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How to DIY for the non-DIYer

There is no greater form of torture for me than having to do a jigsaw puzzle.

I HATE THEM. I just don’t know why anyone would want to subject themselves to that kind of torture.
And don’t ask me to follow an instruction manual to assemble something, or there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth. My brain shuts off and my hands involuntarily fling the manual far from me and toward Andy. He’ll figure it out.

Andy figures things out. Which is an epic quality in a spouse, I’ve learned.

I get a surprising number of emails that sound like this one from Charissa:

“My husband and I are in the process of purchasing our first home… I want to completely redo the entire house (on our own might I add) but I am soooo nervous about that. I have a design eye (kind of) but we have not a single DIY bone in our body. What gave you the courage? How can I get started?”

If you want to know the truth, I’m not really much of a DIYer. Or at least, I wasn’t before we bought our house. I had installed a doorknob, once. The end. But I didn’t even think twice about buying a run-down fixer-upper: I just knew I had Andy and we’d figure it out.

It turns out, we had a lot of figuring out to do together. MOST of the jobs we did on our house were our first attempts: removing the popcorn ceilings, painting floors (?!), installing iron balusters in the stairway, yada yada. I’d say 95 percent of the jobs were brand new to us.
Love these tips! How to overcome your fears and start trying new DIY projects!

Since neither of us really knew what we were doing either, I’ll give you a rundown of what helped us build the courage to go job-by-job through a nasty ol’ foreclosure until it’s where it is today, which is (nowhere close to) finished. (Here are a bunch of before-and-after room makeovers!)

1. Start small
Pick a project that’s inexpensive and smallish to build some confidence. Paint a wall. Repair sheetrock. Install crown molding (this tutorial makes it MUCH easier). Start with a project that:

  • Isn’t expensive
  • Can be finished in a couple hours
  • Won’t destroy your house if you mess up.

So, maybe don’t start with electrical work, or by trying to re-plumb your entire house.
These little jobs will build your confidence and teach you a few skills you’ll use for bigger jobs AND they’ll reveal to you how you feel about the work. If painting a wall is to you what jigsaw puzzles are to me, leave it to the pros! (Are there pro jigsaw-puzzle finishers? Can I hire them to put mine together?)

Andy’s first attempt at DIYing (before we bought our house) was to build the crappy, sweet little “before” table from this post. There wasn’t a lot he could mess up, and we didn’t have to spend a ton of money to try it.
(Now he’s advanced to THIS!)

(Even if hardcore DIY jobs aren’t your thing yet, start with some simple decorating projects like these.)
2. But take risks
So you might mess up. No biggie. (Unless you’re doing the plumbing thing.) Give yourself a little freedom and grace when things go wrong. You’re new at this, and DIYing is ALL about making mistakes. Let me say that again: you will make mistakes. We do, in every single project. (Word: My entire kitchen was one big mistake.) Most things can be fixed and redone, and even if they can’t be, small mistakes are usually only visible to you.

(And if other people notice and say anything, you can just glare at them, harshly, silently. For a prolonged period of time. It will be deliciously awkward.)

3. Start with what you enjoy or what fits your skillset.
if you’ve ever sewed, start with curtains. (If your sewing machine is part-satan, like mine, STAY FAR AWAY.)

If you like paint-by-number, start by painting. (Ooohh, paint by number! Do they still have that? I think you need a velvet paint-by-number elvis painting in your house. Most people do.)


4. Don’t expect to magically know it all.
Google is your friend. Google loves you and cares about you and it won’t let you down. We had literally never installed a backsplash before we did our kitchen, but we watched a lot of youtube videos, and when we came up against something we’d never seen, we literally put down our tools and went straight to Our Nice Friend the Googs.

I cannot fathom what life was like when people had to go to the library, use the card catalog, and read a physical book to find an answer. (See: the Dark Ages.)

* * *

If we can do it, YOU CAN DO IT.

We are FOR REAL not brilliant or special in any way. Well, maybe Andy is… mostly he’s super weird.

Our attitude is just: if there is someone who can do this, there’s no reason why we can’t either. In most cases. We’ve learned the pros don’t have any magical powers. They have better tools, but you can rent those. They have more knowledge, but you can find that online. And they have more experience, but you’ll get that quickly. There’s probably a certain level of ignorance-is-bliss necessary to get you started, but you can do it.

Love these tips! How to get the courage to start DIYing when you have no idea what you're doing!

Do you consider yourself a DIYer? What gave you the confidence to get started? Are you a jigsaw puzzle fan masochist or fellow-hater-of-the-puzzles?

Let's connect


  1. So funny, I feel like my sewing machine is satan too. But I don’t genuinely enjoy it and I hate that I don’t enjoy it.

  2. Perfect! everyone asks me how I knew I could fix up my house… and I didn’t know anything, I just started doing it. my very first project was taking down wallpaper. And now this year my goal is to build a piece of furniture. 🙂

  3. Great post to give people hope! And I perfected the glare LOL!

  4. these are amazing tips- sometimes you are just thrown into it but it is so important to start small. you don’t want to scare yourself!
    AND i love jigsaw puzzles. i will build all your puzzles and you come make me an awesome laundry room, ok?

  5. HEY NOW! Why you hatin on the puzzles? So I used to work at a plumbing warehouse (back when I didn’t know any better), and the majority of the guys that came in were stoners. So I figure… if stoners can install a toilet, I CAN INSTALL A TOILET! Also, the cat-glare is spot on.

    • I think you should make t-shirts with that little inspirational phrase. as a matter of fact, i might just adopt it as my new personal mantra 🙂

  6. I never would have considered trying to reupholster something, but my friend told me how much I could do with just a staple gun, and I decided to give it a try. Here’s my blog about one of the projects I did:

  7. I’m totally fascinated by this new information about you and jigsaw puzzles! But…when you finally get a piece in after looking and looking, it’s so SATISFYING!

  8. I completely agree with all of this. Nick is constantly surprising me with how handy he is which we will both attribute to the power of google. Getting out there and trying is the main thing. You just have to make yourself and more than likely you’ll be surprised that you could actually do it.

  9. Great post Kelly! I think anytime you try something new the fear monster can rear its ugly head! xo Kristin

  10. You do give me courage but I would rather tackle re-shingling a roof before I got near my sewing machine….Lucifer! And I really love how Andy got down over that chandelier!

  11. Having a husband who is good with power tools definitely helps! As long as I can find directions, he will build it for me. Thank you Pinterest!

  12. Agh!! I freaking hate jigsaw puzzles tooooo!!! So glad I am not alone! I agree- it’s trial and error with remodeling, start small if you’re smart…or be crazy like us and rip out all your walls the day you move in and take 6 months to put your kitchen back together. 😀

  13. I feel the same way you do about jigsaw puzzles and I have the exact same Satan sewing machine!

  14. SO TRUE! I loved this post, Kelly! I can relate to almost all of it (except for the banisters b/c we aren’t lucky enough to have a staircase! hah!)

  15. Great advice!! I rarely work on puzzles, because when I do I become a total addict! I can’t rest til every last piece is in it’s place. It’s a sickness.

  16. I agree with every single thing you said!! (Except about the puzzles- I actually love them!haha) A few years ago I didn’t consider myself to be a DIYer or even a “crafty” person AT ALL. Everything I’ve learned how to do over the past few years was born from the reality check I had one day when I realized that if I wanted even a hope of having half the things I was lusting over all the time, I was going to have to figure out how to make them myself. (Cause my greed doesn’t match up with my wallet.) 🙂

  17. HAHAHA!! Andy is like a giant kid!
    Like you, i’m a (whispering so my middlest doesn’t hear me) jigsaw hater! grrrrrrrr!! it was a perfectly good picture! Who’s the jerk who decided to cut it into a million crooked pieces in the first place? 😀
    I am a do it yourselfer first because when I started out I was poor. I knew what I liked but also knew I could never ever have afforded it, so I decided I could do it (it being many things) myself… and miracle of miracles I actually did. Sewing machines are the debil!!

  18. GREAT post, Kelly! This will encourage so many (including myself!) to try some new DIYs this year! Thanks for sharing!
    xo Heidi

  19. We ripped out our kitchen floor and retiled. We were definitely all over YouTube!
    I love jigsaw puzzles though–my specialty is the sky.

  20. This is such a great post. I need to remember to read your blog more often! You ALWAYS make me laugh. 🙂 Thank you! The cat glare and the satanic sewing machine… HAHAHA! Sooo funny. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    As far as DIY goes, my husband is tired of his desk job, and wishes he had gone into a different line of work – like maybe building houses or something (he has no experience). So, I told him I want him to build a bed for us, or maybe just a headboard. I suggested he could start small with something like Ana White’s $10 ledges to get a feel for putting something together with wood. This post reminded me that we had that conversation. I need to remind him that he should go for it. I think it will be really good for him, and he will feel all manly again after building something with his own two hands. 🙂

  21. So very true. Every little bit of it. We just learned along the way with a little bit of luck and lit of stupidity. It works for us and I’m never really intimidated to make something. It sure as hell feels awesome afterwards…even if I cry a bit during the middle parts 😉

  22. I consider myself a DIYer but am always humbled when I tackle something new. I love that I’m always learning something!

  23. This was awesome. thank you!

  24. I dabble in DIY, and yes, Google is my best friend. I’ve also found it helpful to trade off skills with other DIYers. For example, I could probably pick up a side gig at the hardware store running painting classes, but my heart still races in fear when I pick up my circular saw while it’s plugged in, so I find that bartering with friends for services is a good way to go sometimes 🙂

  25. Fabulous post, as always! Funny, as always! Does that mean you hate sewing as much as I do. I recently learned that I hate hand-sewing even more than machine sewing after an EPIC FAIL trying to sew a blind stitch {the subject of my most recent blog post}. I would rather tear out a bathroom than sew. The ONLY reason I do it is to save money. Sigh…

  26. Hahaha! Well you won’t catch me with my sewing machine like EVER {even though it’s as brand new as my first born} BUT I tell people the same thing about painting furniture – this ain’t that hard folks! Just get in and do it! 😉

  27. haha we just started a jigsaw puzzle last night. I guess I won’t invite you over. 😉

  28. This is a great post! It’s so true — my husband and I were pretty clueless about DIY when we moved into our 1st home, but we’re slowly {with plenty of “oops” along the way} learning how to DIY our own home. In our new home, we’re planning on tackling bigger projects so I think it’s totally true that you should build your confidence with smaller projects first.

  29. so funny and great tips!

  30. Well said all the way around. There’s so many things that I’ve been fearful of but once you learn something, that can’t be taken away. And oh, the confidence it gives you! That’s so unbeatable. That DIY high. Nothing like it 😉

  31. I married into DIY. The hard part came when he expected me to help! For the sake of love I have learned, and I’m pretty much an expert now since it rubbed off on me, but I would still rather watch than participate.

  32. Kelly, I think this is why I actually do the projects you talk about on your blog…you’ve figured out how to do it the normal-human-being way instead of using some sort of designer magic I don’t have. Hooray for normal people! 🙂

  33. I have a story for you about satan sewing machines. When my mom and dad for married, my mom told my dad she hated to sew. When he saw her machine (which looked a lot like yours does by the way) he said, no wonder you hate to sew! And bought her a new bernina. Now she loves it and is quite good. All sewing machines are not created equal, even in the same price range.

  34. Awesome (and hilarious!) advice for anyone starting out! It’s true, you just start doing it, you mess up, you figure it out, you get more confident, and before you know it you have a DIY blog! 😉 We started doing DIY projects before there was online help – it’s so easy now to find how to do anything on the internet now. Loved this post! I’m off to practice my harsh glare now. Have a great day, cutie! xoxo, Sharon

  35. My dad always had us help him around the house, so I thought I had some skills going in to owning our fixer-upper, but I was stunned by how much I didn’t know! Now, anything we don’t know, we figure out with research, but I’ve found the essential thing is taking the time to plan before applying the research. This house has taught me patience, that’s for sure!

  36. Gonna have to share this with hubs, since he tends to run away screaming from DIY projects. Had to comment since the evil sewing machine cracked me up!

  37. I am such a perfectionist that some DIYs are completely intimidating to me because I’m afraid of messing up or coming across an obstacle halfway through. Our it not looking good in the end. I think it’s easier for those people who have a “good enough” mindset. That’s my FIL. He rarely pays professionals, but then again his work isn’t always up to my standards. For instance, he helped install our kitchen cabinets and it bugs me every day how uneven they are in places. But he’s blissfully unaware about details like that. I think I might be less intimidated if I were working on a real mess of a house. Then, ANYTHING would look better, right?

  38. Oh girl, you are speaking my language! I get asked the same thing and you are so right – there’s so much trial and error involved and we have had MANY MANY ERRORS. We aren’t experts but the thing I have always loved about Wayne is that when I was scared off, he always had a ‘what’s the worse that can happen?’ attitude and always wanted to get stuck in. YOU TUBE IS OUR BFF. I genuinely have no idea how people did this stuff before the interwebs because we’ve been saved so many times by doing our research before we began. So it’s always read the instructions, check it out on You Tube, give it a go. Well said! xxx

  39. Found you through Pinterest, LOVE this, so exactly how I feel and how I started my DIY “journey”. Rock on!

    • Nancy Lownds says:

      I also found you on Pinterest and love that you can laugh at yourself. And the cat stare, well I have got to get that down! Puzzles don’t work with my brain and the last sewing machine I owned stayed in my garage until I finally accepted that was not EVER going to be used. By me anyway. So fast forward to today. I am divorced after 35 years and was married to a man who could afford to just hire whoever. I don’t think he even owned a hammer. My dad on the other hand was handy at everything and I think I spent the first 15 years of my marriage thinking my ex would magically morph in to a Mr. Fix It. It NEVER happened! I now realize that the man you marry is the man you marry. Expecting him to transform in to a handy guy, when his talent was in writing briefs, was unrealistic and one of many expectations I held that proved to unmet. Not so good for a marriage! So today I am happily single and just bought my first little home completely on my own. No longer funded by a lawyer’s paycheck, I would like to try some DIY on my own. But not a major bathroom remodel! Thanks for your humor! I found it to be refreshing and inspiring, just at the moment I was beginning to be discouraged. These posts were old so perhaps by now your home is how you want it. Or maybe you are like me and there is always the next project! So I am going to try to DIY or die trying. LOL

  40. Susan Cooksey says:

    I would love to finish all your jigsaw puzzles for you. I love them. Wouldn’t even charge much.

  41. I love this post! I’m a brand new DIYer, and some of the projects that I have ideas for seem very daunting, but as I get started on one, it’s not nearly as hard as I would expect. My 6 year old son recently told me that he wanted his room painted green, so we went and picked out a green (he chose a green about the color of green apple jolly ranchers). I decided that I wanted to do something different in his room, so we painted the entire room that bright green, and on one wall I painted a plaid design w a darker green. It took time, but wasn’t nearly as difficult as it appears. Now that it’s finished, I’m excited to find my next project!

  42. I seriously love your blog. Your posts make me laugh. When I came to this post from Pinterest I didn’t notice what blog I was on until I started reading. I’ve read maybe 5 of your previous posts but I recognized your voice. You have a very distinct voice, which I’m sure comes in handy as a blog writer. Thanks for this one. I have totally gotten into the habit of referring to my husband in all things that need to be figured out. My goal is to reclaim my competence and do some DIY things myself.

  43. I laughed so much – you made me want to apologise to my machine and pick up that drill! Thanks I think I’ll go and start again…

  44. Excellent post. I will be vigilant in practicing my glare! Ha! I love it.

    Last week, I pulled off some old, dated-looking wood baseboard that looked like it was installed by a psychopath with a nail gun. I filled the random nail holes, sanded it, and painted it bright white. Then I predrilled neat, regularly spaced holes and reinstalled it, taking care to fill the nail holes and touch up. I felt very smug. Anyone who criticizes my beautiful baseboard will be severely glared at.

  45. I especially LOVED this post!
    For me, the hardest part of any project is nearly-always just plain getting started. Wish I had a dollar for every time I said to myself when it’s done: “Well, that wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be – why did I put it off for so long?”

  46. Well, the biggest plan for a DIY project I have right now is a new computer, however what’s holding me back is lack of dough for the required parts. OS, which will be Arch Linux, or Gentoo if I’m ambitious enough to try compiling the whole system from source, is free.

  47. OMGoodness…love this post, and your work. Thank you for the inspiration.

  48. excellent post! Love this, and it’s real! Women need this information! Hope my blog is fabo one day too!

  49. I’ve always loved painting and building things, but I didn’t really start being a diy-er until my kids were born and I realized that all those adorable things for their rooms and super frilly dresses and cutesy rompers would be so much cheaper if I built/crafted/refinished/sewed them myself. I’m still getting the courage to take big home projects beside painting, but I’m pretty great at sewing! I’m thinking your dislike of your sewing machine is related to your hatred of jigsaw puzzles. Sewing is pretty similar to putting together puzzles lol.

  50. I love this post! I just shared it on the last blog I wrote about how my husband and I became DIYers while raising 4 young kiddos. Thanks so much for your encouragement and wisdom. I am hoping many of my followers read your blog and take some steps forward in their DIY lifestyle!

  51. I can totally relate to what you are saying! You can gain confidence by doing little projects. I remember my hubby showing me how to repair sheetrock, which I didn’t think I could do in a million years, but it was so easy! I could have not lived with a gigantic hole in my plaster for too long!

  52. Very nice. When it comes to projects I Ave done in the past, my biggest roadblock was actually starting. I’d analyze it until I either convinced myself that I wasn’t competent enough for it or that it was not a good time for it, or whatever. I’m happy I got over that. Thanks for sharing this.

  53. Kelly, I love your humor, and courage to tackle that foreclosure. I have been working 5 years on bringing the love back to a rundown house built in 1935. I just repaired a celing, and said to myself, don’t look too close please. Now, I have the cat face to practice! Thank you for giving me some much needed encouragement to get her Finished. P.s. I also have an evil sewing machine, who knew there are soooo many??


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