09 August 2013

Care & Feeding of Your DIY Volunteers

Here we are two weeks into the biggest project we've undertaken together and so far, so good. We've had some minor setbacks; apparently my mental timeline for how this was all going to unfold didn't really take into account that running brand new electrical is a huge pain in the tookus.

On the upside we're doing really well now that the dimmers have been sorted out. Mainly - and I cannot stress this enough - we are where we are right now thanks to the very determined help of friends and family. I figured since they were instrumental in our getting this far, it might be time to take a Miss Manners look at the whole DIY Volunteering from the perspective of the Helped and the Helper as Jeff and I have been on both sides of the hammer.
Don't feed after midnight, Don't give him a pneumatic staple gun...

To begin, one of the best DIY phrases I've ever heard is that there are three ways to do any project: Cheaply, Fast, or Well -- and you can pick any two of those three. I've watched that play out time and time again in our own home and can say that this is absolute gospel in our experience. 

When you're the helped, it's really important to remember that the people helping are (normally) not experts, not mind readers, and this isn't their project. They are volunteering out of some kind of love for the people they are helping. Generally they aren't obligated to spend any part of their free time helping you with your project.* 

We have found that when we have an abundance of offers to help the best thing is to divide up the day into at least two parts. This helps when personalities don't get along (you may not want persons A and D swinging hammers near one another) and it also keeps everyone helping as fresh as possible. Seriously, those buckets of plaster were not light at all. Who wants to do that for 10 hours? I sure as heck didn't and it's my bloody plaster!

Breaks. Take breaks. Do not scowl when people take breaks. Pile out into the yard, or the porch, or wherever and take fifteen minutes to smoke, drink a lot of water, and laugh. Do not forget to laugh. Breaks and laughter should happen frequently enough that people aren't trudging and infrequently enough that work is being accomplished. Remember, these folks are volunteering parts of their weekends and evening for nothing more than some food and hopefully help later on. 

Food should always be provided by the host. Always. It is the least one can do and it helps everyone trudge through demo and rebuild. I am very lucky that I've been able to ask/beg/plead with my parents to bring over hot food when it's been cold and cold cuts when it's been hot. Water - it should go without saying - but really. Water. A lot of water. It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, when there is heavy lifting water is vital. That isn't to say food and drink brought by others isn't wanted or appreciated, it is! But the hosts should have something on hand for the people throwing their backs into (and out) the work at hand. It doesn't matter if it is an epic project or a small one, providing food shows that you thought about the comfort of the people helping. 

Tools. This last demo has brought up the point that sometimes we don't have enough tools to go around and we're looking into remedying that. Also, proper safety equipment. I was on everyone about using the masks during our last round of demo because I dislike getting sick. At the same time if you're volunteering: if you have tools, bring them and make sure they're marked with your name. Safety glasses! Gloves! While some things should be provided, it is always a boon if you have your own to bring it (and take it with you at the end of the project).

A plan. The worst thing to happen in a volunteer situation is to have a ton of things to do and no idea what is going on. Don't ask for help and then spend an hour or more having everyone stand around watching you figure out where you want to begin. Don't waste their time, or yours. It is also important to give notice to the people you're hoping to rope into the project. In our case, we had things fall into place for the kitchen rather quickly so there wasn't a ton of notice given. Volunteers: know what you are getting into so you can come prepared in the right kind of tools and equipment. And shoes.

When you're helping it's really important to remember that normally, the people you're helping aren't experts and they're trying to figure out the best way to do all the things they have to do. Try to be patient with them. 

Know your limits in all senses of limits - emotionally, physically, monetarily. If you can't physically lift 50 lbs of crap but you still want to help, ask how else you can be useful. Seriously, some of the best help we had was when folks brought food or beer over and that stopping by forced us to take a needed break. Along those same lines do not overextend your help to the point it hurts you -- if you're spending a ton of gas money to even get to the place to volunteer and it's wiping you out? Be accountable for that and know your limit. Limits don't make us bad people, they make us useful when we know them and don't force ourselves into a dangerous situation. 

Be gentle. Demo is a great time to put holes in walls, but ... well. Make sure they're the right walls. No favors are done when the people being helped end up spending more to have a 'whoops' moment fixed. 

Be clear about the plan. Ask questions

If you say you're going to be there, be there. The people you're helping have taken your help into account. If you can't be there after you've said you'd be there, call them. text them. send smoke signals, whatever, so they know you're not dead in a ditch. 

If you ask for help and you receive help, you are in debt to the helpers.* Flat out, no amount of pizza and beer actually clears that slate. What does? Helping them. Help each other. Time is a gift we are all given and that time can't be won back through any other means. Whether we like it or not absences are noticed most especially when help is not reciprocated in kind. And on the flip side, I've also had to remove myself from volunteering from projects that went well beyond my comfort zone and into abuse, or have had to put my foot down and say I'm sorry, but I am not available because there just wasn't reciprocity over a long period of time. It goes back to knowing all one's limits. 

There is always something to do. No seriously -- even if it is (as I have discovered) taking my lunch break and going home and pulling nails (three billion down, four trillion to go), there are always tons of little things that people may not being thinking about that need to get done. Not all  Most DIY isn't glamorous. There is a long, messy pause between the beginning and the shiney end. Not everyone can rock the sledge. Sometimes just sweeping the floor fifteen thousand times is the help that is needed. 

We are incredibly blessed with friends who work hard and play hard. We are incredibly blessed with family who has been around their fair share and then some of home projects and can pass on that knowledge to us. DIY projects can be a source of laughter, mirth, and awesome memories when the projects are handled well and with good spirits. When handled poorly, they can destroy relationships and bank accounts. Gratitude goes a long way on both sides of the hammer.

* This is the tricky part about obligation - if you recieve help you should give it in kind. Obviously we are all different and expect different things so your mileage may vary.

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