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DIY: Finishing What We Start

I’m a serious do-it-yourselfer. If we need a new blanket for the bed, I’ll start sewing a quilt. If we need bread for sandwiches, I start making a loaf of bread. Now that my husband and I need a place to live, we’re remodeling an old airplane hangar all by ourselves.

It’s so easy to get excited about DIY projects. It’s cheaper! It’s creative! It’s more fun!

But so many of our DIY projects are not getting done.

DIY is in my blood. Unfortunately, finishing my projects isn’t. You too? You have half-done knitting projects, too? Half-painted trim? A half-weeded garden?

Artist and songwriter Piero Milani once said, “Why should I buy expensive art when I can make my own?”

Half-finished projects can end up a waste of our time, money, and emotional happiness. It can be hard to break the cycle.

So here’s what I propose for finishing the DIYs we start.

Photo by Martin Clemons

1. Take on big DIY projects with a partner.

Would I be willing to charge over to the hangar every day to work on all our decluttering and remodeling by myself? No way. It’s too exhausting and way too overwhelming.

But with a partner I’m checking in with, or who’s working right beside me, energy multiplies. I want to work a little harder. I’ll go through a few more boxes.

2. Start fewer projects.

I limit my hobbies—right now, I’m committed to not starting any new ones. I won’t check Pinterest when I have a few minutes to kill (I’ll get too many ideas). But I have to be mindful of my schedule.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I just can’t fit in a new project (I should learn to knit my own socks!), no matter how much I crave those hand-knit socks. My house and wallet can’t handle the cost of more hobby equipment. I just have to say, “No. Not now.”

So, I’m not making those dreamy socks. I’ll visit Etsy instead.

Photo by Katie Clemons

3. Finish the unfinished.

There are more unfinished DIY projects out there than I could ever know what to do with. I’ve seen them in my closets. I’ve seen them at garage sales. I’ve seen the half-painted and half-built houses.

When I’m generating too many half-finished projects, I’ll stop and write them down. Then, when I’m tempted to start another one, I’ll work on finishing one I’ve started instead.

4. Get rid of half-finished projects that will always be half-finished.

Discover that you’re not really an oil painter after all? Get rid of the half-finished painting. Pass on all of your supplies. You’ll feel better.

Have an almost-finished sweater that comes with too much emotional baggage or memories of a sad time? Let it go. Give someone else the joy of finishing it.

5. Hire someone to finish it for you.

Over time, we stop noticing the half-installed tile in the laundry room. Maybe you’ve nagged the culprit multiple times to finish it already (or maybe that person was you), and it’s still not done.

Now it’s time to outsource. Asking for help isn’t defeat, it’s crossing off an item, it’s making your home better.

My husband, Martin, used to say, “Katie, why are you starting a new project now when you know you can’t finish it?”

I now first ask myself if I intend to finish what I’m starting. It’s no fun having half-finished ideas staring at me. Yeah, I like flagging new DIY ideas on Pinterest—but even more? I prefer the feeling of just getting those DIY projects done.

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  1. Michele

    The summer got away and we didn’t complete our summer map project. At first I felt a little embarrassed, but I know with the school year we will have opportunities to fit it into our schedule and possibly reinforce what they are learning in school at the same time. We are taking your advice and not taking on more projects until this one is complete!

    xoxo michele

  2. Dianne - Bunny Trails

    Goodness, I could use some help with the unfinished projects. In fact, I’ve self-titled myself the Queen of Unfinished Projects. Not really a proud title, but it’s reality, unfortunately. I love your idea of making a list of them and working through them. Getting it on paper would certainly help me.

    I have gotten somewhat better about NOT taking on new hobbies. Sometimes I’ll see a book for something that looks fun and beautiful and then I have to tell myself that I have more than enough on my plate and step away. If it’s an object I really want, find someone else on etsy who already makes and sells it. 🙂

  3. Anthony from CharismaticKid

    To me, DIY projects aren’t really DIY projects unless they get finished. Otherwise, they’re just people playing around with crap.

    • Molly

      That’s ok, though, right? I like to play around with the crap.

    • Katelyn

      Sometimes it’s truly the process so much more than the finished project.

  4. Elise Adams

    Love your strategies for helping us get around the point when energy just peeters out somewhat. I’ve discovered that I struggle to finish something once I’ve solved the problem–it’s hunting down the mystery or solving a conundrum that keeps me engaged. So sticking to a project through all the boring parts is a more difficult task! One of my personal tricks is to set a time limit for the boring stuff–15 or 30 minutes of what I’m dreading before I jump into a fun project (for another time limited chunk of my day) and then coming back again for another 15-30 minutes of the less exciting tasks–keeps me performing well and engaged.

    Thanks again for such practical work-arounds for my pesky procrastination!

    ~Elise from

  5. Jackie

    DIY projects unfinished: Amy’s baby blanket, Jessie’s apron, Eric’s pillow, Jenny’s clutch, and those are just the gifts! My own half-finished projects include re-covering dining room chairs and painting, just to name a few. The best thing I could probably do for myself is finish painting my walls and trim….so many of the other things are not getting done because I keep saying, “I can’t do anything else (or I can’t finish setting up my house) until the painting is done.”

  6. Stacey

    I try I really do, but the pile is still there. The Blues Quilt, My Sons Sweater started last summer, luckily I made it two sizes too big, and the Three Shirts for me that I’m just to scared to get past pinning (from Japanese Sewing books). I’ve started keeping a “brain” with me, a small notebook to put all my thoughts and lists in, when ever I get an idea I write it down, in minute detail. For some reason if the project is all planned out I am more likely to finish it when I have steps I can check off when I am done with them.

    Though that quilt still sits there.

    • ErinOK @ it's OK

      I keep a BIG notebook for writing my ideas in minute detail–not every list and thought, those go in a small notepad, but project ideas. I plan them out in as much detail as I can. Then I have more perspective on whether it’s something I have the time and energy for, or if it’s just a good idea to come back to one day.

  7. Sandra

    I have so many unfinished projects. But the ones that I need to finish are: *Finish painting the ceiling *Put up the ceiling tiles in my kitchen *Paint the rest of the kitchen cabinets

    I know I will feel much better when I complete these projects, but I always find other projects that are much more fun to do. Those others are too much like work! 🙂

  8. Kristen

    Thank you! I have way too many things I’m genuinely wanting to learn and do (not to mention having 3 little ones age 3 and under!)! My husband and I have literally spent almost a full year now nailing down our mission, our priorities, our rhythms, our schedules, our commitments, our everything. It is exhausting work, I am not naturally bent that way. I just want to stuff the activities into the hours and make it work! But it’s recently been freeing to see, okay, I can fit in some hobby time a little bit each day, not a ton, but a little. And that little is enough to satisfy my creative itch, and it’s enough to not overwhelm me with trying to finish a project and then refusing to finish because its too overwhelming – I know if I pack it up this afternoon to go make dinner, I can pull it back out tomorrow. So now I’m excited to pull out the quilt I started 8 years ago, knit some Christmas presents, put govern some photo books. This post was just perfect timing (like most of simplemom’s are!) for motivation – thanks!

  9. Abby

    I have too many to count! This was very encouraging and is motivating me to finish them! Thanks for this post….

  10. SLVenn

    I feel like I never finish anything. Right now I have a pile in my basement labeled “yardsale”. I still need to price everything and set a date for the sale. I just keep putting it off. How long will that pile sit there? It could be a year if I don’t get moving! This post has helped motivate me. I’m giving myself a deadline of one month. No excuses!

  11. Stacy

    Oh, this made me laugh! Hand knit socks . . . yes, I would attempt that when the house is falling down around me!

    I especially like your advice to get rid of stuff once you find out you are not good at something or don’t plan to finish it. If we don’t, our homes become crammed with half-finished projects. And that is a little frustrating!

    DIY projects make me happy. I’ve come to realize that they add a lot to my life and I am working on making time for them. I have been known to make rose petal ice cubes when I should be making dinner! Sometimes I need a priority check.

    If I don’t over commit our schedule, then we have time to finish a lot more (my kids like a good project too). I’ve recently scheduled in Friday afternoons as “creative time.” Now the whole family has a few hours to work on anything we like. I’m hoping that will lead to more finished work.

  12. Jodi

    I most certainly have this problem. I’m trying to taken #4 to heart. Each month I pick an unfinished project, and I have until the first of the next month to finish it. If I don’t, it is time to get rid of the supplies. I told my husband my plan, and he asked me (like I was crazy), “So if you don’t finish that quilt, you are getting rid of your sewing machine?” No silly, just giving the fabric to someone who might actually use it.

  13. Lea Stormhammer

    Oh my, oh my! This post really hits home!

    We’re in the process of a major clean-out and re-do project right now. It’s totally embarassing how many half-finished projects I have in my house at the moment – I counted 14 in my sewing stash all by itself! Never mind the embroidery, scrapbooks, craft projets and everything else.

    My 2 big goals for this week is to completely finish the up-stairs room redos, with the exception of window treatments and to finish re-arranging the furniture in the lower level of my house by the end of Sunday. I’ve made pretty good progress this week and feel pretty good about what still needs to be done – I need to do one more coat of paint on a stubborn ceiling, arrange some items into 2 bookshelves, get rid of an old tv cabinet, assemble a bookcase, and move another. The only one that will be difficult is moving the bookcase – since I have to empty that to do it! That will put “DONE” on a project that took me “only” 8 weeks! Not to mention the psychological thrill of actually crossing something off my to-do list!

    Now I just need to finish this darn doctoral dissertation and I’ll be making some real progress…. 🙂

    Thanks for this post. I needed it today!

  14. Ashley

    It’s like I’m looking in a mirror, so-to-speak!

    Yes, I know all too well about the “unfinished projects” routine. My downfall is that I like to try everything once – whether it’s scrapbooking, crocheting, painting, sculpting, soap making, candle making, sewing, cross stitch, bunka…. I feel like I’ve done pretty much all of it and it shows in my house! in fact, I have at LEAST 20 unfinished projects waiting to be completed. Some are 95% done, others are, well, 20%….

    Recently, we had a yard sale to raise money for the Children’s Heart Network and I used this opportunity to pair down my items. Yes, I still have some unfinished projects but I got rid of sooooo much! It felt great, especially being able to give back to something as wonderful as charity.

    I still have a lot of work ahead of me – I even have a ton of DIY ideas that I want to post on my own blog! It truly is hard to try to finish what we start…! It can definitely be overwhelming! Thanks for the post, it inspires me to continue with some of those unfinished projects!

    Also – Love the hanger reno! My dad has his own aircraft business in his hanger so this reminds me of home. 🙂

  15. T

    Oh I am a big project maker …normally starts with a sultry look deep into my husband’s eyes followed by an even sultrier…”So what are your plans right now.”..and in perfect man form he smiles sideways and says, “Nothing my day is clear…” Once I have him caught I tell him he needs to get to Home Depot for this and that and I will head to the landscaping garden store…meet back here in an hour.
    He normally has a fallen look on his face and I can’t figure out why…. what did he think I was going to say? lol.
    But seriously… we often have a project round up once every few months to finish up any nearly done projects. That’s what works for us.
    Loved the article…glad to know we arent the only ones!

  16. Heather Novak

    Oh yes…finish the unfinished! Great article thank you. That concept was in the Happiness Project too. How good would it feel to have all the little annoyances completed? TODAY actually I JSUT to two little screws out of the wall above our bathroom sink where a small crummy shelf hung. I pulled the shelf off when we moved in there. A YEAR AGO. But never had puled the ugly screws, patched and painted the gashes. Soooo the screws are out, maybe next year I’ll tidy it up the rest of the way? (NOT such a DIY you see. Hmmm.) AN AIRPLANE HANGAR??? Brilliant. Insane. Brilliant.

    • Heather Novak

      I can actually spell, though it might not be apparent by my unedited post. UGH.

  17. Eva

    First of all, sorry for my bad English.
    For me it´s easy. I have a limited amount of money to spend in my projects, so if I haven´t finished one of them I can´t spend more money for another.
    Other point is that I feel great when I finish a DIY project and delete it of my to do list.

  18. Rita

    I just moved, and was disheartened at all the furniture and other things I bought as projects–and the supplies to do the projects–that just never got done. It was not fun to move all that stuff!

    I’ve vowed to buy no more–no matter how awesome it would be with “just a little work” unless I have time to work on it right now. If it can’t be used right now as is or fixed right now to be usable, I’m passing on it, no matter how great its potential. And I’m not buying any supplies for any projects unless I can work on the project immediately. As in: Today.

    Made this vow about a month ago, and so far it feels great. It’s feeling great to get things done. With a new (to us) house, there’s lots and lots to do. I’m not feeling any kind of deprived at all.

  19. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

    I’ve got a wine cork corkboard that is almost done (just need a couple more corks) and a quilt. However, it’s summer time and I’d rather be outside playing than indoors working on my crafts. Hopefully I’ll have them both done by the fall and out of my house.

  20. Living the Balanced Life

    Very good post! I definitely have lots of undone projects! Working on reducing them! Have to visit your site to see this newest big project of yours!

  21. Kamille @ Redeeming the Table

    your words are my words & I’m bookmarking this. My famous last words (that my husband makes fun of), “Oh, don’t buy that. I can make it!” I have a habitual starter & not finisher. I love starting many things, but not really good at follow through. Just yesterday it dawned on me that I need to go through my craft corner, in order to make room in my life for what I actually do creatively. Thank you for your words!

  22. Katherine

    Great thoughts!

    Unfinished projects are sort of like unfinished books- I feel a compulsion to keep them around, even if I don’t like them anymore and have no intention of finishing them. Huh.

  23. Kimberly

    This is awesome! We knew a guy that did this and had 4 incredible airplanes right outside his living room. It was honestly one of the coolest homes I’ve ever been in. I look forward to an “after” post.

  24. Messy Wife

    Love, Love, LOVE this post! I think I am known to have problems finishing anything since young – I believe that’s why my parents refused to buy me jigsaw puzzles. Talking about which, I do still have one unfinished… And I haven’t started one since I have kids, my oldest child is…. eight.

    “#2 Start fewer projects…” So true. But I felt like I might have grown to become reluctant to start anything at all… including my decluttering projects. Yes, I know, they are not interesting DIY projects but they are probably the results of tons of unfinished DIY projects. And now, I am afraid to touch them. You know, they always get worse before getting better. But realistically, I would not have space for a sewing machine if I do not declutter first. I would not be making my own bread or ice-cream before I find the space for those appliances. So, I guess you can say that I am trying to keep the “vision” of the finished project to keep myself motivated… hopefully.

    Oh, I also have some unfinished blog posts… or, blog posts ideas that I haven’t started…

  25. Mark

    ” Finishing What We Start” It is really great to finish our unfinished task It’s a relief but I think the key to finish task is to enjoy what we are doing. Thanks.

  26. Emily

    I have a friend to whom I once gave a throw pillow that says, “Queen of Unfinished Projects.” Because she is. 😉

    I plead guilty in the area of books – unfinished novels and unfinished non-fiction. But my priorities are different right now, and I plan to finish those worth finishing one day in the future.

  27. Megan

    I love tip #4 – It’s okay not to finish. I have several projects that started as a need but were not finished before the need passed (or became urgent enough to just buy something). It’s okay not to finish those projects and move on to something else that is more fun or more important.

    Another tip: start your DIY projects early – don’t wait until the last minute. For example, if you’re thinking of giving some handmade gifts for Christmas – start now and give yourself plenty of time to get them done.

  28. renee @ FIMBY

    Love this Katie. I personally can’t mentally (or emotionally) handle a lot of “undone” pieces in my life. So, I readily scrap projects that just aren’t going to get done. I love freeing myself from undone diy.

  29. Mary

    Love the post! Great ideas! I have recently decided that I too, have too many unfinished projects especially DIY Home Décor ones! I decided that I would take it one room at a time.. (Yes, I have so many I can delegate them to their own rooms!!) But, no matter what it is, enlarging pictures, covering my accent chairs, repainting or finishing up painting… what ever is in that room will be completed before I move on to another room and it’s U.P.’s.

    Like a couple of bloggers stated, I too plan out major redo’s to a T! I measure and draw and write. I cut out ideas and attach them to the folder along with paint chips and material…But sometimes even THAT is not enough! Maybe I should conceder that as a promising career to do for OTHER PEOPLE!!

    Anyway, I love the idea about giving it away or eliminating it if you know that is not your talent! And for those times when I see some craft or idea I want to try, I write them down on a BUCKET LIST… such as wanting to learn to do stain glass or pottery…And someday, when I am done with the day to day projects and DIY’s, I pull out that list and #1 will be there waiting for me!!!

    It really is sad that I have this syndrome because I really am a control freak and have to have organization around me…. but it’s like I am two different people living inside this body fighting over who gets that 30 minutes!!

    In the end it IS all about control and dedication to complete a project before moving on and that is the hardest of all…like breaking a bad habit! But, you motivated me into really digging in and now that cooler weather is here I will finish the wall of pictures that up to now have people in the frames that are not related to anyone I know… (my grandson asked me who the man and woman was in the picture and why they never came to the family gatherings!! He calls them “the Other family!! He is 6!”) and I will finish covering those chairs, painting the trim, putting in the new front door (been living in the shed for 3 months now!) …. Yes.. time to get at least one room done before snow flies and I want to go out and play!!

    Thanks for sharing your ideas!
    Mary S.

  30. Kim S

    This is so funny. I was beginning to think I had a mental problem, I’m so glad I’m not the only person who does this. As I’m reading your article, I was reflecting in my head the unfinished top I started sewing about a month ago, the mosaic birdbath I started this summer and got burnt out on, a denim blanket half finished from years ago. I can so relate.

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