Renovation With the Next Generation – Involve Your Kids in DIY!

I love to make things. I am 100% Do-It-Yourself (DIY) through and through. I studied art for a year in college, then dropped out to become a carpentry apprentice because I craved hands-on skills. A short stint in construction and an attempted commercial painting apprenticeship later… the housing market crashed. I was forced to jump industries, eventually finding my calling in pastry arts, but the hand skills and mindset learned in construction helped form who I am as a Doer.

There’s not a room in my house that I don’t have plans to change (says every DIY-er out there…). Naturally, my kids are growing up in the middle of it and want to be involved. I think it is a FANTASTIC idea. Here’s why…

1.  There is an incredible amount of pride to be found in physically changing your space! No wonder those DIY shows are a hit on tv… Kids love helping give the “big reveal” and get a grown-up feeling accomplishment when proudly stating that they helped! My daughter gives tours of the house to every guest simply out of habit because chances are something changed since their last visit… and chances are also good that she helped make it happen!

2.  DIY is also spelled “problem-solving.” Nothing ever goes to plan, and kids take note on how you handle the stressful situation. I learned how to hook up and drive with a trailer in front of my 8-year-old! Her presence forced me to moderate my vocabulary and extrapolate what I was actually feeling. It was a Win-Win: I was a better role model AND she heard me work through it step by step. Here’s a fun bit of trivia: explaining a problem out loud to someone inexperienced makes them your “rubber duck” for the day. 

3.  Kids benefit from real-world examples of managing money. A short-term DIY project is great for grade- and middle-schoolers to follow. It has a reasonable timeline to get excited about and they stay engaged until the final numbers come in. If you stay on budget, have a party in your new space! Older kids might be great at helping research and source materials.

4.  GIRL POWER! This point deserves an entire post! Just when I thought I left all the doubters behind on the construction site… I have encountered more people who I can prove wrong. Girls can do everything that they set their minds to, including renovation! My mantra is “work smarter, not harder.” We strategize ahead of time and use leverage to make better use of our given strength.  

5.  I felt really strong about promoting an eco-friendly goal in our renovation.Our old carpet was recycled at Sergenians. Reusable building materials and household goods were donated (Restore and Goodwill.) New materials sourced from the Restore (Madison East and West!) and Craigslist. You guys, I got some INCREDIBLE deals at the Restore and love their Mission!

6.  The power of knowledge can’t be understated. If you’re not handy yet, take a class at the hardware store or volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Request as many books from the library as you can. Adults who pursue a new skill send kids such a positive message.

BUT… before you run off to the hardware store, set some Ground Rules:

1.  Know what you don’t know, and respect those boundaries. There’s a difference between learning by doing and learning haphazardly. Find a friend or family member that can show you the ropes (or bail you out.) Do your research and hire professionals for any work you’re uncertified to do. Baby’s first renovation should not be plumbing or electrical. 

2.  Make the site SAFE. Before anything moves, buy a zipper door (such as these) and staple it to the walls!! It’s a visual barrier as well as a dust barrier. We also put a baby gate in the doorway to keep pets out. Make sure that all kids (and guests and well-meaning in-laws…) know right away that the area under construction is a SHOES ONLY zone to be visited ONLY with a parent!

3.  Renovations always alter the flow of activities. Closing off access to an area means heavier foot traffic in another. Not sure what that means? Put a piece of blue painter’s tape up across the designated area at least a week ahead of time, marking the space as closed. Go about your day and every time you run into the tape, consider how you’ll need to move that activity somewhere else. Will your front door traffic now be going through the dining room?   Will you need to install more baby locks or park your vehicles somewhere else? Strategize how to keep these areas unobstructed during their temporary rearrangement.

4.  Make lists. I like Google Keep and Dropbox for syncing up notes between my devices. An organized project is a safe, efficient project. 

5.  Know that every project will take 3x more trips to the hardware store than you planned (and that “3” is an arbitrary number.) At this point, kids will get bored and back-up childcare is needed. Involve them for short periods of time, not marathons, for optimal enjoyment. (And when you’re still up at 2am because the thing won’t work… check YouTube for product installation guides.)

Happy DIY and good luck on your next project!

Rachel grew up in a small town south of Madison, across the street from her high school sweetheart, Adam (although they didn’t actually meet until one fateful band and choir trip to New Orleans!) College and love took them to Milwaukee for a decade, where Rachel discovered her love for pastry arts. They are now settled back in Madison (much closer to the grandparents!) with two kids. Cassia and Kairos are seven years apart in age but already have an amazing and comical bond. Rachel has faced a confounding path of medical set-backs over the past few years, which have impacted every facet of daily life and plans for the future. With the tremendous support from her family, she strives to use her experience to shed light on the challenges faced by disabled parents.


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