Someday, Penny Porter may be able to park her car in the garage. And someday, she won't have to lift up her countertop to get the dishwasher door to open. And someday after that, there will be a new, 8-by-8-foot shed in her backyard. She's not holding her breath, but her husband, David, assures her that all these home projects and more will - someday - be complete.
Someday, Penny Porter may be able to park her car in the garage.
And someday, she won't have to lift up her countertop to get the dishwasher door to open. And someday after that, there will be a new, 8-by-8-foot shed in her backyard to store her landscaping tools to tend her yet-to-be-landscaped garden.
She's not holding her breath, but her husband, David, assures her that all these home projects and more will - someday - be complete.
David Porter is a king of unfinished home projects, a habit he inherited from his father and one he's admittedly fallen victim to during his 16-year marriage.
The Porters have moved about 10 times throughout Illinois, and often lived in houses requiring various degrees of improvement.
"We've always bought houses that need work because I can do the work myself," said David Porter, 43. "I like kind of personalizing the house."
Their bungalow-style home on the near-west side of Springfield, Ill., was the only house that met the couple's requirements when searching 1 1/2 years ago after a move. Though they didn't really like the house itself and its 1960s decor, David Porter had plans for making it just what they wanted.
However, the types of projects he used to undertake with his dad and three brothers growing up aren't as doable today. The couple has a grown son who lives elsewhere, so it's just Penny Porter and daughter Laura at home.
"When it comes to the construction-type projects, when it comes to lifting and hammering and sawing, I don't have any help," he said.
And hiring a contractor is out of the question.
"My dad is a jack of all trades ... if he can't fix it, it can't be fixed. And I feel like I need to be like him," David Porter said. "Well, I'm not like him - I write for a living. ... But I have this mental block where I can't hire things done, because I have the skills to do them myself. I don't have the time to do them, I don't have the desire to do them, but I have the skills to do them, and therefore I can't hire somebody. And I also don't have any money to hire anybody."
The first room the Porters tackled was their kitchen, because Penny Porter enjoys cooking and baking when she's not working as a caterer. David Porter replaced nearly everything in the room, from the ceiling to the floor. All that's left are the end caps to the countertops, the trim and a few other minor details, such as the spot where the countertop hangs too low and prevents Penny Porter from getting the dishwasher open.
The "highlight" of David Porter's unfinished projects is the two-car garage, which is filled with shelving units (meant to organize the space, not to further clutter it) and random findings of David Porter's, who admits to being a packrat.
"I need everything in here," he said when showing a visitor the garage one evening in December. "Who doesn't need a scoreboard? Or a chalkboard?"
He doesn't have a to-do list, but his head is filled with "grand plans" for every room of the house, as well as the backyard. As with all of his ideas, his wife said she has learned to wait and see what gets done - and does not.
According to Chuck Eichten, who wrote about unfinished home projects for This Old House magazine last May, there usually are three reasons homeowners (including himself) let projects go unfinished.
"For one, I think it's a lack of planning," said Eichten, a 45-year-old married father of two who lives in Portland, Ore., and works for Nike. "You look at something and say, 'Yeah, I should have time to do that.' And then a million other things get in your way."
Along that same line, he said, is overestimating the level of skill necessary to do a decent job.
Then there's the fear that you've gotten yourself in over your head, and that any additional work you do could make things worse.
In his column, Eichten listed five stages of The Unfinished Project, which range from the ideas and dreams homeowners have for their home but rarely start, to the midstage of "there's-a-hole-in-the-kitchen-wall" chaos, to the project that would be done once that final screw is put into place.
He and his wife have about 25 projects that they want to see in their "nondescript suburban home" to give it more character. To appease his wife, Eichten gave her a Christmas card with a list outlining each task and a to-be-completed-by date next to each in hopes that having it down on paper would help him achieve those home-improvement goals this year.
But as father to an 8- and almost-4-year-old, he realizes he has a lot to balance. Having young children makes it tough to find "unbroken" blocks of time to get things done, he said.
"The time thing is a big problem," he said. "You have an hour on Saturday or an hour before you go to bed. Or, you think you have three hours, but then somebody has a bloody nose and the dog is running around the house with somebody's underwear in its mouth. Things just get in the way."
Mike Locke, a new father who owns a two-bedroom bungalow, is beginning to learn that as his daughter, 10-month-old Kaedyn Rose, becomes more mobile.
Locke, 39, has owned his home for nearly 10 years. When he bought it, it was nearly uninhabitable. It took about four years, he said, "to even resemble a home."
His renovation is nearly complete, though he still has a to-do list of minor projects (and one or two major ones) the length of a steno pad. The recent addition of Kaedyn has put the desire to finish the house into overdrive for Locke and girlfriend Amanda Rothenberg.
The most visible projects left unfinished, Locke said, are the missing baseboards throughout much of the home, the two holes in the den intended for new sconces, the gating under the front porch that isn't attached properly, and the basement ceiling, which he avoids showing visitors altogether.
He admits to being a perfectionist, and that he's probably being too hard on himself.
"But the problem ... is a lot of this has been ongoing for nine years," he said. "I never get around to doing it.
"I think everybody starts out with a dream, a vision of what they want it to look like," Locke said. "And you might go to the planning stage and at least get that far, and then you might even get to buying the material. By that point, the vision that you had, you kind of remember, but it's in a distant part of your mind. And it becomes more of a hassle than what it was worth."
The baseboards have been sitting in his basement for six years. He even put two coats of primer on but has yet to paint them. The two holes on either side of a window in his den have been there almost as long as he's lived there; wires hang from either hole, awaiting the new sconces he's yet to buy.
Locke and Rothenberg's ultimate goal is to get their house ready to sell before Kaedyn begins school so they can live closer to Locke's family.
This winter, Locke said he hopes to tackle a few indoor projects until the weather warms, when he'll start working at the front of the house and work his way back: fix the gate under the porch, stain the porch, replace some gutter sections, fix the driveway in the back. His list totals more than 20 tasks.
"It's a means to an end," he said. "We know where we want to be, but to get there, we have to do this, this and this ..."
Kelsea Gurski can be reached at 788-1526 or firstname.lastname@example.org.