I’m still playing house

June 25, 2012

First off, my apologies to my neighbours.

Here you thought you had two grown adults moving in next door. But we’re really frauds. My wife and I, first-time home buyers two years into our first mortgage, are merely playing house.

Don’t get me wrong, we love our little home and our neighbourhood. But somehow we figured buying a home automatically makes a person suited for all kinds of adult skills, like gardening, landscaping and renovations. Boy, were we wrong.

We’ve learned the hard way that home ownership does strange things to people.

Barely a month after we had moved in, I had convinced myself I was a professional landscaper. With free labour from friends and my wife, we dug up a dump truck’s worth of crushed rock and hauled it out of our backyard. In its place, we put down topsoil and dozens of rolls of new sod.

Now, I never lived through the great Dustbowl that parched the Midwest in the 1930s, but I’m just saying I can relate to what those poor farmers went through. A year after our new lawn had been planted, we had a grown ourselves a fine dirt patch in the backyard that may have accidentally let one or two blades of grass survive. But the yard went from grey to brown, so I guess that was progress.

For my next project, I let my brother-in-law convince me that installing a chain-link fence was easy. I should have known better. After one sweaty weekend, we had put the thing in, but it looked like it had just gone through an earthquake and a herd of stampeding buffalo.

The dog practically laughs at me every time I let him outside, like a prison inmate who could escape any time he wants. I’m pretty sure he only avoids the fence because he’s worried it could collapse on him at any moment.

The next spring, I had decided I was a modern-day Johnny Appleseed. I would greenify my backyard by planting truckloads of new trees, then bask in the shade they would cast. I planted 20 beautiful, tall and lush cedars and spent the next year slowly sucking every last ounce of life out of them.

This spring, we pulled every single one of those orange disasters out of the ground with one hand, looking like they had been napalmed by the U.S. air force itself.

But our domestic assault has not been limited to the outside of our little home. We also became do-it-ourselfers, also known as idiots with tools. Those clowns on TV run around with a hammer and a pair of goggles, turning shacks into mansions, we figured. We could certainly do that.

In some kind of fever this winter, we decided we’d renovate our bathroom ourselves. We asked: How hard can it be?

A month and about 79 trips back to Home Depot later, we had our answer: hard. Do-it-yourself home renovating can be very, very hard. Our drywalling and mudding skills were so awful our walls looked like papier-mâché that had several small children trapped behind them.

Our tiling work looked like it had been done by an impressionist artist who had huffed a few too many paint fumes. Our towel rack clings to the wall, threatening to drop at any moment. The rim around our sink is so smeared with caulking, we may as well have let a class of preschoolers have at it for five minutes.

Much poorer and with countless redos later, we learned a valuable lesson. The only do-it-yourself project anyone should attempt is changing light bulbs. Even then, it’s pretty risky. For everything else, cough up the money and call a professional.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer whose column appears every third Saturday. Past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

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