Folks, we made it.
Not to the finish line. And not by a long shot. But we have reclaimed this old homestead enough now to call it home. For those that have been following our Reclaiming the Homestead journey, you might know that has been far from an HGTV happy ending. No dramatic reveal, no perfectly decorated spaces.
In fact, not a single room in the house is “finished” and a lot of the details are now on us to complete. According to our contractor, we have reached the end of our budget. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears that my family and a few of our friends have put into this place, I approximate that our contractor has padded his profit with about $6.5k of our collective savings afforded by modest choices and sweat equity. How does this even happen? Well, a legal loophole, a vaguely written bid, and two naïve homeowners that thought this guy would be one of the “good ones.” I should have taken my friend Ann from A Farm Girl in the Making’s advice and fired him when the framing expenses came back $15k over his original bid. Days after he told us we were only a couple thousand over. Because math – it’s hard, y’all. And we still had faith – however, misplaced it was. If you are wondering how the budget got so out of control – the type of renovation loan that we have requires that the general contractor be the gatekeeper of all the funds so the homeowner doesn’t get in over their heads.
But this post isn’t going to be about me lamenting the trials and tribulations of our remodel – this is going to be a post on how to survive a renovation (while living in the home):
- Be a pessimist about your timeline (like really pessimistic) and prepare yourself for the worst: Originally, our contractor gave us a project end date and green-lighted us giving our notice to our landlord. When it became clear that our home would not be ready before our old house closed and the new buyers took possession, we purchased a small travel trailer and borrowed another, and stored all of our things in a very expensive storage unit. I naively thought that maybe it would only be for a couple weeks, but in reality, it was closer to two months. So, if you are forced to pack up and make temporary living arrangements, pack wisely, pack lightly, and anticipate that the situation will last longer than you planned.
- Don’t live in your renovation if you don’t have to: I never thought I would be so grateful for 120sqft of living space. Let me be clear, trailer living was far from comfortable, but it was relatively clean and functional (water leaks and windstorms notwithstanding). Compared to the drywall mess, sawdust, and generalized chaos of the house, the trailer was a respite from the project. I am not even embarrassed to admit that I had a pang of sadness when we transferred our air mattress to the freshly carpeted house bedroom floor. However short-lived the feeling was when my knees didn’t hit that wall getting out of bed in the morning. That being said, I think that we moved our “camp out” in the house too soon. Dust, noise, fumes, and lack of privacy are all big issues while living in an active renovation.
- Take on only the projects that you have the skills (and the tools) to manage: A hurried renovation is probably not the best time to teach yourself a new skill. We chose to tackle some of the finish work like painting, refinishing the floors, hanging doors and moldings but left the plumbing, electricity, installation of the cabinets and countertops to the professionals. Basically, we left the vital stuff to the folks that would be legally required to fix their mistakes. And I don’t regret it. Even the professionals make mistakes and, yes, we firmly requiring the fixes.
- Take care of your body and take care of your mind: When you are chin deep in a renovation, self-care is at a premium. Daily showers became a thing of the past and even managing to have regular clean laundry was incredibly difficult. Convenience foods became normal due to inadequate storage and preparation space, as well as limited time. And we suffered for it. This on top of the blisters, calluses, and small injuries sustained in the name of home improvement. Our digestion, self-confidence, and overall sense of well being plummeted. But when we did take a day off to take care of ourselves, it did so much to refresh our spirits. And that can carry you a long way. So don’t push yourself to the brink – self-care is a must. Take a walk, pet your pets, absorb the golden hour glow whenever you can.
- Celebrate the victories and try not to dwell in the tough spots: It seemed like, for a while, it was a daily dose of bad news every time we woke up. We even had a particularly joy sucking week that culminated in massive issues with our well and my car breaking down. But then, a few lighting fixtures were placed, and my world lit up a little – no pun intended. The hanging of a single pair of schoolhouse pendant lights changed my perspective immensely. Those fixtures were a glimpse into the future of our finish home. I learned right then that the littlest of things could bring me out of my funk.
As you can see from these pictures, we are still far from finished. There is much left to do before this home renovation is complete. Truth be told, I am not sure I would ever sign on for another massive renovation project. I am not a masochist and our kids deserve more than a pair of stressed out, overworked parents. But we are starting to see the light at the end of our home renovation tunnel – dinners cooked in the new kitchen, meals eaten as a family around the table, the detritus of children replacing the tools of renovation.