It’s Not Easy

I cannot even begin to tell you how may door installations at our house have ended with one of us trying to dislodge the others eyeball with a shim. Luckily, in most cases said door is between us, which minimizes the amount of time we actually spend in the emergency room.

Ok, and maybe once I gave MysteryMan the “what-for” (as my grandpa calls it) while shouting across the front lawn and carrying a pickaxe, but on the flip side this dude sometimes tells me I’m going to hurt myself using the sledgehammer/axe/hand-saw just to see if he can get my head to physically rocket off my shoulders and into the lower atmosphere.

These are the joys of building a house together.

A fellow houseblogger recently wrote about keeping it real about home renovation projects:

Renovating a home is hard, the cheerful ease I see on the home reno blogs that I follow can’t be constant, and I need to cease comparing our project to others. We can’t be alone. Other folks have fights. Other folks have a hard time making decisions together that satisfy both partners needs/desires. Other folks are broke sometimes. Perhaps by laying it out here, our normal can be a comfort to you, if you’ve got a project.

I wholeheartedly agree. If even one couple gets through a renovation with all the smileys and exclamation points we see on the internet, I’d be shocked.

But this is the Internet and so I’d guess most of us are cautious about what we say. We gloss over the tears, the pickaxe wielding rages, the shredded design magazines, and that time our significant other coshed us over the head with the building plans.


And in the interest of keeping it real, I’ll tell you all this: not one part of our project has been completed with anything that could be described as “cheerful ease.” We consider it a successful day if we hover in a constant state of snarkiness that doesn’t degenerate into outright animosity. Or attempted murder.

Here are a few of the hard truths I’ve learned about renovating or building a house with your significant other.

Truth #1: Everyone has their strengths. (Which are sometimes annoying as hell.)

Maybe you don’t know this about me, but I once rigged a chain up to a tractor with a screwdriver and zip-tie to pull out some fenceposts. I build things on the fly, which is to say I sketch up rough plans, get the first piece set, and then measure from there.

Maybe you don’t know this about Mystery Man, but he’s an engineer. An Actual Professional one. He once drew plans for and pre-fabbed an entire donkey barn in our garage, then took it outside and nailed it all together. And it was square.

My strengths are jumping in and getting things moving. I can see how the thing will look at the end of it, and while I know there will be obstacles, I also know there’s nothing I can’t overcome (or figure a way around with some zip-ties). MysteryMan, on the other hand, has patience and a way of figuring out and planning for every possible contingency. There’s never any “oh shit, we forgot to leave space for this, or cut a hole for that” with that man.

And when you get down to the nitty-gritty those things usually translate into “Good god woman, could you finish one project before you start three more?!” and “Can’t?! We can’t do that? I’ll give you can’t right after I give you a concussion with this hammer.”

Both of us being rather uncommunicative and mostly exhausted all of the time means that we don’t often step back, look at what the other has done, and give them a pat on the back for it. I think the lesson in this for us has been: It’s totally okay to harp on each other about our differences, as long as we praise each other for our strengths in equal measure.

Truth # 2: At some point, you’re going to want out.

Here’s the thing. Everyone talks about “loving each other through good and bad, thick and thin” and blah, blah, blah. No one said anything about tearing your entire life upside-down and re-drywalling it.

Listen, we’re both very smart, strong, capable people on our own, but– I’m just going to say this thing because it’s true– we’re not exactly a great team. I mean, we do have our “stronger together” moments (I’ll always be grateful for this one in particular), but for the most part our work-styles are, ah, less than compatible for a project of this size.

We’re too much alike in wanting to think through the projects, but we never end up with the same plan. So one of us is usually left holding the little side of the tape measure, while the other one gets to have all the fun.

We also have different ways of approaching things (i.e. one of us thinks of all the reasons something can’t be done, and one of us thinks of all the reasons why it can) and it drives us both to drink sometimes.

And sometimes, sometimes, I’ve thought –and okay, shouted while wielding a particularly large pickaxe– that it would just be easier to build this house alone. Just as MysteryMan has considered tying me up and locking me in the basement for the next 6 months so I can’t start any new projects until this one is done.

But then who would tile the bathroom???

The point is, separately there are a lot of parts of a project of any scale that would be easier to do alone. No one to compromise with on wall colors, no one to tell you you can’t have a disposal in the kitchen sink, no one to keep stealing your tools and leaving them strewn about the house along with her 562 ongoing projects. But… but, there’d be no one to help you with the heavy lifting, or to call the lumber yard and yell at them for you, or to discuss the mysteries of brick ovens with.

That’s the point we come back to when the tools stop flying and the red haze clears from our vision: You drive me crazy, but I couldn’t do it without you. Probably.

Truth #3: The grass is only greener over there because it’s well fertilized. (Read: Bullshit.)

I’ll admit to sometimes looking at the way other people’s projects go and comparing ours to theirs. The projects that are all “look, we turned our spare room into a beach cottage with $23 and stuff we found in the attic” and I’m just trying not to trip over the cats, computer cords, and laundry, much less turn our place into a room to envy.

Or, so-and-so are having so much fun working on their reno together and we have to have to work on separate parts of the house to stay sane!

Life– particularly when tearing your house apart– is not a fairy tale, romance novel, or story from someone else’s website.  It’s not easy. And sometimes it’s not fun. But it is what it is– you get into it, you learn to work with the person you’ve chosen to be part of your life, and sometimes you have to dodge a screwdriver or two, just to keep things interesting.

As far as I can tell, that’s the real truth about doing it together.

17 Responses

    1. I know right. These rules also apply to every-day living. Not that I remember what that is like (aren’t there a lot of rainbows and cupcakes there?)

  1. After 30 years of marriage, four old houses, two children and literally thousands of large and small projects intertwined throughout our lives the hubby and I have learned the best laid plans of mice and (wo)men oft times go awry.

    And its best if you recognize and admit you each have strengths and weaknesses and these things are to be accepted, laughed at/with and enjoyed for what they are; individual pieces of each of you and those pieces together make you both whole.

    Sounds all mushy and shit I know, but after 30 years of gutting, rebuilding, tearing down, building new, financing and arguing endlessly about plans, designs, decisions and the damn drawings my resident engineer does…. Well, you have to love the other person to stick with them through all of this. Or you are both certifiably crazy. I’m not sure which yet.

  2. I have stumbled onto your blog and have fallen in love with it. I check it everyday to get a exciting glimpse of your adventures. I love your frankness and the style in which you post. I wish you all the success in the world and look forward to reading about your home renovations or should i say home reinvention.

  3. Amen, Sister! I get serious blog envy. Everyone has fancypants cameras and actually knows how to take decent pictures, and actually FINISHES projects, and here I am with my little P&S strategically cutting unfinished bits out of the photos. But they’re still all too addicting to give them up… ahh.

  4. Back when we were still in the thinking stages of “is it nuts to design and build an addition yourself?”, a book I read on building your own house said there was a higher than normal divorce rate amongst couples building a house together or even doing a major remodel. We survived, nay, prospered, through ours, but we went into it with that in mind. (We just celebrated 10 years in June, but the addition started back at 5 years.)

  5. I love this post. Because it’s so true. Here I was thinking about how every single project we’ve done, be it tiling a kitchen countertop or even just hanging up a window shade together, we’ve argued and/or fought about how, why and when it should be done. Of course, none of that gets put on the blog – I doubt readers would enjoy reading about how he insisted on making another hole in my newly-painted window trim and how I was so intent on not letting that happen that I nearly made him fall off the ladder. No matter how big or small, every project we’ve tackled has resulted in a disagreement of some kind. Usually when he exclaims that something can’t be done and I insist that YES, it can because I’ll make it work!

    But anyways, thanks for keepin’ it real. It’s nice to know we’re not the only Dysfunctional DIY Duo out there.


    1. Seriously this “Usually when he exclaims that something can’t be done and I insist that YES, it can because I’ll make it work!” describes almost every fight that occurs at our place.

  6. I so needed this today. It puts a lot of thing into perspective. We’re in the middle of strong arming the insane roofer who broke our house to actually….fix it. A novel concept. After the roofer left this morning, my fiance’ and I got in a HUGE screaming match about what the other deemed “acceptable” repairs. Later on, I truly got even more pissed off reading other house blogs because it seems that other bloggers a)didn’t have this problem and b)were always so happy and in love and didn’t seem to be bothered when they hit bumps in the road. It’s refreshing to know that not everyone gets along when doing it yourself. In fact, it makes me feel like we might be normal.

    Yes, we may not have great projects, we may not have cool stories or invigorating progress posts. But we’ve done it together and it’s helped us learn alot about ourselves and how we work together as a couple (not very well…apparently). Despite it all, we’re still getting married in two months (we started this project as a dating couple…what the hell were we thinking) and we haven’t burned the house down. Win Win situation.

    Thank you!

    1. I just read about your roofer and ho-ly crap would my head be on fire. And high-five to another unmarried couple taking on a house renovation together! (And glad that you’ll end up being a happily married couple when it’s all said and done.)

  7. You just described my gas/brake theory of relationships. In my marriage, I’m the gas peddle (measure once, cut twice is my motto), my wife the brakes (daughter and sister of engineer brains – I think her ideal job would be to draw the Ikea assembly instructions). Sounds like you guys are like that, only switched around. In the end though, you can’t drive a car without both.

    Just introduced to your blog – it’s a good read. We’re remodeling a 100 year old farm house in West Virginia on the weekends, while grinding it out in DC during the week. This kind of mental health tip is as useful as the actual how-to sections you put up. Thanks for taking the time to write about it all.

  8. I absolutely loved this blog!! It’s so true and yet very entertaining to read. Despite what you think – I think you’re just what he needs and that the two of you make a great team.

    1. Thanks Dawn. We do get by okay, and your brother is a tough guy so I can’t beat him up too bad! I know I couldn’t actually do this with anyone but him (and totally vice versa) but we still drive each other a *little* crazy sometimes.

  9. Kit,

    I enjoy hell out of your blog, as I indicated in the “round-up” I posted a few days ago. I enjoyed meeting you in Indianapolis, along with the other bloggers. My wife and I are probably just as crazy as you, but it’s a different kind of crazy, I guess! For one thing, no flying shims are involved! But with your piss and vinegar, you’re certain to end up with a glorious house remodeling!

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I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.