GUEST POST: On using what you got

This is a Guest Post by Kelly Dilbeck. Often I’ll wax poetically my Guest Poster and then add a wee bit more wax. I’m not going to do that here. Her words and images below speak for themselves.

All you need to know about Kelly:

  • she’s the most generous person I know — with her time, her money, her skills, her heart
  • she’s skilled in ways I envy deep in my bones
  • she’s for hire 
  • she is honest and you will never have to worry about that whole wool + eyes thing
  • I have hired her and been 100% satisfied; my network has hired her and been 100% satisfied; we all will hire her again and again and again
  • she’s romantically-available and if you are a nice, single man who likes sass and strength and beauty and an independent woman who is ready to travel and explore and live fully and authentically, you should reach out under the guise of having her tile your bathroom and then, after you pay and thank her, casually suggest checking out a hackerspace followed by a stiff drink at a dive bar
  • I have never thumbs up’ed someone in a referral capacity more than I do Kelly (and I thumbs up a lot of people)
  • she’s in a job she wants to leave and she knows what will fill her soul and YOU have the power to help her leap — YOU have the power to nourish her soul!

Oy. I waxed.

That’s the problem with Kelly. She makes you want to gush.

On Using What You Got

I recently started offering my services as an independent handy gal/artist/personal assistant via an page, after getting encouragement from one of the most influential people in my life. I hadn’t at that point because, you know, I don’t have a business plan (or even a regular one), or branding, a logo or a name. “JUMP!” she essentially said, which helped me clear through what I recognized as fear carefully disguising itself as a need for careful preparation, and to be smart about it all. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of careful preparation, and was totally not doing the “being smart about it all” thing either. But when an entrepreneur you admire a great deal, who says things like “business plan shmissnessplan” nudges you, it’s time to jump. So I started a simple one page website for myself within a couple of days. (New hashtag: #thanksSaya.)

There is nothing glamorous or prestigious about being a “handy gal for hire.” Quite the opposite; I’m aware it’s a job some might think of as lowly. I know that because I struggle with it on an emotional level: another lowly job for ol’ non-college-educated Dilbeck. Like when I was in my late 20’s and my contemporaries were well into new careers, I was deli worker; and when I was 32, I worked as a video store clerk. I’ve also been a dishwasher, a banquet server, and not more than 4 years ago, I was working for $9 an hour as a cleaner of other people’s houses to make my newly single ends meet. That is not to say I hold a low opinion of these jobs, but I always knew I wanted more than menial work, and I knew that I could love what I was doing. Cleaning toilets has never been one of the things I’ve loved, frankly.

But this is somehow different.


My whole life I’ve been a witness to the difficulties of financial juggling–either watching someone juggle, or trying to keep all the balls in the air myself. My mom didn’t have the money to pay someone when she decided the wood floors in the first home she ever bought needed to be fixed. When that house needed to be painted to no longer be a neighborhood eyesore, we did that hard work ourselves. She was a DIY’er out of necessity because she always struggled financially. I started working at 13 years old (earlier if you count a paper route) because I thought the way to social acceptance was to have Jordache jeans, and I had to buy them myself because of my mom’s financial constraints.

I was never college bound. It wasn’t something I grew up talking about, and wasn’t even on my radar as an option for myself. When my high school rallied students to talk about picking colleges, filling out applications, financial aid and the like, I skipped all of that. That option was for *other* kids. Not the poor kids. Those of us that weren’t already working needed to get to work. So I just continued working after high school.

At 22 years young, two months before my July wedding (an entirely different talk show) I got pregnant. For the next 18 years, I did the best I could for my daughter. There are things I’m certain qualify me as a bad mother when measured against even a modest standard. But I was a volunteer-at-Brownies, chaperone-on-fieldtrips, and host-awesome-birthday-parties Mom. I showed up. I worked and occasionally took classes, but I was always there for her moments, and the overwhelming sense I have is that I was a decent mom, maybe at the expense, though, of getting myself a college education.

Pertinent sidebar: My now 22-year old daughter is soaring on her own. A midwife is what she’ll be. She believes she can, and she will. I could not be more proud of her, and I know she’s doing better than she might think she is. She herself is the evidence that I was a decent momthat we were decent parents. Though, admittedly, I am biased.

We struggled financially, maybe because the financial apple doesn’t generally fall far from the money tree.

I’d taken several college and university classes over the years, but never had the money or time to see any particular route through. I’ve also been a bit all over the place when it came time to pick a direction in which to head: interior design, paralegal, nursing, permaculture design, carpentry, etc. But I, like my mother, became a DIY’er out of necessity, along with a strong natural curiosity for how it all works, and a need to make it work.

When I couldn’t fit all my plants in my one sunny window, I devised a way to extend the window sill with a shelf I made of plywood and faux-painted to look like an extraordinarily lovely wood. When the dish soap container kept falling off the counter into the tiny space behind the refrigerator, I devised a tool with a wire and a vacuum cleaner hose extension that allowed me to retrieve it easily.

I refinished salvaged furniture so my daughter’s bedroom would be as beautifully unique as she is. (She has the dresser to this day, and is reluctantly searching for a girl child worthy enough to gift it to so she can make room for a proper adult dresser.) I tiled our bathroom floor when we had enough of sore toes from broken tiles and rough spaces where they were missing. I bought an old desk and, harnessing the knowledge of Martha Stewart, made a fabric-covered bulletin board complete with decorative ribbons for holding things one would normally tack onto a cork board. I handmade baby shower gifts for all of my pregnant friends: towel and washcloth sets decorated with puffy paint rubber ducks, or blue or pink baby foot prints, and foam blocks I carefully sewed fabric covers for, so they were as cute as they were teething-baby friendly. I made all the cakes for all the birthdays and celebrations. I designed and created handmade invitation cards with a friend for the big Y2K bash ex-husband and I hosted. I painted in every house we lived in. I spent my adult life doing it myself. I’m inventive, dammit! Sometimes almost genius.

When I left my almost-20-year marriage four years ago, I hadn’t a degree to my name. I had worked to keep our family afloat during the time my ex was studying intensely to earn a Master’s degree, and later an Associate’s degree in another field.

But I left my marriage with the tools–literally, all of the tools acquired over 20 years of marriage: the hammer, the jig, circular, and hand saws, the ratchet and socket sets, all the nuts and bolts, the wrenches and screwdrivers, the t-square–all of it. And I have been financially unstable enough that I have had to put them to use to fix up my own fixer-upper, which much of the time feels like a blower-upper.

In the last few years as a single gal, I have single-handedly:

  • Set my own toilet after a mostly DIY bathroom remodel. (Then re-set it because I left the rag in the drain the first time, and only found out 3 days later when it stopped flushing properly. Talk about a lesson in humility–and human waste.) I tiled and grouted the floor in this bathroom too.


  • Saved myself from replacing a light fixture by using a potato to get a broken light bulb out of the fixture, without electrocuting myself.
  • Recently replaced electrical switches and am still here to tell you about it.
  • Mosaic-tiled a table found amongst alley trash treasures, with tile I acquired from a home builder’s samples through a Craigslist freebie.


  • Refinished an antique table, complete with brass claw feet, which someone practically ruined by attaching a Formica top from another table.


  • Turned a burnt up Ikea rolling kitchen cart into a unique and beautiful bathroom vanity. Hooked up all the plumbing myself–a success, even if it did take 113 trips to Home Depot to end up with all the right plumbing parts.


  • Opened an Etsy shop (Unmeasured Upcycled) where I sell some of the creative upcycled things I make, like a deconstructed old mitre box turned coat hooks, old keys made into key hooks, and some wooden things to which I add the script of French letters, and some other random upcycled goodness.
  • Made a piece of furniture from scratch: a cushy upholstered bench for the back window, so my dog can watch me doing projects safely away from saws and splinters. I made a stair and everything.


Lowly??? I struggle with it a little, even as I write this (self-affirming) thing on why it’s not. But I am choosing to view this differently. These are skills that elude a lot of folks much like algebra has eluded me. I have learned these things over a lifetime of trial and error–not in a classroom, but incidentally.

I’m coming around to the fact that these skills won’t ever come with a degree or certification that entitles me to letters of honor behind my name, and an explicit recognition that I am skilled in a particular field. My wide skill set has come from a genuine love of learning, a can-do attitude, and from being too poor to hire anyone else to do it. But they are good and marketable skills nonetheless. Knowledge that came without the burden of thousands of dollars in student loans is not less valuable. Even if that learning sometimes comes from YouTube videos and massive amounts of time spent in Instructables.

There’s a particular feeling I get when I’m leaving a job, packing up my tools, and my customer is happy with the result. I love knowing how they feel to be surrounded by their own art and photos on the walls instead of lining floors or tucked away in closets, or to no longer have to look at that hole in the wall, or to finally have an air conditioner installed, or to no longer have bugs flying into open windows because of a torn screen, or to have a newly painted bathroom. That’s ultimately satisfying to me.

I feel like my headshot, should I ever need one, will be me standing triumphantly, Wonder Woman style but in overalls, paint on my cheek, toolbox in hand, with the caption, “My work here is done.” There is nothing lowly about that.

Here I am, at 45 years old, finally embracing this part of my identity that was mostly born out of necessity, and by accident: I am a strong and able woman, smart about things that are typically manly. And I want to help other women get that Wonder Woman feeling. I would love to teach women (and men!) who want to be more self-reliant with their own handy skills but lack the know-how.

My goal is to quit working hard to contribute to other people’s success. I want to continue to be the hard-working woman I have always been, but to be able to control my own destiny, and to contribute to my own success. I’ve never looked for easy ways to strike it rich, and I’m certainly not expecting an easy road with a cake job. I actually really love what I am: a “Jane of all trades.” Maybe it’s the “master of none” part I grapple with.

I’m not sure how far off I am from being able to take the free fall and quit the office job I excel at but neither belong in, nor find an ounce of personal fulfillment in. I hope to continue using my almost-genius toward a full-time go at this self-employment business. Without a logo, or branding, or even a name. “Businessplan shmismessplan.”

I have all the tools I need to make it work for myself.

You can hire me to do *it* for you, or I can teach the skills to DO IT YOURSELF. What handy projects are on your honey-do list? What projects do you want to DIY, but lack the knowledge or confidence to tackle? What’s holding you back, Wonder Woman?

Kelly Dilbeck, M.DIY (Master Do-It-Yourselfer) // website // blog // etsy store


Announcing your dreams and scars and flaws and skills and asks to the universe is scary.

Let Kelly know you’re cheering her on! Leave a comment-hug. Hire her. Refer her. Non-date her (ask her out in a non-weird, no pressure way). Buy her Etsy stuff (hello holiday season!). Buy her a shot at her inevitable “It’s my last day at this soul-sucking job!!!” celebration.