The Pros and Cons of Doing It Yourself

I am, admittedly, reluctantly mechanically inclined.  My DIY career started off in a fitful, hesitant manner.  I did things (as many of us do) out of necessity (translation: save money).  I did not always enjoy working on cars, dishwashers or toilets…actually, I still don’t like toilets.

“Uuugh…”

But I work on them.  I’d rather be under one of my kids’ cars, or unclogging the dishwasher, or even up to my elbows in a toilet tank than call a professional.  I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years buying over-the-counter parts and putting them on myself.  Money can be a big motivator.  Let’s see…have a “certified pro” fix it for $500, or buy $100 worth of parts and spend an hour or two on a Saturday getting my hands a little dirty?

It’s A Nasty Job, But Somebody’s Gotta Do It

Fixing things around the house wasn’t always easy.  In fact, it didn’t really come naturally.  Oh, I could figure out what was wrong easy enough.  I could think through how things had to come apart and go back together.  But, this is the great difference between academic and hands-on knowledge.  Knowing and doing are two very different things.  I learned the hard way that, especially with cars, it rarely goes the way you expect.

Maybe you glanced through a Hayne’s repair manual you picked up at the local auto parts store.  Or you’ve watched a YouTube video.  They make it look so easy.  So you think, “ah, give me an hour and I’ll have both front brake discs and pads changed on my kid’s car.”  That, my friend, is fantasy.  In reality, an hour and a half later when you’re just getting the first side put back together, and you’re muttering to yourself, and the occasional wrench goes flying across the garage accompanied by a much louder, far more emotional outburst, you’re thinking, “what did I do wrong?  This should’ve gone so much easier than it did!”  Welcome to the world of DIY.

If you’ve only occasionally tried to fix something around the house yourself and had a bad time of it, you’re not alone.  There are those who are truly gifted with their hands.  They can knock out a repair job like nothing the first time through; they can really “spin a wrench”, as the saying goes.  Then there’s most of the rest of us.

But take heart!  Just like anything, practice makes perfect.  Not that we want stuff to break around the house so we can chalk up more training hours, but it’s a simple fact.  Unless you’re naturally talented at something, it’ll take several times before you’re really proficient at general around-the-house repair.

The Benefits of Doing It Yourself

Besides the money savings, if it takes a while to get proficient at it, why do it at all?  Most people have a budget for emergencies, or car repairs.  Plus, it’s so much nicer to have someone take care of it for you, isn’t it?

Believe it or not, there ARE tangible benefits to DIY.  For one, your problem solving improves.  It also aids creativity.  And, if you find that you like fixing things yourself, it can become a hobby and even a weekend side gig.  Not to mention, you’re learning something new and keeping active at the same time.

A former neighbor of mine is a certified Honda mechanic at a local dealership – he can really spin a wrench – and he’ll take several side jobs a month for a little extra cash.  He’ll even go to people’s homes, if they can’t get their cars to him.  He’s helped me out a time or two.

DIY time can mean together time

My current neighbor, who bought the house of my mechanic friend, is a builder and an expert at home improvement projects.  He spent a couple of weekends helping me rebuild our deck from the joists up.  He just loves to stay busy, and he likes helping people.  Not such a bad thing, eh?

The Co$t of DIY

But…don’t you have to have a lot of nice tools and equipment to do a lot of repairs?  No, not really.  It depends on what you’re doing.  Most plumbing jobs require just a few simple tools.

For example, when I work on our slow, stubborn drains, the only thing I need is a pair of regular pliers or small channel-locks, and a long screwdriver.  Our plumbing is all PVC under the sinks, so I can easily hand-loosen the joints to remove the trap and pipe from the sink drain.  The screwdriver is actually used to shove the paper towel through to clear out all the gunk.  You can use a butter knife or any similar long object.

Now, the garage is another story.  I’ve put some money into my tools for car repair.  But…I still did it economically.  I have hardly any name-brand equipment.  The vast majority of my tools, both hand and power, have come from Harbor Freight.  If you haven’t been to Harbor Freight, look up the closest one to you and go wander through.  It’s a veritable toy store for the DIY-er.

Both of my tool chests came from Harbor, as well as my floor jack and my electric impact wrench.  I have an old reciprocating saw that, if you believe the reviews, is cheap plastic junk that doesn’t last more than a few jobs.  But I’ve had that thing for years now…I’ve used it to cut suspension components off of our cars.  And it’s still running strong, for less than half of the name brand competition.

The weaponry of the weekend warrior’s arsenal

Harbor Freight has really increased the quality of their lines of power tools recently, and they have some good quality products that rival Snap-on, Milwaukee and other top brands.  And they’re still much cheaper than the big names.  Everything in my garage was bought at a fraction of what I would’ve paid if I’d gone name brand.

Are there downsides to DIY?  Sure, a few obvious ones.  Such as…

  • You Have To Buy Your Own Tools: If you don’t have many tools, you have to go out and get them.  This is especially true for the car repair side of DIY.  Like I mentioned earlier, this is where my biggest investment is.  And I can’t count the number of times I had to stop what I was doing and run back to the store to get just the *right* sized socket or wrench for something I encountered further in.
  • You Could Make It Worse: Then there’s this elephant in the room – if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re liable to mess it up even worse, which could mean a very costly professional repair (or replacement). 
  • Time Is Not On Your Side: Doing it yourself takes time, especially the first time or two you do a job.  Like I said, you don’t get good until you’ve paid your dues.  I’m much faster now at most around-the-house jobs than I was when I first started out.  But I still sometimes make mistakes that cost time.

Try It, You Might Like It

Despite the few drawbacks, everyone should give some DIY a try.  The benefits outweigh the negatives. The biggest, most obvious benefit is the money savings over having a professional do it.  But the other benefits can be just as positive – learning a new skill, improving problem-solving thinking, even finding a new hobby that’s useful as well as stress-relieving.  You might just surprise yourself and enjoy it.  And, you can use some of that hard-saved cash to spend on something fun.

Unclogging Those Stubborn Drains: Stop Procrastinating and Just Do It

I was going to write about something else completely last week, but then I got to thinking: I ended my last post about freeing up time to get other stuff done, like unclogging a slow bathroom sink.  As it turned out, I had three of them to deal with, and finally got to them…a week later, just before I started writing this.  And then I thought, “unclogging stubborn bathroom drains” can be a metaphor in itself for procrastination.

“Daaad!  We’ve got a problem!”

Do It Right, The First Time

A slow or clogged drain comes on slowly, over time.  At first, it’s barely noticeable.  Then it gets a little annoying.  But we put up with it, because it’s a pain to clear out a backed-up drain.  We’d rather stand back and wait a minute (or two, or three…) for the water to finally go down than mess with actually cleaning it out.  When I finally got around to doing the job, I got all three sinks cleared and back together in less than forty-five minutes.  I don’t just dump Drano®, or baking soda and vinegar down the drain, either.  The trap comes off, the stopper gets pulled out so I’ve got a straight shot down into a catch bowl below, and I push a wadded paper towel through a couple of times.  If you’ve ever done this – or just go Google “clogged bathroom sink” and check out some images – you know the hairy, gunky, nightmarish mess that comes out the other end.  I want it done right and I’m not waiting on a chemical reaction.  It’s messy, but it’s fast and gets the job done right.

(If you want to uber-clean your drains, as in a total teardown preventative maintenance that leaves them like new, check out these guys.  They’ve taken it to a whole new level.)

So, procrastination…about that.  A funny thing that this post has taken me forever to write.  I’ve been sputtering, stopping and starting for days now.  My goal is to write a post a week.  I did good with the first two, and now…well, I got stuck.  I didn’t want to procrastinate on it, but I just couldn’t get my mind back on topic.

Isn’t it ironic?”

Mmm, yeah.  The irony. Distractions – minor ones like watching a funny video to major ones like chaos in the house – are major sources of delay.  They can throw off the flow, and it can be surprisingly hard to get back on track.  By that time, we’ve got more on our plate to deal with, so decisions need to be made.  What to do…what’s more urgent?  Or easier?  Procrastination is as old a problem as humankind.  There are even verses in the Bible about procrastination: “Whoever watches the wind will not plant, and whoever watches the clouds will not reap”, Ecclesiastes 11:4; or, “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth”, Proverbs 10:4.  One of my favorites – certainly a more proactive one – that I’ve called on plenty of times to get me through, is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

How Do I Delay Thee?  Let Me Count The Ways

Why do we procrastinate?  Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always laziness.  There can be a host of other reasons.  It can be anxiety, self-doubt, or perfectionism.  We might be control freaks.  A perfectionist wants the results of the work to be error free, so they delay the inevitable imperfect outcome.  Like that, a controller purposely delays a task so that it can’t go wrong, or out of their control.  Maybe we get overwhelmed at the size of a project.  The bottom line is, most of us care about the work we need to do, and when we procrastinate, we tend to regret it.  When we finally end up doing it, we feel better for it afterward.  In fact, I usually end up wondering, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”  Like with the slow bathroom drains.  I could’ve done them earlier last week.  Granted, it’s a messy, stinky job, but it’s fast and easy.  We generally have the desire to get something done, but there’s that mental roadblock standing in our way.  On the contrary, by definition, laziness is the unwillingness to do work or expend energy.  Lazy people couldn’t care less if something gets done.

Another big reason we procrastinate is disorganization.  We have so much going on around us, and the freedom to choose between so many things, we often lack the self-control to choose the thing that needs done.  So we choose a distraction instead.  Being disorganized plays right into this.  If we’re not good time managers, any and every little shiny bauble will distract us from the task at hand.  Some rely on the old “I work better under pressure” fallacy.  Been there, done that.  Ultimately we find out that less time to meet the deadline often ends up in the project providing substandard results, or it doesn’t even get finished.

Dream It?  Do It

Are you a dreamer?  I hear you.  We’re always coming up with new and fanciful ways to live life, to do the “next big thing”.  The trap of being a dreamer is, all of these wonderful scenarios play out just perfectly…in our heads.  When it comes to putting an idea into action, we get vapor locked.  That great idea that’s been bubbling in our brain can’t seem to get to get from point A to point B, our hands.  As one who’s lived through this, I can say that the biggest culprit is fear.  What if our grand idea doesn’t turn out as good in reality?  How do I even begin to make it a reality?

With writing, procrastination can come on very easy.  Two words: writer’s block.  But what is writer’s block except just a mental roadblock like what I’ve shown above?  That’s a whole other topic for a different post.  Writing is like any other task, except those of us who write love to do it, so it’s not generally seen as a chore that we might put off until later.  But it can be just as subject to stress, distraction, depression, perfectionism – some of the same causes that lead us to procrastinate on our work or household chores.

Just as there’s a host of reasons why we procrastinate, there are plenty of good ways to get over that bump in the road and get moving.  Nike made millions starting in the late 80s with three little words: Just Do It.  Simple, but effective.  I used this phrase endlessly with my kids as they grew up.  I used it myself countless times.  Just get up and get moving!  Take a step, even a little one.  If the task in front of you seems too big to take just a little step, break it down.

This is where schedules, to do lists and even diagrams can help.  I went out and bought myself an easel and a big paper pad to make notes on.  I’ve used it to list sources for an article – now turned book – that I started over the holidays.  I also plan to use it for article and blog post outlines, and even make flow chart or similar diagrams to help break a bigger project into more manageable pieces.  If you’re a visual learner like me, having it written or drawn out does wonders for being able to see it, grasp it, and do it.  Schedules and to do lists are great time management helpers, and time management is at the core of a lot of procrastination.  We don’t understand or we lose track not just of time, but the value of time.  Time marches forever onward, and we don’t get one second back.  When you let the urgency of that sink in, it’ll help motivate you to get up and get done today what you could’ve put off until tomorrow.