angry at you there aren’t many allies to be found.

But I worked at it. I fixed a smile on my face and did my best to remain a friendly and thoughtful neighbour, making a point to speak to them. Rebuilding bit by bit even though I felt unwanted.

I rebuilt with Laurence too even though I still felt hurt.

And when Laurence fell sick with cancer I would water his garden while he peered down from the window. No doubt I was doing it wrong.

When he was too sick to watch from the window I brought him some vegetables from my garden which were gratefully accepted and apparently made a good soup.

Laurence died a few weeks later.

Everyone from the building went to his funeral and sat together.

The time I invested in Laurence and the other neighbours was very difficult. But now we have a strong bond. They’re my community. They help me when they can and I do the same for them.

Your neighbours may be rude. Or they may be clingy. But the time and effort you invest in those relationships is vital to living well when you’re on your own.

Build the community you want to live in.