Dealing With Criticism

It was fun to crack open a little bit of our personal “stuff” last Tuesday for this post about the real $herdog (yes, I’m still patiently waiting for that nickname to catch on) and John’s J-Boom version. And a funny thing happened after sharing those. Not only did they receive over 1,200 amazingly awesome and encouraging comments (note to self: apparently you’re not a social pariah if you admit that you sometimes have strawberry cream cheese on your ear and are inclined to impersonate Cindy Lou Who) but we also got dozens of emails – not even exaggerating – asking about how to deal with criticism and respond to negative comments. And thus this post was born.

I guess by sharing all of our weird idiosyncrasies it encouraged people to write about something they’re struggling with and ask how we handle it? It also could have had something to do with this thread on the $herdog post. Either way, the emails mostly came from folks who run small blogs who have somehow fallen into larger readerships thanks to being pinned on Pinterest or otherwise thrust into the spotlight suddenly (like a feature on Apartment Therapy or Design Sponge). And the general gist of every single email was this: someone was blogging along about whatever they blog about (some of these people aren’t home bloggers at all) and then… zinger… it happened. A not-so-nice comment. And it stung.

With more readers definitely comes more “feedback” – both good and bad. And you know I’m happy to be that spunky little cheerleader on your shoulder shouting high-pitched overly-enthusiastic things like: “you can do it!” and “reach for the stars!” – so here’s my humble advice in a nutshell:

  • It’s your blog.
  • Be who you are. That is enough.
  • Try to give the good feedback as much weight as the bad.
  • Do all things with love.

Sounds corny huh? But I’ll explain how those four things have really helped us deal with the whole “you’re putting yourself out there and I’m anonymous so I’m going to tell you exactly how I feel” phenomenon. After all we’ve been told (both nicely and not so nicely) a few of the following things:

  • I’m not really interested in posts about _____, so I vote you skip them
  • I’m losing interest in big projects – do more little ones
  • Do more big projects – the small ones are filler
  • I want more Clara and Burger and everyday stuff
  • I want less Clara and Burger and everyday stuff
  • That paint color/art/room is ugly/not the right choice
  • Stop using certain words/expressions because they make me cringe
  • Stop being so cheap and spend some money
  • Stop spending so much money and be more frugal
  • Move faster, I’m bored
  • Move slower so I can catch up
  • I’m disappointed in this choice/this idea/you
  • This blog used to be better because _________
  • I will no longer read this blog because ________

See all the contradictions going on in there? Basically if we listened to every suggestion, well, we wouldn’t have a thing to blog about. Not a single thing. And after 2,000+ posts and over four years of doing this, we’ve definitely learned that some folks like things that others hate and some people have an opinion when it comes to how they’d run this blog if it were theirs. But here’s the thing. It’s not theirs.

Which brings us to…

Tip #1: It’s your blog. It might sound weird to point out, but your blog isn’t a magazine with a team of 30 people who poll their readers and try to please the largest group (at least I don’t think it is). The very definition of a blog is just an outlet to write whatever you want and share whatever part of your life that you’re passionate about in your own words and at your own pace and in whatever way feels natural to you. Whether you do it full time or as a hobby once a month, your only real task is to be who you are and share what you like and those who like it will drop in.

In our case, we’re just two people with a dog and a kid who happened to gain a following sharing our adventures on the home front. We just write about whatever’s going on in our lives and seems interesting to us, which has gotten us here (we’re not Facebook or Pinterest, but 5 million hits a month = crazytown to two kids like us). See, if you attempt to please every last commenter, as much as you love and value your readers, know that it’s Mission Impossible – and it could even lead to your blog’s downfall (it won’t be yours anymore). So trust yourself. Everyone else might have an opinion, but your voice really should be the loudest and your vote really should be the one that counts.

Tip #2: Be who you are. That is enough. I think most people are a little guilty of the whole wanting-more syndrome. When a show ends I immediately want the next episode to come on (and I want it to be even better than the last). When I get a magazine and it’s feeling a little thin I wish it were twice as thick. And I think boxes of Oreos should be bottomless (I expect them to refill themselves while I’m sleeping). So it’s no surprise that when it comes to blogging, well, readers are inclined to want more. They might say it not-so-nicely, or very kindly indeed. And either way it might make you feel sort of wop-wop. But it’s just human nature. And I can tell you from experience that you will be a happier person and a better blogger if you make peace with that completely normal phenomenon.

You can’t control how every single person reacts to your blog, but you can control how you blog. And struggling to eke out more to the point of exhaustion or burnout (be it recipes, sewing tips, DIY stuff, photography pointers, craft ideas, or anything else you blog about) just isn’t the answer. At least not if – in the words of Claire Danes in Homeland – you’re playing the long game. Ideally your method of blogging should make you feel more inspired, creative, and enthusiastic about blogging – which in turn will shine through so your readers get just as giddy about it as you do. There’s a reason that your blog is attracting a readership and people are coming back. So just go at your own pace and concentrate on doing things well and not making yourself sick or neglecting your family because a few usually very well-intentioned folks want something that should take ten days to be done, photographed, and blogged about in five. Forgive people for being excited and impatient. We all do it.

Of course establishing these boundaries applies to other scenarios too, so if you have a family blog and folks want more photos/info about your kids than you’re comfortable sharing, know that whatever you want to share = enough. In blogging I generally think if it feels wrong (or makes you feel tired/sad/uninspired), it’s wrong. So don’t do it. As much as I hate being told to relax (seriously, ask John, it’s on his “do not ever say that to me unless you want me to go crazy on you” list), just try to relax and do your thing.

Tip #3: Try To Give The Good Feedback As Much Weight As The Bad. The funny thing is that everyone we talk to who is wrestling with comment criticism admits they still get waaaaay more positive comments than negative ones. I mean the ratio is usually astounding. We know it just takes one cutting comment to get under your skin, but when the vast majority of people love something, it sucks to let one commenter sink your battleship. Let’s do some light math (I don’t do heavy math, but light math is ok). If over the course of a week or two, 99 people take the time to say they like your blog/post/project/house/whatever and one person chimes in to say something’s not their cup of tea, that still adds up to a 99% success rate. And those are good odds my friend- so keep on keeping on! Heck, even if a ton of your readers don’t like something but you like it, I wholeheartedly think that you should keep blogging about it. Why? Because you like it and – once again, for the folks in the back – it’s your blog. Picture me up stage wearing a pant suit and a pocket protector saying “I can’t hear you!” and holding the mic out so you can shout that chorus with me. Or dancing around in this outfit chanting it with my lovely family while serving up a heaping portion of jazz hands (Burger’s clearly hiding because he doesn’t want to be seen in this getup).

Tip #4: Do everything with love. It’s admittedly extremely cheesy (and you might hear a tiny violin playing in the background) but my favorite advice is usually summed up in that phrase. It’s actually written on a post-it note that I’ve had stuck to my laptop for the longest time. When someone takes time out of their day to say something they’d most likely never say to anyone’s face (or would they…?) I’ve come to realize that spewing the same venom that they flung in my direction won’t make me feel any better (heck, it would probably make me feel significantly worse).

So I try to look at them from a place of love. Maybe they’ve had a terrible day. Maybe they’ve lost someone they love very much and they’re hurting. It may seem weird to try to have compassion for those who don’t seem to be very sensitive to your feelings, but I’m telling you that there’s something to it. It helps me respond with humor or a quick explanation from my point of view without getting too heated. Or even just with the words “Merry Christmas to you and your family!” like I did when someone said that decorating our family Christmas tree with paint chips was akin to decorating it with tampon wrappers. Growing up my mom always said that above being successful, popular, or athletic (all the things I worried about so much back then), being kind was the most important thing. And that’s something I’d love to pass down to Clara. Sing it with me: all ya need is love.

So there it is. My brain dump. I hope it helps at least one or two of you out there who might be struggling with growing and having more eyes on you. I know it sounds corny, but for us this blog is just about sharing our adventures and hopefully helping you guys along the way. That’s why we make videos about grouting and cabinet painting and take so many photos and share every last detail – in the hope of helping a handful of you guys at home. And it’s also why we love sharing behind the scenes blogging stuff like this (since so many of you are fellow bloggers these days). I am completely embarrassed to admit this, but we wrote the Thank You part of our book a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t the part about our family and friends that made me cry, it was the part about you, our lovely readers. Crying isn’t even the word. It wasn’t cute. I was weeping. There was smeared mascara and a runny nose. The whole nine yards.

The enthusiasm, sweetness, and support that you folks send our way is nothing less than life-changing. I really mean that. The least we can do is crack open a little bit of ourselves in beyond-DIY posts like this from time to time (every once in a while we get the itch to overshare, like this and this along with our more recent J-Boom and $herdog posts). So lets get all sappy and share mom and dad quotes in the comments. Or any other older and wiser family member who said something while you were growing up that rings oh so true to you. My mom was also famous for saying “always wear nice underwear in case you end up in the emergency room” throughout my formative years. And let me tell you, she was right on the money about that too. It’s waaaaaaaay too embarrassing to go into, but I didn’t follow her advice and I royally regretted it. There were Care Bears involved. And I was 21. And I don’t think the doc grasped the concept of ironic underwear. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

Pssst- We announced this week’s giveaway winners. Click here to see if you’re one of them.


  1. says

    This is a really awesome post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I certainly don’t get the quantity of comments you do, but I have definitely been stung by a stray hurtful comment. (And it seems like they are usually anonymous.) I try to tell myself that it is probably not at all about me. It’s about the other person. Maybe she is sad, jealous or just plain mean. If I pity the person, I usually don’t feel as hurt by the comment. =)

  2. Sherry from BC says

    oh my….I guess I was a bit shocked by this but I shouldn’t be surprised…..I hope I have never left a comment that hurt. I love your blog. Your choices are not my choices but they expand my horizons even when I don’t “like” them. I love your tutorials and explanations and your devil may care attitude. I learn a lot hear and it has reinforced that I should just try something and if I don’t like the finished project then tweak it till I do like it. I love your writing style. So much fun to read. My one criticism is that I suffer withdrawal on the weekends when there are no new posts. Take that $herdog…..(I don’t really expect you to do anything about this complaint but it is my main criticism of this blog…..or a backhanded compliment – take it as you will) Keep on keeping on……your blog is a bright spot in my day.

  3. Juls says

    I’m positively stunned anyone would leave negative comments here.

    I am head over heels in love with Clara and Burger, and you two are so adorable. I suspect everyone wants to be you.

    My life is one big garbage dump. I’m a hoarder (if the people on those shows are 10s, then I’m a 7), I am often depressed, sometimes even suicidal, I’m in the process of watching my mom slip into dementia and having to face the worst decision a child has to make.

    The brightest spot in my day is reading your blog. Even for five minutes, I can escape to a place of joy and forget my own misery. Sometimes I’ve shed tears (good ones) over the ridiculous cuteness of Clara and Burger. And the two of you are just the right amount of dork plus fun, articulate writing.

    And the projects just sing! Many of them aren’t my taste, but who cares? They’re fun, you’re fun, and if your blog didn’t already have a name, I’d say call it the Big Blog O’ Joy.

    As soon as I can get things settled in my life (mostly my mom issues), I’m going to copy your built-in refrigerator cabinet. Everything else may suck, but I’m a woman with power tools and I know how to use them!

    • says

      Oh Juls I love you and feel so much for your situation. Know we’re sending out good vibes from VA for you and your mom. And good luck with that refrigerator cabinet!


  4. Clare says

    Such a great post – and I have zero interest in blogging (I’m not even interesting enough for a twitter account, nevermind blogging). It’s super nice that you all try to be helpful in lots of ways – not only how to grout and pick out paint colors, but also how to blog, prioritize, budget, and really, show off your humility like a new haircut.
    tip #4 is how i try to operate all the time. Angry drivers, pushy people on the Metro – I know I’ve had a few days when I’m not fun, so I assume that people have their own things going on and aren’t necessarily trying to be mean. Well, some are, but whatever – I’m not the nice police to begin with.
    Best advice I ever got? 10 (?!?) years ago before I headed off to college, from my (17 months) older, wiser sister – “When meeting someone new, ask them questions about themselves. Everyone wants to talk about themselves and no one wants to hear about you.” Perhaps that gave me a complex, but it also helped me meet a lot of new people and have some fascinating conversations.

    • says

      Oh yes I totally agree! My BFF in college taught me to be like that (she always asked everyone how they were doing, so much so that it threw us off- why is this girl from Iowa so nice?!) – she made me a better person.


  5. Sandy says

    I’m not a blogger, but I’m a teacher and I tell ya, that “Do everything with love” is such a life-changer when you think about it. You never know where people are coming from or what they’ve got going on in their lives, but if you stick with love (and caring and respect), you’re so much more likely to reach them. Thank you for this post…it’s always nice to be reminded. :)

  6. Robin says

    $herdog this post IS JUST RIGHT! It’s just enough. It’s not too much. It’s not too little (well yea I do get happy when I get a 3 post day but… lol) I LOVE your big and small projects. I love your Burger and Clara posts. I like when you feature others homes and projects, I like when it’s your own. I love that it’s always you and from what I see uncensored! Good for you!

  7. Jaime says

    What a kind post, so full of gratitude. I read your blog every day and don’t usually have much to say, but it’s always nice to be acknowledged and appreciated as a fan. I read a blog the other day where the author felt she didn’t “owe” her readers anything. And on that note, I stopped reading.

  8. says

    This is a wonderful post Sherry (like all of them in my humble opinino) and amazingly invaluable insight. Great ‘life lessons’ here and thanks so much for sharing. You guys are the best :) xo.

  9. says

    This is my happy place, and I love you guys “just as you are”.

    p.s. you are $herdog in my book – I kinda wished that name would stick for me (Shereen), but it hasn’t.

  10. says

    I’m a frequent YHL blog stalker, but I rarely comment… I just love reading through everything you guys are doing around the house.

    This blog post compelled me to respond though, because I just wanted to add to the number of good comments out there…. so hopefully when you get 10,849 good comments and 1 mean one, that would make like 99.99991 people who love what you do! That’s basically 100% nice comments, right? (:

  11. says

    Thanks for the tips! Maybe someday if my blog gets big and famous, I’ll put some of them to use. :)

    As for your blog – love it! I started reading in fall 2009 while I was pregnant…and actually worked my way back through the archives click by click, so I’ve read them all! Admittedly some didn’t interest me, but it’s really not hard to skim something and click on by. I just don’t understand people who’d take the time to leave a negative comment or send a negative email! Obviously they have too much free time and should be out reupholstering or something.

  12. says

    Wow, thank you for this post! I just started blogging & filming youtube videos and I am dreading the day that I get my first negative comment. Luckily it hasn’t happened yet but I haven’t even been blogging/youtubing (is youtubing a word? If it isn’t I’m making it one now, haha) for a month yet so there is definitely still time.

    And, OMG, 5 million hits A MONTH?! I was excited that 26 days into my blogging I’ve hit 600, haha! You guys have definitely inspired me to write more and, as you say, “do everything with love.”

  13. Eileen Gallagher says

    $herdog, this is such a lovely post and really are the tips you need to live a quality life: be yourself, focus on the positive not the negative, and let love rule. (Now I am hearing Lenny Kravitz in my head.) I don’t often post, but I read your blog regligiously every day and discuss stuff with one of my friends who is also a reader. And I just plain love it!

    My mom has LOTS of words of wisdom that she is willing to share with anyone, but one that always stands out is “You will never get this day again – once it is done, it is done and it is up to you to decide how you will use it” – it serves as a good reminder that life is short and there are no do-overs – be the best you can each day.

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