113. If it’s Worth Doing; or, A Treatise on fixing other people’s mistakes

The DIY era is generally considered a good thing, right? In this age of instant how-to information, anyone can do anything.

And lately I’ve been wondering if that is a good thing.

I’ve had lots of time to think on this. In fixing up two old houses, Mr. H. C. and I have also been fixing other peoples mistakes. And all the time I’m thinking, ‘If you couldn’t do it right, you should have called a professional!’

The running joke at the cottage is that it was wired by Joe’s Electric. And we laugh and say its a good thing Joe was Mr. H. C.’s dad, otherwise he would come in for a lot of criticism.

Here at the city house we aren’t related to the painting crew that was here before we bought the house; consequently, the former owner has definitely been criticized. Several times. The painting crew must have been made up of ten year olds — nothing against ten year olds — and much of the other work done on the house was slipshod as well. But since I’m doing the painting, that’s what I’m noticing.

Whoever painted the basement took a giant brush and five gallons of gray latex basement paint and slopped it over everything. Door knobs. Door hinges. Metal floor drains. Electrical outlets and the covers. The lock and chain on the door. Not to mention the concrete floor.

There are slops, drips, and globs everywhere. Bristles from the brush left in the dried paint. Corners of trim left unpainted because it was, well, hard. And suddenly, it is my issue. If I just paint over the mess, now I’ve become the sloppy painter that I’m criticizing. And frankly? I don’t want the next owner complaining about me and my workmanship.

  • Any DIY-er knows to take off door hardware when the door is painted. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows to never use latex paint on metal. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows not to use oil-based paint on top of something already painted in latex. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows to take stray bristles out of the wet paint before it dries. Don’t they?

This is what worries me. What if the DIY trend is just acceptable mediocrity under the guise of pride in accomplishment?

I’m a DIY-er from way back — I helped build my first house starting in 1978, before the first Home Depot even opened its doors — so I’m including myself in this. In the interest of saving money, or pride in accomplishment, or whatever else drives us to do it ourselves, are we accepting a lesser quality than hiring someone who knows how to do it really well?

A few weeks back a blogger posted a photo of a coffee table she had painted. It looked lovely, though the photo was taken outside and there were shadows on the table. A professional furniture painter commented (very rudely) that regular people should not take on projects they can’t do.

Rudeness and Inappropriateness aside, I get what he meant. He is a professional who has honed his skill for many years and is trying to make money at it. And here come the amateurs saying Hey. We can do that! Let’s just buy some chalk paint. Or better yet, let’s make our own…

My chalk-painted chairs, $5 each from St. Vinnie's, and painted with DIY chalk paint.

My chalk-painted chairs, $5 each from St. Vinnie’s, and painted with DIY chalk paint.

I’ve done it. In fact, I do it all the time. Why should I pay someone else money when I might be able to do it?

Do you think it might be part of our national character? After all, most all Americans came here from somewhere else because someone we’re related to thought they could do better themselves.

But I digress.

As a recovering perfectionist (and married to one who is not yet recovered) I suggest that if a thing is worth doing yourself, it’s worth doing well.

Mr. H. C. is a professional who has been called in many times to rescue homeowners who got in over their heads. And I think it’s great that they had the humility to admit they couldn’t do it. I wish the former owner of our city house had called in some professionals.

When Mr. H. C. considers doing something sub-standard, he usually says, “No, it’s against my morals to do that.” I always usually smile when he says that, because, really? That’s the way everyone should work all the time. No matter what you are being paid, no matter who you are doing the work for, no matter how much (or how little) time you have to do the project. It should be “against our morals” to do sub-standard or sloppy or careless work.

If not for yourself, at least for the people who come after you, who have to fix your mistakes…

18 thoughts on “113. If it’s Worth Doing; or, A Treatise on fixing other people’s mistakes

  1. My husband and I are DIYers. He’s more of a perfectionist than me, but over the years I’ve learned the value of stopping and addressing little issues as they arise when remodeling. A couple little problems can quickly add up to a big mess.


  2. Good thoughts. I don’t leave bristles in paint but I did paint a metal door with latex. Oops :)


    • And I painted over those hinges! :-)

      Really I think it’s partly the paint industry that tries to make us think we can paint anything with latex. (I won’t bring up government regulations …)


  3. This is why I dont DIY…because I can’t stand half Ass. I would rather hire someone to do it, probably even more than buy something new and/or mass produced. And there is something so inherently American in craft and trade.


  4. My Dad was a carpenter, & I was raised in a house with cedar (Ahhhhh…..) closets, so now when my policeman hubby paints the lanai screen, & leaves drip marks everywhere…well, my Dad must be appalled up in Heaven!!!


  5. Hi! I’ve missed being active in the blog world lately. As always, your blog is a treat. I guess I’ve missed out on your homeschool books, and I’m so sorry about that! Time just got away from me. I would still love to see you some time. :)


    • Yes, where did the summer go? We are moving sometime within the next couple of weeks, so we
      will be even closer. Probably run into you at Aldi sometime! Give your oldest one a hug for me (Your family has grown since we last saw each other!!!)


  6. Good thoughts! I have to admit painting should never be on my DIY list! I’m horrible! I know now if I want painting done right, I hire it done. Unless, like you, I find $5 chairs and just want to spruce up my bargain find! I think DIY is great but agree that when it comes to home renovation, it is often best to leave it to the experts if you don’t know what you are doing! Experiments are for crafts only ;)


  7. We’ve been into the DIY thing since before we were married (both were into it with our late spouses). It makes me glad my hubby knows how to do these things right, because of what we’ve run into in the houses we’ve bought. The one we’re in right now (thank GOD he’s a plumber!!) has had issues partly from age (built in 1957) and partly from the original owners taking shortcuts. We’re paying for those shortcuts now. groan but we love the little house. It’s worth fixing! OH – and we’ll be having a professional do the electrical! Not going there.


  8. Oooooh, the stories I could tell you about our farmhouse. Like how there was no insulation. As in: NONE AT ALL. How the former owner didn’t want to drive to town (apparently) for a PVC joint, so he BENT it. No wonder the laundry water backed up. Or the horror that is my electrical box.

    Thankfully, my husband is an INTJ perfectionist. Also thankfully, I am self-proclaimed “Queen of Goodenough”. Together, we get the job done!


      • Yes! It is my self-appointed title! I came up with it after I brought home some rolls of bamboo fencing to put up at our old house (attaching them to the existing chain link fence). I wanted a natural look. He saw them and was walking out the door to go to the hardware store. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was going to buy some 2 x 4’s to build panels for the bamboo. I said, “No, why don’t we just wire it to the chain link?”. So, we did, it looked great, (he admitted to it, as well….things don’t always have to be perfect!) and thus came my title. haha Such things happen when an artist marries a machinist….


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