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The DIY Shuffle

So we bought ourselves another house– one that was not butchered by a previous owner.  It may not be perfect but at least it’s structurally sound.  So you would think we would just move in, breathe a huge sigh of relief, and enjoy living in a house that is not a constant construction zone before diving into some home improvements.

Well, you would be wrong.

I wish you were right.  I really do.  But it turns out that I am a sick man.  I cannot look at a house– any house– without seeing flaws.  And apparently I cannot live in a house– any house– without turning at least half of it into a big DIY project.

It started at the first showing

The very first time we set foot in this house with our real estate agent, I criticized the closet in the master bedroom.  The closet was six and a half feet wide, but the opening was only four feet and was over to one side, leaving 2 feet of closet space behind a wall.

No problem, I said.  I can re-frame that door opening.

Yes.  I was already talking about renovating a house we had only set foot in less than ten minutes before.  Our agent was appalled.

I also said I wasn’t crazy about the popcorn ceiling in the master but noticing the glares from both by wife and the agent, I quickly added that I could live with it.

We walked through the rest of the house and we loved enough about it to put in an offer that night, knowing that there was going to be a lot of competition for this particular property.

It started the first day of ownership

The same day we got the keys to the house, I started demolition in the bedroom to re-frame the closet doorway.  We had a bridge loan, so we actually owned both houses at the same time for a week.  Our ambitious plan was to paint the bedrooms and the family room, plus do this little framing project in the master before we had to be out of our old house.

closet demolition
First week of home ownership and demolition of the closet begins

We both took vacation time so it’s not like we were completely delusional.

However, the master bedroom didn’t stop with the closet.  I ended up scraping the popcorn ceiling and taking up the laminate floor which had some unsightly damage in a highly visible high traffic area.  The room was in construction zone mode when we closed on our other house and had to move the rest of our stuff in.

We were already down a bedroom and we hadn’t done any painting at all.

And thus began…..

The DIY Shuffle

So, what exactly is the DIY Shuffle?

  1.  Moving (or shuffling) stuff from one area of the house to another in order to work on a project in the first area.
  2.   Jumping (or shuffling) from one project to another without finishing the first one.  Having multiple unfinished projects going at the same time.

Both of these definitions apply.

Our house is a four level back-split.  Living room, dining room and kitchen are on the main floor.  You go up half a dozen steps to three bedrooms and a bathroom.  You go down half a dozen steps to the family room and a bonus room, and then down another half dozen steps to the basement, which has another family room, plus a large laundry room and mechanical room (picture a traditional ranch style house split in the middle with half of it shifted up half a storey).

We plan to use the rooms thusly:

Upstairs:  Master bedroom, daughter’s bedroom and daughter’s study.  Downstairs: the bonus room becomes the guest room.  And the second family room in the basement will become my home office.

Moving day (January)

The master bedroom is a construction zone so we put our bedroom in the study and set up our daughter in her bedroom.  The guest room is used for temporary storage of stuff until we can find a place for it.   And my computer and desk go down in the office.  Wall hangings are stored temporarily in the office area.  A lot of our stuff is in self-storage.  My larger woodworking tools are in storage.  The rest of my tools are either in the garage or in the laundry room.

The flood waters cometh (March)

flooded basement
Water, water, everywhere

A sump pump failure and heavy rains.  Hundreds of gallons of water.  It was a mess.

We manage to move stuff out of the basement but we quickly run out of places to put it.  We have now spread clutter throughout the house.

The waterproofing gets done in July but the walls still need to be repaired and new flooring needs to be installed

french drain
French drain system installed in the basement

A place for everything and everything in its place?  Nope!

Electrical work (April)

We needed a new panel and I wanted the garage wired for my woodworking shop so we hired an electrician.  To give him room to work in the garage, I move some of the boxes of tools to the garden shed.

The in-laws are coming (June):  we need a guest room

The master bedroom is not finished, but is done enough that we can move our stuff from the study to the master.

We were still using the future guest room for storage downstairs.  Our daughter’s bedroom was bigger than her future study, so we decided to make her bedroom the temporary guest room and moved her bedroom into the study that we had just finished using as our temporary master bedroom.

junk room
Future guest room was being used for storage, dumping ground.

School starts in September

Okay… I want my daughter to have dedicated study space separate from her bedroom.  She is in the ninth grade this year so this is a priority.

The plan is to replace the door.  The bedroom doors are just basic hollow core slabs that are not in very good condition.  Whoever installed the flooring didn’t undercut the door frames, so the flooring just goes up to the frame instead of under, leaving unsightly gaps.  We will eventually replace each door and fix up the floor at the same time.

I have matching flooring and a new door to make everything right for the bedroom.  I pry up the poor fitting pieces of oak flooring in the doorway, but in the process, I damage a piece of the bamboo floor in the bedroom.  No problem.  There’s some leftover bamboo flooring stored in the basement.  One thing leads to another– long story short, let’s just blame it on some sloppy work with the circular saw– and I now have half a dozen boards to replace.

Yeah.  That’s right.  Six.

bamboo floor
Bamboo floor: one damaged board leads to another which leads to another….

Time for a break, perhaps?

Tired?  Frustrated?  Work getting sloppy as a result? Making stupid mistakes?  It’s time to quit for the day, right?  But no.  I will not admit defeat.  At least not until half a dozen boards are damaged.

When it comes time to replace the boards– I am well-rested– the first two fit perfectly.  I’m feeling pretty confident.  But the next board is less than about 1/16 of an inch too wide.  It won’t fit.  I try it in another spot.  Nope.  So I try another board.  Same result.  And another….  The DIY gods are having a good laugh at my expense

After much thought and discussion, we decide to take up the bamboo floor and replace it with a high quality laminate.  And by we, I mean my wife and I make the decision but I am the one who takes up the bamboo floor (and the half dozen or so staples for each board).  Not fun.  Not fun at all.

I’ve wasted a lot of time and I am way behind schedule.

Before I can install the laminate floor I need to drop this project and turn my attention to the guest room on the lower level because in about 6 weeks we are going to have a…

House Guest Invasion

Our niece and her husband visit us for a week around the Canadian Thanksgiving.  And so do my wife’s parents.  We needed to turn that bonus room into a guest room.

Did I mention the bonus room only had 3 walls?

As the Tragically Hip performed their farewell concert in August, I was probably the only Canadian not at the show or watching it on television.  Instead, I was framing a partition wall.

Stuff stored in the bonus room had to be sorted, put away, donated or tossed out.  We moved a lot of it to other areas of the house.

Anyone else could have finished the project in a couple weekends, but I’m lazy and I’m a procrastinator.

Anyway, when our guests arrived in October, I had just finished hanging the drywall.  I am talking about the same day.  I was a sweaty gypsum covered mess when they rolled up in our driveway.

We set up an AeroBed in the guest room for our niece and her husband.  The room was far from finished but at least they had some privacy.

guest room framing
The guest room in the morning. House guests arrived in the afternoon. Drywall was hung and the room was cleaned out in time before they arrived.

Despite the primitive conditions, it was a wonderful visit.

Meanwhile, the guest room upstairs (which will become our daughter’s bedroom) was still set up as a guest room for mom and dad-in-law, but now it had a bare sub-floor.  Not exactly five star accommodations, but it would have to do.


With my wife’s folks returning yet one more time at the end of the year I really wanted to have the guest room completely finished in time for Christmas.  That didn’t quite happen.  I did finish the drywall and painting and installed the trim.

finished guest room
The guest room is finished except for the ceiling.

The only thing left to do is to install a SnapClip ceiling.

King of the unfinished projects

(I read that on a t-shirt once and it applies here)

You may notice a recurring theme here.

Of all the projects I started since we moved in, I have completely finished none.  I still have to install trim in the master bedroom and the flooring in our daughter’s bedroom.   There is still some work to do in the guest room.  I painted one side of the family room but not the other and I have yet to do any work at all in the basement.

I have jumped from one project to another without finishing anything.  And I have shifted “stuff” from one area to another area to another area, and it seems like nothing has yet found its permanent home.

Meanwhile, if I am looking for a tool, it will either be in the basement, in the garage, in the tool shed or in one of our two storage units. ….  No wonder I can’t seem to get anything done.  I spend more time looking for my tools than I do actually working on the projects, or at least so it seems.

It’s all part of the DIY Shuffle….



  1. Fred

    I know that dance all too well. I am a construction supervisor so I have a habit of bringing home dumpster treasures. I jump from project to project as the materials become somewhat available. However, I did take a break for The tragically Hip.

    • Thumb and Hammer

      The Hip are still waiting on the Tivo. Like everything else, I’ll get to it, eventually.

  2. Karen (Chick with power tools)

    Oh dear, having just discovered your podcasts, I am giggling about the the never ending projects. So relatable! I have several. So I can work on what I feel like working on, when I want to work on it. Drives my son crazy. Husband knows better. I don’t say anything about his piles of books everywhere, he doesn’t mention my piles of wood… He’s getting another built-in bookshelf in the basement as a reward. It has been murder trying to hide the pieces as it is a Christmas present

    Nice to hear the Canadian side of things – many amazing US items simply cannot be found here

    • Thumb and Hammer

      Piles of books, you say? I can relate to that. Although most of my wife’s books are in storage right now. I have my share too, from back in my university days. I think we’re going to end up purging a lot of the books, though. Adding built-in bookshelves to “the list” isn’t part of the plan.

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