Among our friends, family, and now the Internet, we're somewhat known for starting and working on many simultaneous projects. We may preach the good old "one room at a time" approach to DIY home improvement, but in actuality, we practice "one major room ripped apart for what seems like an eternity while also taking on lots of other "smaller" projects...which may or may not include other entire rooms." And by "practice," I mean, "we're expert at."

In all honesty, it's an exercise in DIY futility and one we can't recommend for anyone wanting to get something done quickly.

Software development is my day job line of work, and we have a rule when it comes to defining a complex system and managing the project. No matter what the customer wants, they have three options, but they can choose only two. Their system can either be good, cheap, or fast (completed quickly). In other words, the better the solution, and the faster they want it done, the more expensive it is. Alternatively, the cheaper they want it for and the faster they want it done, the worse quality the system will be. And so on...

In DIY home improvement (as with many things in life), the same principles apply, except with one modification. Rather than representing a triangle of options, this is more of a quad point scale of measurement. The new major decision points are similar with one major addition: Good, Fast, Cheap, and Life.

Let's look at all four of the these items with respect to DIY.

Good: This rather subjective yet all encompassing aspect of renovation projects is rather hard to quantify, but relatively easy to identify. A project with a "good" result is one where you've not taken short cuts along the way and the finish work, as well as the work below the surface, is executed to the best of your ability. This requires a time commitment that allows you to hone your skills in what you're dealing with if they don't already exist, as well as a desire to achieve a caliber of workmanship that satisfies those with a discerning eye. (Read: "your significant other.")

The idea of Good includes all of the necessary prep work, proper cleanup, full research for correct technique, having the right tools, not forcing a screw that's too large into a hole just because you don't happen to have the right supplies, installing and removing something multiple times because you're paranoid you've repeatedly done it the wrong way, hell, even undoing a completed section of work because you've forgotten a critical component, and the list goes on.

The more "Good" you want in your end result, the more some of the other decision aspects of our chart suffer.

Fast: This speaks more to the speed in which you are reasonably able to complete the overall work, as well as any individual tasks needed by the overall work. As you can probably tell, this item plays hand in hand with the idea of "Good," as the faster you tend to complete something, the more likely you are to skip steps that are required for the Good to be realized.

Let's be honest, when one begins a bathroom renovation with the intent to take a few months, but that project somehow reaches into the "years" time frame, there's likely something that went a bit off course with one of the other variables in our equation.

Either way, the fury of your spouse is usually such that you have no "right" option in this matter, it's simply a case of "you pay now, or your pay matter what, you pay."

Cheap: One would hope that the DIY aspect of your endeavor would lend itself directly to making this aspect of our chart a non issue. However, if one were to think this, one would likely be pretty far skewed to the left on the "Attractive vs Smart" diagram. Sure you may be saving money on the labor aspect of your project, but there is so much more to any project that this over simplification should be used for nothing more than convincing your spouse your DIY idea is a good one to start with. Once you have buy in on tearing up your own house, or starting your own project, don't you dare breathe the words involving "cost savings from doing it ourselves" so your significant other until you're so far removed from the project that the pain of the dirt, grime, disaster, and inconvenience is forgotten. (Weird, I'm describing this like our new mom friends have described child birth).

The only opportunities when it's acceptable to talk cost savings mid project is when you're at a dinner party and the uninitiated poke and prod you with questions like you're an exhibit at a zoo, or when you're trying to recruit other homeowners into the lives you've been willingly sucked into, likely in an attempt to make yourself feel like you're not the only prisoner in the jail.

In reality, the overall expense associated with a DIY project relies on your ability to source from reasonable outlets, find the materials that are right for you and your project, taking your time to searching the Internet for hours, days, weeks, or even years, trying to locate that elusive item that seems to be clearly visible but just beyond your grasp. We know, we searched for, and found, five matching doors to the period of our house, and they were only about $40 per door. Hey, it only took us four years of looking.

When it comes to cost, the less you want to spend, the more one of the other aspects of our four way matrix of DIY must sacrifice.

Life: As the new addition that has forever changed the age old triangle of project choices into the square of selections, life is the most important aspect that people tend to never consider. You (or likely you and your partner) are going to be the one who decide what's important when it comes to Good, Cheap, and Fast, and this ultimately impacts the quality of the Life you get to experience. Additionally, Life becomes an active participate in your decision making process, often throwing a curve into your preferences when Life pops up and makes it impossible to maintain your goals. Hey, we can't complain too much. Why? It's just a fact of Life.

We've maintained a relatively healthy balance when it comes to the life aspect of our DIY. When we look at the full time employment we maintain (no matter if we'd rather not go into the office), the vacations and distant destinations we're fortunate enough to enjoy, the wonderful friends we've made and spend time with, and the general enjoyment we get from the hours spent walking with Lulu or Ollie, or scratching Mel's head, Life is an extremely important aspect of our DIY. Had we abandoned Life at some point along the way, we'd likely be done with our house by now, but Life would have also likely passed us by, and as the saying goes, you only get one.

Over the last few weeks, Life has been taking a priority when it comes to our DIY balance, so much so that we've not had a whole lot of time for other items. Our projects are sitting, our progress has stalled, but our Life goes on, and that's a beautiful thing. We'd love it if the situations were different, if we didn't have to deal with illness, didn't have to worry about recovery times, medication doses, and daily trips to the vet, but that's not in the cards right now. However, there are few complaints from our camp as our prognosis looks good, no concern having to do with our projects (that's a lie, there's a little), no need to worry about when something might get done. Instead, we're fortunate to have the means and capacity to deal with Life in what we feel, for us, is the most effective way possible.

So when you're looking at our newly proposed quadrangle of DIY, it's a not so simple calculation of wants and desires pulled in a four way tug of war. But the best part about this decision is that it's all yours to make. You want to renovate your house and do it yourself? Good, Fast, Cheap, or Life, which ones do you choose?

Comments 5


2/12/2014 at 1:38 PM

This is so true. At Rather Square, we have full-time day jobs too, plus a rambunctious toddler to entertain, so I would definitely say that Life is a big consideration when trying to plan/decide our house-related projects. Being realistic about time management (and living in chaos maybe a little longer than we'd like) is a lot more healthy in the end than stretching ourselves too thin to "do it all" and perfectly. Having the money to complete projects is a large part of it, but our time is more valuable than money!

2/12/2014 at 7:16 PM

Good post as I'd been talking about the good/fast/cheap relationship at work recently -- and of course it is very pertinent to home improvement.

For the "life" consideration, it helps if you and your spouse's main hobby is working on home and garden projects. That enables us to make some decisions which emphasize "cheap" as we will work on doing things ourselves, and enjoy it, rather than hiring people. Also, as we've discussed on here many times before, "fast" usually means expensive (hired help) but not necessarily "good", unless you're fortunate enough to find highly competent folks who take pride in their work.

My husband and I both hate to plan ahead much and are very comfortable with having many projects in process simultaneously -- with the attendant consequence that many things are messed up at all times of course. Attempting to bring a more ordered approach to our many ongoing and future projects, I just developed a spreadsheet with projects identified and various blank columns on scope (large, medium, small), cost (high and low estimates), materials (purchased vs. on-hand), and labor (purchased or us/DIY). We'll see how this goes over when I spring it on my husband . . . .

2/13/2014 at 1:15 PM

There are times when I totally get this wrong. Usually when life gets in the way of good - or it ends up being more cost than I had allocated to the project (for being an accountant, I'm not so good with estimating home repair costs LOL).

But by and large, I think I have a pretty good balance. Except that the "I want" list seems to get longer every time I look at it. In the mean time, I try to keep THE bungalow from descending into total chaos.

My next thing is to get all of the donations that I've been assembling from the Great Declutter out of the house. With the snow of late, I haven't been making any unnecessary trips, and my "outbox" has taken OVER the entryway!

2/15/2014 at 12:07 AM

This is why it's going to take us 20 years to finish our house - I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, but I'm also really cheap, mostly because we have a limited budget. I'll delay a project for several months while I accumulate the necessary materials. This gives me a chance to get out and find the right pieces of architectural salvage and also get the best prices on other materials. The downside is, I've thrown everything that resembles a schedule out the window!

2/15/2014 at 4:22 PM

I'm definitely a "Cheap + Good = Slow" person, with a heavy side serving of procrastination! :D

I very much have "Champagne taste on a beer budget". I love beautiful high quality items, but I don't like to spend the money on them. I'd rather spend a lot of time making it myself, or fixing dilapidated/broken items, and I like the added satisfaction of knowing I did it myself.

As far as "Life" goes, I live alone, and I tend not to mind the renovation mess, and associated inconveniences, since I know I'm saving a lot of money. I try to keep things clean and organized as much as possible, and I resist the urge to start more projects than I can finish (which is hard, because I do the exact same thing as you guys).

Since you've not signed in yet, you will need to fill in your name and email below. If you have a Facebook account, save yourself a step and use Connect to login.

Denotes a required field.

Please enter full URL, including http://

You can use Markdown syntax in your comment. And you can also use lots of Emoji!
  • Search

  • Login
  • Follow
  • Advertising

If you're looking for information on advertising and sponsorships, head on over to our sponsorships page. You can purchase site sponsorships in a few easy clicks. 

Toolbox Tuesday
Open Housing
  • We're Featured!

Old Town Home has been featured in the following places and publications:

The Washington Post
Washingtonian Magazine
Old House Journal
Apartment Therapy House Tour
Washington Post Express Feature
Home & Garden Blogs
© 2024 - Privacy Policy

Unexpected Error

Your submission caused an unexpected error. You can try your request again, but if you continue to experience problems, please contact the administrator.