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What “DIY” REALLY means

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DIY technically means Do It Yourself, but we have other definitions:

D: Dirty, Disgusting, Design, Discoveries
I: Irritating, Impatience, Ingenuity, Inspiration
Y: Yelling.

Yes, our version of DIY pretty much always ends in Yelling.

(This photo was taken in the midst of one of our bathroom remodeling projects.)

The quality and clarity of swear words included in the Yelling phase have changed over the years with the addition of our child to the mix. In years past, we’d joke that we could totally have a home improvement show on television, but it would have to be on HBO.

Now we use this as an exercise for teaching our daughter that it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with someone you love, and that forms of communication happen in varying decibel levels.

We’ve been working on our house for over nine years. Management put her foot down and sanctioned a mandatory rest-period last year. I didn’t approve any home improvement projects that came across my desk. My husband was sneaky and got some outside work projects approved anyway.

What was I going to say? No, you can’t dig rocks? Digging rocks only involves the cost of labor, because he uses materials we already have, and the end results are nice. On a related note, neither one of us can remember exactly why “big yard” was on our list of “wants” when we were looking at houses.

(Yes, this photo is proof that we blatantly disregard Child Labor Laws.)

Now, I’ve opened up the application process again, and I’ve approved our next project: The Kitchen. We’ve saved this room for last. Ironically, it was also first. It was the first room we tackled when we were brand new home owners of a not-so-brand-new house. Once we’re done with the kitchen, we’ll be done working on the house, and it will be time to move.


One of the things we’ve always said is that the changes we’ve made will be enjoyed by us, and not just for someone else. Anything other than that, and we’d be the slowest flippers known to man.

Back in 2001, the minute we stepped into our house, we knew it was ours. We’d been looking for a house to “touch-up” and “re-do.” We’d been apartment dwellers for years and were tired of watching show after show on HGTV without the opportunity to get our hands dirty.

The house we saw had good bones. It was nice, and we could live in relative comfort while tearing the place apart. Rather than the original shag carpet, it had brand new carpet to attract buyers, and the dark wood of the trim, railings and fireplace surround had been painted white in the living room.

The bathrooms, however, came straight out of the 70s, and they’d brought every light fixture with them. In fact, every room needed something, but it was all cosmetic. We weren’t afraid of the cosmetic. We could handle it. We wanted to!

The pink country heart wall-paper of the kitchen was the first project on our hit list. I removed it myself. I then textured a focal-point wall, and together we painted the kitchen. Some years later, we removed the hideous light-fixture and installed recessed lighting and under-cabinet lighting, too.  (This photo is from the Recessed Lighting Project.  The kitties cannot figure out why Daddy is in the ceiling.) We also replaced the ceiling fan with one that was actually attached to something in the attic. Oh, the concept! Yes, imagine our surprise when we removed the fan to see that it was just BALANCED on the ceiling joists.

Every single project we’ve tackled in this house has had a surprise lurking for us. Some of the surprises were not happy finds: Rather than replace the grout around a single tile in the Main Bathroom (so that we can focus on the Master Bath Project), we have to gut the whole thing down to the studs and even replace some of those, thus putting our original project on hold? Fantastic!

Some of the surprises were happy finds: There’s an entire flagstone patio under the portion of the 3-tiered deck that we needed to replace anyway? Unbelievable!

There are some things that are just a given: Nothing in this house is square. When you see “custom built” in the description of a house, there’s a reason. Our house was built in 1977. Things have shifted. I can’t blame it. I mean, I’m only three years older than our house, and things on me have shifted as well.

We’ve learned so many things. Things that used to scare us or give us pause are like second nature now. Painting, texturing, drywalling, network wiring, tiling, landscaping, deck repair, flagstone patio building, all pieces of cake. I can (and have) replaced faucets by myself. I’m confident in the replacement of toilets. Installing a heated tile floor? Not a problem.

I’ve also learned that I will never move a cast-iron tub again. Ever. You can’t pay me enough. My husband has learned to listen to his wife’s nagging and always, always, always wear protective eye gear, even when the task of “stirring deck stain” seems so innocuous.

I’ve also learned that project timelines and budgets are a great starting point, but rarely where you finish. In fact, I have a formula that I will share with you now regarding budgets: I take the number he’s given me, and I multiply it by 3. Then I add half of the original amount to the total. THAT’s the budget I work with, and it works like a charm.  For example, let’s pretend we’re doing a small project. “Oh, that’ll cost about $200,” he says. I take $200 x 3 = $600 + $100 = $700. If I’m wrong? Yay! If not, oh well, I’ve planned for his “$200” project.

I’ve learned that some things may seem tedious, but are so much easier than hiring a divorce attorney, splitting up your belongings and selling a house with an unfinished home improvement project.

But, back to The Kitchen Project. I have no idea where anything is in my kitchen at this very moment, because it’s all in our dining room. (Except my plastic containers and lids.  Those are in the laundry room. Don’t ask.) At any given moment, there is probably a thin layer of dust covering almost every major surface. As much as the perfectionist in my head screams about this, the casual part of my psyche has accepted it. Both are used to this. We’ve done this many times before. The end result will be worth it. It always is.

So, what are we doing this time? We’re refinishing and painting the cabinets, installing new hardware, and we’re putting in a hardwood flooring that may or may not spill out from the kitchen and into other areas of the house, depending on the budget. I’ve actually convinced my husband that it will be acceptable to pay someone else to install the floors. As much as I’d love to add another item to our Home Improvement Résumé, and as much fun as cutting floor boards sounds, I’m happy to let someone else be responsible for the outcome.  This time. We’re doing all the demo and floor prep, so there will be plenty of opportunity to get the DIY feel for this project.

And we’ll try to keep the Yelling to a minimum.

What does DIY mean to YOU?

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 28, 2010

    LOL re: blatant disregard for child labor laws. 🙂

    I could never do what you have done. NEVER. The reasoning is three-fold: I hate it, have no patience for it and I cannot do it.

    That said, I am grateful for people like you in the world who do it. 🙂

  • comment avatar JoAnn September 28, 2010

    Well, Amber, in honor of today’s post, we woke up to a fridge that was leaking all over the kitchen floor! Thankfully, it’s still the “old” floor.

    Nothing like starting your day with a little (or big) DIY.

    Needless to say, we were going to turn the water to the fridge off while in the midst of the flooring project, and that item just got bumped up on the list.

    The good news? I’d already purchased the little cap needed for the fridge water line this summer when the fridge did this same thing to me when the hubby was out of town!

    Oh, the joys of homeownership…

  • comment avatar Nathan Pralle September 28, 2010

    I grew up in a family of DIYing; we used to joke that my parents would only stay in a house long enough to fix it up, then move on, and it was rather correct. That being said, all that work rubbed off on me, so now I tackle our own DIY with glee and my wife loves saving money on labor, so she gets into it a lot, too.

    Personally, I absolutely love knowing exactly what is inside my house and its construction and that I *personally* put those parts in place. It makes me feel better that it was done right and, if it breaks, I know exactly what’s going on.

  • comment avatar JoAnn September 28, 2010

    Nathan, maybe DIYism IS genetic! My mom and dad built their house from the ground up. They’re still there, though…

    I grew up around construction projects, and they have some wonderful photos of me playing in cabinets that aren’t quite finished yet, etc.

    So, if what you say is true…even if we move to a “new” house eventually, DIY is in my blood. There may be no hope. 🙂

  • comment avatar Daria September 28, 2010

    What a great post! I love your sense of humor… I have a ton of pics of my kids painting, laying sod, tiling…yep – Labor laws? You mean it’s a law that they labor for a bathroom to use, right? 🙂

    I bought my first house LOOKING for something to fix up. Seems weird now, but I’m pretty sure I actually paid more for the 70’s shag than another I was looking at that was already remodeled.

    At the beginning, the most I’d ever done was paint – then I installed baseboards, tiled a bathroom and one 3 day weekend while my husband was at his mom’s with the kids – I decided to take out our kitchen. I love knowing how to do it, but don’t think I would want to do it everyday.

    Plus the mess of construction gets old pretty quickly. I’d actually like to go do things on the weekends now rather than know the next 6 months of weekends will be working on a project.

    That being said, we are landscaping our entire front yard, building a closet for my daughter’s room, and installing crown molding right now – well, all those projects are started and waiting for me… They will probably be waiting for a while… 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. Was tons of fun to read since I relate so well to it!

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz September 28, 2010

    Before I read your post, I would have said I was no good at DIY. But with your definition, I’ve got it nailed!

    You are one. brave. woman/wife/DIYer.

  • comment avatar JoAnn September 28, 2010

    Daria, thanks! I’m glad you took the time amidst the construction chaos to comment! 🙂

    Thanks, Lori! …you’ve got it nailed. I love a punny comment. 🙂