What You DIY and Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger

The only way I can describe what it feels like inside my body after five days of hammering, hanging 10 foot sheets of barn siding, balancing 15 feet off the ground on makeshift scaffolding while mudding drywall over my head, and moving the better part of a barn roof into a dumpster, is: It. Hurts. To. Breathe.

Not just the things you would expect either like my back, ribs, abs… no, no, when I breathe it hurts my ankle. My right eyelid. My left index finger. There isn’t four square inches on my body that doesn’t contain a scrape, scab, or bruise. I itch, and sting, and wince, and have to stay stooped over for a second before I can convince my back to move into a fully upright and locked position before takeoff.

In the last 120 hours I have thoroughly used every part of my body and it feels both painful and awesome. I mean, really awesome, to know that I’ve pushed my physical boundaries and come out mostly intact on the other side.

Here’s the thing about doing it by myself–without having a second set of hands around to help carry out all of my crazy ideas–I am so much stronger, both physically and mentally than I was six months ago. Than I was two years ago when I was doing the exact same thing, but with someone there to help. I can lift things, throw things, and work harder for longer periods of time than I’ve ever been able to physically sustain before. I picked up my hammer yesterday—which has always been a little heavy and unwieldy to work with—and I actually did a double take to make sure I had the right tool because it felt so light.

If we’re going to have an honest moment here, I’ll tell you that when I look at projects like replacing the barn roof or demoing the old siding off the garage, there was a very real part of me that wanted to avoid them because they seemed too difficult. In the past, I may have thought, “I could figure this out if I had to, of course, but I’m just going to let this big strong guy next to me take the lead on this one because it will be easier.” If there was a big strong guy around right now, I might have let him take the lead on this one– I thought long and hard about paying a big strong guy to take care of it for me— instead of digging deep and finding the strength to spend eight hours on a roof on my own, or crawl around in raccoon shit and pry a hundred square feet of wood off the second story of the barn.

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What really got me through it was this: I made a choice. Granted, I made it pretty quickly, but with seven years, two houses, and a contractors license under my belt, I wasn’t flying blind. I new what I was getting into with this house, and I knew I was getting into it alone.

So when the mower tire goes flat and I have to go buy a jack and figure out how to change it…

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Or when drywall on the second-story ceiling needs to be patched…

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I remind myself that I made a deal. The day I bought this house I knelt in the backyard in 15 degree weather and said, out loud, (because I’m a crazy person and talking out loud to your house is a requirement for crazy people) that I knew this was my place, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but if I had the chance I would work my ass off to make something awesome out of it.

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Nobody forced this on me. No unfortunate set of circumstances left me stuck here trying to heave an eight-foot piece of plywood up a ten-foot ladder. I don’t have everything in my life as under control as I’d like it to be (let’s just not talk about the laundry situation, okay?) but every scrape, every splinter, every bruise is something I asked for. This…

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…is not pretty. But it’s worth it.

I take some risks, but the consequences are a price I willingly pay to be able to stand back at the end of the day and say the most satisfying words any DIYer can say…

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I did that.

63 Responses

  1. Doing it ALONE is much harder. But so much more satisfying too. And you don’t have to argue, convince, or compromise with anyone! These are things I learned after DIYing “together” for 35 years and now being on my own. I’ve also learned to ask for and accept help when I need it though.

    And back when my mom and my husband were both still alive, my mom was convinced that he beat me every weekend because my legs, arms, and wherever ALWAYS looked like that too! (Still do). And of course then there’s always the Monday morning explaining to do at work.

    1. So true KC – I almost feel like I can be stronger and work harder because all of my focus is on the work and not on working with someone.

      Asking for and accepting help is still hard for me though, even though I know I need to work on it. I just keep thinking, “One more power tool… and I’ll never need to ask for help again.” lol

  2. Dude. I’ve been following you for awhile, but have never commented, even though I’m continually amazed. Freakin’ awesome. For real. Congrats on doing this yourself, too–and I love the new house and am insanely jealous:)

    1. Thank you Becky – So glad you commented since I just found my new favorite saying on your blog:

      Tackle projects with confidence, even when I have no idea what I’m doing.

      Yep. That’s my motto every single day.

  3. I would like to award you with an official badass button to wear on your tool belt. Or wound bandage, whatever you’re wearing. Congratulations; you’re one of my heros. I love this blog.

    1. I definitely need a badass button on my tool belt… to remind me on the days when things seem too hard that giving up is not an option!

  4. Hehe, the best thing about that picture… are the delicately-pink painted toenails–there’s a wonderfully feminine defiance there. 😀

    1. Barbie Pink! I like to surprise myself sometimes. I wear more dresses than one would think these days too… just to prove to myself that I am still a girl under all this sawdust.

      Sarah @ UggDuck had a great idea one day though, we should develop a line of toenail polish that matches our tools. Milwaukee Red, Makita Blue, etc. lol

    1. I am sometimes badass, but I work on it every day! But I sure hope everyone can learn– both from the things I do right and the things that don’t go quite as planned.

    1. So true, the house is just the vehicle for testing, challenging, and evolving. On any given day I don’t know that I love the actual work– but I do love being able to turn something into my vision. And, okay, I love using my drill too 😉

      Funny that there was a time in my life when I said I would never own a house because it would be too much work. lol. Joke is definitely on me!

  5. I too have been silently cheering you on since discovering your blog two weeks ago but feel compelled to send you a huge ‘pat on the back’ after reading today’s post. Thanks for your inspiring and entertaining blog.
    Cheers!

    1. I will take all of the cheering I can get, silent or otherwise! I’m always humbled by the support of people I’ve never met who stop by here and take a little interest in my sawdust-covered corner of the world. Thank you so much!

  6. OK. I just read back what I wrote (you can tell I’m new at this) and while it’s all true, what I really wanted to say is that, “I’m freakin blown away by what you do and how you do it”!
    I feel better now. Thanks.

  7. The best part is how much you will appreciate every single nail, board and brick because it is YOURS! And you are responsible for making it AWESOME!

    Well well done!

  8. I was wrong about the trainwreck, you were right about the awesome, you’re keeping it on the tracks. Congratulations Kit.

    1. I mean, it’s always a bit of a trainwreck too, but when it comes to houses I can usually pull it together when I need to. Thanks for sticking around to see how it turned out!

  9. Well congrats to you for keeping at it and not giving up! Maybe DIY should be a new fitness class on offer at local gyms, pay a fiver to spend an hour hammering shelves into the wall? 🙂

  10. Congratulations, Kit, on a fabulous outcome! All your efforts are spectacular and your ability to stick to it and power through are inspiring!

    1. Maybe weird but SO something I would do. I have a particularly awesome injury on my leg–nail puncture surrounded by purple and green bruise– that I feel should be saved for posterity somehow…

  11. You are officially a badass, rockstar. I bought my house 3 years ago by myself. It was not as bad as yours but it was 85 years old and need a lot of work. I know you are sore and injured, but I hope you also feel proud of yourself and a huge level of accomplishment for all that you have done, especially because you concurred it by yourself. If ever things feel too much, look at all that you have accomplished and think of those you have inspired.

    1. Thanks Emily! Taking care of and fixing a 5 or 85 year old house is nothing to sneeze at… no matter who you are or how much help you have. I feel lucky because I actually like doing the work, and have all of you to share it with!

  12. Will you PLEASE take a nap now? You’re one amazing lady. I’m pretty sure you inspired me to go ahead and knock a hole in the kitchen wall to see if the septic pipe was really where we thought it would be and how hard it would be to move it, while the more cautious hubs was in bed with the flu earlier this week. That’s what I’m going to tell him anyway – it’s all Kit’s fault. She’s bad ass so I can be bad ass too! And then I’ll run…. 😉

    1. I keep trying to take a nap Deb (or even just sleep in) but my brain isn’t having it, so I’m just going to keep plowing forward for as long as I can! (Good job on knocking that hole in the wall too, you can always blame a DIY mess on me!)

  13. Love your blog and you are giving me the courage and inspiration to tackle a few long overdue DIY projects at my house!

  14. I just spent the last 4 or 5 days reading your entire blog – WOW! Funny, back in the early ’70’s I told my husband he could do all my Christmas shopping at True Value…
    I have had a slow emptying lav in the powder room for several years that drove me bat-sh*t crazy. Friday I read your old post about the same thing and yesterday finally fixed it. Mine was an easy fix, only the area between the stopper & before the trap needed to have 20 yrs of slime removed, everything else was fine. I did go to True Value to look at a snake, the store owner told me to test the draining first – removing the slime may have fixed the problem. He was correct and it was a FREE fix. Thank you for that post.

    1. I love it! If nothing else, taking pictures of my drain slime was worth it if you got a free fix out of it… this is why we (over)share! Hope you enjoyed the DIYdiva archives– I can’t read some of the older stuff without cringing, myself, but a story is a story!

      1. I have to say, I was also inspired to tackle the slow drain in the bathroom sink, thanks to that really gnarly photo. Thankfully, mine wasn’t that gross. Drain goo is one of the most nastiest substances on earth!

  15. I’ll just add an amen. I feel the same way at the end of some of that stuff. The toughest physically was reroofing a large part of our home. A contractor friend and I did it over 5 days (we had to repair some flashing, etc.) At the end of the fifth day we were both so sore we could hardly move. But it was the most satisfying end-of-project I ever had.

  16. I feel so damn guilty that I couldn’t even trim our privet hedges today….shame, I feel nothing but shame….hanging my head very low….:o)

    Kit you are awesome and can I borrow a 1/16 of that energy you have…

  17. No guilt, it happens to me all the time too. In fact, from the time I bought the house until about mid-May it was a struggle to just get one room painted. (In fact, that’s still not done.) It has taken a lot of years for me to embrace the fact that project-energy is cyclical. Sometimes I can work morning to night on dozens of projects, and sometimes I can spend three days straight “working on the house” and not get anything done.

    Right now I don’t have much of a life outside the house. I try to get out and see friends every once in a while, but for the most part it’s me and the cat, and this is all we do. No TV, no movies, no cooking, no cleaning. I eat baby carrots and trail mix, work on the house, and sleep. It’s not a normal existence, and at some point the rest of my life will try to push back and I’ll have to re-prioritize. I mean, eventually I’m going to run out of clean underwear…

  18. I am in awe of your guts and strength. You are doing what I wish I had the guts to do 30 years ago. I am doing it now, at 56 years old. Building and living in a house. Collecting tools, electric and battery op both, making plans, seeing my finished place in my mind. Feeling at home. Keep up the fantastic work, and don’t give up!

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