Bathroom Renovation Doing it the 12-step way

 Imagine the Impossibilities Challenge, Final Progress Report

shower enclosure with walls down to studs

tub walls with hardibacker panels up on two wallsThe “Imagine the Impossibilities” Challenge is wrapping up this week, but our bathroom renovation is moving along slowly. We won’t be finished with our challenge when the challenge officially ends.

Luckily, we have a second bathroom on the main floor, so we aren’t in a huge rush to get it done. This is great because we don’t quite know yet how we want it all to be. We’ve installed the tub and we’re getting close to tiling, but we don’t know what color to paint the walls, what type of floor to install, what kind of vanity and sink to put in. We’re still thinking about storage and towel bars.

If you check out Rita’s Pinterest board for the bathroom project, you’ll see that there isn’t much there, and what is there is kind of all over the place. She’s even pinned pictures of kitchens:

Kitchen tile

Image via BH&G

I’m feeling pretty OK about this, though, because I’m learning some things about process and project workflow that work for us.

We aren’t plan everything out in fine detail kind of people. We can’t be. If we try to do that, we find that we never get started. There is a bit of perfectionist in both of us (especially Rita) that can be paralyzing.

What we’re finding works well for us is to borrow some advice from 12 step programs. I’m not a big fan of catch phrases or cliche, but 12 step recovery programs are chock full of one-liners that really do describe a way of living in a healthy way through difficult situations. The more I look at them, the more I see how they apply to DIY home renovation:

One day at a time
In order to not get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task I only have to focus on what I can get done today. One day last week it was to redo the wall board I put up behind the tub. It was about an hour long job. Not too bad. It left me plenty of time to work on other things. I didn’t have to think about the 58 other jobs I’ll have to do to get this thing done. I made a bit of progress and that was enough.

package of shims

I tried using shims to level out the wall behind the board, but it just didn't do the job. Had to tear the wall out and start over--but it was a job I could get done in one day.

Easy does it
We don’t have to get it all done at once. We can take it at a pace that fits our lifestyle. We don’t want to have our lives revolve around a renovation project. We want the renovation project to fit comfortably in our life, not overtake it.

Rita in coffeeshop

Last weekend we shopped for tile, but we also took time to relax and have fun.

You don’t have to know every step in order to start the journey
There are quite a few things about the renovation that I really don’t quite know how to do. I’ve never installed tile. I’ve never done plumbing work. I’m not sure how to solve the transition between the cement board and drywall. If I had to gain all the knowledge and solve all the problems before I got started I’d never get going. All I really need to know is the next couple of steps. I have to have the belief (balls) that I’ll get what I need when the time comes to take the next step.

Exposed bathroom plumbing

How am I going to get this pipe centered? I'm still not entirely sure, but I've got an idea I'm going to try, and I know what else I can do if that doesn't work.

Trust your higher power
For home renovation my higher power is Youtube (video instructionals), Home Depot, my local library, internet forums, and Rita. I think that will be enough to take care of me in doing this project. With all those resources in place, I trust that I’ll learn what I need to know and be able to solve problems as they arise.

Here’s one video that’s helped me in this process:

Progress, not perfection
A few days ago I discovered that I left a can of ABS cement on the bedroom carpet. It dripped a big blob onto the carpet. The damage is permanent. Rita says that’s where a plant will now go. :)

Once in college I undertook the task of replacing both front CV joints on my car. It was a huge job. I did it myself because I couldn’t afford what it would cost to get a mechanic to do it. It took me 2 days time and several attempts. Once I got the thing done and took the car off the jack, I was hugely proud of the monumental task I had just finished. I started cleaning up and found in the parts box the rubber axle boots that you are supposed to put on the axles as you install them. There was no way to fix this except to take everything apart and start over.

I’m already seeing that the walls I install will not be perfectly straight. The tub is not perfectly level. The finished job will have many small imperfections I’m sure. That doesn’t mean that I did things poorly or incorrectly. Just that I’m not perfect. Good enough is good enough. I have the feeling that a contractor-done job has imperfections as well. We don’t see them as much because we don’t know where to look. When you do the job yourself you know exactly where all the imperfections are.

Help is only a phone call away
I’ve got a few friends in the construction and remodel business. One phone call and a bit of cash will bail me out of any sticky situation that we get ourselves into.

cork floor installation

My friend Rick installed our cork floors. Rita was convinced we should call him when it looked like the tub might defeat us.

Change is a process, not an event
Our goal is to enjoy the process. If we aren’t having fun then it’s probably not really worth it. We love the idea of doing the work ourselves to have a bathroom that looks awesome, but it’s not worth doing the work ourselves if we don’t get something more than an awesome bathroom from the project. I like learning new things. I enjoy the challenge of doing something for the first time. If the whole thing was only a chore, I’d probably be just fine leaving the bathroom the way it was.

Tub wedged into too-small space

Maybe this doesn't look like much fun. This particular moment wasn't. But we actually had a lot of fun the day we wrestled the tub in because it felt great when we finally conquered it.

First things first
I don’t have to have decisions made about flooring or wall color just yet. Our next step is to finish the walls around the tub. We’ll tackle the flooring when it’s time to do that. If we try to do that now while we are doing other things we’ll get overwhelmed.

Rita sorting tile

First things first doesn't mean we have to wait until a step is completely finished before starting the next one. We've been shopping for tile even though we don't have the plumbing all worked out. It does mean that we can shop for it in in a leisurely way because we know we're not ready for it yet.

Home Renovator’s Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer is a big part of 12-step programs.  I’ve modified it for those of us who are taking on renovation projects that can sometimes feel unmanageable:

serenity prayer adapted for  home renovators

Thinking of the project this way has helped me to be at peace with how things are going. It’s not a chore that has been left undone. It is a process. Hopefully a process that will not only change the look and functionality of the room but will also change the people who have undertaken the task.

A project like this for me is a creative act. It’s sort of like making a painting. I have a set of technical skills to start. The act of making the painting enhances and sharpens those skills. When I start a painting I have a general idea of where I’m going. I never have a complete vision, though. Sometimes I can see more in my head and sometimes less. Always there is a starting point though. I just trust the process and let it lead me. I’m always transformed by it.

The point is that I can never quite know the outcome before I start. If I did I wouldn’t quite be interested in starting in the first place. Same with this bathroom project. I really have no idea what we’ll end up with. I am enjoying the creative possibilities and room for growth the project is providing, however.

soldering a pipe

Before this project, I'd never soldered pipe before.

Bathroom remodel as a spiritual path? Perhaps. This may be over stating it a bit, but I believe that everyday tasks can be opportunities for substantive change.

Through this one I’m learning some things about breaking a task up into manageable parts. I’m also learning about taking my time and not letting a task overwhelm my time and attention. Both of these are tough for me. I’m much more apt to jump into a project head first and emerge only when it’s done. I complete it by sheer force of will and will let everything else fall by the wayside until it’s done.

bathtub filling with water

Yes, you can stop and relax in the tub, even if there are no finished walls around it. We don't have to complete a process before we get benefits from it.

This time will be different and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

The challenge may be done, but our reports on our progress aren’t.  We hope you’ll keep checking back to see how we’re doing, share any tips or advice that might help us, and cheer us on.

We’ve linked up with all the others chasing their impossible dreams.  Check it out here.