How to DIY Together - and not fight (...too much)

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We hear variations on this theme all the time:

"I don't know how you guys make all this stuff together. Last time we tried to DIY together we didn't speak for two days."


"Yeah. We fight way too much to make something like this together. Don't you guys fight?"

Nope. Never. Not even once...

...would be a total lie.

We usually have a squabble or four per project. But doing projects together still remains one of our favourite things to do.

If we quit DIYing after a fight or two we would miss out on having a great looking, well-functioning home. Or we'd be saving up endlessly to pay someone to do it for us. And once we learned how to work well together, the process actually became almost as rewarding as the result.

So here's the truth: we learned how to DIY together over years of making mistakes and figuring out how to do better next time. That's what this post is all about:

How to survive DIY as a couple, from both of our perspectives.

DIY couple

Before you Start:

1) Keep your expectations low. There will be disagreements.

Do you expect the project to go perfectly smoothly, turn out perfectly AND you will get along perfectly through the whole thing?

Well - you're setting yourselves up perfectly for tragedy.

There will be missing materials, mistakes in the process and you will say something unkind in a moment of frustration.  Know this will happen and manage your expectations. Things will go wrong.  When they do, take a deep breath - seriously do that science shows deep breathing matters - and step back and figure out what to do about it.

Also, you will always get less done than you think.  Always. Don't let yourselves be frustrated by slow progress from the start.  It's going to take more time, expect that and you won't be disappointed.

2) Work it out with a pencil.

Nope, that title isn't the answer to "how do mathematicians cure their constipation?" (eye roll).  It's actually a real key to fight-free DIY.  Do as much planning as you can when you aren't either in the store or holding sharp tools.  Those are times you DON'T want to fight.

One is embarrassing and the other potentially life threatening.

Sit down and draw out what you're planning to do.  Pencil mistakes are easy to fix, compared to let's say, plumbing mistakes (the worst).

Sitting together and planning your project on paper will lead to a better end result.  You'll have a better material list, which means fewer trips to the hardware store and less time wandering around like a dumbass when you get there.

I'll even look up store stock on the website before we go to figure out if it's there and what aisles I need to go to.  Oh - and do all of this Thursday or Friday if you can - before the weekend rush of reno-desperation sets in. The only thing more stressful than wandering around trying to find what you need is doing that while a bunch of other bickering couples do the same thing all around you.

Help us caption the Silhouette Couple fights!.  
Ed: "Putting on heels to go to Home Depot isn't getting 'All Dressed Up''. You're wearing a hoodie and track pants - you don't get to give fashion advice!"

3) Don't do more than you're capable of.

Yeah, we're talking about you, Plumbing.  Plumbing is our worst project.  It's high pressure, mistakes create major messes and stresses and if we have to call in a professional to help us, it costs a fortune.  We know this isn't our skill.  Plus we both hate it.  So, we know that getting someone else to help out here is an investment in our marriage.

The best is to find a handyperson to coach you through your process.  Also, having that person around can sometimes make couple-based arguments a bit tamer - you may just be on your best behaviour then.

Start with projects in your current skill set and push yourself a tiny bit each time. Your comfort zone will grow.

I started DIYing with very few skills (hammering a nail straight 65% of the time, for example) but could read books, watch YouTube and fix my mistakes and keep-on-keeping-on. That last one seems to be the most important.

4) Know that you'll make 10x more trips to the hardware store than you thought.

We've reached the point where we usually have a good idea of what we need and we still have to make multiple trips. You can solve some of this by buying extra and returning what you don't use after.

But you'll still forget something. These trips can be combined with coffee, pizza or first-aid/liquor runs as needed.

Hallelujah for cell phones!  Quick communication by text and sending photos to and from the hardware store has saved us from wasted trips and verbal altercations many times.

Ed: "I want nice, sturdy wall-to-wall luxury vinyl planks for pretend Ice Dancing. GLIDE and SPIN!"

While You're DIY-ing it:

5) Odds are you are weekend warriors so start your weekend ASAP.

There is no greater frustration than working away Saturday night and realizing you need something/someone who isn't available. Big Box Reno Stores have great hours, but they do - quite selfishly - close.

And calling in a pro on Sunday morning rarely goes well. Seeing Sunday afternoon roll around and knowing you're not going to finish is crazy stressful too. All of these things lead to fights.

Start early.

6) Figure out who is good at what and let them do it.

In our relationship, I am the designer and Ed is the do-er.  I have the vision and design sense.  Ed shines at all the actual hands on work.

I can do lots of stuff, but I get all up inside my head figuring out "the best" way to do something. And then it never gets started or finished. Ed just picks up the saw and gets 'er done.

If we changed roles, our projects would be doomed. Plus, we'd hate it.

We've learned to get out of each other's wheelhouse when it's their turn to steer.  Try not to feel like these roles are restrictive - it actually can be quite freeing.

I have learned to trust Robin's judgment on things and just put my head down and work. It is very freeing to not have to use the 'planning' and 'working' parts of your brain at the same time.

Now if you don't know who is good at what, or you both think you're great at everything...Aren't you lucky(?!)...

7) Get professional help when you need it.

Don't attempt DIY alone if you don't have the skills.  Painting?  A great beginner task.  Dentistry? Not so much.

Also, if you don't know how to do electrical stuff, get someone for that too. You could for-real die.

Pros can jump start a project and get it to a point where you can take over and finish in a much more reasonable time.

When our basement flooded, a plumber dug the trench, then installed the sump pump and French drain. This would have taken us weeks to complete.  We then took over and finished the underlay and laminate floor.

It cost more, but it actually got done and no bodies, only drainage tile, ended up buried in the basement.

8) Don't let yourself get hangry or over-tired.

When DIYing, treat yourself a bit like you treat a toddler.  Keep a close eye on how you're behaving and feeling and respond to your own needs.  And do the same for your partner.  But, NEVER say out loud that you're treating them like a toddler.  Some things are better left unsaid.

For example, I gets the classic symptoms of hangry.  When I'm hungry I get impatient and snippy   Hard to believe, but true.  We both know when it's time for lunch by how snarky I'm getting.

And we both know, when Ed gets tired he gets sloppy and less than receptive to suggestions.

I do NOT! Wait. Yes. I do. I totally do. Why am I just finding out about this now?

Oh - I thought you knew - I guess I'll have to bring it up more often... ;)

(He totally knows.)

9) When the madness comes, go with it.

We often get what we call the Painting-Madness.  It's the point in painting a room that we get silly and start making ridiculously dumb jokes.  It's frustrating when we don't get there at the same time (that's what she said!), but usually after a deep breath, the other joins in and it becomes fun again.

We also make ridiculous playlists to listen to while working. It is possible the combination of paint fumes and playlists that somehow include Rihanna, The Killers and Deadeye Dick contribute to the madness.

Ed: "So, for our Walking Dead Zombie party, all we need to do is 12 hours of DIY ahead of time to get in character"

When Things go Wrong:

10) Use DIY's innate dirty talk to ease tension.

Handymen of the past knew future couples would need some comedy to clear the tension.  They gave things some pretty rude names, with us in mind I'm sure.  There's lots of screwing, and male and female parts of things.

My personal favourite: caulk.  As in, "Hey, Ed, get your caulk off the table!" or "We could use some more of your caulk right here."  So crass!  But so fun.

If you haven't followed the above three guidelines, you can always defuse the resulting tension with some construction worker bawdy talk. When is doubt, the Michael Scott classic, "That's what she said" almost always works!

11) Bite your tongue.  Bite it real good.

Mistakes will happen.  There's always something.  Do everything in your power to NOT say what you think you want to.

If you're tempted to say any sentence that begins with "You're so..." it's time for a break.  Excuse yourself.  Make a tea.  Get some fresh air.  Make a snack.

When mistakes are made, breathe deep, then move on to coming up with a fix. You're going to need a fix, that isn't, you know, a heroin fix.

12) Don't take things personally.

This is more of an aspirational goal. We keep it in mind for the most part. Usually. (What. Robin? I saw that eye roll! I can so type and watch your reactions to what I'm typing.) Anyway, you get the idea.

Ed takes everything personally.  Which I try to find endearing.

Ed (again): How can I not!? I put my heart and soul into these projects!  Wait. This article is supposed to be about not fighting? Oops?

13) Don't say personal things.

If you do have to criticize, try to say it in a constructive way.  Use "I" statements instead of "you" ones.  For example, instead of saying, "You really screwed that baseboard up, dummy" try "I feel that we could have reused that piece of baseboard if you weren't such a dummy at removing it".Not that this example has ever happened in our home. (Of course it has.)

Ed's implying that I said the above.  It's just his way of proving my point: he takes everything personally.  In reality, I said, "Oh no! I was hoping to reuse that baseboard!" Nowhere near what he heard.

This example just proves the point that DIY-ing together can be stressful and can exaggerate all your worst qualities.  See; snippy, hangry, over-sensitive

13) Apologize Quickly.

When none of the above seem to work, and $h@t gets real, be quick to apologize.  Be sincere.  You're both under stress and neither of you will react in your best way.

Don't let stubbornness make it worse. And have some cold beer and cheap wine handy for when you finally finish working.

14) If you still can't seem to DIY together - remember there are other important things that will help.

So maybe you can't be in the same room without a screaming match.  It's ok.  There are other ways to help.  You can put the most skilled DIYer on the home improvement tasks and the other can do all the other stuff that eats into project time.

Here are some examples:
  • food prep (see "hangry")
  • caring for children
  • inevitable trips to the hardware store
  • holding things for the handyperson, like their caulk?

How do you and your partner do at DIYing together?  Any tips to share that work for you? Or help us caption a funny silhouette fight!

1 comment

  1. When I read the title, I had to come read the post. This is really good information!Thanks for sharing!


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