Ending 2010 Right: A Message to All DIYers

Twenty-ten will be known around our house for many things (notably the year we built most of the house) but on a personal level I will always think of it as The Year I Did I Lot of Things I Never Thought I Would Do.

That list includes things like washing dishes — not just regularly, but from a spigot in the back yard. And spending eight months living in a 400 square foot garage…


…without killing this dude:

(And even more impressively, without being strangled, duct taped, and buried in that hole he dug.)

And of course I can’t talk about all of the surprising things in my life this year without talking about these girls:


Because you could say that even a year ago the likelihood of falling in love with a couple of miniature donkeys ranked right up there with understanding advanced calculus and being able to articulate why people care about what the Kardashians are doing.  Which is to say, not at all within the realm of my comprehension.

But, here we are. 2010 was surprising in a lot of ways, but I think even more importantly are the ways in which it completely met my expectations. Way back in the beginning of this year I sent a message out to all DIYers, and I think it’s important enough that even if you’ve read it before once or twice on my Do It Yourself page, I’m posting it again here:

Do It Yourself

A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, and building a picnic table, a picture frame, or a whole dang house starts with picking up a hammer.

Actually, this is a lie. It starts with Google, and the search terms “How do I…

At least, that’s how it works for me. I was talking to an acquaintance not to long ago about a simple bench I built, and he asked me, “How did you learn how to do that?” And then I blinked at him thirty times. I mean, how does anyone learn how to do anything? You give it a try, make some mistakes, figure out what works, and then apply what you learned to something bigger and more complicated. And you Google things. A lot.

Now, I don’t think that every man, woman, and child should have to pick up a drill and build their own bookshelves if they don’t want to. Most days I’d rather get a splinter under my fingernail than do the dishes so, hey, to each her own. The fight I fight through this website is for those people who want to do something but don’t know how, or maybe don’t even know they want to do something because they’re too overwhelmed by the Can’t. Sometimes, it’s other people in our lives who tell us we can’t do things, but more often than not that little voice comes from ourselves.

So let me just clear that up right this second. Yes. You. Can.

I’m not saying anything about quick, or easy, or that if you just try something once you’re going to do it right the first time. But I do think we’re all capable of doing really awesome things, if only we take that first step. And of course, if it comes to advice or encouragement, or you just need someone to give you a good boot in the ass, I’m here to help. Feel free to send me an email, or leave a comment, because there are a ton of people who visit the site and are always up for giving some good advice.

To get you started, here are my Top 3 Bits of “How Do I Do That” Advice:

1.) Google. I wasn’t kidding about that. You can also check out the Projects, Plans & How To page for a list of projects on this site, or check out the list of DIY Resources I’ve put together. There are always twenty different ways to accomplish the same task, so look at what people do the same, or what they do differently. Check out the tools they use, the materials, and how long it takes. If it seems overwhelming, see number 2.

2.) Start small. DIY is 40% sweat and 60% confidence. And some days it’s 4% alcohol by volume. (Um, hi Dad. Just kidding, everyone. Don’t drink and DIY.) If you want to build a deck, awesome. Maybe start with a simple bench, to get use to using measuring lumber or using a saw and drill. You’ll learn some things, get more comfortable with the tools, and then building a deck might not seem like such a big deal.

3.) Use the right tools. Don’t let the ones with power-cords scare you. You can build a wall with a hand saw and hammer, but it’s going to take a long time and be a lot harder. And for you ladies, the hardest thing is finding powerful tools (the pink ones usual aren’t) that fit our smaller hands. Check out My Toolbox for recommendations and information all the tools in my shop, and a list of those that are perfect for us little’uns.

If there’s one thing I would hope comes across to people who’ve read the 240 posts this year about our house building-stories, my how-to articles, or the general nonsense that comes from a power-tool addict who updates her website after midnight, it’s that believing in yourself is the one key element to doing whatever it is you set your mind to.

At the beginning of the year, our house looked like this:



We hadn’t sold my “city house” yet– and we were armed with about half the cash we needed to complete our addition, a garage full of tools, and a vague sense of what to do next, which went something like, “Uh, so I guess we need a dumpster?”

MysteryMan, for one, has gone along with this scheme while staunchly refusing to believe it will end in anything but disaster the collapse of the entire universe.

For my part, I’m a believer. There’s nothing in the world you could say to convince me I couldn’t get turn that little old house into something like this.



There were a number of times when it was touch-and-go on which one of us would be right.

Almost none of it has gone “as planned.” And some things (read: cedar beams) have actually gone horribly wrong. But what I’ve found is almost nothing can go so wrong on a DIY project that you can’t just buy a new tool and put it right.

So my message for 2011 is not just about believing in yourself, but in having perspective. Our siding didn’t get done before it snowed, our geothermal heat pump isn’t heating anything, and our yard didn’t get graded or seeded for spring. But where there was once a charred tree stump we have a solid foundation,  walls, a roof over our heads, and drywall ready for paint.

What I hope for everyone is that you can look back and celebrate your successes as the year comes to a close, and carry with you into 2011 the belief that all things are possible with a little faith (and a lot of power tools.)

4 Responses

  1. You hit the nail on the head (heh). The progress you made over the year is unbelievable and your determination to take this on is a testament to what sheer will can accomplish. You said it all so eloquently, and these are exactly the words I needed right now. I’ve adopted the “drop-in-the-bucket” approach. Even if I only hit one nail that day it’s still a step closer to completion, and sooner or later it’s done. It’s much easier for me than letting myself getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of a project.

    Hopefully you’re over the hump, the hard part, and by this time next year you’ll be comfortably settled in your new house, enjoying all the hard work you put in.

  2. This is probably your best blog yet. The only thing I would add is, “you’re never too old.” When we came to San Diego in 1982, I had never done anything with tools, other then one small set of speaker stands that was nothing but a board cut into four pieces, nailed together at the corners and splashed with walnut wood stain! The following year at age 38 we rented a town house, and I made floor-to-ceiling bookcases, using only a Skil saw (which I borrowed from my father) and a drill. Since then I have gone on to make actual furniture, using skills learned during five years of woodworking classes and so forth, but those bookcases were the beginning.

    Before I got into it, I didn’t think I could do ANY of that stuff. Now, like you, whenever I have something to do that I don’t actually know how to do, I just Google and ask friends. You’re right. No one was born with any of this information, but if they learned how, we can learn how too.

  3. I like this post. It’s so true- Google, instructional videos on Youtube, and eHow have saved me so many times. And you have to be willing to just START- even if you have no idea what to do first. It’s amazing what you guys have accomplished this year. Those donkeys are so cute too.

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