Cindy Alfino Talks “Van Life” and DIY
We came across Cindy Alfino and her husband on Instagram and were immediately interested in the DIY duo. From living in a van for a year to recently finishing up their deck in a “real home” we could not wait to have a chat with Cindy about van life, keeping kids schooled, entertaining the dogs and of course DIY.
Well, we have 3 kids and now 3 dogs that need to be fed and schooled etc. so when we look at the ridiculous prices of what we might pay if we got someone in to do it, we generally look at each other and say, “let’s just do it ourselves”. Not only is it a money-saving thing, but it’s also something my husband enjoys and is becoming a way for us to spend a lot of quality time together. No better test of your relationship than trying to build a deck together, I can promise you that. It helps a lot that my husband is very talented in being able to turn something from being a random thought we had into reality, so my only job is to follow his lead.
You lived in a van for a year – tell us about the biggest challenges you had as a family.
I think it was quite a shock to our system having gone from leading completely (almost) separate lives at school, work, socially etc. to living in a 7.5m2 space all up in each other’s faces. Adding that we had a van with the original 1974 engine that broke down on us so many times I lost count, not knowing if we were going to get to our next destination was very stressful and Seth (my husband) having to drive it all over SA at a maximum speed of 80km (on a good day, with no wind, all downhill) was also an experience. The first month was trying as we adapted but I think it’s honestly the best thing we have ever done for our family. Our family bond now is so much better than it ever was before. It refocused our lives in the right direction and even though we are back home and it’s easy to go back into old habits, I think what we have learned in the van is going to stick with us for the long haul.
How do you involve the kids (if you do) with DIY projects around the home?
This is difficult because there’s a fine line between a family project and something that you are proud of after the fact. Seth is very patient with them in letting them try out some of the safer tools etc. We try and consult them on things that they could have a say on like maybe paint colours etc. But for the most part, they start strong and then fade out halfway through. But all that said, they are the very best cheerleaders – full of praise on a job well done which is nice.
What advice do you have for beginner DIYers?
We learned the hard way that having the right tools is essential. Not only the right tools but the best version of those tools. You may end up buying three mediocre drills over the years but if you spend the money right the first time, that drill will be with you forever. Also, I think half of what puts people off DIY is fear of messing up. Maybe start small in those cases, build up your confidence, watch YouTube videos on how to do things you’re unsure of and then just give it a go.
How has travelling locally inspired the outcome of your home thus far in terms of design and decorating?
For me, it’s been revolutionary. I never enjoyed the outdoors, but having spent a year in a van you begin to appreciate the wide-open spaces. We have worked hard on creating a design for our home that will allow us to spend comfortable time outside and also allow for many social gatherings that we missed in the van (once COVID has calmed down). Our style has always been eclectic, colourful and random – drawing in bits and pieces of our lived experience and so we try and bring in those elements wherever we can.
What is your favourite local destination and why?
We fell in love with Hogsback. There is something magical about those forests and mountains, in fact, we seriously considered uprooting our lives and moving there. And who knows, maybe that will still happen.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
We bought our house many years ago and then spent most of our time raising 3 children under the age of 5, redesigning our house may have been a priority but we had very little time, money or inclination to do anything about it. The van changed that. If you want to do something, do it now. Waiting for it will just cause you to never do it or you’ll do it too late to enjoy it.
We stay creatively inspired because there is still so much to do in our home to make it into the space we want it to be, literally everywhere you look is another project and we are finally in the space to be able to do something about it. Pinterest, YouTube and other online platforms are great ways to see what’s possible and how you can tweak that into your reality.