Unfinished Business: Summer Do-It-Yourself Projects


Isn’t summer great? There is so much free time. Time to do all those romantic, simple, “salt of the earth” DIY things I always kind of, sort of, slightly want to do occasionally, for a few minutes and until I get bored of the idea. Ah yes, summer is not the season for idle relaxing, but it’s also the time when there is really nothing better for me to do than try (but almost never really “get into”) a shitload of surprisingly physically exhausting, “retro”, “from scratch”, much more expensive than I’d originally anticipated and largely pointless do-it-yourself(myself?) projects usually reserved for hipsters or the elderly, “handy” people and contract writers for the back pages of “Home and Garden” / “Canadian Guider” magazine.

Knit a maroon scarf in the 90 degree weather? Absolutely. Make and refurbish my own clothes to save money like my new (and much cooler-than-me) artist neighbour with the handmade candles all over her floor? Consumerism really IS overrated. Go on a raw vegan, gluten free diet? I’m going to be SO. SKINNY HEALTHY. Tear out the floors of the kitchen, replace them with hardwood and redecorate so the south-facing wall is covered with a tiled backsplash and my own black and white photographs of neighbourhood graffiti and people’s hands? That will take two days, max. Take up photography? Well, I kind of need to, if I’m going to fix the kitchen. Clean out my iTunes playlist so everything has a rating and nothing has a name like “File_2342542354245234_xxsongbeatz2010YAH”? That will definitely be a very practical use of my time. Hurray! Summer projects!

Once I start all these things, though, I always remember that summer actually involves a combination of any or all of meaningful and underpaid work, working in retail (wholly separate categories), pretending to look for work, summer classes, internships, sitting in traffic and hangovers that eat up most of my free time. While sitting in my 95 degree basement covered in overpriced gauche and my own frustrated, un-artistic sweat I recall that, even when I’m not busy, I’m usually too hot and unmotivated to do much of anything in the summer other than work out half-assedly or sit around on a patio, dock, extraordinarily sparse looking grassy knoll in the middle of a major city or some weird, vaguely trendy combination of the four complaining about how hot it is outside.

I also gradually realize that, like many liberal arts-educated products of the internet “how-to” article age, I have become overconfident in my own competence, aka deluded myself into thinking that four years of essays and caffeine intoxication has given me practical “problem solving” skills. Soon (very, very soon) after I start getting my hands dirty, I grasp the sad reality that do-it-yourself projects, while beautiful and hypothetically-money saving relics of a bygone era when people were grounded and actually knew how to do things other than state their thoughts in 140 characters or less (that’s what I told myself when I started this, right?), are also, you know, pretty hard.

As it turns out, “doing it myself” in real life equates to hour upon hour of difficult, picky and sweaty work that make things worse, messier and uglier before it makes anything better. Moreover, it more often than not results in very little satisfaction and a whole lot of very demoralizing mistakes. For example, who knew that kitchen renovation projects are designed almost exclusively for people with years of technical/ practical skills with a chainsaw/ hammer that I obviously failed to pick up while watching entire seasons of Stop the Smoggies! as a child?

Eventually , I stop really trying to finish any of my projects, but I continue to tell myself and everyone who cares (no one really cares) that I’m still “totally committed” because I a) talked way, way too much about how great my idea was when I first started and b) feel sort of guilty. I leave my half finished efforts lying around the house, figuring I’ll decide to “come back to them later.”

I don’t. Ever.

At the end of the season, I look back over my “accomplishments “and find that I spent 135 dollars on empty picture frames and stick on kitchen tiles, have a “perfect” lopsided maroon tea cozy and now own several pairs of “creatively executed” cut-off jean shorts that I really can’t wear anywhere unless I take up cow tow tipping or gardening. I shrug and tell myself that I’ll maybe try gardening next summer. No regrets.

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image – SElephant