Living Smart: Reward yourself for home-improvement progress

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

I like the way Lisa Savoie thinks. Whenever the Kansas homeowner takes a step toward a home-project goal, she rewards herself with a mug of her favorite tea or time with a good book.

If you plan to improve yourself or your home in 2015, follow Lisaís lead and build in positive reinforcement for progress. Some of us need all the help we can get to start a project and finish it. After all, how many January resolutions are forgotten by February?

For Lisa, necessity was the mother of motivation. Seeing bricks coming off the front of her home kept her focused on finding a top-rated local mason to fix the brick and a plumber to replace a hose bib.

"The only advice I have isnít too original: Take it one step at a time," she says. "Get plenty of estimates and give yourself time to really think about who you want to hire. I also do some research on the repair so I can understand the contractors when they make suggestions and explain what needs to be done. Donít be afraid to ask for documentation, like proof of insurance. The good contractors are always ready and willing to provide what you need."

She adds, "to keep the stress down, I try to do something relaxing after each step." Thatís where the tea and reading come in.

But suppose nothingís falling down around you? What if no home emergency is looming but your head still spins with everything you think you should be doing to get your house in order?

We talked to several top-rated psychologists and counselors, who offer ideas for putting projects in perspective:

Get your list out of your head. Write down your desired goals, possible projects and pressing tasks. Take time to rank them. Choose one, break it into pieces, and tackle one at a time.

Put first things first. In the absence of a true home emergency, it may be better to spend your limited resources on personal priorities rather than striving for a perfect home, yard or vehicle.

Outsource what you can. One psychologist told us that busy people, parents particularly, should consider budgeting whatever theyíre able to afford on services that free up time. Think lawn work, housecleaning, window cleaning and more. And remember to hire service providers who are appropriately licensed, insured and bonded and who have positive reviews on a trusted online site.

Meanwhile, I raise my mug in honor of Lisaís idea. Hereís to building in rewards whenever we make progress, however small, on our goals.