House For Six

How We Tackle House Projects With Little Ones Underfoot

Deme CrinionComment
One of the most commonly asked questions/comments we get around here is "I don't know how you guys do it....how do you get projects done with little kids underfoot?!".  The short answer is we basically stumble our way through and hope we still have some sanity (and unscathed children) at the finish line.

We're far from experts when it comes to DIY with kids, but we have found a few things (through much trial and error) that seem to work for us.  And keep us coming back for more once we've recovered from the trauma.

So for those inquiring minds, here's:
how to tackle DIY projects with young kids



1. Communication.
I put this at the top because it's most important.  Not because we're good at it.  James and I frequently joke at how poor our communication is after nearly 10 years of marriage.  There's is still a shortage of mind reading and the intuitiveness that should come from 10 years of intimacy is...well, clouded by loud distracting children. Which means we still have to talk to each other.

At a minimum we've learned it's really important to talk through the idea, agree on a good time to actually take on the project (read: remind Deme that she is in fact an adult and not an impatient toddler who expects things to happen now, now, now!), set a budget, and do a lot of checking in along the way.

 Is this more taxing than we thought?  How are you holding up physically?  How are the kids coping?  Has anyone stepped on a nail? Are we about to kill each other?


2. Get it on the calendar.  
I may express the desire to tackle a certain project and in my mind that means "I want to start this weekend".  And to James that means "she's daydreaming again".  The reality of taking on projects with kids is that they usually happen over time in small chunks stolen during naps or bedtime.  But for the projects that will really cause some disruption to our daily routine (like having to temporarily relocate large furniture to another room), we try to set a specific time frame to get it done.  And we put it on the calendar.

There are so many other family activities happening that it usually requires a "no" to something else in order to make time for a project  And always, always plan for more time that you think you'll need, especially if you have an older home.  It never goes as smoothly as it plays out in our heads.  If you end up ahead of schedule, then hey, crack open that beer and celebrate.


3.  Decide Who's Taking The Lead and Who's On Kid Watch.  
I'm almost always the one with the idea.  I can put money on James never approaching me with "Hey Babe, I was thinking maybe we could plank that wall in the family room.  It would add some interest and give the room some character.  Here, check out the 'Planked Walls' board on my Pinterest account".  #saidmyhusbandnever

Yet, I can't actually execute most of those big project ideas myself (or choose not too).  Painting?  I'm your gal. I'm fine with the drill and I'll wield that nail gun all day long...but I'm not stepping foot near a power saw or other large power tools with giant sharp blades.  I admire those that do, but for me...just, no thank you.

That typically means James takes the lead for a portion of the project (building, installation), and I take the lead on the finishing details like paint, caulk, and putting the place back together.  Whoever is not running point, is on kid duty.  That means entertaining them, feeding them, and generally keeping them out of the other person's way.  We team up on things when the kids are sufficiently occupied (see #9) or asleep.


4. Get Into The Details
Bust out that notebook.  Think through each step of the process.  Look up tutorials.  Research materials and make a detailed list of the supplies you'll need.  Take measurements and write them on your supply list.  Be specific.  Take note of paint colors and finishes. Because here's the deal....you're going to be at the home improvement store a lot, and 2 trips is better than 7. #askmehowiknow

I can't tell you how many times I've run out to the store, only to find I FORGOT TO BRING THE LIST WITH THE MEASUREMENTS.  Try to think through as many details ahead of time and write them down...so that when you're busy trying to grab the right piece of trim with one hand while keeping your kids from building a pyramid with the crown molding and corbels with the other, you don't have to think about what you need.



5.  Adjust your expectations and timeline.  
I used to be so gung-ho, ready to take down huge projects in just one weekend.  I have since learned that we just aren't that crew.  We have kids that like, need to eat and stuff.  And be entertained and kept away from nail guns.

What that's come to look like for us, is a big project ramp up once or twice a year. And when we do, we try to knock out as much as possible while the place is a wreck.

Most recently, we had a fridge leak that damaged the existing floors with a ripple effect that meant the floors throughout the family room, kitchen, and dining room would need to be ripped up and replaced.
how to tackle DIY projects with young kids

It was most cost effective to coordinate with our insurance company to do the work ourselves.  And while the room was a construction zone we decided to knock out a few other projects like white washing the brick fireplace, replacing the kitchen desk top, installing new baseboards, and painting.  It was a little more work for less disruption to our lives in the long run.

This kind of massive undertaking typically wipes us out for a couple of months #oldandweak  Once we've mentally and physically recovered, I ease back in with smaller projects and then we can finally think about what to tackle next. We've learned it's just not good for our family to have the house in a constant state of construction.  It's a literal safety hazard, but it also messes with our daily rhythms and the overall level of peace in the house.  So, we only put that on ourselves in short but intense bursts once or twice a year.  It just works for us.


6.  Be Ok With Unconventional.
Normally we would rip out all those floors first and then begin installation.  However, the kitchen is the busiest spot in our house, so we wanted to maintain some usability throughout the project. We also would have needed to displace a ton of furniture into the other living areas of the home - I'm sure the kids would have been thrilled with the furniture jungle gym, but I would have been pulling my hair out over the impending broken arms.

Instead we worked in small sections, moving furniture to one side of the room while we ripped up and installed floors at the other. It made the work space a little cramped, but it was worth being able to keep the other areas of the house fairly normal.
how to tackle DIY projects with young kids

We don't always do things by the book in order to make life more bearable for our kids (and us) during project mode.

7.  Get them involved. 
Get them involved, but chose wisely.  Don't pick something that will make you hate yourself and go prematurely grey.  I think this greatly depends on the age of your children.  Little ones can hand Daddy screws if he's putting together a piece of furniture.  They can help choose color and fabrics to feel like they're part of the process (only present them with your favorite options!).  Or just give them a roll of painters tape and have them place some "very important" marks on the wall.
how to tackle DIY projects with young kids

Of course, the one job they're always begging to "help" with is paint.  Children + paint = nightmare.  So, when we do have a situation where we're painting and ripping out the old flooring, we'll let them jump in there when we don't care about spills. We've also learned to load up the brush or roller ourselves, then hand it to them.  You can also paint a big circle or box on the walls and have them paint only inside that space.  Throw some of your old t-shirts over their clothes and keep lots of baby wipes on hand for quick drip clean ups.
how to tackle DIY projects with young kids

It doesn't have to last long.  They were thrilled with their 15 minute paint-palooza here.


8.  Plan Ahead For Meals.  
Let's be honest.  I'm not cooking dinner if my house is in total disarray.  We try to have lots of grab-and-go or easy to prep stuff on hand, a well stocked freezer, and the understanding that we'll probably be eating a few meals out or lots and lots of sandwiches.

9.  Keep Them Busy and Accept Help.
We try to have a few fun activities for the kids that will occupy them for a decent chunk of time (a new movie or fun game).  We also welcome offers for play dates and accept babysitting help during the messiest part of the project...or the phase that offers the most potential for safety issues.

If you also have friends offering to help with the work, say yes.  Many hands make the job go so much faster and they really are happy to help.  You can always repay the favor on their next project or in beer.


10. Invest in the right tools.  
This is obviously limited by budget, but over the years we've slowly added a few key tools to our arsenal.  And they are huge time savers.  We started out borrowing tools from friends and when we came across something we really liked and knew we would use again, we saved up for it.  I don't consider us hard core DIYers.  In fact, over the years, I've become much more inclined to hand it over to the pros if there's going to be a steep learning curve to get the job done.  The tools we've acquired over the years are the ones we use over and over and they've made the whole DIY experience much less painful.  Any amount of time saved is priceless in getting the house back to a livable state and maintaining sanity.


11. Know when to call it quits.  
This is two fold.  I think it's important to acknowledge when you're in over your head and call for back up...especially when dealing with an old house.  But it's also critical to recognize when the family is getting close to imploding.  The choas that comes from DIY can be exciting for the kids at first.  That's our bed in the living room while we worked on our master bedroom in the last house. #cuesleepoverparty
how to tackle DIY projects with young kids

But there comes a point where you just need to regain some order.....and sometimes that moment comes before the project is complete. When we see that coming, we find a good stopping point, clean up, and put the room back together.  Sometimes this means that you go months without baseboards or with only 3 of 4 walls painted.  The unfinished can drive me crazy, but it's not worth making my family even more crazy.


12.  Embrace The Suck.  
This has become our DIY mantra..Embrace the suck. Just do it.  It's going to be messy, and frustrating, and you'll be sore.  But keep going.  Grab another iced coffee and push through to the end (or until you reach #11). Nothing's worse than throwing in the towel halfway through a project which leaves you with an unfinished eyesore and without the feeling of satisfaction that makes it all worthwhile.....or having a project disrupt your lives for months on end.  Like our last kitchen.
how to tackle DIY projects with young kids


There has been a point in every single one of our major projects that I felt completely overwhelmed and regretted starting. The middle is so chaotic and it's easy to question yourself at every turn.....but then we finally get to the end.  The glorious end.  When you get to kick up your feet over your new floors, and pull the plates out of those freshly painted cabinets and it's all worth it.  Because even if it's hot glue creating that "perfect" curtain hem, you did it!

 Although most of our projects took twice as long because we have young kids in the mix, I'm so glad we didn't wait.  Our home is a gift and the ability to make it a place that truly reflects us and works for our family is also a gift.  Yes, it's slow going, but we're not in any rush.  This is our home today and tomorrow and for however long we're here, no matter what it looks like.  Each project just makes it feel a little bit more like a custom fit.


*These are some of the ways we've made DIY work for our young and growing family.  I would love to hear how you make it work! What are your best tips for tackling projects with kids...or with a busy job....or a severe aversion to painting?


Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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