You know the one. The project that isn’t just an idea in your head, it’s a half-done eyesore you’ve been putting up with forever. But for some reason it seems easier to ignore, then to finish.

You come up with every possible excuse. Some of them are pretty convincing. Meanwhile, you think about it a lot. Will it ever get done? Is it even worth finishing? Should you just scrap it and start over?

It’s normal to get stuck. Sometimes projects take longer than expected or turn out harder than you thought. Sometimes life just gets in the way. The longer the project sits half-done, the longer it takes you to get back to it. Unfinished almost becomes acceptable.

How to Finish That Project You've Been Putting Off Forever |

I get stuck, too.  I am a planner through and through.  I tend, more often then not, to finish what I start.  But this one project got the better of me.

For the last few years you’ve seen my living room many, many times. What you might not have realized is the room is 17 ft. tall. We mentioned it in this post about changing a lightbulb on the ceiling and here about painting the walls.

Friends and family know that for the last two years (hangs head in shame), this room has been half-painted. Not like one coat of paint half-painted, but rather one color on the bottom and another color on the top half-painted. The last time we worked on it we ran out of paint and never got back to it.  We’re talking roller marks halfway up the wall.  This was the more finished side of the room.


This past weekend we spent about 8 hours over two days finishing the room. I thought this was one project I would never share on the blog, at first because we’d never finish it and then because it would be too embarrassing to admit how long it went half-done.  But the finished result is too good not to share. It feels remarkable to have it done, finally.

Painting a two-story living room |

I could have let you believe it always looked like this, but I think you need to know my house isn’t picture perfect. It is in many ways a work in progress. We procrastinate sometimes, too.

We love painting, but we are both a little scared of heights (me more than him). We didn’t want to hire a painter (we never have and probably never will, because it’s one job we like). We didn’t want to rent scaffolding (when your scared of heights a rickety metal scaffolding doesn’t help). We made valiant efforts to paint the room, but gave up at 75%. When it came time to trim around the second floor windows and get close to that 17 ft.-high white ceiling we were scaaarrrred. If we bumped the ceiling with the roller or did a bad trim job, we’d mess up the ceiling (which we could barely reach).

So we froze. We didn’t finish. We used every excuse in the book, many totally valid, but none of them were the real reasons we weren’t moving forward. We have full time jobs. We have small kids. We’re out of paint. They discontinued the base paint. Now, they discontinued the paint color. Our ladder isn’t tall enough. It’s too dark to paint at night after the kids are in bed. I could keep going, because there are a million ways we justified this half-done project.

Thankfully, we stopped apologizing for the state of the room years ago. Our friends and family just stopped asking about it. By the way, none of them offered to babysit or help so we could get it done either. So, it just became the elephant in the room.

With my in-laws coming later this week, we decided it was time. All of our excuses were gone or were total BS. When we found out the paint color was discontinued, we went and bought a few gallons. The paint sat there taunting us all week last week. The tan walls stared down upon us, like they had for the last two years. It was time.

How to Finish That Project You've Been Putting Off Forever |

I pulled up my big girl panties and trimmed around the ceiling. From an 8 ft. tall ladder, I used a paint edger on the end of a 12 ft. extension pole. It was the best upper body workout I’ve ever had. Slow and steady, I trimmed the perimeter of the room and miraculously we didn’t have any ceiling mishaps. Two years later and our biggest fear (painting the ceiling) never came true.

Once the trimming was done, the rolling came easy. It took hours and sweat and tears (not really), but it was so worth it.

How to Finish That Project You've Been Putting Off Forever |

How to Keep Up Project Momentum

It’s normal to get stuck, but it’s not okay to live with half-done projects for over two years.  I don’t want you to wait as long as I did to get your project done.

After sharing this I am not really in any position to give you advice on follow-through, but I think there are a few keys to keeping up project momentum.  Learn from our mistakes and don’t take two years to figure these out.

Keep An Eye On the Big Picture

It got too easy for us to just not look up anymore (literally) and pretend the room was done. We lost sight of how amazing the finished result would be.

An inspiration picture can be really handy here to remind you of the end goal.  It’s easy to ignore an unsightly half-done project, it’s harder to avert your eyes from a beautiful inspiration picture you wish you had in it’s place.

Figure Out Why You Are Procrastinating

If it was as simple as running out of time, you would have found more.  If you thought it was too hard to DIY, you would have hired someone to do it.  So, what’s the real reason you aren’t finishing?

We made up a gazillion excuses, but the truth was we were just scared to cut in around the ceiling. We let that 4″ strip of wall touching the pristine white ceiling hold us back from painting the other 17 ft.

Procrastination can be a symptom of being a perfectionist.  It’s classic perfection paralysis; not finishing, because you worry it won’t be perfect.  In the end, I realized living in a sloppy half-painted room was much less perfect than a fully painted room with possible ceiling touch ups required.

Choose a Deadline and Enough Time

Ever notice when there is no deadline things never tend to get done?  Always put yourself on a deadline with a realistic plan that includes enough time to complete the entire project.  If it’s a big project, add some buffer time to the plan.

My in-law’s visit became my deadline.  I could have given myself a deadline much sooner.  It was ridiculous that it went two years between attempts to paint this room. And when we finally got back to it the paint color wasn’t a match, so we ended up re-painting the entire space. It was more work in the end, because we didn’t follow-through from the start.

Should Have Done This Forever Ago

Having an undone project that is still in your head is one thing, having a project you physically started but never finished is another.  Living in a half-done space starts to feel like living a half-baked life.

No matter how much I cleaned the living room, it still looked like a mess.  I over-compensated for it’s undone-ness.  When all along, I should have focused on how to get it done.  Instead we lived for two years in a half-done room that in the end only took 8 hours to finish.  Now, I can finally sit in the room without thinking, “oh yeah, I still need to do that, too.”

The finished room is a night and day difference.  It doesn’t feel like a sloppy mess I prefer not to answer questions about.  It’s not the running inside joke amongst family and friends who probably have bets on when we’ll finish it.  The finished room is beautiful top to bottom.  It makes the whole space feel clean and put together.

How to Finish That Project You've Been Putting Off Forever |

When you finally finish that undone project, you’ll say, “What took me so long?! I should have done this two years ago.”  So, what are you waiting for?  Get the big picture in your sights, find the root of your procrastination, and tackle it with a firm deadline.



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32 Responses to How to Finish That One Project You’ve Been Putting Off Forever

  1. Lauren H says:

    Looks great! I guess now I have no excuses for my 13 foot walls…

  2. tammigirl says:

    I did built in bookshelves in the office for my husband while he was away on a business trip… two years ago.

    I still need to go in and do the trim, crown moulding, and painting of those things.

    The only crazy walls we have like that are because of our stairs, thank goodness. But I rue the day I have to paint them all the way up, and they are one reason I leave the paint flat throughout the house.

    • Jackie says:

      Doesn’t it always seem to go that way? You just run out of steam before getting the finishing touches on. It will be worth it in the end and you can finally check it off your mental to-do list.

  3. Amber says:

    That is SUCH a tall room!! Cheers to you for getting ti done; I would have probably just written it off as “complete”! This post is inspiring; I have some projects I keep claiming I have all these valid reasons not to have them done yet, but I don’t. So looks like this weekend I will finish a couple of the smaller ones (which will probably only take me 4-6 hours anyway!).

  4. Connie says:

    Always seems like I get the most done when someone is coming to visit!

  5. Lisa says:

    Wow! I’m so impressed that you were able to get those walls done and that you blogged about it. Your room is even prettier when you show the whole thing. After painting our 13 ft walls I totally get why you didn’t get that last bit finished. We struggled with not getting green paint on the popcorn ceiling. Most of it looks good, but there’s one area where we got the ceiling. Of course, I look at it all the time, knowing that it’s there. I don’t think anyone else notices, but I do.

    • Jackie says:

      Thanks Lisa. I always felt like I wasn’t able to show the true beauty of this room with it half-done. It was a joy to break out that wide angle lens :). We have a few of those ceiling bumps in our house too…I need to find the ceiling paint for touch ups.

  6. Michaela says:

    Two and a half years ago, while my husband was gone for a weekend, I decided to paint the dining and living room walls. I kept the kids (then 2 & 3 years old) busy, and got to work. The thing is, I was able to paint all of the walls except for 1… the wall with the TV on it. I could have painted around it, but I wanted it done right and needed my husband’s help. Like you, we’ve made excuses, apologized, and been embarrassed about it. I’m hoping that also like you, well finally get to work and finish the job! Thanks for the inspiration!!

    • Jackie says:

      Michaela, Oh, I know that story well. I used to always try to “surprise” my husband with decorating makeovers, forgetting I can’t always do everything myself. Best of luck getting it finished. Give yourself a deadline and make a plan.

  7. Lindsey says:

    Can you please tell us what paint color you used? I’m desperately trying to find a gray that doesn’t look blue on my walls, and I’m taking any and all suggestions!

    • Jackie says:

      Lindsey, This is Martha Stewart Zinc from Home Depot (they no longer carry the paint swatches but can still mix you the color). This gray actually has more of a green undertone. We live it and have also used it in our office and a focal wall in our master bedroom.

  8. Julie says:

    Oy – I also have massive ceilings in the one room that still has beige walls. I’m just going to suck it up and hire someone because the thought of painting it freaks me out.

    Off topic – that canvas above your fireplace is so cool. Did you make it? And if so, have you posted a DIY?

  9. Pennyp says:

    Opening your home and showing the honest truth is what I, and I think most people, appreciate and consider “good” blogging!! I can SOOO beat you on unfinished projects, as I am sure others can too. My sewing room is a narrow path between the desk and boxes… 30-some boxes that have been waiting probably seven years to become our built in closets!! Some of the long boxes that hold the side panels reside at the far end of our family room, behind the huge boxed credenza that the tv will sit on when the entertainment nook is finished… that was started four years ago….. C’mon! Someone make me feel good! Who can one-up me on unfinished projects?! ;-)
    Good job! The room looks fabulous!!! And how did you get that photograph??!!

    • Jackie says:

      Penny, I don’t think there is anything wrong with unfinished projects, as long as you keep moving forward. We just got frozen it seemed. I did make sure to stop taking in more projects until I tackled the backlog :) Thank you for the compliments on the room. I took all of these pics with a wide angle lens. Some from the ground up and a few from over the balcony on our stairs.

  10. jessvii says:

    I am so, so, so glad you posted this! I’m not sure whether or not it will give me the kick I need to finally clear out our downstairs “gym” room (which in reality is just a storage room right now, and a bad one at that), but at least there’s hope.

    • Jackie says:

      Jess, You can do it. Set some bite-sized goals. Last weekend when we tackled these walls, we just set out saying our goal was to trim the ceiling. Taking the first step was all we needed to find the motivation to just keep going until it was done :)

  11. Gwen says:

    I had never realized how grand your room is! The view from that doorway is awesome! It’s like the redoing of our family (us, our kids and branch from there) wall. You gave me ideas. I quickly rehung the sr pics as the nails were there months ago when company was coming but I have not moved forward. I’m not sure where all the photos went (?!!!!) and that I was going to add more than just photos. I need to draw it out! What DO I want? What IS my plan? Oh I’m just itching to start work!!! Thank you for the push I’ve needed since painter did house last I repeat last summer!!!

    • Jackie says:

      Gwen, So happy to inspire you! Drawing out a photo plan is a great idea! I always plan things out before I hang them up…less nail holes that way :)

  12. Deb says:

    I love what you have done with this space! Gorgeous!

  13. We finished one of those things just last week: Our living room has laminate flooring and the entry has tiles. There was this little gap between the two rooms which looked ugly and all we needed to buy was one of these little borders that you can glue on that gap. Last week we went to our DIY store, bought one of those, and it was like 2 minutes work to cover that gap. Now it looks perfect and we were like: wow, this cost 8 €, was about 2 minutes work – why did we not do it A LOT earlier??? And we’ve lived in this house for 4 years now. Silly!
    But after a while it’s like you said: You just don’t look at that spot anymore.
    I am glad that you shared the imperfect spot in your house as well and the many perfect spots, because I am sure everyone here has rooms or tiny corners in their houses that they don’t show on their blogs.

    • Jackie says:

      Jule, Sometimes those little things evade us more than the big things…we always think it’s no big deal and we will get to it later. But then later never comes. So glad you go the floor transition fixed. Thank you for sharing!

  14. julie spear says:

    HA!!! I’m not laughing at you, but myself… my bedroom looks just like this at the very top. Now, in my defense, I took on the project of stripping PAINTED OVER, floor-to-ceiling wallpaper that was about 25 years old, I think and at the time I had a job that required overnight travel 2-3 days almost every week. so I pooped out and just moved everything back in and try not to look up there – FOR TWO YEARS!!! LOL! my ‘reveal’ photos (just to family) didnt show the top of the wall either…. anyway, I now dislike the color, probably BECAUSE it taunts me, and I am just now getting ready to repaint in a soft warm light pink and I can’t WAIT!!! LOVE that gray, and i love how it goes with stained wood accents, wish it wasnt discontinued… GREAT JOB!!! IT LOOKS AMAZING!!!

    • Jackie says:

      Julie, Oh no. Glad you are able to get back to it now. And the pink walls sound lovely :) Take it from me, you won’t be able to stop staring at them from top to bottom once it is done.

  15. Anne-Marie says:

    Good for you… we are also the couple with friends that make fun of us for our unfinished projects and then just stop mentioning it one day – like they are meant to be that way. You’ve inspired me to take a fresh look and tackle a few of the smaller ones first, hoping to build confidence for the bigger jobs. Thank you!

    • Jackie says:

      Anne-Marie, Ha, that is so true. Sometimes our friends and family begin to expect undone projects. As long as we are moving forward, it’s nothing to apologize about. We are all works in progress.

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