Email Answer: Finding The Motivation To Tackle DIY Projects

Q: Dear John (no it’s not a Dear John letter) and Sherry. I’m begging you (on bare knees in front of laptop now) to write a post that teaches the following: HOW… HOW, I beg you, do you find the motivation and… ENERGY to take on such things after work?! Or even a whole weekend cooped up in a bathroom? I BEG you, please, how do you get that mind-set to get things done?! And after work! It’s incomprehensible to me but I would love to be that person. If you bottle it, I’m buying ten. I know this isn’t a motivational/self-improvement blog but I think your attitude to get things done so consistently does have a place. Please? Purty please? Luv luv LUV your blog. -Anna in Sydney

A: We’re not going to lie. Fitting in our constant DIY undertakings is definitely is a challenge. We know all about being short on time (I’m usually tethered to the computer from 8am-8pm and John has a full time job downtown) so we do almost 100% of our projects on nights and weekends (and many of them over holidays as well). Sometimes it just comes down to making the decision to put off the fun stuff like going out to dinner and hanging out with friends in the name of crossing things off of our to-do list.

But of course, just like any strict diet that won’t work for the long haul, we’re all about rewarding ourselves with outings and vacays when we finally finish something that we’ve worked hard to accomplish. We’re just super passionate about our home, so we’re weird enough to think that painting or demo-ing sounds like a good time… but we know it’s not everyone’s idea of fun. And sometimes we dread projects like you wouldn’t believe but we tell ourselves that we have to do it sometime, so we might as well bang it out and then go out to dinner the next day to celebrate (instead of dragging it out and having it hang over our heads for months).

Working in these little “accomplishment rewards” can definitely keep things feeling more balanced and keep you feeling motivated- and of course you’ll be full of self-congratulatory pride for a job well done- so that also comes into play (once you paint one room you’ll feel so good it’ll be easier to embark on the next one than it was to pick up that paint brush the first time).

And sometimes setting a goal and working towards it is easier than you think- especially if there’s something oh so sweet waiting for you at the finish line. For example, declare that if you complete five things on your list you’ll treat yourself to a mini vacay in a nearby city for the weekend or that you’ll finally order that pretty Etsy print that you’ve been drooling over. I guess it’s sort of like doing anything else that takes time and effort (losing weight, studying for finals, etc)- it really takes drive and motivation to stay at it. So anything you can do to push yourselves forward and encourage each other along the way can really make all the difference.

We also have another idea for ya… maybe you should start a blog. We find that we’re motivated to do more and work harder just so we can share our results with people who are chomping at the bit for pics and details. Maybe that will help motivate you as well? Not that anyone really has “extra time to start a blog” when they’re working on their home, but we didn’t think we did either (two years ago when John started this whole thing I was completely uninterested) and just look at us now!

Or maybe you can find another way to motivate yourselves by sharing your progress- like creating a super easy Flickr album with before & after photos and sending the link to friends and family once a week to share your DIY hardships- and all the glory that comes with them once they’re blissfully completed. Even privately documenting your process just for yourself can be hugely motivating. For example, you can take “before” photos of your entire house and put them in an album with a blank sleeve after each one that’s just waiting for an “after” picture. It definitely won’t happen overnight, but as you slowly start adding after photos and seeing exactly how far you’ve come you’ll be amazed how empowering, motivating and rewarding it can be. Heck, we’d even call it downright addicting.

And a lot of times when you head into each project your attitude can make all the difference. Just like if you’re training for a big tennis match or going to a job interview, if your internal monologue is saying things like “I’m going to fail- this is going to be a disaster- I’m so bad at this stuff- this will take me forever…” then you’re probably setting yourself up to fall on your face from the get-go.

We like to go into each project in a positive and optimistic state of mind. Just the act of putting on some music, having full bellies, and generally embarking on our next home improvement adventure in a good mood can make all the difference. Of course we’ve also learned that having unrealistic expectations is the fastest way to never want to pick up a hammer or a paint brush again. So even when we take on a should-be-simple task, we never say things like “this should only take a second” or “we can totally bang this out before our dinner plans in an hour” because those assumptions can really amp up the stress of the situation and make any small ten minute snafu seem like a major disaster since you went in with such unrealistic ideas about how the process would go. Instead we like to set aside large blocks of time when we know we can really dive into something (again with full bellies and some good music playing to rally our spirits) and then we often find that we’re pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things can go (instead of expecting everything to be effortless and being disappointed when things don’t magically happen in a matter of seconds).

In short: you definitely have to put in the time to get things done, but don’t forget to reward yourself and document your achievements along the way. And having realistic expectations and going into each project with excitement instead of dread can really make all the difference! Plus tackling one room at a time or breaking projects down into nice little manageable “bite-sized tasks” can definitely take the fear out of something that seems way too huge and ominous. Does anyone else have other secrets to staying motivated and keeping their to-do list in check without going crazy? Do tell.

Psst- Learn more about keeping your house sprucing projects more manageable by decorating in stages – and check out some of our biggest-bang-for-our-buck upgrades that were surprisingly simple to accomplish.


  1. Emily says

    You guys really are inspiring!! I love the nursery and especially John’s idea to paint the closet the same color as the ceiling!

    Random question for you (if you see this). How do you feel about black appliances & white cabinets? I’m trying to talk the hubby into painting our horrible yellowish oak cabinets white. :)

    • says

      Hey Emily,

      We like it! We’ve seen many a white kitchen with black appliances and it makes for a dramatic and high contrast look. Just be sure to bring in more black in the accessories (a big glossy black bowl on the counter or even a black pendant light over the sink) so the appliance color seems intentional instead of random/accidental. Hope it helps!


  2. Sarah says

    Sherry, I agree with all that you said! My husband and I bought our 1948 brick major fixer upper almost 2 years ago. We love doing projects on our house but I do think that is a personality type. When we first moved in I was driven by the fact that I hated some of the rooms and that really motivated me to make them better. In fact when people would visit I would find myself trying to explain my vision although I think many people thought we were a little crazy. So it is so rewarding now to have friends compliment us on the transformation!

    I find that working on house projects together with my husband has brought us closer together. So it is a bonding time for us. It comes down to being positive, trying to have fun with the project, having vision, and loving the high I get after seeing a room transformed!


  3. Jaimie says

    My husband and I are finding it a bit of a struggle to keep up our momentum with house projects now that we have a 1.5-year-old. We both work full-time so our weekends are somewhat precious for family time. Plus, our son is so young that really only one of us can be working on a project while the other parent looks after him. We’re in the middle of a basement renovation, and in some ways it has been harder than the other big projects we tackled pre-baby (complete kitchen reno, reflooring the entire house, painting, etc.).

    There’s always something more to do in a house, and occasionally I can get bogged down thinking of all that still remains. But it does help to remind myself of how very much we have accomplished in the short four years we’ve been here. And everything we’ve done has made our home more beautiful and welcoming.

  4. Tiffany T. says

    Great advice! I don’t know if it will help but I come from a family of “one day”ers and they always put things off. So when I bought my first house I decided I did not want to be the same. I would pick out something to do and make myself go ahead and do it. That way all my “one days” really come true! Anyone else know what I’m talking about?

  5. says

    I completely agree about starting a blog. It’s amazing how motivated we are to finish up rooms so we can do a final *reveal*. It’s the best feeling. We also went through and cataloged everything we want to get done in our fixer-upper. It was super overwhelming at first, but we have it organized by task and by room, and we’re just taking it one task and one room at a time. It’s especially motivating when you start checking things off and seeing rooms come together!

  6. says

    People have also wondered how we have gotten things done (between Hubby working full time, me working full time, then me working part time while staying home with a VERY demanding baby then toddler who didn’t like to sleep!) we are on our 3rd house and have renovated each of the houses entirely. Baby steps.

    You don’t have to put in 12 hour days on the weekends. Maybe you just tape off the room and do ONE coat of paint and clean up. Do the next coat the next day. Rome wasn’t built in a day! We’ve even broken things into tiny chunks, like: after work, laying out the tools we’ll need for the next day. or: cleaning up debris/etc for 30 mins so the work the next day will go better. Even work in 15-30 minute increments adds up. You’d be surprised what you can do in short bursts of time.

  7. Brien says

    Do you have any advice for motivating a lazy husband? : ) To be fair, he isn’t lazy he just doesn’t want to spend nights and weekends working on the house. It makes even DIY projects seem that much harder!

  8. D says

    Although I love DIYing, painting, demolishing, redecorating, my boyfriend does not. I’ve been dragging my feet on stripping and re-finishing our dining room set because I know that I’ll be doing it solo. But, maybe if i set up a reward for myself, I’ll finally get it done!

  9. says

    We are both procrastinators. So setting a firm date for project completion motivates us like nothing else. The best deadlines are usually made by scheduling a house party or a houseguest to come over. Something about the omigosh-people-are-coming-over-and-there-are-tools-all-over-the-living-room panic really energizes us and gets us moving doubletime!

  10. says

    Wow. I really needed that! Thanks for the motivation to keep going. This past weekend was a bust as we knocked down one wall only to get stopped by another (literally and figuratively). Sometimes DIYing is so fun, and other times, it’s downright stressful. Thanks for the motivating tips.

    And now I’m going to check out that post about your camera, because that’s top on our tax-refund-shopping-list!

  11. says

    I love the “start a blog” suggestion – it really works! I started mine to help keep me motivated to do new things and so far it’s been a great force to keep me going. Everytime I think about not doing a project my next thought is “but then I won’t have anything to blog about!”. Great advice.

  12. says

    This is such a great post; thank you!

    I always get all pumped up during the day when I read your blog, but once I get home, DEFLATION! haha

    I think the ideas to play music and to start a blog are excellent. I started a photo-a-day type blog at the beginning of the year, and I think I might start incorporating some before and after pics into my daily photo rotation.

    Thanks again for all your great stuff! You guys are the best :)

  13. says

    Oh, I SO agree with the get your own blog suggestion. We’ve had a blog on and off for like five years now (our most recent one is combining all our passions, so we’re addicted to posting) . . . and it always helps us stay motivated and so projects (or in our case workouts, food experiments, etc.) that we otherwise might put off.

    Anyway — it really works! So, do it. Even if it’s — to start — just for your family to read!

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