Self Reliance With Home Improvement

One of the arguments made about people today, and one I agree with, is that we’re all a bunch of dependent pussies who are the polar opposites of the rugged, independent frontiersmen who founded our once great nation. A while back I had to come to the painful conclusion that I had to include myself in that stereotype, at least in one respect.

I’ve always been self reliant, in that I’ve always made my own money, worked for myself (at least for most of my adult life), paid my own bills, never get lonely, didn’t rely on an individual female companion to “complete me,” validate me, or keep me from being unhappy, and didn’t obey the orders or desires of my family or parents. However, there’s one area in which I was woefully dependent on others, and that is the repair and maintenance logistics of living in your own home.

I’m the guy who is busy enough, and makes enough money, where if anything goes wrong in my house or my yard, I call someone, have them fix it, and pay for it. This is not a bad thing. From a productivity and time management standpoint, you always want to outsource tasks from your life that pay a lower hourly rate than what you earn. If you make $30 an hour in your business, if you can pay a landscaper or repairman less than $30 an hour to maintain or fix things, you should do that. Otherwise, you’re literally wasting money by doing it yourself.

I’ve also been spoiled in the home improvement area for most of my adult life, in that I didn’t have to do much of this work myself. When I owned my own homes, I had either a wife or girlfriend who knew this household stuff and could do it all for me. When I was married, my wife at the time was very skilled in home improvement. She was almost like a man. (On one of her birthdays she asked for a miter saw. Seriously.) During the times I’ve rented, the landlord was responsible for home repairs and similar tasks. During the rare times where I couldn’t get a landlord or woman to do these things for me, I’d just call someone out and pay them.

The result was fantastic time management, but a woeful lack of self reliance when it comes to the mechanical part of life.

This hit me a few months ago, when I realized I didn’t know how to put up a curtain rod in one of my bedrooms. A fucking curtain rod. How hard is it to put up a curtain rod?

As I reflexively reached for my phone to call my handyman to do it for me, I paused and asked myself a few hard questions:

“Caleb. What the fuck. You seriously have to get the handyman out here for something as simple and stupid as putting up a fucking curtain rod?”

“I understand the business and productivity need to outsource, but wait a minute…how manly and Alpha is it that you’re so ignorant about home improvement that you don’t know how to put up a fucking curtain rod, you big pussy?”

“What if shit hits the fan in society, and things like handymen and repairmen become unavailable to you for an extended period of time? How self reliant will you be then?”

“Alpha Male 2.0s don’t need home repair/improvement skills, true, but is being completely ignorant about home repair/improvement truly match the independent frame and position of an Alpha 2.0 man?”

“When you move out of the country in 2025, what if you move to a place like Paraguay, where you will have to be self reliant about repairing and maintaining much of your own home? How self reliant will you be then?”

“Is being completely ignorant and dependent regarding home repair/improvement a good long-term life strategy?”

Frowning, I slowly put down the phone and admitted that I didn’t have any good answers to these questions. I realized that in order to be truly self reliant, I would have to learn how to be self reliant logistically as well as physically, emotionally and financially.

After some thought, I made a pact with myself. Here it is:

From now own, if anything breaks in the house, or if anything needs to be upgraded, installed, or removed, I will attempt to it myself. If I don’t have the proper tools, I will go purchase them. If I don’t have the proper equipment and it’s too expensive to purchase, I will rent whatever I need. I will force myself to fix this problem or perform this upgrade regardless of how long it takes or how many tools I have to purchase.

If, and only if, after giving it my best effort, I can’t fix the problem (or upgrade the item), then I will call a handyman or repair man to do it. When he comes out, I will take careful notes and ask him lots of questions on exactly what he did and how he did it, so I can possibly do it myself in the future.

Exceptions: A) I will not do any high voltage electrical work, since knowing me, I’d probably electrocute myself. B) I will not do any heavy plumbing work. Minor plumbing, yes. Major plumbing, no, since I may cause more damage than good. C) I will paint, but not anything that requires painting anywhere near ceilings or floors, because I know I’ll fuck that up. D) Major structural upgrades to the house, if I ever need any, (like putting in a wall or something), I will get help with.

Other than those exceptions, I will attempt do everything myself before calling anyone.

So far, I have made good on this pact. Sometimes I’ve been successful, sometimes not. Since then, I have done things like:

  • Installed not one, but several curtain rods, and did a beautiful job if I do say so myself
  • Installed shelving in my garage
  • Power washed my entire garage
  • Repaired several locks
  • Repaired my sliding glass door
  • Installed a new doorbell
  • Started building a nice collection of tools, including power tools, that I’ve never owned before (all I used to have was a hammer, a pair a pliers, and some screwdrivers)
  • Etc

Sometimes things don’t work out. A few weeks ago, my kitchen sink became clogged. I refused to call the plumber and followed my pact to fix it myself. I consulted YouTube, Google, and a handyman friend of mine, and I tried everything. I made not one, but two trips to Home Depot to get all the tools, including a hand auger (the biggest one they had), Allen wrench set, pipe wrench, mini plunger, and all kinds of other crap. I spent four hours dissembling the PVC, snaking the pipes, and dicking around with leaks. Taking four hours out of my day, away from my work, was emotionally painful for me, because I’m such a workaholic and time management nerd, but I had to follow through on the pact I had made with myself.

In the end, I couldn’t fix it. I had to call the damn plumber. When he arrived, I watched him carefully, asked him a ton of questions, and took notes. (The problem was the blockage was way into the external piping, longer than my 30 foot snake could reach; he used a longer industrial snake and got it.) Sucks, but at least now I’m more than prepared to deal with this problem if it happens again, which I’m sure it will.

If you want to go down this path yourself, it’s actually very easy. Your sources for information are:

  • Google/Internet
  • YouTube (YouTube is a damn treasure trove of everything related to home/yard improvement you could possibly think of. It’s amazing.)
  • Friends or family members who are more handyman skilled
  • The pros
  • Employees at big box home improvement stores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc)

Like reprogramming my brain to lose weight, this pact is not easy sometimes, but it needs to be done. Once I have all the tools in my garage and have a good knowledge base on home repair and maintenance, then I can go back to my normal self of calling people to fix stuff, but not before then.

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  • Mike
    Posted at 06:51 pm, 29th August 2016

    I agree with this whole heartedly. A few years ago, I was totally caught up in the “Tim Ferriss Mindset”, trying to outsource absolutely everything.

    But you lose so much personal power by doing that. I bought my first lawn mower 2 months ago, and I’ve actually enjoyed taking the 15 minutes to mow my lawn. I don’t have to deal with anyone or pay anybody. It feels good.

    Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, my “hourly rate” isn’t great. I make a lot of money during my day job at a big company, but there’s no way for me to extend that into the off hours. My side businesses do little to no revenue at the moment.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s the end of the world to do some things yourself. But I don’t think I’ll ever clean my own house again – I just hate that activity too much.

  • Paul Murray
    Posted at 12:17 am, 30th August 2016

    I was going to suggest youtube, reading this. It’s amazing.

    As for the whole”masculintiy” ball of wax – a bloke needs to feel in control of his immediate physical environment. The basic – even primitive – jobs of feeding yourself, clothing yourself, maintaining your shelter. The money and time you spend on working out how to put up your own damn curtain rods is no more a waste than is the money and time you spend on your own health and fitness. It’s an important component of happiness, and it’s a tragedy that boys are growing up not seeing this behavior modeled for them.

  • Sean
    Posted at 05:23 am, 30th August 2016

    I took this to an extreme during a bit of a sabbatical… I was 37 with an MBA but no real skills that could keep me alive. I worked on a farm for a summer, learned about growing food, and learned a lot of carpentry skills. I am back to my job as a real estate appraiser but I feel a lot more confident with the knowledge I gained. I am also still learning: I bought a three family that needed a lot of work and have been doing as much as I can myself (but still hiring out the more complicated stuff).

  • Sean
    Posted at 05:24 am, 30th August 2016

    I also learned how to safely use a firearm.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 10:01 am, 30th August 2016

    I also learned how to safely use a firearm.

    That’s another topic but I agree with that one as well.

  • A Man
    Posted at 06:33 pm, 31st August 2016

    I fully agree with this. Only trouble is, you end up owning a shitload of tools that are often only used 1 time. Then when you move ya gotta haul all the tools to the new joint. Sure we should all own a drill and power screwdriver, a bunch of sockets, a good level and a pipe wrench. But you start getting into drill presses, table saws and tile saws and suchlike and it becomes a ball and chain.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 09:21 pm, 31st August 2016

    Sure we should all own a drill and power screwdriver, a bunch of sockets, a good level and a pipe wrench. But you start getting into drill presses, table saws and tile saws and suchlike and it becomes a ball and chain.

    Those are the kinds of things I would rent, not purchase. Like when I needed a power washer, I rented it.

    If a tool costs more than about $120-$150, I’m going to lean towards renting it, unless it’s something I know I will use often (like a good power drill).

  • Russell Noga
    Posted at 07:24 am, 8th July 2018

    Back when I was broke, building up my businesses, I HAD to do everything myself. Now if I do everything myself, it COSTS me money. A LOT of money. But I got that experience and know-how to do it if I absolutely had to, within limits of course.

    I fixed a dryer belt one time a few years ago. I was incredibly busy with a marketing project for my business, and because it was a tricky one it took me over 4 hours to complete. I should have just paid the $75 and had a handyman come over, as the cost in lost revenue was well into the thousands.

    So I think the perfect blend is, Know how to in case of an emergency. But spend your time doing what you do best and pay someone who is likely way better at it than you.

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