DIY Fail and Guilt

We moved three months ago, and we're still not settled. While this house isn't in the desperate straights as the first house that we bought, it still needs lots of work. The previous owners last decorated their home in the early 80s, so the shrubbery is overgrown, the walls are covered in country wallpaper, and the light fixtures are dusty and dated. 

When we moved in, Steve and I figured that we could do much of this work on our own. We like feeling self-sufficient. We also like saving money. So, even though the house is surrounded by towering oak trees, Steve spent his weekends raking leaves, rather than hiring a landscaper. I pulled out the old junk left in the basement and painted the walls with waterproof paint. I painted the living room. Steve changed out some old light fixtures.

DSC_0002Last week, I started pulling down the orange starred wallpaper off the dining room walls. After three evenings, I stripped about three feet of paper. The stuff was stuck on with super glue. And under the wallpaper, I found bumpy walls. Someone had put primer over old wallpaper glue. The walls needed to be skim coated with plaster. Sigh. Skim coating is outside of my pay grade. I called in Eddie the painter. 

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So, Eddie and his guys are doing the dirty work for us. For four days, they've stripped and painted the dining room, the kitchen, the TV room, and the entrance way. This job would have taken us a year to do on our own, and it wouldn't have looked so good. I keep sneaking upstairs to take pictures of the before and after. (That purple in the dining room is primer. Today, they should paint the upper walls a light grey.)

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As happy as we are with their work, we still feel a little guilty. Yes, we're saving time. Time that can be used to play with the kids and pitch article stories. And we can afford this. But we still feel spoiled. 

Down the block from us, a huge mansion is being built. Someone bought a house for $700,000 and then knocked it down to build a house the size of a small town. Every morning, twenty trucks are parked out in front to install the plumbing, granite counter tops, decorative woodwork, in-ground pool. They've been working six days a week, since we moved in at the end of August, and they are still not finished. 

Painting four rooms is not in the same league as the mansion project, but living in such close proximity to extreme wealth is frightening. We're the people who used to live in a cockroach covered apartment with a four floor walkup. That year when I owned one pair of shoes. We're struggling to remain ourselves with our DIY projects amidst all this insanity.

Because of the weird turn of the market, we were able to buy a wallpapered house on a block filled with the 1%, and we're still not at peace with it. So, I find myself googling directions on how to remove polyurethane from slate floors without hiring a contractor. 

17 thoughts on “DIY Fail and Guilt

  1. “So, even though the house is surrounded by towering oak trees, Steve spent his weekends raking leaves, rather than hiring a landscaper.”
    The internet tells me that each oak tree drops about 60 pounds of leaves a year.
    We have about a half dozen trees surrounding our rental house. I try to pay for one professional leaf-clearing per fall, because the leaf poundage is prohibitive (an added wrinkle is that a few are live oaks that lose their leaves in the spring, so we have two seasons of tree garbage). Leaf-blowers/leaf-vacuums are also nice.
    “Because of the weird turn of the market, we were able to buy a wallpapered house on a block filled with the 1%, and we’re still not at peace with it.”
    If it makes you feel better, you probably vote the same way.

  2. Right before we sold our house, we brought in contractors for the first time. It wasn’t ridiculously expensive, and saved SO much time. Plus it was done right. There is some stuff that can be done DIY, but not everything. I think it’s worth the money.
    And the people who tore down a house to build a McMansion? They make me sad. Why not just build to begin with?
    Also, when I looked in my feed reader, I thought you had painted the room orange and red- I loved it! I thought, wow, Laura has more guts and style than I do.
    I’m sure the gray will look great too, though.🙂

  3. As happy as we are with their work, we still feel a little guilty. Yes, we’re saving time. Time that can be used to play with the kids and pitch article stories. And we can afford this. But we still feel spoiled.
    We always go with “We’re stimulating the economy!” to avoid guilt. That doesn’t work for you?

  4. “Also, when I looked in my feed reader, I thought you had painted the room orange and red- I loved it!”
    I had the same thought! For projects that require specific tools I find it’s almost always better to hire someone. We have a pretty good but standard shop set-up but nothing like what you would need to remove wallpaper in a timely manner.

  5. “Also, when I looked in my feed reader, I thought you had painted the room orange and red- I loved it! I thought, wow, Laura has more guts and style than I do.”
    I had the same reaction–I thought it was the after, not the before. I wouldn’t want to live with those colors myself, either, though.
    Dining rooms are tough, color-wise. The red dining room is really overdone (and beginning to look dated), but it does bring warmth and will make your food and friends look better. I have no idea what color is an acceptable alternative to red for dining rooms. A moderate yellow?

  6. Orange? No no no no. Not for a red head. We would blend into the walls.
    Amy is right about red dining rooms. I saw so many red dining rooms when we were house shopping. It’s so 90s.

  7. “Not for a red head.”
    Well, that is an almost insoluble problem. You may wind up painting a couple times before you get it right.
    I wonder if a warm charcoal gray would look nice. Or a forest green (if you can stand how your food will look). Or even an apple green.

  8. This seems like a good time to bring up the Frost poem about chopping wood:
    “As that I had no right to play
    With what was another man’s work for gain.
    My right might be love but theirs was need.
    And where the two exist in twain
    Theirs was the better right–agreed.”
    That absolves me of all guilt when I hire people to do things for me, as long as I’m willing to pay them a living wage. I recently had someone hang a tapestry for us (and, yes all of you would laugh at me for having done it). But, I decided I was employing someone who needed the work (even though it was something I should be able to do for myself). And, as an added bonus, when he was at the house, to do the task I should have been able to do, he quickly and efficiently fashioned hanging hardware for a 100 pound antique mirror that I had been too afraid to hang for 2+ years.
    The wallpaper was clearly a job worth paying for. I suspect the oak trees are, too, though maybe not every week during leaf falling season.

  9. Ha, we had a red dining room in our old house! In our defense, it also had a faux-tin ceiling and trim painted a glossy white, and it looked really great.
    Removing wallpaper from old plaster is not for the fainthearted. Our “new” house just entered its second century and is almost entirely wallpapered (even the ceilings!) so we just painted right over the layers of paint that were already there. We were warned by contractors that the odds were high that removing the wallpaper would also remove a lot of the old plaster, and that was just beyond our budget. Sigh.

  10. I also quite liked the orange and red (though I don’t like wallpaper, as a rule, I couldn’t tell it was wall paper). I suspect, though, that Laura scored a lucky photo there, with the light streaming in, and the warmth of the floors. And, of course, the redhead is a bar to those colors. You’d never want to fade in (or loose the fabulous red hair).

  11. The one good thing about red, and most dark colors, is that it hides scuffs better. Our main living and dining area is a shade of off-white and it looks awful after four years of having children playing and eating there. Maybe it gets better with older kids? (Tell me it gets better!).
    My problem with the white rooms you posted a few weeks back is that they feel too much like a museum, like it wouldn’t be comfortable to live there. And I literally mean it would be like a museum because if we lived in a place with that much white I’d constantly be running around shrieking “don’t touch that!”

  12. “Our main living and dining area is a shade of off-white and it looks awful after four years of having children playing and eating there.”
    I hear you. I’m not sure about color yet, but the dining room in my next house is going to have paint that you can just sponge marks off. And positively no carpet.

  13. When we moved in, our dining room was two shades of pink. Dusty rose and pepto-bismol pink. We have a purple/gray rug under our dining room table. It proved that color can trigger queasiness.
    Living on the same block with the 1% can present income opportunities. Do your boys like animals? A local pet-sitting service can clean up if your neighbors have pets and like to travel. Also, hedge funders and the like get very sentimental at the sight of budding entrepreneurs, such as lemonade stands.

  14. “Our main living and dining area is a shade of off-white and it looks awful after four years of having children playing and eating there. Maybe it gets better with older kids? (Tell me it gets better!).”
    I don’t think it really gets better: teenagers (at least girls) don’t run and bang into the walls the way young children do, but they are (i) incapable of standing up, they have to lean against the wall and (ii) incapable of turning a corner without clutching the corner of the wall for support. So the baseboards are a little better off, but the walls and especially the doorframes are dirty from 3 to 6 feet off the ground.

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