I have become a self-proclaimed home makeover enthusiast. I am jumping into the world of DIY projects with both feet because I recently found myself with some time on my hands. A few weeks ago I lost my job. Shortly after that I learned about the unexpected death of one of my friends. Guess what a person needs after a double whammy of major life stressors – all the time in the world to be alone and think about it, right? I have nowhere to be, no schedule to meet, no daily structure, no reason to put pants on, and nothing stopping me from watching Saturday Night Live reruns for 28 hours a day. It’s just a recipe for squeaky clean mental health (mopping up pool of sarcasm). I needed a project to give my days a purpose and keep my mind occupied.
Recently the shower in the master bathroom was professionally gutted and remodeled due to some extensive water damage. Now that the shower is new and beautiful, the rest of the 1960 original wood/fixtures off-white bathroom looks drabby (drab and shabby). The shower is so new and clean that I want to live in it, but instead of moving into the shower, I decided to slowly make the other areas of my living space…livable. Since I now have the stunted income to bypass the professionals, I will figure out how to do it all myself.
I am starting in the master bathroom and will work out from there. So with the help of YouTube, my neighbor who probably regrets telling me she was a contractor, and the shard of common sense I have left, I set out to remove ugly wallpaper, repair drywall damage, prime, paint, update fixtures, and re-tile. I am about halfway done at this point, and I have learned a few tips along the way that I’d like to share:
- Enthusiasm does not make up for lack of experience. I’ve approached most challenges in my life with the “Show Up” philosophy: I almost never know what I’m doing, and I’m almost always terrified, but I show up anyway and I’m ready to learn. In many situations, enthusiasm forgives a multitude of rookie mistakes. This is not so in the world of home improvement. It helps to just accept at the beginning that this is going to take a while. There will be unforeseen details that will keep showing up long after your enthusiasm has worn off. Who knew that old caulk was such a bitch to remove? Who knew that there was a giant hole in the wall under that strip of wallpaper? Who knew that semi gloss paint was so fucking unforgiving and would require at least 3 coats to cover the crooked brush strokes and drips? (The jury is still out on whether more coats will be required.) At least with home improvement projects, by the time the excitement wears off, half of your house is destroyed so you have no choice but to keep going with the project.
- Drywall is an insolent bitch. It broadcasts every wrong you’ve ever inflicted, every rookie mistake, every divet in every ounce of joint compound you’ve ever applied. If you try to make a quick cover up, it will just crumble out of spite and make you go on another trip to Home Depot just because it can. I’ve been taken for a fool once, but it won’t happen again. The rest of the drywall in this house better prepare to become my bitch!
- Do not touch wet paint. When you paint an entire room, guess what, you will be surrounded by wet paint. You will get distracted and let your shoulder graze a wall while turning around. You will rest your hand on a wet wall while painting another wall. You will open a cabinet out of habit, forgetting that you just painted it and leave a hand print in the (fucking unforgiving) semi-gloss paint. Now you have to wait for it to dry and paint it again. You also have paint smears all over your body, and not in a sexy way.
- Common sense comes in very handy, even when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. I was able to establish an order for the tasks in front of me so I don’t get stuck doing double work. Remove handles and outlet covers first, sand everything before painting anything, etc. A life of diabetes has trained me well: I can sniff out a long term consequence in a nanosecond.
- Perfectionists, carefully consider your decision to start a home project. Having perfectionist tendencies means that you will be detail oriented in all of your projects, which is an asset. It also means that the section of wall that just keeps getting worse every time you come up with new ways to fix it will haunt you for the rest of your life. The first patch of drywall I repaired was near the ceiling on the wall facing the toilet. I enlarged, I sanded, I compounded, I taped, I compounded again, I sanded again, I primed, I primed again. Then I started the whole process over again four times because the tape wrinkled, or I missed a spot, or I didn’t sand a mountain of compound well enough, or it looked worse than the last time I went through this process. I finally realized that no matter what else I did, it wasn’t going to meet my standards of perfection. Now that spot is all I can see. Do you know how many times I previously looked at the bathroom ceiling while I peed? Almost never. Do you know how many times I will look at the bathroom ceiling since starting this project? Every goddam time I pee. You still have time – save yourselves!
- The Lazypaint stage is real. Even perfectionists get lazy sometimes. I spent 3 days searching the tiny bathroom for traces of leftover wallpaper before painting, and I applauded myself for being so thorough and methodical. After I finished the first coat of primer, I found a tiny piece of wallpaper adhered to the trim. Tools came out and the problem was solved. How the hell did I miss that over the last 3 days? After I was 7/8ths finished with the first coat of color paint, I noticed an identical piece of wallpaper still clinging to another piece of trim. I stared at it and hoped it felt shame. With tools in hand, I emotionally prepared myself to remove the intruder and redo the primer and paint again. Failing that, I said , “Fuck it,” and painted over the old piece of wallpaper. I’ll let the next person who buys the house deal with it.
- Don’t brag too much. People will be impressed when you start throwing around terms like “joint compound” and “putty knife,” and tell them you’re patching holes in walls, caulking, and painting. Just remember – they will want to see the finished project one day. This includes your contractor neighbor, who will zero in on the exposed edge of drywall tape that’s still visible despite her generous lesson on covering up exposed drywall tape. I mean sure, talking about the incidentals of a DIY project sounds impressive to someone who has not done it before, but that doesn’t mean that those same people, having invited themselves into your bathroom to inspect your impressive work, will be blind to the lumps of painted-over joint compound or the new caulk that you couldn’t make into a straight line so you just added like 3 more layers of caulk. They’ll leave thinking, “That was adorable.”
- Seriously, stop touching the wet paint. You finished painting the east wall 45 seconds ago. There is no way it is dry yet, so don’t touch it again. I don’t care if you need to steady yourself while reaching for a high trim, don’t fucking touch the east wall right now.
- Do not wing it when dealing with electrical fixtures. Get advice from someone who knows what they’re doing or hire that person to do the job if it is too complicated for you. I do not have a learn-from-my-mistakes disaster anecdote to tell here. Do you know why? Because I didn’t wing it when dealing with electrical fixtures.
- Don’t sit in wet paint either. Congratulations! You got the hang of avoiding putting your hands in wet paint! But you forgot to look before you sat down, didn’t you?
I didn’t think I’d have to add this to the list either, but let’s go ahead and say don’t wear your good khaki pants while painting. Go read Tip #4.
So I won’t be hired by the team at Extreme Home Makeover anytime soon. That is totally fine. This is the first tiny room of my house that I have jumped into. I have, like, three or four more rooms in my house to get through. My progress in the bathroom is making me feel happy and accomplished, and that’s what I wanted out of this whole thing anyway.
And fine, since you asked, I will post one progress photo of the bathroom (taken from a distance – don’t zoom, that’s unfair).
The tile floor will soon be black and white checkered, and the window will have brand new blinds in about 2 weeks. And the toilet cover will disappear as soon as I remember it’s still on there.
And since you asked, here is a picture of my assistant. She’s from Boston and she’s enthusiastic about jumping in paint. She’s not sorry.