9 Lessons Learned From A Lot Of DIY Projects

Dated: 08/18/2015

Views: 2432

Here's a guest post from my friend Nicole Keiper, whose house in Inglewood continues to bring her many excuses to indulge her DIY obsession:

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I’ll admit it: I have a little bit of a DIY problem. An obsession bordering on psychosis — even if I also have to admit that I’m not exceptionally great at making and fixing things.

Right now, I’m in the middle of trying to get my 1953 fixer-upper in Inglewood a little more fixer-upped, with the intention of putting it on the market soon. (I know a really great realtor!) Spackling, painting, power-washing, repairing, that sort of thing. But a friend had a banged-up mess of a dresser that he was giving away, and I couldn’t resist. I had a vision of a repaired, freshly whitewashed piece of pretty furniture, so I got distracted, and started sanding. 

Halfway through, I realized I hadn’t taken a “before” pic. Dangit. 

I’ve learned a lot over years of DIY-ing, but apparently I still have much to learn.

I know I’m far from alone among the OK-at-it-but-totally-obsessed DIY faithful. And even if I’ll still make a ton of mistakes during every project, those mistakes continue to teach me valuable lessons. Here are a few I thought were worth sharing:

Hold out for the right tools

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One of the first things I did when I moved into this house — well before I bought any power tools — was try to fix up an ugly pasteboard bookshelf. I had a hacksaw and a hammer and some old pallets, plus a little white paint, and there you go. 

I’ll still admit now that it looks a whole lot better than it did, at least from afar. If you get close up, you can see how uneven the cuts are on the pallet wood, and with all the extra weight on the cardboard backing, the wood scraps just nailed on there with brad nails… I’m not about to brag about the workmanship here. Plus it took half of forever, just sawing away.

If I’d had the right tools, this would’ve been a more successful — and much easier — project.

One man’s trash might be your palette 

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I was driving around the neighborhood when I saw this jacked-up mid-century console stereo, totally gutted and riddled with holes, out on someone’s curb. There were very valid reasons for why it was put out as trash. But it sparked something in me.

So, yeah, I went ahead and put that dirty discarded mess in my car, and went about exploring my vision. 

It took a lot of sanding, more than a few pocket holes (see the tool thing above — a pocket hole jig might’ve been the best cheap tool investment I’ve made) and lots and lots of math. 

This was garbage. But now it’s my media stand, and imperfect as it is, I love it.

Your projects don’t all have to be fancy and involved

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I’ll get stuck in a Pinterest hole with the best of ‘em, but really simple, unpretentious DIY projects can be really fun too.

I needed some bookshelves for the nursery, but I was short on time, short on energy and long on nausea. So although I had a long list of projects bookmarked involving upcycled leather belts and hexagons and such, that wasn’t meant to be.

Four $1.50 shelf brackets, a few boards from the culled-wood section, some sandpaper, stain and screws, and there we go: shelves. 

They’re no look-what-I-did blog post, but they serve the purpose, and I did, in fact, do it myself.

Be patient

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Our mid-century cottage came with more than plenty of projects to fuel my DIY obsession, including a living room that was utterly overwhelmed with peeling paint and wall and ceiling cracks and just lots and lots of ugh. (The rescue dog, Alli, didn't come with the house... but she is a project, albeit a lovable one.) 

Sometimes you have to accept that, as a DIYer, big projects like stripping an entire room of peeling paint and taping and spackling and caulking and painting… it’s just gonna take a while. Because you have to work, and eat, and sleep, too. 

You’re going to have to live in a warzone, and make peace with it. If you can’t rustle up the patience for that sort of thing, DIY life might not be for you.

Your projects will be imperfect, and that’s good

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If you’re shooting for perfect, you can buy something at any number of big retailers. DIY projects will generally give up their origins — you’ll see where your hand slipped or where your paint dripped. You’ll see the humanity. And that’s cool — you shouldn’t be embarrassed by the little imperfections; you should be proud of them. They show the evidence of real hands. Your hands. 

You can make your own blueprints 

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Inspiration for new DIY projects is everywhere, even (gasp) outside the Internet. Have you been to Pinewood Social in Rolling Mill Hill? They have great industrial-but-warm chandeliers in the main space. Really cute; fittingly, pretty expensive. 

Eventually, I’m gonna own one of those. Meantime, my DIY demons make me feel drawn to approximating. You’re probably not going to find step-by-step instructions for the cute chandelier you fell in love with at your local restaurant-bowling alley-swimming hole. So you’ll need to get creative.

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My approximation? Made mostly of standard lighting-fixture stuff. But the main circular wooden piece? It’s a quilting hoop. About $6, plus some wood filler and paint. It’s no match for the real thing, but for now, it makes me happy.

Don’t be afraid to ditch your DIY

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I had an old chandelier in the attic, and needed a light fixture in a bedroom, so I broke out some spraypaint. But there was still the issue of the missing glass shades, which’d be about $10 apiece to replace. Being short on cash, I grabbed some twine I had laying around, and some glue, used a few old drum heads to make cones for shaping, and boom: DIY shades. 

Only, even though I did research about the safety side of glue-twine light fixtures (seemed like things’d be OK as long as I use CFL bulbs), I still feel a little dicey about it. So I don’t leave the light on much. Even if I did spend a good little hunk of time on my makeshift light project and I kinda like the way it looks, I’m willing to admit that this wasn’t my most genius DIY solution. So before I sell the house, I’m going to get a buy-it-myself, more appropriate fix going here. 

Chalk it up to a swing and a miss; happens to the best of us.

Always take “before” photos


Know when you need to step away from the workshop

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I found a robin’s egg on the ground recently, and before I even realized what I was doing, I was pulling vines and straw together to make it a nest, because, of course I did. (When DIY fever subsided enough to let me Google, I found that the baby bird was most certainly already ... not gonna hatch.) 

When something like this happens, step back for a minute, and consider that you might be just a little bit… not right. Step away from the toolbox. Maybe have a lemonade, go take a walk in the park. There’s a line, and you kinda stumbled right over it. Time for a sanity-restoring breather?

Those are a few of my hard-won bits of DIY wisdom. Anything you’ve come up with during your projects that you’re willing to throw back my way? 

Nicole works with fittingly DIY-friendly coworking and learning space The Skillery in Germantown. Check them out at TheSkillery.com.

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TJ Anderson

TJ Anderson is a Nashville Realtor with Benchmark Realty who's helped countless clients both buy a home and sell a home in Nashville, Tennessee. He blogs about Nashville regularly, from Nashville-area....

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