Recently we spoke with Dena Breitmeyer, creator of home DIY blog Fletcher Creek Cottage and known for building her home from the ground up for only $70,000. Checkout our Q&A below to find out the ways DIYs and home design have empowered her and impacted her life.
New York Minute Magazine is dedicated to women’s empowerment. How do your passions embolden you to become the most courageous version of yourself?
First off I want to thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for being so dedicated to women and for giving me the opportunity to share my story! Becoming a more confident and strong woman is something that has taken me a lifetime and I still have a long way to go! I will say that I’m a go-getter. If I set my mind to something I am likely to figure out a way to accomplish it but believe me, I’ve had my share of wrong turns and failures. I definitely feel that life is a marathon though, not a sprint and each day I push myself out of m y comfort zone the more confident I become! I also have an amazing circle of family and friends who are always there, cheering me on. Having people like that in my life helps me to face my fears! It may sound lame, but a lot of what I am able to do is because of them believing in me and helping me along the way.
There’s a perpetuated stereotype about women being unable to build and construct. It’s supposedly “a man’s job.” How do you feel about that stereotype?
It’s so unfortunate that there is a stereotype about women in construction but thankfully I have not encountered a whole lot of that attitude by people I meet in person. It does happen on occasion online and when it does, I just let it roll off my back and not let it get to me. There are a couple of reasons that help me do that!
The first reason being is that I design and build things for myself and my family’s needs! The projects I’ve done have saved us (and made us) hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years! To us, that’s a big deal! Every time I learn a new trade and am able to take on a project on my own, it feels amazing and I know my work is valuable! NaySayers will think what they want to think…I know the truth! We women are SO CAPABLE and we are more than able to do incredible work regardless of the trade!!!
Secondly, knowing there is a stereotype about women building things doesn’t make me want to shrink back at all! It actually motivates me to share even more! Women of ALL ages need to see other women doing and learning to do new things! Sometimes it’s basic things and other times it’s REALLY hard things. If we don’t have anyone showing us that it can be done, how else will we ever gain the confidence to try it ourselves?!
I’m so grateful I was raised by a mother who LIVED that daily! She was a fantastic example for me and my 8 younger sisters of what a strong woman looks like! She saw a need and she figured out a way to fix the problem. Sometimes that meant building something and other times it meant fixing a broken dishwasher. My Dad worked around the clock to provide for us 12 kids and if something needed doing… my mom didn’t often wait for dad to come home…she just rolled up her sleeves and did everything she could! I don’t think she ever thought she couldn’t or shouldn’t do something because she was a woman…and to be totally honest…neither have I! I hope and pray that the projects I tackle and the content I share will always be something that encourages others to just go for it!
What advice would you give to a woman who wants to get into DIYs but doesn’t know where to start?
I’m going to assume you mean DIYs for the home?! That’s a great question and one I get often and love to answer.For those who are looking to get into DIYs and have NO clue where to start, but really want to learn, that’s wonderful! I have three recommendations to help you get started!
First, do your research! There are SO many incredible online resources these days that you can learn how to do something for free anytime you take the time to sit down and learn the steps! I had been renovating homes (during the day while my husband was at work) for 10 years without any internet access…that means NO YouTube, but I still learned. I read books and articles all I could. Research is KEY!
My second tip is to practice first! What I mean by that is, take the time to practice on scrap BEFORE working on your house. If you want to add a tile backsplash, great…get a few samples of the tiles you like and get a scrap 4×4 sheet of drywall or cement board and practice tiling on that before spending time and money tiling your kitchen and running the risk of really making a mess or hating how it looks in the end! DIY should save you money, not cost you money. Practicing first is a great way to make sure you don’t end up paying a professional to come and redo what you’ve done! Most people wouldn’t just grab a paint color and paint their walls without trying a few sample colors first to make sure…so if you’re DIY project is fairly permanent in your home (like trim, flooring, wallpaper, drywall, shiplap, etc…) why not take some time to practice before working on your actual home!?
My last tip would be for those of you who would like to take on a bigger project. Consider hiring a professional to work alongside you on your home improvement project and pay her/him an hourly rate. I have done this lots of times and believe me, you will learn SO MUCH! You will be able to see them work firsthand, learn their technique, learn what tools work and are worth investing in and you’ll be able to ask questions the entire time you’re working together.
Nothing tops hands on training! Who knows, you may think you’ll need to hire them for a week and find out that you have the knack of it after the first day and decide you can finish the job yourself!
One of the first home improvements I tried on my own was patching drywall. I thought “how hard can it be?” My husband removed a window, framed it up and all I had to do was patch the hole! If you have ever tried mudding drywall…you’re already laughing at me because you know mudding drywall is SO hard! If you don’t know what you’re doing it can turn into a nightmare real fast! After redoing the same spot over and over…I finally asked for help! After a professional shared a few tips and tricks with me I then knew what I needed to finish the job! Talking to him made all the difference! I learned that I can save myself a lot of headache and time if I just ask a seasoned DIYer or hire a professional to teach me a few things before tackling anything new.
How does DIYing empower you?
At 21 I was newly married with a baby on the way. At the time all we could afford was a mess of a house that was being foreclosed on. I wanted so badly to stay home with my baby until she was able to start preschool and when we bought our first house, I soon realized if I was able to fix up the house, while my husband worked his day job, and my baby slept…we could sell our home and make a profit! In other words, it meant I could earn an income AND stay home with my baby! I had no idea at the time that I would spend the next 19 years renovating and building homes! Over the years, my husband’s career has taken us all over and we have now moved 17 times. Every home we purchased, we renovated and sold them. Sometimes we did well and other times we barely broke even. With each home I learned more and more about construction, architecture, design, staging a home to sell. Over time I fell more and more in love with the entire process which then led my husband and I to building our entire home and me starting my DIY blog/business. I have never ever felt more alive or empowered than I do now! Taking on DIY projects has taught me so many different trades and skills yes, but what it’s really taught me is that I am ABLE! And if I am not yet able…I know what I need to do so that I can become able! Saying YES to a project before I feel ready is how I gain confidence. And when a project is a FLOP (because yes, if you are going to DIY, you’re going to have FLOPS) I learn what I can from it and go again!
What was one of your toughest projects? How did you conquer it?
I’ve spent almost 20 years doing DIY projects so I’ve had a lot of tough ones for sure! One of the most difficult things I remember happened a few years back. After years of moving all over the US, my husband had secured a new job back in our hometown (in another state) and he had moved back home. I stayed back with the kids so they could finish out the school year and so I could finish all the home renovations before listing our home. I had a lot of painting to do and a lot of new hardwood flooring to lay. I also completely replaced our old patio pavers with a large flagstone entry and all sorts of other jobs. That 4 months was so tough and I was so tired out. One day our septic tank backed up and our entire basement was FLOODED!!! I spent the entire night using the wet-vac to clean it all up and then lugging the vacuum all the way up the stairs and out to the woods to dispose of the murky water….I could be sick just thinking about it! Seriously…the worst job ever. Years later I was telling that story and I had the thought “DENA, why in the world didn’t you just call a professional to clean that up?” CRAZY diy girl! If there ever was a job I should NOT have done myself…that would be the one! Somehow I survived it but YUCK! NEVER again!
What inspires you to work?
I believe I was created to be a “doer.” I think that’s why I find so much joy in my work! God gives me a constant desire to design and create! He also gives me the energy to bring my ideas to life! When I am creating, I am truly flourishing in who I am made to be! Some of my designs and ideas require very little effort on my part. Other times the projects I dream up will require me to live in a camper while building an entire house! Much more effort goes into those kinds of dreams…but those projects are the ones that I really thrive on! The ones that seem too big or impossible are by far the most rewarding because that’s when I find out what I am really made of! Even more importantly they are the ones where God shows up and reminds me that in my weakness He is strong!
Featured Image courtesy of Dena Breitmeyer