DIY as a couple can be a battlefield. But it’s a lot less dangerous if you learn to avoid the land mines.
Couple caveats before we chat:
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Caveat #1: I will not pretend to be a relationship expert. I am not. I’m a (fairly) normal wife. Meaning, I get annoyed with my husband. Sometimes. Well, lots of times. And I’m certain the feeling is quite mutual.
Caveat #2: If you think I’m up on a soapbox, that’s only because I’m short. Not because I’m attempting to get all preachy up in here.
Caveat #3: It should be noted that Dave and I have been married since 2005, and we have not (as of the day and hour of writing this post) yet filed for divorce.
That said, I believe it is always in one’s best interest to leave all options on the table. And in fact, if we decide to move forward on a kitchen renovation, I may be seeking recommendations for attorneys on my facebook page sooner rather than later.
Dave and I met in college. In those days, our idea of DIY was pouring your own mixed drink rather than ordering it at the bar. I didn’t know he could plumb anything. He didn’t know I knew the difference between a hammer and a nail.
But then we got married.
In fact, our first real DIY as a couple was a project we worked on for the wedding:
That’s our groom’s cake. Whiskey and cigars. How’s that for a fun DIY? And that, my friend, was made BC (Before Computer-search-engines). So it is, in fact a 100% original idea, thank you very much. They still exist. Once in a while.
After the honeymoon, we started buying houses.
OLD houses. Because we’re crazy like that. Who wants to buy a brand, spanking new house when you can buy an old house full of charm and character, right? You know what character is:
Fast forward 12 years, 3 kids and 5 character-filled houses in, and I can tell you some things I’ve learned about DIY’ing as a couple. Here are what I’d say are the top eight ways to make sure you’ll be on speaking terms after a DIY project:
1.) Make sure BOTH of you are in ❤ with a project idea 100% before you begin.
Over the years, I’ve learned that one recipe for a DIY fail is when you attempt to blend one partner who is one board with a project with one partner who is definitely not. If it’s on a project on your honey-do list, but on his honey-do-not list…your DIY project is most likely going to create (or magnify existing) issues.
This has happened to us, for sure. Our master closet DIY project was a massive case-in-point. I had been campaigning to turn a room off of our master bedroom into a master closet for YEARS. Dave was not on board.
He wanted to make that space into an office. It was a constant debate. Finally, Dave caved and went with my plan…but he wasn’t happy about it. And that made for a lousy couple of weekends. We bickered, he scoffed when I wanted to spend any money. I was resentful that he didn’t adore the idea the way I did. It was a hot martial mess.
Now that the project is behind us, Dave loves that space as much as I do, but I learned my lesson and will try not to repeat my mistake.
It’s not fun if both aren’t on board with the plan.
2.) Each person needs a role.
Micromanagers should not DIY with their significant other. Seriously. Just don’t.
Being a couple who is successful at DIY’ing without “accidentally” stapling each other to a wall, or using duct tape inappropriately requires the relinquishment of power. At least a portion of it. Make sure that each of you has a clearly defined role in the project, then stick with that/those job(s).
If his role is cutting the tile, and your role is installing the tile, don’t tell him he’s doing a crappy job with the tile saw. Likewise, he shouldn’t be breathing over your shoulder maneuvering spacers around and such. Trust that your partner isn’t a complete moron. I realize this is easier said than done, but I promise it helps. And, it makes DIY projects much more easy to tackle if you only feel responsible for 50% rather than 100%.
3.) Start SMALL.
When you learned to read, you didn’t start with Shakespeare, right?
So if you’re just learning to DIY together, tackle a SMALL project first. REALLY small. Like paint a closet, maybe.
The bigger and more expensive the project, the more room for stress and frustration. You need a couple W’s in your DIY column before you decide to build your own tiny house or whatever.
If you start with things WAAAY above your level of knowledge and expertise, you’re begging to end up hating DIY’ing together, and DIY’ing in general.
Start small. Be proud of yourselves and what you accomplished. Then up the ante next time…but just a bit.
4.) Agree on a budget ahead of time…
and also agree on how flexible, or rigid you are going to be with sticking to that budget.
Sometimes it’s easy to stick to a strict budget. But if you’re working through a very big, complicated, multi-step project…like a bathroom, then allowing yourselves some wiggle room and compromise is going to be very helpful for preventing discord.
Most big projects run into an issue. Or several. You can’t start the blame game and turn on each other when that happens. Just realize that s$%^ happens, and you need to adjust course. Together.
Different DIY-ing couples may do things differently, but Dave and I don’t assign budget-detail to one of us. The budget is a two-player game. That way, neither of us turns into a nag or is forced to assume a kind of parental role when it comes to keeping track of the $$.
I don’t want to feel like I have to say, “Now honey, we agreed that you would only spend $175 on supplies tonight at Home Depot, why does this receipt say you spend $182, and I see candy and a Coke on here?”
Truth be told, I would be a MONSTER if it came to that. I’m annoyed with myself just thinking about taking on that role. Sometimes it’s best to just assume everyone is doing their best, and keep your nose out of other people’s business, and eyeballs off of certain receipts.
5). Be flexible with deadlines.
The WORST way to start a DIY adventure together is deciding upon when it will end. DIY timelines are made to be broken. Just accept this, and proceed.
Whatever you do, DO NOT start a project in late October knowing that you have 30 people coming to your house for Thanksgiving dinner in a couple weeks, so the project HAS to be done by then. I’m stressed just typing about that plan.
Being a DIY’er means you’re doing this in your “spare” time. And seriously, how many of us have an over-abundance of that? Accept the fact that projects take time. And usually, a DIY project takes about THREE TIMES longer than you anticipate it taking.
And I am NOT EVEN JOKING about that. Take whatever estimate it is you have in your head for a project, and multiply that amount of time by four. And that will be maybe close to realistic. Accepting this up front will save you both from a lot of stress, animosity, hostility, mental breakdowns…need I continue? Trust me on this.
6.) Don’t be a neat freak.
My parents were always big DIY’ers, so I come by this
disease skillset honestly. And they were great at doing all kinds of projects, but one thing that always seemed to cause some stress and conflict for them was cleanliness. My childhood home was ALWAYS neat. I don’t know how my mom accomplished it, really. Four kids and that place was spotless. And that tidiness translated into the DIY projects, too. Their work zones were always tidy before, during and after any given DIY project.
So even in the midst of a big renovation, like when they finished our unfinished basement, the place was always clean…and I’m pretty positive it was because it stressed my mom out to live “in a construction zone.” She’d tell you as much.
I try to be a bit more laid back about the mess. Mostly, because I’m too lazy to worry about cleaning up everything at the end of a long day of working on a project. I’d rather take that time and stand motionless in the shower. Or exercise my thumb on the remote control with a bowl of ice cream in front of my face. I just don’t have the energy to do the whole pristine clean-up thing.
And I think that lackadaisical attitude can be pretty beneficial if you’re going to be a DIY’er. You have to be a little laid back about the mess. Drywall dust happens. If you can look away from it at least a little bit, you’ll position yourself to remain happy during a renovation.
Think of it this way…being in the midst of a DIY project is a damn good excuse for why your house may not be in pristine condition when you have friends over. Just show them around your messy job site. The messier it is, the harder it appears you’ve been working, and the more it will seem that the stuff you’re doing is probably way more complicated and impressive than it really is. Want to wow your friends? Keep that job site as unkempt as possible.
7. Pick your battles.
You’ve heard this one before, right? Some sage relative who’s been married for 40+ years probably told you this on your wedding day. Learn how to pick your battles. It’s true, of course. And it’s especially true if you’re going to DIY together.
I think this gets easier the more projects you take on together because you’ll learn generally what issues the other tends to get stuck on. Personally, I pick decorative battles. If I love a wallpaper, I will lobby for that wallpaper HARDCORE. Dave knows this. And luckily, he doesn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about wall coverings.
He humors me as I get all indignant about why one shade of white paint is horrendous, but another is amazing. He’s come to expect a certain level of crazy, so he doesn’t complain too much. It’s just part of the package.
Conversely, Dave will always battle for what he calls “appropriate planning time” (meaning he likes to mull over, draw out, research on YouTube, etc) before initiating any given project. So, I try to keep my eye rolling on the down-low while he’s knee deep in his fifth YouTube tutorial about any given task. I just let him go through his process without saying too much.
Dave’s also a square and leveling fanatic. We have about 18 different levels in different lengths, laser levels, plumb bobs, squares, line levels…you name it, we have anything that will allow us to ensure that Dave gets his square and straight, level lines.
It’s easier to just check my Instagram while Dave levels than to threaten to level him if he pulls out that damn tool one more time. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to do that though. Just being honest.
8.) Don’t let a DIY project devour your life.
This can be a hard one for me to remember, frankly. Because I LOVE working on DIY projects. But the bigger the project, the harder it can be to take time away to enjoy life. As I type this, we are knee-deep in the renovation of our master bathroom, and it’s been months and months and months-in-the-making type of project.
We’ve gotten to the point that we just want to have it done. So I have to be consciously aware that we still need to take time away from DIYing to enjoy our family, hang out with our friends, and talk about topics other than shower faucets.
Truthfully, tackling DIY has been a great activity that we enjoy as a couple. Yes, to people crazy like us, DIY projects are fun.
Some people golf, some play tennis, or hike…we demolish stuff and build it again. Every couple should have their thing, right? It’s DEFINITELY not always an easy, stress-free hobby. Has it been the source of marital spats? Dozens. Maybe even hundreds?
But all in all, we think of it as a positive thing. We’re improving our home in the most affordable way we can, and spending time together in the process.
The more projects we tackle, the more we figure out how to do it peaceably and amicably…
And if all else fails, drinking on the job helps sometimes, too. Happy DIY-ing all you lovebirds out there. Cheers!
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