My husband has very little faith in my ability to finish DIY projects. It’s not that he thinks I can’t do them. Rather, he knows I’ve got a terrible case of “unfinisheditis.”
He has seen the best of my projects, finely executed with punctuality, from start to finish, like a ninja wielding power tools. But he’s also witnesses the horror of projects-gone-wrong, left to sit for years, piled in the garage amongst other “someday” projects that I never have time to complete.
As this new year kicked off, I was excited to plan my editorial calendar: from building (or at least buying) a shed, to laying new kitchen flooring, to building beds with thrifted headboards for my kids’ bedroom, and more. In fact, it seemed like there wasn’t enough time in the year to schedule all these new projects!
What gnawed at me, though, was the thought of all those unfinished projects lingering, their echos of incompletion chanting, “Finish me! Finish me! Finish me!”
It’s the laundry room flooring for 6 years that still has an ascending gap due to crooked walls……
It’s the basement vinyl flooring with long lengths of baseboard just laying there, waiting 2 years to be nailed in place (it’s already been measured and cut, for goodness sake, Serena!)…
It’s the vintage metal table I started stripping but stopped when my heat gun had broken. When the new heat gun arrived, I had already moved on to another DIY project. And the only time I have thought of that table is when I trip over its discarded pile of rusted parts in the garage.
I could go on and on, but if you’re like me, you get it. You understand because you face the same issues.
The bigger questions are why does this happen and how can we overcome it?
5 Reasons We Don’t Finish DIY Projects
The reasons we don’t finish a project shouldn’t excuse us, but it can explain why it happens. In my opinion, there are the 5 reasons we’re walking way from incomplete projects. At least, these are my reasons. And you and I aren’t that different from each other, so these may be your reasons as well. I’ve also identified some ideas on how we might be able to move past them.
PROBLEM: You Ran Into a Problem and You Don’t Know the Solution
Yes, yes, and more yes. Most of the projects I have walked away from is because I wasn’t sure how to tackle the problem presented in front of me.
Let’s take my laundry room flooring, for example.
While the flooring looked fabulous and appeared to be straight and even (I laid new flooring 6 years ago), somehow, the wonky walls (or–ahem–the wonky installer named Serena??) left an increasingly widening gap along the wall underneath the laundry table.
You can’t see this defect walking into the laundry room because the table to the left blocks the view. No one is going to see it unless they’re bending down or if they peek behind the door (see below). But hubby sees it. He brings it up to me when I mention new projects I’d like to start, “Don’t you remember what happened to the laundry room floor??”
The gap along the wall is just too big enough to be covered by the trim, yet too narrow to try to cut a sliver of a piece of tile to cover it.
So instead of trying to figure out a solution to the problem, I simply buried my head in another project and walked away from this one. It’s been 6 years. SIX. And each time vacuum the laundry room, I’m reminded that I didn’t finish the floor as I suck the dust from the wide crack.
This is why I have left it this way for so long: I just didn’t know the best way to finish it off.
SOLUTION: Research and Ask For Help
In order to overcome problems you’ve run into with your project, you might need to do some additional research, ask for help, buy new tools that help you get the project done, or simply keep plugging away at it until a solution presents itself.
The case with the flooring, I think it will be a matter of adding some trim along the wall, which normally covers the expansion gaps where the floor meets the wall. Then I’ll create a wider shoe molding that can cover the extensive gap. I’ve got a router that can be used to round over the edge to create a rounded piece of quarter round wide enough to cover the remaining gap. I can’t believe I didn’t consider this sooner!
I’ve tackled many of projects where I have run into problems, like when building my bathroom vanity a few years ago. Each step presented its own set of problems, mostly due to my own inexperience, including drawers that wouldn’t fit. But I couldn’t just scrap it. This project needed to get done (otherwise, we’d have no vanity! LOL).
I kept going, allowing myself to make mistakes and learn lessons, and finished this beauty for my bathroom!
While this is a bit different of an example because I had no choice but to finish this vanity, flaws and all, it serves as a good lesson to just keep going. We should tell ourselves the same about smaller projects that are easier to cast aside: “I have no choice; I have to finish this!”
PROBLEM: It’s Expensive to Finish the Project
Sometimes projects will cost more money to finish because you need to buy more tools, more materials, different materials, or you might have to pay someone to finish it for you (if you honestly can’t finish it yourself). And if you’re low on cash, you may not want or be able to finish it.
Using the laundry flooring example above, cost prevented me from finishing that project, too. Paying $90 for a specialty bucket of flexible grout (for a floating ceramic floor) so I can use only a handful of grout to add a few wonky pieces of tile along the wall, wasn’t a cost I wanted to incur.
SOLUTION: Save for the Project or Find a Cheaper Solution
If you’re struggling to pay for it, then of course you’ve got to wait to finish the project. Put some money aside here and there until you can afford to get the necessary tools, supplies, or labor to finish it. Set a date, determine a budget, and start socking away nickels and dimes until you can afford it.
If you can’t afford it and don’t think you’d want to wait until you can afford it, it’s time to let it go and either donate or accept that it will remain unfinished.
But if you can afford it, schedule time to finish it.
In the case of my laundry room flooring, I could either use some extra tiles and purchase the $90 grout (ouch–too costly!), or I can add extra baseboard molding along the floor to help cover up the gap. That’s likely the route I’ll take!
The baseboard is supposed to cover up the floor gap along the wall, but since my gap is wider, I’ll have to add another piece to disguise it.
PROBLEM: You’re Afraid to Mess Up
Fear stops people from doing that which they love. The fear of messing up is one DIY project that many people report to me. And if you’ve been working on a project that you’re afraid you’ll mess up, it’s not uncommon to walk away from the project before you “ruin it.”
SOLUTION: Pick a Date By Which It MUST Be Complete
Nothing works better than setting a date by which something must be done. If you leave it open-ended, you can cast it aside, leaving it as another “someday” project. Instead, with a hard date in the near future, your brain will work to meet that deadline: fear or no fear.
Creating a plan also helps to impede fear. When I was building my walk-in closet, I was very fearful, which is why it took a whole YEAR before I finished it. We slept in our bedroom with all of our closet contents piled in the corner for an entire year because I was afraid to move forward and finish the project. What if I messed up? What if it fell down? What if everything is mis-aligned and I waste all the wood? These fears were very real.
But after picking a date by which I needed to get it done, I spent some time researching, planning, and took my time when cutting (so as to get accurate cuts). And then I worked feverishly to complete it. And it was a success! It turned out great, albeit with a few hiccups! But hiccups that were valuable lessons in my quest for woodworking knowledge. 🙂
It’s also important to note that you must schedule time on your calendar to get the project done! If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen.
PROBLEM: The Project Was a Lot Harder Than You Thought It Would Be
I don’t think I have ever accurately predicted what a project would be like. All I could envision is what it would look like. I could never accurately determine how much time, money, or materials would be needed. Most of the projects I do are ones that I have never done before, so even with all the research I try to do, I can never anticipate those things. And almost always, projects are harder than I expect.
Many of my projects are sponsored by wonderful brands that put due dates on when the projects have to be published. Those due dates keep me going. But like you, I could easily put aside many projects that turned out harder than expected.
SOLUTION: Don’t Start Another Project Yet
It’s not that you don’t know how to do the project; the problem is that it’s taking much longer than you expected. The solution to simply clear your calendar. Don’t start another new project until this challenging project is complete.
I know that can be hard to do when you’ve lost patience, it’s costing extra money, and you may have lost your enthusiasm. But if you vow not to start something new until this unfinished project gets done, then you’ll commit more time to getting that project done.
Nearly 3 years ago I had started reupholstering this wingback chair from the thrift store. For $60, it was a steal. But with badly sun-bleached fabric and a horrible “thrift-st0re-old-musty-furniture” smell, I wanted everything stripped down. I documented the entire process of reupholstering a wingback chair, from start to finish. You can watch the entire process on my YouTube channel.
But did you know there was a 2-year gap where the chair sat, unfinished in the corner of my family room? TWO.YEARS. So when the new year rolled in, I decided I could not start any more DIY projects until this project was completed. Glad I did, because it turned out fabulous!
PROBLEM: You Honestly Don’t Even Care Anymore
Hey–let’s admit it–not every project is going to excite us with the same burning passion as when we first started. Our style may have changed… We love different tastes or color schemes… Or sometimes those aforementioned money or technical problems ruin your enthusiasm to continue.
I was gung-ho for that wingback chair when I first started upholstering it. It was love at first site! I had spent a fortune on upholstery classes to learn to reupholster it, materials were expensive, and I had already invested hours and hours into that chair. Even with that investment, though, you just honestly don’t give a damn about it anymore.
SOLUTION: Finish, Donate, or Leave It
At this point, even though the love is gone, you can either finish the project, donate it (or its materials), or leave it “as is.” If you finish it, pick a due date (as I mentioned before) and hold yourself accountable.
Or, while we might not love it anymore, someone else would! Don’t be afraid to donate an unfinished DIY project back to the thrift store or gift it to a friend. I have done this many of times (much to my chagrin when hubby called me out on it….).
And don’t be afraid to leave a project “as is”! I’m 100% okay with the laundry floor near the wall being unfinished and wonky. No one can see it. It isn’t at the top of my list of “Must Complete!” If you’ve got a project that bothers you that it’s not done, but you really aren’t that concerned with finishing it, just leave it.
With that wingback chair, I had invested the time, effort, or money and didn’t want to donate it or leave it. So I finished it! And while it was hard getting going, once I got started, it was fun to finish, and I learned some things along the way, and tackled my fears and hesitations.
Your Homework Assignment
Don’t be too hard on yourself for suffering from “unfinisheditis.” We all experience it–sometimes it’s acute, and sometimes it’s chronic. 🙂
But if we understand why we have left projects unfinished and then decide to either let it go or hold ourselves accountable, we can make plans to finish these projects. Finishing them will relieve the guilt and stress, and will allow us to feel a sense of accomplishment when we do finish them!
So here’s your homework: Download the following PDF and list all your unfinished projects and decide if you want to finish it, donate it, or leave it “as is.”If you’re going to finish it, fill in a due date and then work on getting it done. Depending on how much time or money it will take, determine how many you can get done per week, per month, etc. You can do this!
Leave a comment down below and let me know if you’ve also suffered from not finishing your DIY projects and how you’ve worked to cure it!
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