During a recent interview with The New York Times columnist Bob Tedeschi, a.k.a. “The Pragmatist,” I asked if he had any words of wisdom for the DIY beginners—individuals, like him, who are learning as they go. Not surprisingly, this chronicler of his own trial-by-fire do-it-yourself mishaps and successes served up some great advice.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. One of the great benefits of “The Pragmatist” column has been to encourage me to ask a lot of questions. People who know this stuff are often great about sharing their wisdom. I used to walk into hardware stores really worried about sounding stupid. And now I’m just, “Okay. Here we go. I am a rank novice. Tell me how to approach this job.” Even if I might know a little about a job, I think it’s much better that I go in assuming I know nothing.
Take pictures. I now use my cell phone to take pictures of everything that’s broken before I go to the hardware store (and sometimes I even bring the actual object with me). I’ve wasted many trips back and forth trying to describe a problem and getting the wrong tool or wrong screw. Pictures help a great deal.
Never start a project late in the day. This is a piece of advice I learned from a plumber, because if something goes wrong and you’re in need of a hardware store to help out—that’s not going to happen at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night. So make sure you start projects, particularly plumbing, with time on your side.
Choose good starter projects. Choose small projects to learn a set of skills and then move up. This has been a valuable learning lesson for me in the column. Changing a shower head, for instance, opens you up to the basics of plumbing, but it’s really super easy to do. Or consider rewiring a lamp or painting a really small room, like a bathroom. Smaller accomplishments will give you the confidence to tackle more.
Invest in good tools. An investment in a good set of tools will make your job that much easier. And if you want them to be available during your next project, watch carefully when your kids use them.
Read my full interview with Bob Tedeschi, A Conversation with “The Pragmatist”