Home Project Good Litmus Test for Relationship
I’ve always had a thing for staircases. Maybe it rises from the fun we had as children stealing up the steps for a game of hide-and-seek or the thrill of breaking house rules sliding down the stairs against our mother’s wishes. The stairway is a portal to another place, a kind of gateway to fantasy. Give a child a few steps, an old spread, a yardstick and a couple of upturned stools, and you have a sailing ship venturing to another land. Give me a purring cat, a hooked rug and the sun cascading onto a soft landing, and I’m suddenly transported to a peaceful world.
Recently, we ventured into building a stairway together. OK, I use the word “together” loosely. I dreamt up finials and fanciful flights of twists and turns with whimsical bannisters, and Steve patiently created a fitting design that works for our small space, then proceeded to build it. We picked out the materials together, and Steve had the final say on what wood made the most sense.
I wanted to drag half a tree out of the woods and use it as an artsy bannister. Steve talked me into a suitable oak we found at Home Depot.
I wanted a secret hiding spot for the grandkids under the first two steps, I was sure there was enough room until he reminded me of the headroom needed under the stairs to get down to the cellar. I am promised a kids’ cave to be dedicated to those stairs when we get to that project.
We chose garden-rose white by Behr for the balusters and stair kickers, and Steve matched the English chestnut stain to our floors for the railing and treads of tiger and Birdseye maple.
I’m good with handheld sandpaper, sweeping up the sawdust and painting. He likes to stain. We move through the project by drinking lots of coffee in the morning and looking forward to episodes of “Mad Men” in the evening. (I note here that my bannister and the one in Betty Draper’s foyer are nothing alike.)
It’s true, we’ve had differences of opinions here and there on the scope and time, materials and design, all of which we’ve managed to compromise on, thankfully. But I’ll admit we have gotten on each other’s nerves more than a bit from time to time, even though we know that taking on a project like building a staircase is temporary. I’ve learned to trust Steve’s expertise, and he’s learned that I have to maintain a sense of control, so he puts up with the sound of the vacuum over Pandora intermittently.
Taking on a home project has not been as bad as some couples I’ve read about make it seem, those who’ve stepped into therapy or found themselves splitting up or filing for divorce. A DIY enterprise can be the litmus test for the strength of your relationship, and understanding at the outset that emotions can run high when it comes to how we want our dwellings to look and feel and function can help couples to enter into the domain of a project without abandoning hope.
Here’s what you can do to keep yourselves from climbing the walls during your do-it-yourselves project.
1. Plan ahead. Realize that there will be basic challenges you will both have to face. Understand that there will be a disruption in regular routine. Know that the process takes time, is often messy, and can be open to changes if the project requires it. This last point is crucial.
2. Share responsibility. Decide who will have the weight of final say in decision-making. In our case, Steve gets the majority vote, even if it’s by 1 percent. He is doing the bulk of the work and has more expertise than I do. I am willing to defer, and at the same time, I tear out lots of pages from lots of magazines highlighting the designs I am drawn to.
3. Keep a sense of humor. When there is a disagreement on color, or if someone spills a new can of paint on the driveway, like I happened to do after a trip to the hardware store when I opened the car door, don’t play the blame game. Laugh about it and clean it up together. Know there will be mishaps along the way, make room for error, chalk up your little losses to experience.
4. Dedicate funds. Agree on how much you are willing to spend before you set out. Thinking this part through will save on the headache of unwanted or unexpected surprises later on.
5. Remember it’s temporary. Focus on taking the project step by step; that might mean one day at a time or one month at a time. Either way, take a deep breath and prepare to roll up your sleeves in the beginning and keep looking ahead to the final success of your efforts after completion.
6. Consider the other’s needs. I like to have my living space orderly, and Steve doesn’t mind the clutter. I know he needs the area around the stair project cleared away, so I arrange the chairs in a temporary sitting area in another part of the house instead of stacking them in a nearby corner. We’re both happy this way.
7. Take a break once in a while. It’s important to keep yourself from becoming so engrossed that you obsess and become stressed to the max over your project. Rest can mean stepping away from it to get a bite to eat, getting some fresh air or approaching your project again the next day. Putting the project aside from time to time will recharge your body, mind and spirit. Do something you enjoy. Go for a hike. Have dinner with friends. Spend time with people you love.
8. Document as you go. Save invoices, designs, paint and stain colors, wood selections and vendors you use. You may have to call on that information for future purposes, such as making repairs or if you plan on selling.
9. Take lots of pictures and video. Share your progress with friends and family. It’s fun both to look back on the beginning steps and to be spurred on for the next phase of the project. A visual archive helps to keep the larger scope of your progress in perspective and serves as a memory keeper.
10. Once the project is done, celebrate. Step back and laugh at the glitches, pat yourselves on the back for having survived a test of your temperament and respect for each other, and marvel at an industrious undertaking you completed together.
Taking on a home project together can be exciting as well as challenging, for obvious reasons. So remember to take it one step at a time. Eventually, you’ll get to where you want to go.
Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, writes about writing, learning and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bonniejtoomey . Learn more at www.parentforward. blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com .