7 Tips to Stay Motivated for House Projects

How do you stay motivated to do all of these home improvement projects? There are sooo many things I want to do to improve our home, like painting and cleaning, but the thought of it all puts me off and kills my motivation. -K

“You won’t do as much work on the house after you move in,” a friend warned us after we bought our house, a complete fixer-upper. He was right, but we knew we wanted to get projects done, so we remained optimistic.

We wanted to fix up our house, make it the way we wanted it, and then move on so we could focus on other things. We didn’t want to live in an ongoing project.

We spent several weeks looking for which house to buy, and then an intense six weeks on initial changes to the floors, kitchen, and walls before we moved in. I honestly thought we could finish most of it in a few months if we could maintain that strong pace, but we had to get back to real life. There was work to be done to pay the bills, plus there were holidays, illnesses, and events. We couldn’t spend so much time focused on the house.

I guess I was hoping for a miracle that would enable us to finish this home renovation as quickly as it looks on television (“And now we’re back, and the entire room was transformed during commercials…and it was so easy!”) It’s actually more like every week we try to do one more thing, even though we’re really busy with kids and work projects.

This is how we keep a steady pace of improvements even after the “new” has worn off our home renovation project:

1. Take “before” pictures to see how far you’ve come. It’s easy for me to see what still needs to be done, but how easily I forget where we started from. It wasn’t very long ago that I had a pile of bricks and rubble in my living room, carpet in the bathroom, and a kitchen straight out of 1970. My photos help me to see the work differently. (Click.)

2. Go for progress. Try to make at least one visible change a week, even if it’s small. Maybe all you will do is hang a mirror on a wall, but that helps you feel accomplished and keep momentum. If you don’t have the time or energy to paint the front door, replacing the doorbell takes ten minutes.

3. Learn to make decisions quickly. Everything we accomplished so far was the result of making fast decisions. It takes a lot of time to shop for and compare products, tools, and materials. A lot of time, especially if you are trying to save money while maintaining quality. Indecision will slow down your progress to a grinding halt. If you are doing a major project, you don’t have time to study the smallest options. Learn to trust your decisions.

4. When you run out of money, the work can still continue. Don’t let a lack of funds give you excuses. Limits inspire creativity. Maybe you can’t go out and buy supplies for your latest idea, but I bet you’ve already got supplies from other projects sitting around waiting for you. Cleaning, getting rid of junk, and reorganizing are always free.

5. Just start.  I don’t always feel like getting started on a house project at eight o’clock at night, but sometimes that’s the only time I’ve got. It’s also hard when trying something new. I’m not always super productive, but to me, in general, getting something done and crossing it off my list is more satisfying than doing nothing or watching TV. If you think you’re going to do it before you sell the house, go ahead and do it so you will have time to enjoy the results.

6. Don’t wait for someone else. – You can do some of the work by yourself. If you’re working with a partner, you can’t wait for him or her to feel motivated at the same exact time as you. What will probably happen is you will start working, and that motivation will rub off, or else they’ll feel sorry for you looking so ridiculous trying to do it by yourself that they’ll give in and help you.

7. Set a deadline goal, but don’t get frustrated if you don’t meet your goals. Still invite your friends over, even when you haven’t finished that project; they won’t mind.

How do you stay inspired and motivated?

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Having a baby due in a month motivates me! Or motivates me to try to find the money to hire out as many projects as I can- haha.
    Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry´s last post…Overheard

    • jerilyn says:

      haha! i found that getting pregnant brought my house work/diy/etc to a halt! luckily, we did not have a fixer-upper… just a few things to do. kitchen wallpaper is still partially taken off… baby is 9 weeks :) (someday!)

  2. If we find that NOT getting the project done starts to actually depress both me and my husband whenever we look at it (like a darkly coloured room that requires re-painting), we get it done!

  3. Taking before pictures is a really good idea. We have small groups at our house once a week so we stayed motivated by trying to make one change each week before small groups.

  4. Meredith says:

    I love this line: “If you think you’re going to do it before you sell the house, go ahead and do it so you will have time to enjoy the results.” But I find myself paralyzed by indesicion and need to learn this line: “Learn to make decisions quickly.”

    Your kitchen looks fantastic so far! Are your countertops new, or did you paint the old ones?

    • Meredith says:

      indecision, rather.

    • Thanks. We replaced the countertops. The old ones were original to the house, so forty years old! We hope our new ones will last that long as well.

  5. I pick a small project that can be done quickly. Instead of a room, I do a piece of furniture. Finishing that is a real boost to my mental and physical energy levels which keeps me focused on the next thing and the next and the next.

  6. Jessica says:

    Good tips. Visiting the IKEA website usually lights a fire under me. Also, sometimes I realize that when I’m putting something off it’s because it’s too much work for too little payoff. I have to apply the usual tenets of minimalism- do I really care about this, or did I just see it in a magazine somewhere and think it was cool? Is it cost effective? Is it beautiful? Will it make my life easier? Should I make it a priority, or is this project better left for if and when I feel like doing it? Nothing makes me feel sillier than realizing I’ve got my knots in my back and I’m staying up late frantically choosing new photos to hang on the wall. Some things are only worth doing if they’re fun.

    • I think those are really important questions! I think too many times we waste energy on projects because we thought they looked pretty on Pinterest, when they just aren’t practical for our current situation.
      Jennie´s last post…Emotional Clutter

    • Larissa says:

      Yes! I just saw a post about putting warranties and owners manuals in a binder all alphabetized and pretty and, for a brief moment, considered doing it for myself. Then I realized I never look at or use that stuff and it’s just fine sitting in the drawer the way it is. Why waste my time with it?

  7. I needed this post! Thanks, Rachel. Although I would have loved to get all of our work done shortly after moving into our house seven years ago, it just wasn’t a financial possibility. Since then, we’ve been on the slowly-but-surely plan. I love your idea of taking before and after (or before and along-the-way) photos. When I start knocking myself about a lack of progress, I am snapped out of it by looking at shots of our original kitchen. What a difference! Even though it’s not finished… LOL

    • I’ve just done the same, checked out before photos and along-the-way photos and just realised I’ve come a long way since even those along-the-way photos were taken. Nothing for it but to keep going I guess. I’m glad there are other people out there who’s homes are longer terms projects. Celebrating being in my home for 5 years last weekend. :)

  8. Exactly the topic I needed to read today. You’re right-on about making progress even if you’ve run out of money. I’ll add, or don’t have time. Every little something I do moves me forward to the home in my mind. There’s always something to clean or clear or paint or hang or unhang and it may take only 10-20 minutes.

  9. I’m finding at the moment that even though I’ve got more time than usual, I’ve not started those projects I expected to.
    Perhaps the before photos are an inspirational starting point! Great idea thanks,x

  10. After taking a decade to fix my house, all we have left is exterior paint (and BOY will my neighbors we happy when we get that done!)Having now moved on to gardening, the best practice we have is this: we created a sort of master plan — a rough outline of where we want the garden to be in 5 years. And so when we find things that fit into the master plan that are free, or really inexpensive, we grab ‘em. We had a stockpile of pavers and brick that have just become the central patio of the yard — and the whole thing was built for just $75. (I am working on an article about that project!)

  11. This was a helpful post for me! I’m moving into a guesthouse at the end of the month and can’t move much of the existing furniture out, but feel really compelled to make it “me”…I think I’ll knock out a little task today.

  12. This was perfect timing, I am in the process of decluttering my house and creating a home that i’m happy with. I’m making lots of changes to my life at the moment and that is keeping me motivated. Thanks for posting.

  13. Jennifer says:

    We had a leak and then some mold in one of our bedrooms. Since it needed to be fixed, my husband took the opportunity to work with his cousin (who is a contractor) to learn how to sheet rock, float & tape and texture walls. I wish we had thought to get before pictures. The changes are phenomenal so far. I can’t wait to see the finished project. They even changed the peak of the ceiling so that he can install a ceiling fan.

  14. vermontmommy says:

    Host a party at your house. We always have little things to do around the house. Next weekend is our youngest daughter’s 5th birthday party.

    Yes, I know that no one will realize what I have not done but I will.

    So this weekend I am painting the new refurbished backdoor. It made me put together a cluster of photos by my desk, organize my desk,and finally pot a few plants I had been meaning to replace because, I, er, killed the other two.

    Just a month ago I had my parents visit (they live 2000 miles away). Their visit encouraged me to spruce up the front porch so that they could sit and drink their coffee out there. It also helped me organize a few spots in the house.

    • Having a party is SUCH a good suggestion! We hosted a church potluck just a week after moving into our house, and it was such a great motivator to get all the boxes unpacked and things set up. It was lot of work, but it was so much nicer to have it all done in a week, instead of the months that it has taken us in past moves. Also, at times that I’ve just needed to the house cleaned up, having folks for dinner, or better yet a party, has been just the kick I need to get the place cleaned up. And like Rachel said, cleaning up and organizing can be just as powerful as spending money on a renovation project, and it’s free!

  15. oh THANK YOU for this post! So practical, realistic, and motivating!

    I had words with my husband this morning over this very issue. We bought our major fixer-upper 10 years ago, did a major renovation 6 years ago, and there is still trim to be finished. sighhhhh I like to think I’m helping things progress by keeping up with the housework to free my husband up for the special projects, but his vision is different than mine. We need to talk again – I’m sending him this post.
    Margo, Thrift at Home´s last post…Skinnifying My Bootcut Jeans

  16. These are all fantastic tips, particularly the ones pertaining to progress. It is so easy to lose motivation and momentum when you focus on what hasn’t been done. I have a mind to pull out the camera right now and start taking pictures of our house, as it is now! I stay motivated by telling our friends (and myself) this motto…We aren’t fixing up our house to sell it, we are fixing up our house to LIVE in it!
    Leslie´s last post…Where We’ll Be This Summer

  17. Helene says:

    Yes, so true. Just because I run out of money doesn’t mean I can’t repair and organize a wall of bookshelves, wash windows, or overhaul closets. There’s plenty of work to do around here that will cost next to nothing!

  18. I agree about not giving up when money runs out…sometimes my husband and I just agree not to buy any more supplies until we use up what we’ve bought. It’s amazing how many projects we can do with already-purchased supplies.
    TheFrugalGirl´s last post…Food Waste Friday | What is it with me and strawberries lately?

  19. I have a philosophy – don’t wait to do something before ya have the party – plan the party, set the date – and it’s amazing how much gets done. Like Rachel noted in #7. I’ve seen folks have a party in the middle of a major kitchen renovation. I think that’s a little radical, but I love the spirit. We’re remodeling our patio deck, it was in sad shape, and again – like she says in #5, we’re not sure how long we’ll be in this house. But this deck upgrade will sell the house when we’re ready, and in the meantime – we’ll get to enjoy a beautiful new deck. Great post timing, as usual!

  20. thanks for sharing. sometimes i get discouraged by what we haven’t finished. or… what needs to be redone after living here for 8 years. but!!! there is so much we have done and it is better to focus on that and take small steps towards all the other stuff.

    for example… today i bought a mat for my front door for the 1st time! we have lived here 8 years. well, i got something done. :)
    charis´s last post…mostly human

  21. Thank you for this post! The timing was right on; it helped me to appreciate the progress we’ve made and give me the nudge I needed to go ahead and get a few things done (even if it’s not magazine perfect).

    Glad to read the other comments and see that I’m not the only one taking slower than anticipated steps to improving our home :)

  22. Amanda says:

    I really needed to hear your #6 suggestion. I’m always making a list in my head of things I want to get done and expect my husband to help, or sometimes do a chunk of it, could be because I’m having a baby this month. But, I definitely need to take the initiative and work on the projects myself and let him join in if he wants. One of my big things I want to get done this month is getting our tiny condo clean to the point where a quick 15 minute clean will have the house looking neat and tidy. I know that once the baby comes we won’t be in the mood to clean and I’d rather have a clean room to make messy than a messy room to add to. I’ve tackled, and finished the kitchen so far and have four more rooms to go. One great motivator that I found at the end of my kitchen clean was to tell myself I could buy a few things for the kitchen once I was done. I went out and bought a new trash can and a new broom and it felt so nice knowing why I was buying them.

  23. We are building (having a house built) and we close in a few weeks. The projects to be done are finishing two bedrooms in the basement immediately, then the rest of the basement later, a 5 ft. privacy fence, an underground sprinkler system and window coverings. We are in a rental now and knew we would only be here a year, so really have not done any projects for a year, now we are doing a bunch in a very short amount of time. One cool tidbit, if you are spending $2500+ at Lowe’s in a single transaction, you can print out your whole list, turn it into them and get a 5-20% discount depending on the items. You can also get 10% off if you are moving. I hate paying FULL price and unfortunately generic items like sheetrock and fencing are harder to get deals on (no yard sales or Goodwill!) ;)

  24. There is definitely plenty of work that can still be done when funds are limited. This is a good time to focus on the decluttering and organising, and in restoring and repurposing pieces that can be done cheaply. Thanks for the great post!
    Kim @ Extra Organised´s last post…Today’s organising bliss

  25. I am sitting here right now with a long list of To Do’s and I don’t want to do any of them. But after reading your post, I think I will get up and do at least one. Thanks!!
    Donna´s last post…Small Projects Sew Along List

  26. I really latched onto one part you said, Rachel, about your goal being to just do it all up front and then move on with your life. We have the same philosophy, we didn’t want to be working on the house every weekend and have our house consume us. But alas, we have learned the same lesson as you! We had contractors do a lot of work last fall right before moving in, but there was still plenty today, and yes, life happens! So now, we are taking a bit of a two-pronged approach. We have a master plan and are slowly plodding away on the remaining projects (I have been getting up at 4AM to do insulation work in the attic by myself before the kiddos get up and while it is still cool… I broke the tasks down into two hour increments, and it’s going to take me a loooong time!) But we are also deciding to change our mindset and be “okay” with how some things look. I don’t want to look at my living room furniture for five years and every day think, I really would like to slipcover those chairs. Instead, I want to know that’s part of the long term plan, but to decide to myself that they look fine, and serve their purpose well. Keeping things uncluttered and clean definitely makes it easier to have that mindset. I know when I really get itching to spend some serious money on a big project, money that we don’t have right now, picking up and uncluttering makes me feel MUCH more content with where we are for the time.
    Rachel Hill´s last post…When You Cannot Bear It Any Longer

  27. I remember my husband painting the basement with a cement sealer paint when we were first married. I thought he should paint it on one full day. Instead he would come home from work and paint for about an hour. Before you knew it it was done, about a week of an hour per night. It was done and looked great, so much brighter and lighter and the pour grey cement and the moisture problem was gone.
    So I guess, just do it works!

  28. We bought a not-so-well-maintained yucky house with good bones almost three years ago and had to move in nearly right away. Motivation to continue was right in front of our face for a while, but now that we’re down to the less painfully necessary projects, we can go weeks without doing a single house project. My latest trick to keep going is to have a home project hour once a week while the littles are napping. This helps me from feeling overwhelmed, builds the many projects we have to do into my weekly routine and has a time limit (when the kids wake up the project goes away) so I don’t overwork myself. Thanks for your tips!

  29. Saw this in Apartment Therapy today and got reminded of the brick walls you had before :)

    Anu´s last post…Gupta Ji back in town (Right,& He is not in Bangalore)

  30. For me, the greatest de-motivator is untidiness in the home. So, I start and continue my home improvement projects in a very disciplined and organized way. It gives me motivation.

  31. I love when I google desperate “what-do-i-do?!” phrases and useful posts like this come up. My Mister and I just bought our first house and have proven ourselves not to be the DIY geniuses we thought we were. The cabinet doors in my kitchen still need to be put back on after a mass kitchen white-out the week we moved in, but seeing the before photos of the kitchen in its dark gloomy state is a big push factor. Love your tips!