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January 12, 2010

Homeownership Ain't for Sissies

Jeff I hate New Year's resolutions. I really do, but not for the reason most of you are thinking. For most people I've heard talking about New Year's resolutions this year, I've been mostly reminded of the windbag promises that politicians make. Yes, we have huge goals, laudable goals, and vast sweeping declarations of intent with absolutely no way to accomplish the goal. Sure, the goal is to "loose weight" or "become better parents" but those simply are not concrete achievable goals.


I am not making any resolutions this year; I'm still working on executing last year's resolution: Learn new skills to take care of my home.

So how do I learn new things? I make a plan and do research to give myself small achievable steps to get to where I want to go. Think of it this way, a doctor doesn't wake up one morning and just "become" a doctor. A student dreams of being a doctor. A student takes basic science classes in high school, pre med classes in graduate school, attends and survives medical school and residency. Finally, after years of grueling study and sacrifice, they have transformed themselves into a doctor.

The first thing I did is make a list of all the chores, maintenance, and projects I dreamed about for my home. Cleaning the furnace filter is the one chore I always forget. When should I put fertilizer down on the lawn, trees, and azalea shrubs? Did I seal coat the driveway last year, or was it in 2007? When do I schedule time to check the windows and doors to see if they need new caulking? (I check every September before it gets too cold for caulk to flow easily.) I did small projects with my son, projects that required nails to be hammered, drills to be used, simple safety rules reviewed. He built his pinewood derby car mostly by himself. We then built a dolly for moving heavy furniture, then a cabinet, a box, a small set of stairs. Each project matured our skills and gave us greater confidence. By fall, I felt prepared to start planning the finished basement project. Now when I approached the village building department for guidance, I understood the requirements and I could ask intelligent questions of the officials.

A good friend came to visit in August and he happened to see my home's calendar on my workbench. We had a great little conversation about how it helped me keep things under control. He had asked a great question "Why wasn't a regular check on the sump pump and ejector pump on my maintenance list?" Frankly, I didn't know how to perform maintenance on a sump pump. Now I know to check the float mechanism to see if the pump turns on. I check to make sure the outflow pipe is clear and the discharge flows away from the foundation. I check the battery back up and change that battery every five years (July 2011 for me). I then seal the pit cover with some caulk and know the system is in good working order.

It dawned on me; my first step was to create a calendar just for my home maintenance, filled out each snowy January that charts out exactly when each chore is due. Once I know when the regular chores are done, I can schedule the extra projects. Because I started the schedule last January, this fall I finally started the basement remodeling project I've been thinking about for six years.

If becoming a better homeowner is one of your resolutions, try my method of scaffolding your resolution. Make your resolution concrete, something you can physically do, right now (make a calendar in my example). Decide which steps you can take now, and which steps need to happen later. Be kind to yourself, just like children start with addition and move on to multiplication and division, start with changing the furnace filter and using basic tools before you begin remodeling the basement. Brushing up hibernating skills or learning new skills take time. Make your resolution open ended, it's not "finish the basement", the goal is to become proficient and grow your skills. Good luck in 2010 with all your home improvement goals!

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