The List

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Does your home repair to-do list seem to be taking over your life? Jeff Wilson, host of Buildipedia's At Home channel, sympathizes and offers sage advice for how to tame that ever-present "Honey-Do" list.

Every aspiring handyman (or handywoman) has a List. Not the list you make when you head out to the home improvement store for materials, or even the short list of things you need to accomplish this weekend. I’m talking about THE List.

The List Photo courtesy of Jeff Wilson

This is the “Honey-Do” List. It might be compiled by your significant other or it might exist only in a foggy corner of your brain, but every homeowner and do-it-yourselfer has one. It’s a master list consisting of all of those loose toiletpaper holders, paint touch-ups, furnace filter changes, and such philosophical entries as a simple, scrawled “Sump pump?” This is the list that defines us would-be handy-folk – it’s at once our Manifesto of “do-it-yourself-ness” and the Sisyphean burden we push ever forward. It often grows; it never shrinks.

Regardless of your relationship with “The List,” you’ve got to learn to live with it. Otherwise, it can keep you up at night or spoil a good backyard barbeque. It’s like a very active pet – it needs to be fed and sheltered, but every once in awhile it will require some discipline to keep it from taking over your life.

A friend once told me that he finally had to move out of his house because of his List. He’s a songwriter, working from home, and found that he couldn’t concentrate on his work because of all the little unfinished tasks around his self-built home. “I’d look up from my desk and see that space where the last bit of crown molding was supposed to go, or think about finishing the insulation in the attic. It was just too much. I had to take an apartment to get away from it.”

If you let it, the List can have an adverse effect on your relationships. My wife, when asked how we’ve stayed happily married for nearly 20 years, always replies the same way: “There’s no trick to it. You’ve just got to lower your expectations. Every day.” It’s usually accompanied by a glance in my direction and a little rueful shaking of the head. I know what she’s thinking: “If he would just finish one %#$@! thing in the house... just one &#%@* thing.” How should I take this? Either her expectations were just WAY too high when we met, or life with me is SO underwhelming that only 20 years of lowered expectations keeps us together. I like to think it’s the former.

But I get a lot of things wrong. Like the time I misinterpreted what she said about a clean house? She said, “Having a clean house is sexy.” What she meant was, with the house clean, she didn’t have those tasks in her head so she would be more free to “relax.” Maybe that would even include “sleeping in” or “staying up a little later.” As a man, I liked the sound of that. Better yet, I took the “clean sexy house” idea one step further. Clad only in my boxer briefs, I cleaned the house. As I worked, I envisioned a bold business plan, revolutionizing the house-cleaning industry: In place of the typical house-cleaning workforce, my new agency would send Chippendale dancers to clean floors, bathrooms, and kitchens across America, turning the age-old French maid cliché on its head. (My wife had a similar idea: with the alarming number of husbands running off with the babysitter in our college town, she proposed a service whereby very stern, battle-axe grandmothers would be available to babysit at any time. Only very non-hot, battle-axe grandmothers need apply.)

Back at my house, things weren’t working out quite as I had planned. Unfortunately, I neglected to calculate the negative effects this “shorts-only home-sanitation” tableau would have. Conventional wisdom has it that no one wants to see you do certain things naked (or nearly naked) – namely, opening a jar of pickles, laughing, or doing crunches. Add to the list mopping floors. My plan for spicing up our love life ended with another rueful headshaking and an added eye roll for effect.

But I digress (and the more I digress, the longer it will be until I have to face The List – procrastination is a dish best served later). We were talking about The List and how to live with it. It helps to have metaphors in place that will help you to cope with The List and its debilitating effect on the psyche.

The List is a fickle god, demanding sacrifices on the altar of our weekends. The List is a Zen koan, leading us toward enlightenment. The List is just a piece of paper (ha!). The List is life’s little instruction manual. The List.

However you cope with your List, let me suggest a final antidote to its negative effects: the “Honey-Done” list. It’s the list where you list your accomplishments, where you transfer the tasks from the “Debit” column in the ledger of home-improvement to the “Credit” column. Use the “Honey-Done” list however it makes sense – as a monument to your self-worth that can be hauled out during minor domestic disputes over your home-improvement prowess or just as a reminder that “a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.”

How do you cope with your List? I want to hear your stories here.

More in this category: »Extreme Basement Retrofit
Jeff Wilson

Jeff Wilson, author of The Greened House Effect and host of Buildipedia's Everyday DIY series, many HGTV and diy network shows and 25-year veteran of the construction industry, lives with his wife and two daughters in a perpetually half-renovated home in a small college town in Ohio. You can see Jeff’s most recent project, the Deep Energy Retrofit of his 1940’s Cape Cod style home at

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