Under Construction: Finding Therapy in Home Improvement

Floor tile installation.Several years ago, we bought a small summer house. When we moved in, we had to rewire parts of the house, we needed to buy a new water heater, and we needed to add several other improvements and safety features, including banisters for the stairs.

After we bought furniture, decorated, and completed the first big tasks, we slowed down to go swimming, hiking, and bird watching. We enjoyed the forested area; it was quiet, clean smelling, and different than the noisy city where we live during the majority of the year. The basics were in place, and the house learned to play.

I saw my relationship to the house, the woods, and the animals around it like being in therapy. The woods are a great place to feel grounded. A natural meditation for me is feeling, smelling, and hearing the strength and endurance of the trees. The house is like a physical manifestation of the people in it—me, my husband, and visiting children who need special protective features, such as the banisters I mentioned.

We gave ourselves time to feel what the house needed next. I decided I wanted to redo the kitchen floor, which was finished with unattractive vinyl tiles. The kitchen is small; I thought I’d pull up the tiles myself. It seemed easy enough, and what could go wrong? I couldn’t ruin something that was already terrible. My mantra—borrowed from my 3-year-old daughter—is this: “Let’s try. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” The house and I were both testing things out and learning what we could do.

First I used a hammer and a screwdriver, inserting the screwdriver between the tiles and the wood floor underneath and prying the tiles up. The first tiles came off easily, but the rest were stuck. I upgraded my screwdriver to another tool I found in the toolbox that had come with the house. The rest of the job with the new tool took several days, but it worked!

My toolbox and my ability to use what’s in it are limited, but when I opened myself up to doing something new and not fearing failure, I found what I needed. I was forming a new relationship with myself and finding new abilities—both continuing processes throughout life.

I went to the hardware store and bought a product that would remove the glue left behind from the tiles. I began my routine: spray the glue to make it soft, scrape it off, and repeat. I worked on the floor steadily; my goal was to finish before the house was closed for the winter.

When I opened myself up to doing something new and not fearing failure, I found what I needed. I was forming a new relationship with myself and finding new abilities—both continuing processes throughout life.It is a pleasure to work slowly, thoroughly, even if it is a grueling task. I worked only when I had the time and the inclination; I was kind to myself. I could have rented an electric sander, but I found the idea of working by hand more appealing. I could have gone after the floor like a mad animal, working day and night, but I chose to work slowly and steadily. The repetitive physical actions became a vehicle for meditation.

I knew I was done sanding when the floor felt soft on my bare feet, and I had ideas about how to finish it. The rest of the house has beautiful mahogany-stained floor boards. The kitchen floor is made with pieces of scratched-up plywood. I would never be able to match the plywood to the mahogany boards, so I decided to stain or paint the boards white.

Fixing the house is an effort to clear away what isn’t needed, find what is needed, and treasure it. It’s like clearing away the stuff in my personality—such as the need to be right or in control—and giving myself permission to experiment, to try new things, and to fail at them. Learning to be all right with failure is an important beginning.

I think my white kitchen floor needs a rug. This winter, I’ll knit one. It may take several tries and starts until I discover the most pleasing pattern, but that’s part of the process.

What is the process?  It’s starting over until you get it right, throwing out what you don’t need, and trying new things.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Martie

    Martie

    October 23rd, 2015 at 8:04 AM

    KInd of like gardening for me!

  • Talia

    Talia

    October 24th, 2015 at 6:38 AM

    What’s not to love about it? There is nothing more therapeutic than working out some little home improvement projects, getting your hands dirty, and putting the body and the mind to work all at the same time. We usually don’t think that this is something that many females would love to do, but I am telling you, this is some of the most therapeutic work that I have ever gotten involved in , so now when someone is looking to do a DIY I am all in because for me it is the best feeling in the world. Highly recommend!

  • Maisie

    Maisie

    October 24th, 2015 at 1:21 PM

    any time that you can find something that is helpful and makes you feel good, like you are getting something accomplished, I say go for it, do it all the time

  • Mills

    Mills

    October 26th, 2015 at 6:59 AM

    Working with your hands, doing something that has such meaning and gets you up and active, that feels good to me. It feels like I am doing something in my life and for my life that is really making a difference. I have even started helping with Habitat for Humanity just because my wife was tired of me finding new projects around the house, so why not pout that energy into doing something good for someone else who could really benefit form it?

  • bess

    bess

    October 26th, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    lol this made me giggle because the only pleasure that I get from it is seeing the finished product- after someone else has done the work!

  • RickyB

    RickyB

    October 27th, 2015 at 7:56 AM

    I tell you what that line about finally opening yourself up and no longer fearing that failure? That spoke to me in such a simple but meaningful way, a way in which nothing has for a very long time. I think that my own fears of failing has been what is forever holding me back, because of that fear I have a hard time even thinking of trying something new. I know now that I have to get past that, leave that fear behind me, and start trying things that are new and interesting and see it as an opportunity to learn, not fearing the failure.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    October 27th, 2015 at 12:49 PM

    I have so enjoyed reading these comments, all different and each inspiring in its own way. Thank you so much for writing your thoughts, it means a lot to me.

  • Kelvin

    Kelvin

    October 28th, 2015 at 5:27 AM

    It can be slow and methodical, yes, but what great way to not only get to know and understand your strengths, but man, just to feel like you are accomplishing something that is as big as this.. it can be pretty powerful to begin to understand that you do have that ability within yourself!

  • Edward

    Edward

    October 29th, 2015 at 9:33 AM

    I love your story about making the connection with your new home and nature

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    October 29th, 2015 at 11:46 AM

    Thanks, Kelvin and Edward, for your encouragement!

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