DIY Or Die

by Josh on June 4, 2008 · 6 comments

in Journal,Uncategorized

When you think of the personal health impacts of home improvement, what comes to mind? Lead paint? Asbestos? Tool injury? Mold?

Well, consider this from You: The Owners Manual (HarperResource, 2005) by Michael F. Roizen, M.D. and Oprah’s pet doctor, Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.:

Illness comes mainly from events that constantly stress you–even if they’re minor to other people–and do so for a prolonged period. One category of these stressors is Nagging Unfinished Tasks (NUTs). For example, the nagging stress of sitting on a wobbly toilet seat and never fixing it will age you, if it is one of those things that just gnaws at you every time you use it. …Nagging stress wears you out, while persistent stressors are true killers (p.93).

The idea in this passage that struck me isn’t necessarily the notion that a seat wobble can promote illness, but rather that the seat’s power to harm me is based on what I think about the seat.

Why should it matter what I think? I can get lead poisoning whether I happen to think lead is a threat or not. (It is– be safe, Dear Reader!) However, that wobbly toilet seat is harmful only to the people who perceive the wobbly seat as a bothersome problem, but through procrastination or competing priorities do nothing to fix it.

This is a heavy idea for a guy with a couple actual wobbly toilet seats and at least a dozen more metaphorical ones. Few are the family dinners in which my eyes don’t linger briefly on the bubbled surface of the painted wallpaper in the dining room while I think, “someday, all that nasty paper is coming down.” Lately it has gotten hard for me to look at the outside of the house without focusing on the peeling paint and thinking, “I’ve got to get to that this summer.” And when I put my 16-month-old son to sleep in his crib in my bedroom for yet another night because I’m still renovating his nursery, it’s hard not to ask myself, “When will I ever get that room done?”

Roizen and Oz would probably tell me that I need to either finish these and other nagging projects right away or find a way to release my feeling of obligation to them. That’s a tall order. I’m a long way from zen-like mental tranquility in the face of painted wallpaper, but I am trying to see the house more as a whole thing that I love rather than as a collection of parts I want to fix.

How do you keep you house projects in perspective?

Has an uncompleted house project ever made you sick? How did you respond?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. Who knows, maybe with enough encouraging ideas we’ll all manage to live long enough to see the day when we have no more house projects.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

HouseFavorites June 4, 2008 at 11:07 pm

There seems to be a lot of talk on lead based. I haven’t been sick over a project physically. Just ‘sick’ of waiting to complete said task. This evening I finished readying the wicker chairs for summer! Complete.

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Todd June 5, 2008 at 8:49 am

All of my life’s projects are kept in perspective based on my 3 battles with cancer. I used to stress about work and life’s projects. Now I get up each day and enjoy each adventure.

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Josh June 5, 2008 at 9:26 am

Congratulations on finishing those chairs, HouseFavorites. As for the ubiquity of “lead talk,” I’d guess it is due to the ubiquity of the hazard. Lead is present in nearly every old house to some extent, and it is frequently disturbed in the kind of projects taken on by DIY-ers.

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Bryan June 5, 2008 at 9:44 am

I think there’s big difference between obsessing over an incomplete project and just being aware of it. Those of us in historic homes realize, I think to some degree, that they’ll never be “done” I think the key is to find small projects, easily completed, that will give a sense of accomplishment even though more involved tasks still loom. After being in my 1926 house for over a year, I finally took the kitchen light fixture down and stripped the paint off, revealing the embossed brass detailing. Of course, the trim in the kitchen needs to be stripped and painted, the walls patched, and the floor replaced, but just having that light look bright and clean really adjusted my mood and made me feel like at least some progress was being made. Every completed project is a step forward, no matter how big or how small.

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Josh June 11, 2008 at 10:59 pm

@Todd: Great perspective– thanks for sharing.

@Bryan: You’re completely right about celebrating progress, not just completion. Your distinction between obsession and awareness is on point, too. I just have a hard time keeping my awareness of numerous projects from becoming something more stressful and less healthy.

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ranty July 2, 2008 at 10:42 pm

Well so far with the HH I haven’t had too much trouble with motivation, (at least on the exterior) since the big, cuddly City of Minneapolis is keeping me on the straight and narrow with their never-ending citations and fines!

I <3 my city housing inspector. 🙂

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