7 Stress-Free Home Maintenance Tips for Single Women

By Jessica Bram

handymanI’d love to profess that being required to learn a whole new set of home maintenance skills after my divorce filled me with newfound pride and pleasure. But it’s just not so. Much as I reject the suggestion that household jobs should be assigned along gender lines, I’m forced to admit that I’d much rather marinate a piece of swordfish in ginger-teriyaki broth than replace my hall closet’s wobbly old door knob, even though the daily satisfaction of seeing a shiny, newly installed brass knob will last long after that perfectly grilled swordfish is obliterated from both existence and memory.

Sure, I’m proud of my house. And I’ll move heaven and earth to keep it in good repair. But I’ve given up pretending to like all that home maintenance entails —or to be very good at it.

After becoming the lone adult responsible for our home, I resolved at first to learn how to handle all those tasks my former husband once tackled. After all, what could be so difficult? In an “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” mood, I set out for Home Depot where I bought myself not one tool box, but two: a shiny fire-engine red one for hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, and the like; and a bright yellow plastic box for screws, picture hooks, and nails, which I kept nestled in neat compartments. I resolved to keep my tools as carefully arranged as the spools of thread in my sewing box—nothing like my ex-husband’s jumbled mess.

Over that first year of home ownership, as I took on what should have been modest little projects, I became humbly acquainted with my limitations in the home maintenance department. I installed window blinds in the bedrooms that raise to a permanent tilt. I built a prefabricated “Some Assembly Required” stereo cabinet that several weeks after assembly split apart at the joints, scattering CDs all over the floor. Finally, when I smashed a decorative ceiling globe while trying to change one single, stupid light bulb, I gave up.

Today, my tool boxes are such a jumble I would be hard pressed to locate a retractable razor to scrape off last year’s beach sticker, let alone a proper tool.

Nevertheless, I’ve achieved a peaceful level of acceptance regarding my home maintenance ineptitude. What I’ve discovered instead is that there is a world of men out there—okay, let’s call a spade a spade, they are usually always male—who love nothing more than to take on home repair challenges while imparting their expertise to the ignorant. I don’t like to play the “helpless female card,” but I am female. And I am, let’s face it, pretty helpless when it comes to things like my furnace.

I’ve learned that the most beautiful words in the English language are not I love you; they’re I have a service contract. I use those magic words to summon my knights in oily armor—the oil company emergency night crew—when there is a hissing spray shooting out of the hot water heater, say, or the furnace fails to kick on during a particularly frigid night. The service guys can usually diagnose the cause of my furnace emergency in about twelve seconds and fix it in less than nine minutes. But they then spend the next forty-five minutes attempting to educate me on the intricacies of my home’s hot water and heating systems, with an analysis of what went wrong and why. Like it or not, I get the full rundown.

Then there are those men of a certain age—retired, I imagine, but with fix-it skills just begging to be put to use—who work in my neighborhood hardware stores. Finding me wandering the aisles dazed, they pounce with words that are music to this middle-aged mother: “What can I do for you, young lady?” They elderly gentlemen freely dole out advice and flex their home maintenance skills like muscle men on Venice beach.

I breathe a great sigh of relief knowing that out there, in addition to the oil company night emergency crew and the hardware store gurus, are the electricians, plumbers, appliance servicemen, exterminators, and emergency drain cleaners who have rescued me again and again.

So, from one single woman homeowner to another, here Jessica’s 7 tips for stress-free home maintenance:

1. Accept your limitations. You’re learning enough every day without having to learn how to measure for window blinds, too.

2. Get referrals from neighborhood hardware stores, Home Depot, and paint stores. Make sure they know you’re a customer – and will come back and complain if they steered you wrong.

3. Don’t skimp on service contracts, appliance warrantee extension plans, sewer line protection plans and the like. You’ll sleep better.

4. Don’t rely on advertising circulars to find trustworthy repair professionals. The best ones don’t have to advertise. Instead, call your neighbors for referrals. (If you don’t know your neighbors, it’s a nice way to meet them.)

5. Get an estimate before the work begins. Ask about hourly labor rate, markup on supplies, and whether there is a “trip charge”. It’s amazing how often women are embarrassed to talk about money. Don’t be.

6. Check your bills carefully, and ask, very nicely, for detailed explanations of the charges. I am continually amazed by how often I find “mistakes,” whether due to sloppy math, or the mistaken assumption I wouldn’t check.

7. Resist the impulse to be overly grateful that the repairman showed up altogether. He’s the one to be grateful – he’s got a paying customer.

These tips are adapted from Adapted from Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey (Health Communications, Inc. April 2009) by Jessica Bram

 

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