Coronavirus has paused many aspects of modern life, but it won’t stop things from breaking down around the house. In these unprecedented times, we’re learning to adapt, and in some cases, we’re learning to reinvent ourselves for the long-term. During a time when no one can hire a contractor, it’s a prime opportunity to tackle some home repair yourself.
DIY projects—with consideration, forethought, and perseverance—can be therapeutic spikes of success when everything else is unpredictable or strange. True, some jobs require a pro, particularly if they call for hyper-specific knowledge or a license, but otherwise, I give home-repair tasks a shot myself. In my view, if I’m prepared, self-confident, and willing to laugh at myself, I’m capable of tackling anything. Over the years, I’ve stopped plumbing leaks, mounted appliances, trimmed trees, and re-roofed my house—among many other odd jobs.
And I’ve reaped the rewards. Aside from the material upgrades to my home, committing myself to handyman duties has made me a more conscious homeowner and given me countless shared experiences with the family members and friends I’ve roped into my misadventures. Does everything I attempt result in a job well done? Not exactly, but regardless, there’s still valuable experience to be gleaned from DIY mishaps. I’ve made my share of mistakes, but as long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, your home will be resilient.
Besides, there’s nothing more satisfying for me than stepping back at the end of a job and surveying what I call my “masterpiece”—my finished work (maybe that’s laying it on a little thick, but you have to give yourself some victories). It’s a morale booster to see your improvement—that stopped leak or straightened picture or clear spot in the yard—and a personal pat on the back will always feel great. Surely, no professional could have done better than this, I think.
Take, for example, when my family first moved into our townhouse. When our new dishwasher started coughing and choking, it was my time to shine.
This dishwasher was supposed to be supreme, one of those models with tons of cycle options and more settings than you know how to handle. It was an impressive looking unit, but when I hit the start button, the power cut in and out. The machine would kick into gear when I pushed on the door, but the moment I eased off, it would start cutting out again. Clearly, a bad connection.
I looked up my machine’s symptoms online and found a digital manual. After some reading, I learned how to remove the back panel from the door and—to my delight—spotted a broken piece of plastic on the door latch (these are the paradoxical feelings that come up during home repair). The plastic had cracked and fallen out, thus not allowing the door to snap shut and let the dishwasher work properly. All I had to do was glue the plastic back into place.
After I made sure the glue had dried and the plastic was secure, I reattached the back panel, shut the door, hit start, and crossed my fingers. The dishwasher ran perfectly—a job well done! I was so proud I kept peeking my head into the kitchen for the next hour, listening to the dishwasher’s new steady hum. It sure beat calling a professional and footing a bill.
Beyond the material improvement, DIY keeps my brain engaged and encourages me to try new things. It might not be obvious these days, when we have no choice but to be around what’s familiar to us, but we still have the freedom to create exciting and productive experiences for ourselves, whether it’s as basic as hammering a nail or as ambitious as firing up an electrical tool you never thought you’d use. In self-isolation, there are plenty of places where you shouldn’t take risks, but when you complete a DIY task, your confidence soars and you start taking real ownership over your home. These days, what could be more valuable than that?
I maintain this attitude even when a job puts one over on you. One time, there was a low hanging branch in our driveway, and every time I drove my truck up toward the house, the branch would scrape the top of my truck. It made me clench my fists on the steering wheel to think about how much paint was being scraped off my roof. I grabbed my ladder, a chain saw, and a buddy to help while I climbed up to dispatch that nasty branch. To be on the safe side, I parked my truck in my neighbor’s driveway, a short distance away.
I hefted the chain saw, donned my best Dennis the Menace grin, and cut through the branch. The saw ran smooth and straight—no problem. I watched the branch drop, but then it hit at an odd angle. The branch recoiled, bounced up, flew through the air, and landed with a crash 15 feet away—right on the hood of my truck. My buddy, who was supposed to be there to support my efforts, just laughed and laughed. Once I came out of shock and my blood pressure returned to normal, I had to laugh, too. It was a freakish thing. Who could’ve predicted that?
As costly as that epic failure was, it didn’t stop me from trying again. I took down a tree in the backyard the following summer, and I didn’t even wreck a car that time. You learn from your mistakes. Even when it costs me extra time and money, my DIY efforts always feel worth it. They make me smarter, savvier, and most of the time no worse for wear—even if in the moment I looked a little foolish.
As long as you’re judicious and reasoned about the projects you attempt, there’s little harm in trying DIY (well, maybe your wallet can take a hit, but that’s if you really mess things up). Worst case scenario, in my house, my family scores some laughs at my expense and I gain some fond memories to share later. That’s not the same as new shelving, but that’s okay—bouncing back from mistakes is life-affirming. The world is wrestling with a crisis, but it’s still possible to fail, recover, and laugh at yourself later. It’s still possible to take a risk in the name of a better home. That’s important. We can all feel damn good about ourselves if we accomplish something we never thought we could do.
There has never been a better time to tackle some DIY home repair. Grab some tools and go for it…just make sure you do your homework first.
B.S. Harris' memoir The Cheap Handyman: True (and Disastrous) Tales from a
Home Improvement Expert Guy Who Should Know Better will be out next year from Tiller Press/Simon & Schuster.
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