Diary of a mum returning to work – Decorating

Once the Christmas decorations are down, our homes can seem sad and bare. So why not cheer yours up with a quick lick of paint? Mum of three Lucy Mason shares her (sometimes painfully-learned) decorating lessons.


Since writing my last blog I’ve decided to get off my arse and finally do something to show for all the child-free hours I now have.

Work was pretty quiet in the run-up to Christmas, and as I was saving my renewed work hunt for the anticipated New Year explosion of energy and resolve, I decided to turn my hand to decorating.

Our entire house needed a lick of paint. There was a shadow of grey/brown smudge along nearly every wall in the house caused by dirty little hands, and it had grown slowly upwards at the same rate as the kids.

Most of the downstairs door frames had been scuffed and chipped by buggy wheels and there were scribble marks all over the doors. Basically, like me, the whole place needed a bit of cheering up.

I’m no stranger to a paintbrush. I lived in a lot of house and flat shares in my 20s and I’d always paint my bedroom when I moved in to make me feel more at home. Although I’m not sure the standard of work I did then would pass quality control now – I’d just paint straight over wallpaper and various hideous friezes – it gave me some valuable experience to draw on.

So if you want to give your place a lick of paint but don’t want to pay/cannot afford a professional, then why not give it a go yourself? What can go wrong? Actually, quite a lot, but the beauty of paint is that you can always paint over it again.

My (non-professional) decorating lessons

Anyway, after my first week of house decorating I learned some valuable lessons which I think are worth a share.

It always takes longer than you think

Decorating always takes longer than you think it will. Be prepared to take five days – plus evenings – just to paint one room. 

Invest in fresh paint!

Never use paint you’ve stored in an outdoor shed for four years. However tempted you are by a hardly-touched 5L tub of Dulux, it should never be used because a) it stays lumpy however long you stir it, and b) it STINKS like damp old socks and the smell lingers for days. 

Don’t buy cheap decorating tape

Never ever scrimp on decorating tape. I spent ages carefully sticking cheap three-for-a-pound tape along the bottom of a newly painted wall, with the aim of achieving that deeply satisfying straight line between the skirting board gloss and the wall emulsion.

But when I’d finished glossing and peeled the tape away, half the paint came away with it, leaving a deeply unsatisfying zig-zag along the entire wall. So then I spent another hour trying to re-paint a straight line, by hand, with a tiny kids’ paint brush before giving up because that’s the wall the sofa sits against and no one will notice anyway.

It reminded me of Adrian Mole’s Diary when he paints his bedroom a teenage black over top of his old Noddy wallpaper, then has to spend hours colouring in all the Noddy hat bells with a black felt pen. 

If you want to know how to use decorating tape properly, then as with everything else, just Google it. There are a few websites on the subject (really) and apparently you should always buy decent tape, stick it down firmly to a dry surface, and after painting pull it away slowly and carefully at an angle while the paint is still wet. So now we know.

Ignore the ceiling

Unless you’re a keen decorator, are a smoker, live with a smoker, or are lucky enough to have a real fire, I wouldn’t bother painting the ceiling. As far as I can tell it’s a lot of work for very little result.

Buy a pole

Definitely invest in a pole for the paint roller. This saves so much time, not only if you do decide to paint the ceiling, but it’s also much easier to paint walls with and saves your arms aching a lot.

Also, go for Harris paint roller brushes if you can, they splatter less than the cheaper ones.

Buy a non-moulting brush

Ditto with decent paint brushes. It’s tempting to go for really cheap ones but you spend ages picking paintbrush hairs (which look a lot like pubes) out of wet paint afterwards.

Be prepared for splatter

Always cover up furniture, even if you think the paint won’t reach it. I made the mistake of leaving the telly uncovered while I rollered a nearby wall and the TV screen looked like the Milky Way when I’d finished.

I managed to get most off with my thumb nail once it had dried, but not all of it. And again, it takes ages.

Buy dust sheets from charity shops

Old sheets from a charity shop make far better dust sheets than the cheap static plastic ones from decorating shops. These aren’t much better than cling film, and have a life of their own wafting around the room with the slightest draft, sticking to everything (including your legs) and smearing paint everywhere. Again, beware of false economies.

Make it fun!

And finally, get the entertainment right and decorating can be FUN. It’s the perfect opportunity to get stuck into some guilt-free daytime TV.

Good programmes to watch/listen to while painting include the Wright Stuff, Cowboy Builders (a whole other blog) and above all, Countdown.