Author Topic: Questions about doing things yourself  (Read 5244 times)

GRardB

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Questions about doing things yourself
« on: August 09, 2015, 08:57:52 PM »
Hey everyone,

I've been reading MMM religiously for a couple of months, and incorporating tons of the lessons into my everyday life. With the ten most recent posts left, I'm almost done reading the entire blog. I can feel my life improving in pretty much every way where improvement was needed, and I'm confident that I'll be financially independent in the next 6-7 years. However...

The main topic of the blog that I'm having trouble applying to my life is the DIY stuff. There are a few reasons for this:

  • I live in an apartment in New York City which I don't own. There is virtually no space or need for carpentry, plumbing, or welding. I don't have a car (w00t), so auto maintenance is unnecessary and out of the picture.
  • I grew up basically in New York City*. I think that a combination of things (urban upbringing, schools without classes like woodworking, a father who didn't really do much handy work, etc.) has led me to be really ignorant about this type of stuff.
  • I studied computer science in college, and currently work as a software engineer. While I did learn some extremely basic physics, things like discrete mathematics, algorithms, and programming don't necessarily translate to DIY stuff the same way that engineering topics do.

Of course, I don't want to be a complainypants about this stuff and make up excuses for the rest of my life. I'd rather figure out what I can do to improve myself and save my future self some money. I was thinking the other day about what I do or have the ability to do myself that saves me money, but nothing is really impressive. I'm pretty good at cooking and refuse to buy lots of pre-made things (e.g. sliced bread), and I cut my own hair most of the time. I also have a bike which I ride almost everyday to/from work and other places, but the only problems I've ever had are popped spokes and wheels that are out of true. I can (and do) handle these types of problems, but these are also really small things.

I know small things add up over time, but I can't imagine that savings for these things are nearly as large as if I had the ability to buy a trashed foreclosed home for cheap and fixed it up all by myself, or with minimal help from contractors. When I see MMM talking about installing a metal roof, or increasing the thermal mass of his house, building a radiant heating system, etc., I'm extremely jealous. If I were to buy a house tomorrow, I would have two options: 1) buy a cheap, crappy house (likely foreclosed) and pay contractors a ton of money to fix it up or 2) buy a crappy house in disguise for much more money (polished-looking renovations but with no regard for energy savings, space, etc.).

I don't like these options at all, so here are my questions:

  • How does someone like me get started with DIY stuff? I like books, but I'm open to any form of learning. Just remember, I literally know nothing.
  • Did you get started at a young age, or did you learn as you needed to? In other words, is there any harm in putting off this learning until it becomes more convenient and/or necessary? Again, things like welding and carpentry aren't really compatible with my NYC apartment, and I have no financial incentive to try to renovate a home that I don't own (I probably wouldn't be allowed to even if I wanted).
  • What else is there to do yourself to save money? For example, I know MMM has mentioned that his wife is licensed for real estate stuff which has helped them out.
  • Is anything that's normally outsourced equal in saving power to things like carpentry, welding, and plumbing? Perhaps something that I'm able to learn more easily with my constraints?

Thanks! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

* Technically Weehawken, NJ, but there is really no difference from the outer boroughs except the sales tax is a little lower and the property taxes are way higher. My house was about 10-15 minutes from Times Square through public transit.

the_fella

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2015, 10:32:06 PM »
YouTube has a lot of helpful DIY videos. For home improvement, I like the "House Improvements" channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpJ1vJPFqImom-NN2fkBS0A The presenter really knows his stuff.

Goldielocks

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2015, 11:09:48 PM »
Most DIY is learned as the need or repair arises.   

Some items you may face:  as a renter: dishwasher not cleaning top rack. Install new towel rod / curtain rod/ shower rod.  Make or install simple shelving, replace leaky toilet valve.  Replace light fixture, put together IKEA furniture, sew curtains or pillows, tailor thift store finds to your body size, bicycle maintenance, ...  And many types of cooking, and home preserves, of course!  Make your own bread, for starters...

Or, what about building your own computer? Other small things that require a screw driver?  IPad glass replacement?

There is a lot out there to learn, good luck.

Jack

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2015, 11:30:29 PM »
  • I studied computer science in college, and currently work as a software engineer. While I did learn some extremely basic physics, things like discrete mathematics, algorithms, and programming don't necessarily translate to DIY stuff the same way that engineering topics do.

Sorry, but there are way too many DIY-ing software engineers on this forum for that to fly as an excuse!

As a software engineer, you already know exactly what to do:
  • RTFM.
  • Break the problem you want to solve into steps.
  • Do the steps. If you get confused or unsure, recurse. ; )

I also have a bike which I ride almost everyday to/from work and other places, but the only problems I've ever had are popped spokes and wheels that are out of true. I can (and do) handle these types of problems, but these are also really small things.

If those are "small things" then you're already a DIY-er -- truing a wheel is just as complicated as anything else that can go wrong on a bike!

If I were to buy a house tomorrow, I would have two options: 1) buy a cheap, crappy house (likely foreclosed) and pay contractors a ton of money to fix it up or 2) buy a crappy house in disguise for much more money (polished-looking renovations but with no regard for energy savings, space, etc.).

Not true: you would also have this option: 3) buy a cheap, crappy house (likely foreclosed) and figure out how to fix it up yourself as you go, probably making a bunch of mistakes along the way but also probably still saving money vs. hiring contractors.

I don't like these options at all, so here are my questions:

  • How does someone like me get started with DIY stuff? I like books, but I'm open to any form of learning. Just remember, I literally know nothing.
  • Did you get started at a young age, or did you learn as you needed to? In other words, is there any harm in putting off this learning until it becomes more convenient and/or necessary? Again, things like welding and carpentry aren't really compatible with my NYC apartment, and I have no financial incentive to try to renovate a home that I don't own (I probably wouldn't be allowed to even if I wanted).
  • What else is there to do yourself to save money? For example, I know MMM has mentioned that his wife is licensed for real estate stuff which has helped them out.
  • Is anything that's normally outsourced equal in saving power to things like carpentry, welding, and plumbing? Perhaps something that I'm able to learn more easily with my constraints?

  • Again, RTFM. (And by "M" I mean library books, the Internet and/or DIY TV shows like This Old House.)
  • Nope, no need to have learned at a young age, or to learn things that are irrelevant to your current situation. (Admittedly, although my parents actively discouraged me from attempting DIY except for playing with LEGO, I watched a lot of DIY and cooking TV shows growing up so maybe I'm discounting that experience.)
  • If you live in a NYC (or "NYC*") apartment, don't drive (or use other expensive forms of transportation, like taxis) and cook your own food, then you've already cut out a lot of the fat in your budget. Like Charlie Sheen, you're already winning. Maybe quit using a laundromat? (When I was a renter, I remember coin-op washers and dryers being pretty expensive.) Otherwise, the best you could do is maybe move to a smaller, cheaper apartment.
  • What do you "normally outsource" that you could possibly insource? If the answer is "nothing," then there isn't any money left to save.

* Technically Weehawken, NJ, but there is really no difference from the outer boroughs except the sales tax is a little lower and the property taxes are way higher. My house was about 10-15 minutes from Times Square through public transit.

LOL! You remind me of the first 10 seconds of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxirs7VGrGU

The_path_less_taken

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2015, 08:17:05 AM »
There are always options.

You can barter or trade for work done. That's really what we do with money but you never know until you ask...."looking to trade tub install by LICENSED plumber for a month's worth of home baked bread and pastries....open to negotiation".

I think what inspired me to take on stupid-big projects, like re-roofing two duplexes (including tearing off two illegal sub roofs) was the fact that I had no money to farm it out.

When the rubber meets the road, you improvise. I was infuriated when the bids came in so high, took out a Sunset magazine/booklet thing from the library and did it myself. Bam.

When things go wrong, go online first and see what it would take to do the repair yourself. Many places rent tools....so it's not like you have to have an equipment store. You can also buy/resell stuff: you might not need a compound miter saw every day of your life, but trust me: if you're doing baseboard trim, you want one. Then sell it on craigslist.

You'll be fine.

velocistar237

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2015, 08:41:53 AM »
My dad was handy, and I did learn some things, but I wish I had learned more. I now own a condo in an urban area, and I do DIY when I can, things like painting, replacing doors, building simple shelves, replacing a faucet, refinishing furniture I found on the street, etc. It can be tougher in the city; for example, local ordinances do not allow me to pull my own building permits.

Digging in is the best way to start. Get your tools from friends or a tool library. For city dwellers, I recommend against buying your own tools, except for things you do often. If you have no idea what you even want to do, volunteer to help someone else with their project. You'd have a good time in the process and could borrow tools and get help in exchange.

One piece of advice: finish each project before you move on. I must have a dozen unfinished projects in my house, and it's a constant weight on my mind. It's on my goals list for the year to work through those, but it's a challenge.

Jack

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2015, 10:02:46 AM »
One piece of advice: finish each project before you move on. I must have a dozen unfinished projects in my house, and it's a constant weight on my mind. It's on my goals list for the year to work through those, but it's a challenge.

+ 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000!!!

That is, by far, the hardest aspect of DIY.

Sibley

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2015, 10:20:57 AM »
Yes, if you have a hard time finishing things, then you could easily seriously annoy others in your life. You need to figure out how to ensure that you complete projects in a reasonable time period (and reasonable is defined by the other person). Do you want your SO to have a built-up simmering anger because you took 2 months to do something that really only needed 2 more hours to finish?

velocistar237

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2015, 10:40:55 AM »
Yes, if you have a hard time finishing things, then you could easily seriously annoy others in your life.

That would be my wife.

You need to figure out how to ensure that you complete projects in a reasonable time period (and reasonable is defined by the other person).

My approach going forward will be to outline the steps, figure out how long each step should take, tally it up, multiply by 3, and reserve enough calendar time over the next week or so to get it done. The toughest part is the last few steps, especially when the project looks mostly done, and it just needs something like one more coat of paint.

Do you want your SO to have a built-up simmering anger because you took 2 months to do something that really only needed 2 more hours to finish?

Some of my projects I started 2 years ago. It's not something out of the way, either. It's our front hallway. I took the wallpaper off and never got beyond that.

kendallf

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #9 on: August 10, 2015, 11:11:57 AM »
I aspire to do anything and everything DIY.  I encourage you to just look for the next opportunity, disguised as when something breaks or you are otherwise tempted to call somebody else to fix or improve something.  Then dive in!

Almost every skill I have was learned by trying to do a specific project; I don't really enjoy abstract learning without a goal.  The biggest step forward is to learn to not be afraid of failure.  You will likely screw things up occasionally, maybe even frequently.  This is hardly ever a big worry, though; you can fix or redo as necessary and usually you'll still come out ahead.  If you factor in the knowledge gained for the next project, you'll definitely come out ahead.

TrMama

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #10 on: August 10, 2015, 12:37:37 PM »
Do you ever plan to move out of the city into a house? If not, then learning heavy duty DIY is likely a waste of effort and I wouldn't worry about it.

GRardB

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #11 on: August 10, 2015, 06:41:43 PM »
Wow, tons of responses during my work hours! I won't reply to all of it because that'd be too much text, but thanks for the advice, everyone!

Do you ever plan to move out of the city into a house? If not, then learning heavy duty DIY is likely a waste of effort and I wouldn't worry about it.

Out of the city? Not sure. Into a house? Absolutely! I definitely want a garden/mini-farm, no HOA fees, and private walls that can't be affected by my neighbors playing music with heavy bass :)

YouTube has a lot of helpful DIY videos. For home improvement, I like the "House Improvements" channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpJ1vJPFqImom-NN2fkBS0A The presenter really knows his stuff.

Thanks for the tip! This guy has lots of videos about things I'm interested in.

If I were to buy a house tomorrow, I would have two options: 1) buy a cheap, crappy house (likely foreclosed) and pay contractors a ton of money to fix it up or 2) buy a crappy house in disguise for much more money (polished-looking renovations but with no regard for energy savings, space, etc.).

Not true: you would also have this option: 3) buy a cheap, crappy house (likely foreclosed) and figure out how to fix it up yourself as you go, probably making a bunch of mistakes along the way but also probably still saving money vs. hiring contractors.

I guess my concern is that if I wanted or needed to do something like replace all the plumbing in a house or retrofit new windows on the sun-facing side of the house, I would have no idea where to start (or if that's even legal, or what). I'm not sure that there are videos that could guide someone like me through the entire thing (tearing down walls, removing tiles, what to buy, what to put where, how to make sure things are safe, etc.).

  • If you live in a NYC (or "NYC*") apartment, don't drive (or use other expensive forms of transportation, like taxis) and cook your own food, then you've already cut out a lot of the fat in your budget. Like Charlie Sheen, you're already winning. Maybe quit using a laundromat? (When I was a renter, I remember coin-op washers and dryers being pretty expensive.) Otherwise, the best you could do is maybe move to a smaller, cheaper apartment.
  • What do you "normally outsource" that you could possibly insource? If the answer is "nothing," then there isn't any money left to save.

My laundry costs me about $1-2 per week through the building's washer/dryer, so the savings there are pretty minimal. I suppose I could do it, but I feel like that's a luxury I can afford, hah.

As for things I outsource, I suppose not much at the moment. I'm more just worried about the future, when I eventually become a homeowner. One thing I'm planning on learning in the mean time is sewing, however, which I imagine is extremely useful.

* Technically Weehawken, NJ, but there is really no difference from the outer boroughs except the sales tax is a little lower and the property taxes are way higher. My house was about 10-15 minutes from Times Square through public transit.

LOL! You remind me of the first 10 seconds of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxirs7VGrGU

Hah, exactly!

Some follow-up questions for any willing participants:

  • My understanding is that certain things require permits. Is there a good resource to figure out things I would need to know in that area (how to get permits, what I need permits for, how to make sure things are up to code, etc.)? I've seen that these things differ by state, but what about city/county/anything else?
  • Has anyone ever done any formal learning for DIY stuff, and if so, what did you think? In MMM's 50 jobs post, he mentions the possibility of taking community college classes to become a carpenter and/or electrician. I assume I could also find classes related to plumbing and welding. This costs money, of course, but as of right now, I know zero people in any of those fields. I'd love to make friends with people in those industries, though!

MrSal

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #12 on: August 10, 2015, 06:49:24 PM »
Hey everyone,

I've been reading MMM religiously for a couple of months, and incorporating tons of the lessons into my everyday life. With the ten most recent posts left, I'm almost done reading the entire blog. I can feel my life improving in pretty much every way where improvement was needed, and I'm confident that I'll be financially independent in the next 6-7 years. However...

The main topic of the blog that I'm having trouble applying to my life is the DIY stuff. There are a few reasons for this:

  • I live in an apartment in New York City which I don't own. There is virtually no space or need for carpentry, plumbing, or welding. I don't have a car (w00t), so auto maintenance is unnecessary and out of the picture.
  • I grew up basically in New York City*. I think that a combination of things (urban upbringing, schools without classes like woodworking, a father who didn't really do much handy work, etc.) has led me to be really ignorant about this type of stuff.
  • I studied computer science in college, and currently work as a software engineer. While I did learn some extremely basic physics, things like discrete mathematics, algorithms, and programming don't necessarily translate to DIY stuff the same way that engineering topics do.

Of course, I don't want to be a complainypants about this stuff and make up excuses for the rest of my life. I'd rather figure out what I can do to improve myself and save my future self some money. I was thinking the other day about what I do or have the ability to do myself that saves me money, but nothing is really impressive. I'm pretty good at cooking and refuse to buy lots of pre-made things (e.g. sliced bread), and I cut my own hair most of the time. I also have a bike which I ride almost everyday to/from work and other places, but the only problems I've ever had are popped spokes and wheels that are out of true. I can (and do) handle these types of problems, but these are also really small things.

I know small things add up over time, but I can't imagine that savings for these things are nearly as large as if I had the ability to buy a trashed foreclosed home for cheap and fixed it up all by myself, or with minimal help from contractors. When I see MMM talking about installing a metal roof, or increasing the thermal mass of his house, building a radiant heating system, etc., I'm extremely jealous. If I were to buy a house tomorrow, I would have two options: 1) buy a cheap, crappy house (likely foreclosed) and pay contractors a ton of money to fix it up or 2) buy a crappy house in disguise for much more money (polished-looking renovations but with no regard for energy savings, space, etc.).

I don't like these options at all, so here are my questions:

  • How does someone like me get started with DIY stuff? I like books, but I'm open to any form of learning. Just remember, I literally know nothing.
  • Did you get started at a young age, or did you learn as you needed to? In other words, is there any harm in putting off this learning until it becomes more convenient and/or necessary? Again, things like welding and carpentry aren't really compatible with my NYC apartment, and I have no financial incentive to try to renovate a home that I don't own (I probably wouldn't be allowed to even if I wanted).
  • What else is there to do yourself to save money? For example, I know MMM has mentioned that his wife is licensed for real estate stuff which has helped them out.
  • Is anything that's normally outsourced equal in saving power to things like carpentry, welding, and plumbing? Perhaps something that I'm able to learn more easily with my constraints?

Thanks! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

* Technically Weehawken, NJ, but there is really no difference from the outer boroughs except the sales tax is a little lower and the property taxes are way higher. My house was about 10-15 minutes from Times Square through public transit.

I'm gonna call you dude just because...

Dude!!! I was never into DIY nor I was that handy before... this winter though I pretty much dove into renovating the kitchen all by myself...

From this:



I turned it into this ... and this last picture doesnt even show the last upgrades!!





Everything was done by watching a couple youtube videos first on how to do it!

And then this summer...

I turned this crappy looking backyard...



Into this:















All by just watching youtube videos...

You can do it!! Just look up some youtube and you are good to go!!

Jack

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #13 on: August 11, 2015, 05:34:50 AM »
Some follow-up questions for any willing participants:

  • My understanding is that certain things require permits. Is there a good resource to figure out things I would need to know in that area (how to get permits, what I need permits for, how to make sure things are up to code, etc.)? I've seen that these things differ by state, but what about city/county/anything else?

They do vary by city. The way you find out is that you call up the city's building department (or more likely, go there in person, bringing a copy of the plans) and ask.

(I'm confused whether you're in Weehawken like you say in your post, or Brooklyn like you say in your profile... if it's the former, look here; if it's the latter, look here. These links were found by googling "<city name> building permit".)

Basenji

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #14 on: August 11, 2015, 06:36:40 AM »
I'm low skills, but I took one sewing class and then made curtains for two rooms, came out beautiful. Just cut up and resewed an old futon to make cushions for a DIY bench DH made and now looking for inexpensive fabric to make covers. Made hand towels out of an old duvet cover. Sewing can save you mucho money.

DH had a inexpensive class in a woodworking shop and now makes shelves, the bench, all kinds of things.

So, a single class can set you on your way. Look for cheap classes in your area or a workshop place that allows you space to work on a project. Then you can hang with the experts and see what they are doing and ask questions.

Plus Da Internets: my curtain work was guided using You Tube tutorials and sewing blogs.

furrychickens

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #15 on: August 13, 2015, 10:29:28 AM »
One thing you'll learn by spending time on the forums is that you don't need to apply 100% of the "MMM philosophy" to benefit from being around here. Currently you're in a life situation that doesn't call for much DIY. That is FINE.

When life changes, learn as the projects come up. I'd only go out of my way to learn X ahead of an actual project if I was planning a career change or side gig. Otherwise the skills you learn will atrophy to semi-uselessness by the time you actually have a project.

FIRE Artist

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #16 on: August 15, 2015, 08:38:58 PM »
So, a single class can set you on your way. Look for cheap classes in your area or a workshop place that allows you space to work on a project. Then you can hang with the experts and see what they are doing and ask questions.

Plus Da Internets: my curtain work was guided using You Tube tutorials and sewing blogs.

This.  I took some great home reno classes at the local community college where I spent a weekend each on plumbing, electrical and framing/drywall/trim.  The classes were half theory, and half hands on in the labs, so I installed a toilet, sink, framed and drywalled a room (including taping, mudding and hanging the door), wiring a three way switch and installing a sub panel.  Basically learned most everything a homeowner should know and be able to do, in my mind.  I suspect that most community colleges where they teach the trades have these types of classes. 

thurston howell iv

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2015, 09:20:58 AM »
x10 on youtube.

However, the only way to learn is to DO. That means you'll make mistakes, plenty of them and then you'll learn.

Just a thought- Why not try and volunteer with a place like Habitat for Humanity... I'm sure they could use the help and you'll learn something in the process!

velocistar237

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2015, 10:44:06 AM »
However, the only way to learn is to DO. That means you'll make mistakes, plenty of them and then you'll learn.

It's helpful to make the mistakes in a way that doesn't set you back.

Refinishing some furniture? Test the finish on scrap, then in an out-of-sight area.
Tiling a bathroom? Get some extra backer and tiles to practice on 5-10 square feet.
Putting up drywall? Practice cutting and snapping, practice driving the screws to the right depth.

These steps can speed up your progress because they give you confidence.

This isn't just for beginners. Professionals will check miter cut angles on scrap, do test finishes, etc.

cdttmm

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #19 on: August 18, 2015, 08:32:55 AM »
+1 to the suggestion of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity

Build your gardening skills by renting a plot in a community garden. Or volunteer for work days at one of the community gardens.

Borrow a kid and go to one of Home Depot's DIY for Kids project days. They usually have the kids build and paint birdhouses or other stuff like that, but they usually require an adult to be there to help out. Go learn like a kid would -- by doing!

laughing_paddler

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Re: Questions about doing things yourself
« Reply #20 on: August 19, 2015, 07:24:28 AM »
When life changes, learn as the projects come up. I'd only go out of my way to learn X ahead of an actual project if I was planning a career change or side gig. Otherwise the skills you learn will atrophy to semi-uselessness by the time you actually have a project.

Agreeing with TGC here-  but here's my twist: take notes.

I find that my curiosity questions about a new project precedes actually having the time to do the project by at least 6 months. Which means I spend some down time (yes I find this relaxing) one evening looking around the internet  getting a good feel for the steps, opinions of others, etc.,[this old house videos are usually a good start for me-, and youtube, which can be a time suck as you sift through the crap] but then I forget it all while I finish up other projects and find the time to start. I started a document where I can put my ideas, thoughts, links to videos, questions, etc.

This.  I took some great home reno classes at the local community college where I spent a weekend each on plumbing, electrical and framing/drywall/trim.  The classes were half theory, and half hands on in the labs, so I installed a toilet, sink, framed and drywalled a room (including taping, mudding and hanging the door), wiring a three way switch and installing a sub panel.  Basically learned most everything a homeowner should know and be able to do, in my mind.  I suspect that most community colleges where they teach the trades have these types of classes. 

Wow! I need to look for something like this in Saint Paul. Great tip DA!