Wallpaper and Learning to Say “Enough”

Thursday evening found me at a hardware store on the way home, listening to a seemingly-knowledgeable employee sell me on the best products for wallpaper removal. Spoiler alert: he didn’t know what he was talking about and appears to have had no first-hand experience with these expensive products he so smoothly talked me into buying.

This is why I hate asking for help at stores; because store employees are the sort of people I assume it’s safe to trust, and they will convince me to buy ridiculous things if they sound like they know something and I haven’t done my research properly.

My goal was to tackle most of the wallpaper Thursday evening so I had Friday evening to prep for painting.


My tools were a large (and expensive) jug of wallpaper stripping gel, a scraper, and a roller I borrowed from Calli (and may I say it’s great having her four minutes down the road now). I soaked the outside wall and the hallway wall with the gel and couldn’t contain my enthusiasm long enough to let the solution sit for the recommended time. All optimistic, I dug in.

I don’t entirely blame the product manufacturers or the deceptively-helpful hardware clerk; part of my problem was the poor quality of our walls. Very quickly I discovered how pathetic they are. I also found out that the wall my bedroom shares with the bathroom had never been papered. This revelation came about the same time I drove a four inch-wide hole through the drywall.

One of the reasons I was so quick to purchase this thrice-accursed scraper was because I was told it included a wall scorer, which is a tool used to pock holes in the wallpaper to help the stripping solution get in.

“The Bathroom Wall” before, featuring holes from when Nina lived in this room and liked to hang up things.

It didn’t have a scorer. Considering at the state of my walls by Saturday morning, this was probably for the best, but I was still ticked that I had been misinformed. (Mom as well, who had stopped by a different store to hopefully pick up a scorer when I thought I still could use one. She ended up getting the exact same tool I already had.)

In the end, I applied the gel solution at least three times across the walls and then a spray Mom had picked up. By this point I had already made a dent in my budget and would have been better off following my first instinct and just painting over everything as was.

I started in on this task around 5:00 PM Thursday evening, and what followed was a battle between my stubborn determination to achieve smooth walls and the house’s determination to best another human who thought it wasn’t pretty enough.


Hour One:

Jo and Mom both had to pause and ask, “Wait. Did you write that or was that already…?” Nina didn’t hesitate. “Very funny.”
  • After gouging holes all through it, I decide to leave the bathroom-adjoining wall painted.
  • The blade on the scraper has already begun to dull and I have a skinned knuckle from trying to find a better grip on it.
  • My sense of humor is still intact.
  • I discover that peeling paint with my bare hands is cathartic, and far easier and quicker than using the scraper, even if it does leave behind the bottom layer of the paper.


Hour Two:

  • Skinned knuckle #2.
  • Mom comes home, bringing supplies as a show of support.
  • I’m not having fun any more.
  • To distract myself, I envision how the room will look with my colors and begin to question my choice, as at present I would rather recreate the painting scene in Bridge to Terabithia, even though my room doesn’t get western light.


Hour Three:

  • Jo gets home, and she distracted me with conversation.
  • Another skinned knuckle.
  • My undying hatred for this scraper tool and whoever designed it is cemented.
  • Trying to prep my walls has ceased to be stress-relieving and has started to have the opposite effect.


Hour Four:

  • This whole thing is like my experience with Ready Player One: absurd, frustrating enough to make me want to throw something, and undoubtedly a bad idea, but I’ve come so far and I don’t want to give up now. Especially considering how much money I already spent.
  • That said, my stubborn attitude has been scraped raw as my knuckles and I’m considering giving up the whole venture.
  • I am questioning everything.
  • Finally I force myself to stop for the night and, without cleaning up the floor or flossing or showering, I turn in.

Readers, if you ever feel the need in your life to scrape wallpaper, 1) think really hard about your decision and definitely sleep on it, and 2) do not get Zinsser paper scraper. Why? It’s stupid. The design is illogical and the tool itself wimpy, and I don’t think this is just because my walls are tough cookies anyway. The spot you’re meant to grip is this round, gear-like knob in the middle of the tool, but its position does not allow you to gain the proper leverage to actually scrape at anything. It has two handles on one end which are reminiscent of wheelbarrow handles, but when I tried to grip and scrape with these, all I got were skinned knuckles. What’s more, the recommended approach for using it is to keep it flush against the wall, which doesn’t work. Ever.

Despite being very stiff from my battle the evening before, Friday morning found me, bruised but not broken, once again chipping away at the south wall. The north wall, between the room and the hall, was almost bare of paint but there was a thin layer of paper that simply wasn’t coming up. I had written off the wall between my room and the girls’ (the unpainted one) before I even touched it. The way I figured, it was fine as it was and I should leave well enough alone.

There was a brief moment when I considered leaving this project on hold for a few days to indefinitely. Looking at the mess of drywall and paper, I thought of several “aesthetically please” pictures I had reblogged on Tumblr with room walls styled very similarly. Why not leave my own walls that way?

No, Phoebe. You’re finishing this.

By Friday evening, after once again wandering around like a blonde while buying paint (the power I wield when I turn helpless-female is almost intoxicating) I had everything else I needed to get my bedroom painted.

The Bathroom Wall after I tried to fix its many flaws with pink spackle. One day I will learn that some things are better left alone.

Among these supplies was a jar of bubblegum-pink spackle because my inner five-year-old girl wanted it as payment for depriving her of pink things for most of our childhood. I was too weary to argue with her and risk a meltdown in the paintbrush aisle. Naturally, this acquisition led to the pair of us getting rather spackle-happy Friday night. While scraping wallpaper is something I never want to do again, I could spackle walls for hours and not get bored.

The walls still needed to be sanded down (not remembering my earlier lesson with the scraper, I got a nifty hand sander where you can replace the sandpaper and hold the block to sand), but that was all that stood between me and painting. Time for bed.


One thought on “Wallpaper and Learning to Say “Enough”

  1. I’ve had multiple battles with wallpaper in my past, some I’ve won, others I’ve lost. My last battle was with multiple layers of old wallpaper that refused to yield to my pulling, scraping, ripping. I mixed a 1:1 ratio of warm water and fabric softener, scored the wall with what I can only describe is a roller with needles, then sprayed away. A half hour later the layers were peeling away just with fingers. I realize this might be too late for this project, but I figured I’d pass it along anyway so that your next wallpaper seen in battle is slightly more victorious for you. BTW, Killz primer will cover everything.


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