Tackling DIY with Little Ones at home

If you’ve been following my blog for really any length of time, you know that I love a good DIY project. I often get asked how I have time to do these projects with small children around, and while I frequently use evenings after my kids are asleep, I also do quite a bit during the days. Today I thought I’d just talk about some of the ways I make this happen. I’m not going to pretend that these are the best ways or the only ways, but these are the things that work best for me personally in tackling DIY projects as a stay-at-home mama to two children under the age of three.

Dual Nap = Naptime Hustle!

Probably my biggest strategy is the “naptime hustle,” which just means that the moment my children are sleeping, I jump into project mode.

This has obviously varied a bit with the ages of my children (newborn sleep is a whole different ballgame!) but I have worked really hard to keep our daily routine as consistent as possible so both kids are used to napping at the same time each day. There’s a lot that I’m pretty relaxed about in motherhood but sleep is not one of them. We’re consistent with our routines, we’re consistent with the time, we’re consistent with being home in the afternoon (no afternoon playdates!) – I try everything I can to provide a solid foundation for my kids to nap well. If there is one day we are out of the routine, it’s not a big deal; however, that does mean that I make sure the next day is right back on track. For the most part, this has worked really well and my kids are both great nappers. Right now, they both go down around 1:00. Vi will sleep about 1.5-2 hours and LJ usually sleeps about 3-3.5 hours.

Screen Time is not the Enemy

I think sometimes screen time gets a bad rap and society makes us feel guilty for allowing any TV time, but there is no shame in my mama game to say TV has been a wonderful tool for us to use in moderation. When Vi goes down for her morning nap (usually about 9-10:30 or 11), I have no problem letting LJ watch a couple shows so I can have some time to work on a project. Justin and I both credit TV for actually helping him with language and learning – so many shows have value with teaching new words, showing how something works, teaching simple problem solving, or introducing concepts like letter sounds, counting, etc.

Do projects in small chunks

It’s almost never safe to just leave things out when I’m not working on them because my kids will inevitability get into the tools, paint, wood, screws, etc. Whenever possible, I try to break up a project in small chunks so that it’s easier to get the task completely done in my small work window and then quick clean up when I’m finished. It makes for smaller bursts of work at a time, but that adds up to help get a project finished.

Set up nearby activities

Before Vi was walking, I would often set her up in the pack n play next to wherever I was working on anything, DIY or otherwise. Sometimes LJ would want to join her in there and they’d play together -contained but nearby.

Now that she’s bigger, I’ll try to set up an activity in the next room that I can monitor. As I worked on putting together our Ikea cabinets for the office, I broke apart the box and gave LJ markers to draw on it right outside the room (the doors have glass so I could see) while Vi watched and played with the box. When I worked on the basement kitchen, I blocked off the couch area using boxes and end tables so the kids could play there while I painted cabinet doors on the other side. Neither child is old enough for unsupervised independent play longer than about two minutes so finding ways to partition them from the project while still keeping them nearby has been a big strategy for working while they’re awake.

Let them help!

In each project, I try to find at least one small thing that LJ can help with. This often means letting him help me paint a wall or use something simple like a screwdriver.

In my current project of working on the office, he was thrilled to get a small hammer and helped pound in a few tiny nails into the back of the cabinets. He may only be two but it’s teaching him responsibility, it’s encouraging him to have a sense of pride and ownership, and often, it helps satisfy his urge to meddle in the project, haha! When a project is forbidden, it just increases his curiosity to get involved. When he’s allowed to have a part in it, he’s happy and then will move on and go play with something else and leave my project alone. It’s a win for both of us!

And speaking of help . . .

Childcare is a huge help to me when I’m in the midst of a project. As a stay-at-home mama, every little bit of outside help makes a huge difference for me. LJ recently started preschool and is now gone for three hours two times a week. Since Vi usually naps during this time, it gives me a bonus naptime hustle. My parents live about an hour away and they have also been incredibly helpful to me with childcare. They like to take the kids for a day or two every once in a while and they’ve also come here to watch them so I can get things done. This is especially helpful when I’m in the middle of a large scale project like painting tile floors or kitchen cabinets and need blocks of time beyond what a naptime provides. Pre-pandemic I also hired a babysitter twice a month to come watch the kids for a few hours so I could get a little work done without interruptions.

Recognize other areas will slip

The reality is, when I’m in full-on project mode, other areas of my life often slip a bit. I don’t try to do everything, and my time gets prioritized differently. Our house isn’t as clean. I have bigger piles of laundry because I’m not doing it as frequently. I don’t have the free time to read. I can’t do it all, so I’ve had to just recognize that sometimes these seasons of projects mean other areas are a little more lax and that’s okay.

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Of course there are seasons where DIY projects aren’t as feasible (looking at you again, newborn stage) but I truly believe that just because you have small children at home doesn’t mean you can’t tackle a project if you want to. Start with a simple job like spray painting some frames or swapping out hardware. When you start small, you learn to roll with the punches, find out what works best for you, your family, your daily schedules, and then you can work your way up to larger scale projects. DIY with small children around is not without its challenges, but it can be done and I’m cheering for you!

If you have finished a DIY project with small children around, what tips and tricks did you use to accomplish it?

Our “New” Dining Table + Chairs!

Justin and I have always envisioned our basement as a space for guests and entertaining. We’ve been slowly addressing various areas of the basement (like our guest bedroom and bathroom, living area, kitchen, and entryway) but the space in between the living space and the kitchen has been neglected . . . until now! We’ve both been putting in work to create a dining area for food + game nights and it’s finally finished!

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As a refresher, up until a few weeks ago, it looked like this:

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I still cringe looking at this combination workout + collection area for things to sell/donate right in the middle of the basement. It was time for a change!

Justin actually made the table entirely out of old scrap wood that the previous owners of our home left behind when they moved out. He worked so hard on it and I’m so impressed – not only is it gorgeous and full of character but it perfectly fits our needs. I was able to give him the exact dimensions I wanted: large enough for 6-8 people to sit comfortably and linger over good food or a game night.  It’s perfect!

Budget Dining Room Transformation-5

The chairs were an absolute steal. I had been scouring websites for inexpensive dining chairs but I just couldn’t find anything under $60 per chair that fit our needs (not a barstool or folding chair) and I was not about to spend $300-400 on six chairs for a free table. I started browsing Facebook marketplace and one day I came across these chairs being sold for $2 a chair and I jumped on them! They obviously needed some TLC but I loved their size and shape and knew with a little work they could shine.

Chairs

My preference would have been to reupholster them, and we could have reupholstered the seats no problem, but the backs were attached in a more complicated way that would have been really difficult to reupholster well. So I started looking at other options and discovered a fabric and vinyl spray paint that I decided to give a try. The nice thing about $2 chairs is that it makes you willing to try a few things that you maybe wouldn’t risk on a more expensive piece.

Chairs w Painted Upholstery

The fabric and vinyl spray paint worked…okay. It took 3 light coats to cover the fabric, and while it’s not perfect, it does look a lot better. I actually think the black over the old striped and floral print makes it look like a cool Victorian-y fabric now. But the spray paint did cause the fabric to have a scratchier feel, which is not ideal. I think I will eventually get some thin black seat covers to help improve the feel of the seat (even if the fabric wasn’t scratchy, I would want to do this because there is very little cushion in the seat’s upholstery and they’re not super comfortable to sit in for a long time).

Chairs with Table

After spray painting the seats, I decided I needed to also paint the wood black. I actually really liked the look of dark upholstery and lighter stain, but I did not like it for this particular space. It just didn’t work with all the other wood tones of the table, half wall ledge, and other wood tones throughout the open concept basement. I tried out two different methods for changing the wood look: spray paint and Polyshades. Polyshades is a product I hadn’t heard of before, but it’s essentially a stain that you can apply over another stain to achieve a different look without having to sand off all the previous stain. I tested both on an inconspicuous part of the chair and found that spray paint’s coverage was much better. Polyshades would be an excellent candidate over raw wood or stained wood that isn’t glossy, but these chairs were glossy and it just didn’t look that great. I could have sanded the chairs down to remove all the gloss, but since every surface of the chairs was rounded, it just felt like a lot of work ha. I’m all about keeping things simple!

I lightly sanded each chair with a piece of sandpaper, taped off the fabric seats, and then applied black spray paint in a satin finish using repetitive light strokes. It took just about 3 full cans of spray paint to cover all six chairs.  Then all I needed to do was wait for them to dry and bring them inside!

Budget Dining Room Transformation-2

The chairs are definitely not perfect, but I think they work really well in this space and I love their look. And the total cost for this project was under $50, meaning this set of 6 chairs cost less than just one brand new chair in all the places I was looking beforehand. Win win!

Budget Dining Room Transformation-6

I finished out this little dining area by shopping my home for decor, although I did buy one new thing for it: that gorgeous arched mirror in the corner. It was another Facebook marketplace find – a brand new (still in the original packaging!) Project 62 arched black mirror for $30?? Definite score.

Overall I’m so happy with this space and how it makes the room flow from the lounge area to the dining space to the kitchen. It feels just right!

Sources

Wall Color: Sherwin Williams Repose Gray

Chairs: $2 x 6 = $12

Fabric and Vinyl Spray Paint: $18.60 (total for 3 cans)

Black Spray Paint: $19.20 (total for 3 cans)

Total cost of chair project: $49.80

Top 10 Staples for My DIY Projects

Ever since my post about our $0 bathroom makeover on Monday, I’ve been thinking about the zero dollar aspect of the project. I said again and again that I didn’t want to spend any money, and I am really proud to say I made the space shine and didn’t spend a dime. But maybe I should say, I didn’t actively spend a dime. Because when I really think about it, it’s not *truly* $0. Like, I didn’t just revamp a space using absolutely nothing. It was $0 because I didn’t actively spend money on the project – everything I used was something I already had.

I love to share my DIYs and I often share how I was able to complete them for a super low cost (like this dresser for under $50 , this special wall and surrounding area in our garage for $0, or this secret nook I revamped for $75). So many of these projects are very low cost and easy because I usually have many of the supplies on hand. And I’m not talking about just the random, junky things left in the back of the drawer from a project 8 years ago (although I don’t count those items out either haha), but quality products that I’m intentional about having in my stash.

Today I thought it would be fun to talk about the things that I find myself reaching for and using in project after project – the go-to things that I always stock up on because it’s not only more economical to use the same things for multiple projects, but it ensures I’m ready to dive in whenever the mood for a project strikes. I would venture to say that 98% of my projects involve at least one of the items listed below, and more often than not I’m using a combination of them. This is my all-star lineup!

1. Black Spray Paint

$0 Bathroom Makeover

I always always always have a can of black spray paint handy. Black is a tireless workhorse – it can make a hodgepodge of items look cohesive (like in the photo above!), it can freshen up outdated fixtures, and it can work in every space. It seems like anytime I need an inexpensive and easy update, I’m reaching for my black spray paint. I’ve used it on planters, handles, light fixtures, frames, chairs, and more! I like to have both a satin and a matte finish on hand and I’m always sure to replenish as soon as one can gets low, because I know I will use it!

2. Gold Spray Paint and/or Rub n Buff

Modern, Bright Entryway Makeover

Gold spray paint is another staple I always have on hand (this one is my favorite!) It gives a modern touch to dated pieces and it can add some warmth to a space. Similarly, rub n buff is a newer product to my arsenal, but I’m already obsessed and know it is here for the long haul. This little miracle worker is a great way to add some character to a piece. So far I have mostly used it on frames that I’ve thrifted, but it could work for freshening up lots of different kinds of decor.

3. Caulk

Caulk is one of those things that you don’t really notice – and that’s the point. It’s the finishing touch that makes a project look polished without actually standing out. Even if you do no other update to a space other than running fresh caulk around a sink or bathtub, it can make a big difference! I also use it to fill in gaps along trim or baseboards or do things like attach our “new” vanity sink to a cabinet. I always have a paintable white silicone caulk (and a caulk gun) on hand, but I’ve also started keeping a clear acrylic as well since this works well along sinks.

4. Electric Screwdriver

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This is my go-to tool for projects around the home. It’s perfect for taking out or installing hardware, removing cabinet doors, swapping out switch plates, etc. All the little projects that require a screw driver, this makes things super quick and easy. Justin and I are constantly reaching for it during projects! I couldn’t find our exact brand online but this one looks similar to the one we use.

5. Painter’s Tape

This obviously comes in handy to give me nice crisp lines anytime I decide to paint a wall, but I also like to use it to map out where I want a picture frame to hang or plan the size of a cabinet against the wall or a rug on the floor. It really helps me visualize a space!

6, 7, & 8. Paint Roller Covers, Brushes, and Tray Liners

Items to Always Have on Hand for DIY Projects

I buy roller covers and paint tray liners in bulk, and I try to take good care of my paint brushes so they last a long time ( I use this multi-tool for cleaning brushes and it really helps prolong the life of a brush by getting all the paint out of the bristles after a project). I re-use a lot of the same colors throughout my house, so I often already have the paint I want to use and having the other supplies on hand allows me to jump right in to a project without having to go to the store to buy a roller. Plus, I know that I will go through this items eventually and it is more economical to buy in bulk.

9. Primer

Along the same lines, I buy my favorite primer in huge 3.5 gallon buckets because it is more economical: one 3.5 gallon bucket costs about $47, wheras if I’d buy the same amount in 1 gallon quantities at a time, I’m spending about $59. It’s a lot of primer, but looking around at all the projects in my house, I know that I’ll go through it. I use primer as the first step for not only painting walls, but also cabinets and other furniture and it’s nice to be able to just start a project and have the primer ready to go.

10. Wood Filler

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This stuff comes in handy for both big and small projects. I’ve used it in everything from filling the extra holes in cabinet doors when swapping hardware from handles to knobs, to covering the holes left by a nail gun when installing wood trim and baseboards, to patching old holes in the DIY frames that Justin makes me from scrap wood. Since I am often repurposing something instead of using a brand new item, there are often dings, nicks, holes, etc to fill in and smooth out so I’m often reaching for wood filler to help me with the job.

 

What products or tools are your DIY go-tos?