There’s a cardboard box in our kitchen filled with sandpaper and paintbrushes, scrapers, screw drivers, putty, primer and paint. It’s topped with a folded up drop cloth and every day for the last week, James or I have taken it down from the top of fridge and gotten to work on our current apartment project: refinishing our kitchen cabinets. When we’ve had the time free from kids or other work obligations, we’ve been chipping away at the project. Even though the cabinets are relatively few, refinishing them is a multi-step process that can’t really be rushed through. I’m working on a post about the specifics of what we’re doing to the cabinets, but in the meantime, I’ve been getting lots of questions about how we find the time and space to tackle projects like this in the first place. So, in hopes it’s helpful or encouraging, here are a few of my strategies for living with projects in process, especially when those projects are on a scale that can turn things a little topsy turvy.
+ Temper expectations: Folks often ask me how I manage tackling projects at all with kids underfoot. The short answer is that I don’t typically try to work on them while they’re home. I wait until there’s a time when they’re in school or at a playdate or with a grandparent or a babysitter, which means that the work largely happens in stolen hours and on an expanded timeline. For me, the realities of living in a small apartment with three small kids means the time it will take to finish the projects gets doubled or maybe even tripled. Going into a project knowing that it’s going to take awhile keeps me from being disappointed when it inevitably does.
+ Make a supply box: To put it mildly, I’m someone who thrives in a calm and quiet space. Living in the midst of a construction zone, no matter how small, is not what I’d call my comfort zone, but wrangling the specific supplies I need for a project and being able to box them up and push them out of sight between work sessions makes tackling projects possible for me. There’s no question that cleaning everything up after a stretch of work and setting it up again later adds to the overall time that a project takes, but for me, it’s a crucial part of the process. Having a box filled with supplies feels like a good compromise because I’m not necessarily returning everything to its forever storage spot, but I’m also not trying to make morning coffee on a counter crowded with supplies. If I run into a timing hiccup where there are several days that lapse between having an opportunity to work on something, it’s nice to know that I have everything I need still relatively accessible, without also being stuck with a mess while I wait for my next window of work time.
+ Get the messiest stuff done all at once: As much as is possible, my goal is always to mitigate the amount of cleanup that I have to do. Whenever possible, that means I try to get the messiest stuff done in the longest stretches of time I have. In the case of kitchen cabinets, for instance, this meant one afternoon where we emptied every cabinet and scrubbed and sanded all of the boxes in one fell swoop. It meant a long day of chaos as everything was out of the kitchen, but it also allowed us to get a big chunk done at once. Had we done this part cabinet by cabinet, needing to cordon off the kitchen and thoroughly clean up dust and debris after each individual cabinet, we would have been looking at a far longer process. Other stages of the project, like priming and painting, are easier to do little by little. Determining ahead of time what makes sense to tackle piecemeal and what needs to be done in one fell swoop cuts down on the overall time and exasperation. (NB. At the time of writing, I’m writing from a supine position on my bed, icing my back. I’m sure I spent too many uninterrupted hours scraping paint on Friday, so be careful for what you wish for in terms of long project days.)
No doubt, many of the challenges we face, and much of the ease we enjoy are specific to our own lives. We live in a small city apartment without a garage or a basement or a spare room. We don’t have a backyard or a patio, but we do have a rooftop that’s relatively easy to access (if not officially sanctioned for use). James and I are lucky to have relatively flexible work schedules this time of year, which means we can work on some of these projects during the day when our kids are at school or daycare and attend to computer work in the afternoon and in the evenings after they’re asleep. As always, there’s no perfect way to take on the challenge of doing something yourself, but at the end there’s huge reward and satisfaction of having done it. (Maybe also a sore back.)
Feel free to chime in with questions or solutions you’ve found during your own works in progress!
For the curious:
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