Getting unstuck

Kit Stansley

September 28, 2012

By: Kit Stansley, DIY Diva

In: General RemodelingInterior Home Improvement

As a person who has, on more than one occasion, wedged herself into an inextricable position inside a sink cabinet, learning how to get unstuck has become a necessary element of my personal development. Interestingly, the same principles -- waiting patiently in an uncomfortable position while you formulate a plan, trying unorthodox methods to get the required result, and just digging deep and working through it -- apply to both bodily extraction from teeny-tiny places in your house, and for those times when you find a certain project has thrown up a mental roadblock to your progress.

Those mental hurdles always seem a bit more difficult to me, honestly. When it comes to actual physical work, you can always just haul off and hit it with a hammer, but when you have 357 lineal feet of trim in your upstairs hallway that needs three coats of white paint and you just…can't…get…started. I can tell you from experience, no amount of hammering will help.

I don't know what causes that aversion to certain projects, but here are a few of the tricks I use to get myself mentally unstuck when it happens:

  1. Keep moving -- For a long time I would try to use a brute force approach to get myself to start or finish a project I was stuck on. I basically told myself I couldn't do anything else until the "stuck project" was done. Which, in theory, seems like it would be motivating, but in reality just ended up with me sitting in my pajamas on the couch for three days straight. What I've realized is that boxing yourself in isn't energizing and makes it that much harder to get unstuck. Instead what I've started to do is allow myself to set the problem-project aside for a weekend and focus on one "quick" project (something I can finish in a day or two) that I'm really excited or energized by. Some of these projects include building and installing clothesline, making new patio set out of some old wood, and building a new basement door. The energy I get from starting and finishing a quick, fun project is a good boost that helps me dig into something I'm dreading.
  2. Get inspired -- The trick to inspiration is that it comes and goes as it pleases. I have some go-to sources for inspiring things like Pinterest and the sites I subscribe to on Pulse, but I think real inspiration comes when you are open to it and when you take yourself out of your normal routine. This could be as simple as taking a different route to work, going to a new spot on my lunch hour, or trying something a little out of my comfort zone. The important part is understanding that when I'm stuck, taking time to find inspiration isn't a waste of time; it's a part of the process and ultimately makes my projects better.
  3. Start small -- That whole "first step is the hardest" saying? Yeah, they weren't kidding about that. In general I tend to love diving into big projects, but sometimes the idea of drywalling an entire 2,000-square-foot house is enough to keep me from picking up that first piece of wallboard. Instead I tell myself, "Let's just get the first board up and see how it goes," and usually once I get started I don't want to stop.

So that's what usually works for me, although I admit to sometimes just taking therapeutic trips to the hardware store and inhaling deeply when I walk down the lumber aisle. There's just something about the smell of sawdust…

So tell me, what works for you?


  • jacqueline says: 28 September 2012 at 12:26 pm
    This can be costly, but I find that when my 3 teenagers are off at summer camp, I can clear my head and know that there won't be any interruptions. I make a list of projects in advance and attack the one that is most manageable first. Then, I feel so good when that is handled that I eagerly dive into the next project.
  • Iris says: 01 October 2012 at 10:12 am
    These are great tips, but the one that resonates with me is, "Start small." Biting off more than I could chew has, in the past, overwhelmed me, and left me broken -- and broke, buying supplies I never ended up using. I want to put some color on the walls of my new house -- I think I'll start by painting just a wall or two and see how it goes.
  • lucy says: 01 October 2012 at 2:14 pm
    Great advice! I read this just before writing my first post about our protracted, complicated, year+ long house buying adventure. Didn't know where or how to start to organize my thoughts. So this was well-timed. As they say in the shoe biz, Just Do It.
  • lucy says: 01 October 2012 at 2:15 pm
    P.S. I love the smell of sawdust too!
  • Guerrina says: 11 October 2012 at 10:40 am
    These all resonate in me. Thank you!
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