Unsolicited Advice: The “OK I’m pissed so I’m going to DIY” Edition

Over the weekend I received email with what may be the best subject line ever to ever come through my inbox…


Makes my little heart go pitty pat. Not because I want anyone to be pissed, mind you, but holy hell do I love that my life is one in which a person would send me this email.

I don’t know Melissa, but I know her story well. It’s my story too. It’s probably the story of a lot of people out there who felt at one point in time like they “couldn’t”–didn’t know enough, weren’t strong enough, didn’t have enough experience– but we’re just effing sick of feeling taken advantage of and not in control of problems that arose in their house.

In my experience the way to solve for this is to hit something with a hammer… either thing that’s broken, or the handyman who is screwing you over. (Protip: Choosing DIY over assault means less time in jail.)

So, I asked Melissa if I could share an excerpt from her email, and this is what she had to say:

I’m thinking I need more tools and more know-how. I’m so sick of relying on other people. So anyway when I spoke to my handyman on the phone on Thursday, he chose this morning at 9am to come by and do stuff from the list–but he didn’t show, and instead calls me at 10:30am and says he can’t come by! I have everything moved out of the way and ready for him to just BOOP BOOP BOOP and be done and get his money and leave.

Anyway so yeah so then I call someone else around noon-ish and they are on a job all day but will come by after work to assess. Long story short he and his partner give me a FREAKIN $300 estimate. I could do this stuff if I could only figure it out.

We’ve all been here at some point or another, right? With a long-ass list of things we’ve never done before staring us right in the face, telling us we can’t do it. And figuring out where to start is the hardest part, so let me give anyone who has ever been in this position a little unsolicited advice… here’s where you start: Believe in yourself.

This shit isn’t going to be easy, and I’m not going to tell you it will be. You’ll have to figure things out. You’ll get frustrated. Things will take longer than you thought… this is all a part of doing something you’ve never done before. Any time I start a “new” project, I hit a point at least once where I’m like, “Eff it, I can’t do this.” Then I walk away, calm down, and assess the “can’t”. Is it something I don’t understand? Is it something I think should be working but isn’t? Is it something I feel physically incapable of?

Feeling like you can’t do something throws up a big roadblock in front of all the things you know you actually can do. It takes practice to go from “I can’t lift this, I need someone to do it for me.” to “I can’t lift this, but I can slide a piece of cardboard under it and push it across the house.” (I’m looking at you, disproportionately heavy leather couch.) But once you get in that mindset, you can do anything.

So, that’s what I have to say about that. And this is what I have to say about some of the items on Melissa’s list of things to DIY… every project is different and I don’t have much to go off of, but these are some general steps I would take to get started on these projects.

Remove microwave (I’m assuming this is a microwave mounted above a stove or in a wall cabinet)

Recommended tools: Drill, voltmeter (for checking electric), wire snips, wire nuts, various screwdrivers

What I’d do:

    1. Start by googling the make and model of your microwave. There’s a good chance you can find the installation manual online which is a big help in determining if there are any panels, etc. that you need to remove to get access to what is holding it in place. Here’s an example that shows the basics:
    2. Shut off electric to the microwave at the breaker box (should be easy to tell when it’s off because the clock will go off).
    3. Start examining around the microwave for screws that look like they are bolting it too the wall– before you start removing them, you may want to brace the bottom of the microwave (if it’s floating) so that it doesn’t drop when you take them out. I’d stack up boxes or something within an inch or two of the bottom.
    4. Once you get it off the wall, there will be some kind of electrical connection. If you’re lucky there will be an outlet behind it and the microwave will just be plugged in. If it’s hardwired, the connection should be made with wire nuts that can be unscrewed to separate wires (you may have to cut wires… but this would be a last resort. If so, test them with the voltmeter before you snip.) Cap any exposed live wires with wire nuts before turning power back on. (If the microwave is on it’s own breaker and you’re not putting anything else there for the time being, I’d just leave it off.)
Check Dryer Hoses
Figuring out how to reach a dryer vent is one of the great mysteries in the world. I usually wiggle the thing about a foot out from the wall, then contort myself into some advanced yoga position that allows half my body to wedge behind the dryer and just barely touch the vent with the tips of my fingers. Then I have to order up a crane to come haul me out.
Recommended tools: Flashlight, screwdrivers, long dryer vent brush (like this)
What I’d Do:
  1. Use all of your muscles and persuasive abilities to coax the dryer out from the wall. (Also, slipping cardboard under the feet sometimes helps.)
  2. Most vents are held on by pipe clamps that you either loosen by pinching the tabs of the clamp, or (if its the kind that has a screw) turning the screw counter-clockwise) Here are the the types of clamps I’ve seen most often:
  3. Once the vent is detached, use the vent brush (it’s bendy) to clean any lint out of the vent or the back of the dryer
  4. Reattach. (You will have at least one panic attack because you think you’re actually physically stuck upside-down behind the dryer at this point, followed by a surge of adrenaline and the ability to defy the laws of physics and heave yourself out. Not that I would know anything about that.)

Switch Showerheads

Recommended tools: Adjustable wrench (with some cardboard or paper towel to keep from scratching fixture), tefflon tape, possibly some liquid wrench if the existing showerhead sticks.
What I’d do:
  1. Grip existing showerhead with wrench (if you’re not saving it you don’t have to worry about scracthing. Turn counterclockwise to unscrew. (You may need to spray it with a little liquid wrench, let it sit, then try it again, if it sticks) – This will be the hardest part if old showerheads are rusted on.
  2. Once it’s unscrewed you should see the elbow protruding from the wall with a threaded end. Wrap the end with teflon tape, then screw the new showerhead on and tighten with wrench (you may want to wrap it with a paper towel before clamping the wrench down so you don’t scratch it
  3. Test for leaks, tighten if needed
Resources: Check out this step-by-step guide from Home Depot for pics and a video.
Uninstall Weight-Lift Bar
Recommended tools: Drill, spackle or wood putty, spackle knife, touch up paint/stain
What I’d do:
  1. Pretty sure these babies are just screwed into a wall or door frame. Unscrew it, sand down the hole, and then spackle it it.
Install Hook for Hanging Plant
Recommended Tools: Drill, drill bits, hook, anchor (alternatively: stud finder), what you need kind of depends on where you’re installing it (ceiling, wall, inside, outside.)
What I’d do:
  1. Really the only thing you need to do is make sure you’re installing the hook in such a way that it will support the weight of whatever is hanging from it. Just screwing a hook into drywall will not acheive this, so you either need a drywall anchor, or do screw directly into a stud or other piece of wood framing. (For a hanging plant, an anchor should suffice, just don’t try swinging from the thing like Tarzan.)
  2. There are so many kinds of drywall anchors it’s crazy. I lean towards this type:
  3. They are self-drilling so you don’t need a drill bit, just stick the Philips head driver bit in the hole and screw this thing in flush with the wall/ ceiling, then screw the hook right in to it.
Install Door Knobs 
Recommended tools: Drill and various screwdrivers. Patience.
Resources: I’ve actually posted step-by-step instructions about changing out door hardware a couple of different times here’s a look at installing exterior door hardware, and an article I wrote for Bobvila.com about installing interior hardware


Install Baseboards
Recommended tools:  Miter saw (if you don’t have one and are doing a bunch of baseboard, it’s worth renting one for a day, if not you can use a hand saw and miter box, but you will hate your life), coping saw (if you want to do it right), finish nailer (again, you can rent one with a compressor, but I prefer my cordless version), tape measure
Resources: You’ve really got to see pictures to do this right, here’s a step-by-step on coping and installing baseboards. Coping seems a little tricky at first, but I’m telling you, it’s the way to go if your house isn’t square.


Melissa, you totally got this.  And now I’m going to take my own advice and go figure out how to turn this mess into an actual structurally sound chicken coop…


37 Responses

  1. Awesome post, Kit! And definitely good DIY vibes winging their way to Melissa =D – Melissa, you GOT this!

    Like Melissa, I’m still on the very first step of the “DIY expertise” ladder, but I got such a kick out of the little things that I’ve figured out how to do myself (which included installing a new showerhead, getting up on the roof to paint exterior trim, and screwing three big bookshelves to the wall, along with installing three little “art lights” over them – first time I’d used a proper drill!)

  2. Thanks for this!! I am getting fed up just like Melissa. I have been dealing with this contractor to come and finish my bathroom and kitchen. unfortunately there are some thing I can’t do like the fact that my toilet has been leaking for who knows how long and the floor has to be completely replaced (and possibly the supports too). I can however learn how to tile my own kitchen back splash it just freaks me out. Arg! I really need to get empowered.

  3. I think that just jumping into DIYing projects might be one of the more character-building experiences of my life. I started DIYing stuff for two reasons:
    1. When we bought a house my then-boyfriend/now-husband was working away from home about 9 months out of the year. So suddenly we owned a house were responsible for keeping it working and I felt bad calling my dad or my brother for help all the time and, like Melissa, got fed up with repair guys.
    2. I discovered I have champagne tastes and a beer budget. My tastes weren’t going to change so I had to find a new way to get the stuff I wanted.

    Of course I’ve had some DIY misses over the years, but you learn from those. One of the really important things you learn from screwing up is that the world doesn’t end when you do. That has led me to trying things I never would have dreamed of years ago. They aren’t big things, but stuff like spray painting brand new speakers come to mind. I didn’t know if it would work but I figured it couldn’t go that wrong.

    I’ve also had a lot of successes following a rather circuitous route. My husband shakes his head at how I do things sometimes, but it’s right in the end. This has led me to becoming a creative problem solver, to the point where my husband often says, “What do you even need me around for?” (Answer: to do the dishes and take out the garbage).

    For instance, we were taking out our cabinets last night and we had a massive upper corner cabinet that had to come down. We There was no ledger board holding it up and we didn’t want to crash the thing on our heads. The mister was all set to build some sort of complicated wood bracing system that would have taken 30 minutes to cobble together. I came up with the idea of putting a sturdy cardboard moving box under the cabinet so it would “slide” an inch or so onto the box while we each got a good hold on it. Took 20 seconds to tape a box together and worked like a charm.

    So anyway … go get ’em Melissa! You’ll be a better person for it!

  4. Now I just need to figure out how to repoint brick on that sets on an angle with half of it sticking out from the side of my house. Ugh…

    Try, try again!

  5. And I have to add, thank goodness for the advent of the internet and do-it-yourself videos. We had a leaky single-pole faucet, and I had no idea how to take it apart and fix it – but I googled it and found a video that walked through it step by step. I felt so empowered! I went out and bought the replacement cartridge and fixed it like zip-zap.

  6. I think that’s how most of us get into DIY. For me it was a horrible aesbestos abatement contractor followed by a long string of horrible HVAC people. It finally took a friend coming over and showing me how to do it. Keep at it. You’ll be amazed at how fast the knowledge (and tool collection) can grow.

  7. You can do it all, Melissa! Even if you aren’t totally believing in your abilities, there’s a ton of us here to believe enough for you 🙂 I’m pretty new to DIY and every project starts with a feeling of uneasy excitement and ends with, regardless of any bumps in the road, a fist pump in the air and dancing in the kitchen! You go!

    Excellent post, Kit! Thank you for the encouragement!

  8. The way I see it? If some Joe-Shmoe can do it, so can I. It’s not rocket science and I’m plenty smart. I’ll figure it out. Learning curve? Sure. Impossible? Certainly not. The internet & books can teach you how to do anything.

    So – basically – an overinflated sense of ability & dogged tenacity will get you wherever you want to go. Kick that self-doubt to the curb. You got this, Melissa!!!

  9. I remember when I got pissed. I paid a plumber to fix a leak and his drywall guy to fix the wall. I paid a fortune and ended up having to fix the freaking patch anyway. I realized it was cheaper for me to crew stuff up then it would be for me to pay someone else to screw stuff up. Google and I became close buds, and it all became less scary. It doesn’t always look pretty, or right while it’s getting done, but it is getting done. And my house looks better for it.

  10. Know what would be awesome? I would love if a handy-dandy lady, such as yourself, was available to come to my house and help show me how to do some of the things I don’t know anything about (ie: electrical, plumbing). Then I’d both get the project done and learn something for next time! I guess most handypeople don’t want to do that cuz then I wouldn’t call them out for the same thing again but I sure as heck would call them for different things! And I’d be willing to pay more.

    Instead, I just muddle through, Google pictures, screw up, Google some more, and then finally get it good enough. But you know what? I do better next time!!!

    I think it’s important not to fear failing and just try it (as long as it’s safe). 🙂

  11. What is needed is a hot line number to someone like you that can give us some instructions and a pep talk. I would be perfectly willing to pay for a service like that. Sometimes you just need some validation, ya know.

  12. Awsome attitude all! You can do it. Learn, start small, and be safe. You will become addicted to success and crave more complex projects.

    Great article Kit!

  13. I’m a DIYer, but I’m also a handyman in my other life so I understand both parts of this story. The handyman who didn’t show up is unfortunately a too frequent reality. I hate guys like this who give the rest of us a bad name.
    The second guys sounded like real handymen. For two guys spending the better part of a day, charging $300 sounds about right. Remember what goes into that: insurance (car, health, etc.), bonding, years of experience, thousands of dollars worth of tools, travel expenses, taxes, and all the other overhead that goes into running a functional and legitimate business.
    All the more power to Melissa on these projects and more. She’ll see soon enough what expertise she would have purchased with that $300. On the other hand, if she sticks with it she’ll have a level of expertise herself that will more than pay for itself in the long run.

  14. My breakthrough experience was replacing the roller that holds up the drum of my dryer. A field mouse had eaten the rubber off of the wheel that the drum rides on. I turned to google and you tube. Watched how to take it apart. Took the half-eaten wheel to the appliance store. Got a replacement and did it all in reverse. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I remember screaming profanities more than once (thankfully I lived out where no one could hear me). But the point is, I did it! ALL. BY. MYSELF.

    Sidenote: I actually did it twice. The *#$@& field mouse had a *%(*&# brother!

  15. Is this not how all diy’ers got started? When you become frustrated with something that you are paying to get done, but you know deep down you can do it? My dad was a carpenter/homebuilder/painter/sculpter and while he didn’t show me how to do anything, I’ve obviously inherited some of that. Not to his degree, but enough that all my friends call me when they need help or encouragement. I love that I can do this stuff, in fact I don’t get to diy enough, which makes me cranky. My 80+ year old mother who is disabled still does stuff herself. She amazes me. I love that you took the time to outline how she can start on her projects. You are amazing. I want to be you when I grow up – oh crap, I think I’m 20 years older than you. Damn. You are so lucky to be a smart young woman in the 21st century. I wish I was 20something.

    1. Me too Kathleen! Me too!

      You go Melissa! To me, this all stuff a responsible home owner should know anyway. And we all have to learn sometime!

  16. Great advise! Melissa you can do anything you put your mind too! Handyman magazine and website is very helpful as is This old house. I always figure what the worst think to happen. Just do it! but be careful it becomes addictive and you will love that!

  17. This is awesome. Doing my own building/repairs has been ultra rewarding for me. It started with a chicken coop that I couldn’t afford to buy or have someone build. I built it out of scrap wood I salvaged from a building site. I’m just a novice but with each project I become more empowered. Awesome that you just gave a run down on some of these things Kit! You got this Melissa and all the other Melissa’s out there! Cool that as an accomplished DIYer you still make time to tutor other Kit!

  18. So here’s a question from this budding diy-er… What basic.powertools would you recommend having on hand… I’ve always borrowed stuff (and had help) from my Dad, but he’s getting older and lives 30 minutes away so it’d be nice to have some stuff on hand here. I do have a wicked nice cordless drill and all the nonpowered tools a girl could want. Just coming up with ideas for my Christmas list next year 🙂

  19. On a related note, why is it so hard to give people money? I mean, the number of times we’ve had people flake out on us is unbelievable! My husband asked a woman for the cadastre number for her lot to see if it was where he was interested in looking. She wouldn’t give it to him, wanting instead for him to drive out (where?) to meet her to see the lot that he may not want because it isn’t where he wants to be! Why waste everyone’s time? And that is only the example I can remember! Hey World, if you have something to sell, don’t give the guy who wants the thing and will fork over cash the runaround!

  20. I think I, by circumstance and a lack of ownership of power tools, am in the same situation as Melissa. My father was always very handy and so I grew up watching him and my brother fix and build things but for whatever reason, I never participated. Now that I’m in my 40’s (yikes…can’t believe I typed that OUT LOUD), I’m beginning to realize that I CAN do some of this stuff myself-I just need to make some time for it all-oh, and go power tool shopping. But thanks, Kit, for the insight and the cheerleading (for lack of a better term) for all of us newbie DIY’ers-it really helps a lot and you’ve provided so many great resources for all of us!

  21. Oh my god. I think I love you all. I have had the crappiest month imaginable and am even now sitting on a milk crate in the doorway of my gutted to the studs bathroom. Just when my “hell yes I can” megalomania attitude for remodeling was beginning to wear off, I stumble across this most wicked excellent site. You women are GODDESSES. Thank you for restoring a little faith. You Rock.


  22. Found this site looking for tile help, thanks for that btw!

    I have been battling the DIY – I am woman hear me roar – thing for about 15 years now. I have dealt with arrogant male employees at the big box home improvement stores (and auto part stores too!) and hired men who think having a penis makes them more qualified than I am. They are wrong.

    Somewhere along the line I have amassed a collection of drills, hammers, a compound miter saw, a compressor with several nail guns, an airless paint sprayer, and a multitude of hand tools. Just yesterday I installed two new windows in the front of the house by.my.self.

    You can do it Melissa! Just start somewhere and the momentum will keep you going. I do all of my own home repairs now (even though I have a husband) including electrical/plumbing and have been known to tackle automotive repairs as well. It can be done and done well with your own two hands!

  23. Discovering that I am not alone in being a strong minded woman who can and will tackle almost any project, love every minute of it, and make some pretty amazing stuff ALL BY MYSELF is the greatest thing I ever learned on this Internet thing.

    I have just discovered you, Kit, got my partner hooked on your blog as well, and am finding endless inspiration, affirmation and joy in all your adventures!

    Thanx. 🙂

  24. You realize you’re putting Handymen all around the country out of work, right?

    Rock on!

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