We sit down, turn on HGTV and get sucked in to the seemingly fun construction and design elements of all the home renovation shows. Demo day looks like a complete and total blast (not exactly a lie) and designing and picking out cabinets, tile, flooring, paint, and finishes seems like a designers dream come true. They make it look so easy!
We turn to our significant other and start spouting all the brilliant ideas that begin flooding our minds for our own homes.
"It wouldn't be that hard to remove that wall between our kitchen and living room and really open it up."
"I love that tile they used in their shower. I want to use that when we redo our bathroom, even though it's $25 a square foot."
"Really, how hard would it be to move our whole house over closer to the property line and make more room for our yard?"
It's fun to let yourself get caught up in new and exciting details of home improvement. And some of the elements of a home reno truly are fun! But what about all the behind the scenes things they don't show you? Sure, taking a sledge hammer to your walls and cabinets is a ton of fun (and bonus, a great workout!) but when the dust clears, who has to clean up the gigantic mess it left behind, especially if it's a DIY project?
We bought our fixer upper home about 17 months ago. We knew we wanted something older that had an established yard with trees and privacy, and we, like all DIY virgins, thought it would be fun to fix it up and put some major sweat-equity into it. Granted, we were more informed than most because we did finish our basement ourselves in our previous home before selling it. So we weren't quite virgins, but we had never tackled a project this big. We knew it would be a lot of time, work, and money. But I don't think anything could have prepared us for how bad it was actually going to be.
We knew we couldn't afford to hire a contractor or any subcontractors to do the things we knew we could just do on our own, but we felt up to the challenge. If you're lucky enough to be able to hire all the hard laborers to do the work for you, then this post probably isn't for you. We are true DIYers. Other than the kitchen cabinets/counter tops, our whole house was basically done by my super hero husband, with me trying to assist.
Anyway, we closed on our home and a week later started demo.
Guys, demo really is fun. There's a reason Chip Gaines gets as giddy as a school girl when it's #DemoDay. In the beginning, spirits are high, everyone has energy, and watching all the ugly, outdated parts of the home get ripped out is intensely satisfying. Right from the get go you start to see change and it's really exciting. "This won't be that bad," you tell yourself. "With help from family members, we can get this done in no time!"
If you've never actually been privileged enough to see a home after the demo is done, allow me to paint the scene for you. It literally looks like a bomb went off. Dust and debri are EVERYWHERE. At one point I thought I could stick the tape measure up to the dust on our remaining walls and measure how thickly it had accumulated. We couldn't walk anywhere without having to carefully maneuver jagged wood or plaster pieces, nails protruding with their rusty, gnarled ends threatened to take our life - or at least make us get a tetanus shot - that our kids wouldn't stop being enchanted by, broken 2x4's, shattered tile pieces, holes in the walls, exposed bones of the house... it was a disaster. While creating the mess was fun and games, cleaning it up was not.
We did demo for weeks, possibly even a couple months; I get fuzzy on the timeline. Our house was in bad enough shape we had to gut the entire upstairs including all the flooring. I spent days scooting my little arse across the filthy floors with a hammer pulling up thousands upon thousands of nails left behind in the sub floor from the ancient hardwood we had to rip out. We hauled several tons to the dump of construction waste, which, fun fact, you have to pay to get rid of. You're literally throwing your money away! I hated going to the dump. I felt like I was being robbed.
After we finished demo the months ticked on and on as my husband updated all the plumbing and electrical. If you want to feel like you're paying for nothing to change, this will be your favorite part of the reno. I knew nothing about that stuff, so I usually didn't go to help him. Someone had to watch the kids. As the months went on and there was no visible change on the house (except a blue and red pipe where a copper one used to be) and our financial reserve began to empty, we both started to get discouraged.
My husband works long hours on his usual workdays and we don't get to see him much during the days he's on. We've always made up for it by playing hard on his days off and spending a lot of family time together. Except now, all his days off were being spent away, working on the house. I basically became a single mom because I had a husband at home, helping, about 14 hours a week, most of those hours being when the kids were in bed. We started to miss him fiercely and he started to miss us. He began to get depressed and burned out from all the work and all the time away. I started to lose my patience with my girls much more easily. But someone had to do it! So we pushed on...
Finally the electrical and plumbing were finished and we moved on to dry wall. There aren't enough vulgar words in the English language to describe how much I hate dry wall. Again, there was months and months of torturous work, absentee husband, money being drained, and stress -- oh the stress!!
Things started to get really bad. Cory was gone so much the girls started to resent him and wouldn't even kiss him goodnight anymore which broke both our hearts. I tried to explain a million times why he was gone and that he loved them, but it definitely hurt their relationship. I know it hurt Cory more than he let on, too, because he was always trying to get as physically close to them as possible whenever he was around.
I got so used to having Cory gone that I didn't know how to function when he was around. That's not to say that I was perfectly ok on my own. If you know me at all, being alone is toxic for me. I had frequent melt downs and panic attacks about the direction our life was headed. We all knew it was temporary and necessary and, most importantly, no ones fault, but it didn't make it any easier. We both slipped into depression and didn't know how to deal with it. We felt guilty any time we took time off from the house to be together. The project consumed our whole lives!
The constant absence wasn't the only thing driving a wedge in our family relationships. The financial stress was definitely the biggest culprit in making us miserable. My easy-going, kind-hearted husband turns into a completely different person when he's under financial stress. We fought a lot. A LOT! I can see now why finances are the biggest reason people get divorced. I wanted to help with the financial burden SO BADLY, but with small children, employment opportunities aren't easy to come by. I know Cory literally had the weight of the world on his shoulders at all times and it took a huge, huge toll on him. I rarely saw him happy and it hurt me so much. We both began to resent our house and dreaded having people ask us about it. It was nothing but a burden in our lives. We couldn't see the final result yet, we were still in the dark tunnel hoping to get out alive.
Our home reno also took a major spiritual toll on us; me especially. This is extremely personal and hard for me to write. Neither of us wanted the house when we first saw it, but we felt strongly that night that this was the house for us, even though we knew we didn't have the budget for an entire home renovation. We wanted something we could fix up a little at a time while living there. This home wasn't even livable. But we obeyed and tried to have faith that it would all work out.
As time went on and things got harder and harder for our family, I began to have a really hard time with why the Lord told us this house was so right for us. It was robbing us of all our happiness, it was tearing our family apart, and it was crippling our stable financial plan we had for our future. I would resolve to do better and have more faith, and then we would take another hit. I kept feeling like I was being punched in the stomach each time I got the courage to stand back up again. I spent countless nights in solitary prayer, pouring my heart and soul out to The Lord and pleading with Him for some kind of help or relief.
Nothing seemed to come. In fact, the trials kept piling up. And on top of everything else, we were told it was time for another baby. Are you serious?! Now?!! I couldn't think of worse timing for that! But again, I stood back up on my feet, tried to suppress the mounting doubts I had in my mind that The Lord really has a plan for me and my family, and took another punch to the stomach. A baby is always a happy thing, but paying for one when you're already strapped for cash is a whole other issue. Not to mention the added emotional stress.
As we finally started to get to the "fun" part of the reno, neither of us cared anymore. We were so burned out and hated the house so much that we just didn't want to deal with it anymore. I remember buying our laminate flooring a year earlier and being beside myself with happiness and being thrilled to see how it was going to look. When it came time to install it, it was such a pain in the butt we hardly took the time to enjoy how it looked. It felt like that with everything. Our gorgeous kitchen was installed and while we had a quick moment of oh-my-gosh-i-love-it-so-much, every time we looked at it all we saw were dollar signs. I dreaded coming home each day and having my mom ask me about what we got done that day because I hated being there so much I didn't even want to talk about it.
This was also the point our children took the biggest hit. We were finally working on things I could do, which meant both of their parents were now ditching them frequently and spending less and less time with them. Kennedys school work suffered greatly because by the time we got home from working on the house we were too tired to care. If we brought them with us to work, they were constantly in the way or making messes and getting yelled at. The guilt I felt for all this was too much to take sometimes. I've been desperately trying to make up for it.
To make matters worse, by the time we got to the fun, pretty stuff (paint, tile, etc) we were completely out of money. Luckily I had purchased a lot of our design products over the course of the reno and had them on hand, but we lacked the funds to get all the other things we still needed - which meant more working for Cory. It also meant more stress, more resentment, and more doubts. How were we going to finish the house? How was this the right house for us when we couldn't even afford to get it done and live in it??
By some miracle we were able to get enough of the house done that we could finally, FINALLY move in 16 months after the purchase date. Now the house wasn't/isn't done, mind you, but it's livable. Being able to move into the home has eased some of our burdens. Instead of Cory being gone to work on the house he's now home with us, but still working. Finally being able to live in it has helped us not resent it and our anger is slowly being turned to love. People keep asking us if we're so happy to be living here and we always answer "yes" with little enthusiasm. That is starting to change.
We both know we need to take the time to count our blessings and look around at what we do have, but with the affect this project has had on us, that has been hard to do in the blink of an eye. We're working on it. We're still feeling the pressure of trying to get the whole upstairs completed. We still have the construction monkey on our backs. We still don't have money to finish it. We still fight, just not as much. Cory is still working a lot and we're both still so burned out. And now I have pregnancy hormones and fatigue on top of it all. I still question whether Heavenly Father knows what He's doing or not, but I'm trying to have faith in the face of opposition. The more we grow to love our house the less I question Him.
We're 17 months in and our house still isn't done, but it's almost there. The time it has taken to get to this point has been brutal. They don't show you these things on home renovation shows. Would we do this again? Hell no. Was it worth it? I think it will be in the end and we're getting closer to that point. No one warns you how hard this is. Renovations always seem like an exciting new adventure, but no one talks about how you can grow to hate your new adventure so much you wish it would just disappear. They lightly dust over the financial stress and depression that can hit your family.
We didn't get to have someone surprise us with a fully furnished and decorated end project. We didn't get to walk in and cry at what a gorgeous transformation had been made. Instead I think we will get a different "reveal" at the end of this. One day we will be done and we will finally stop having the weight on our shoulders and we can look around and appreciate the change we have made. We will be able to spend more time together again and appreciate that time even more and not take it for granted. We still start to make memories. We will look back over the course of all this and realize that we were stronger than we thought we were. We made it through hell. We will stop and say "it was worth it" and know we made the right decision. And I hope, as time goes on, it will finally be revealed why it was so important for us to be in this house, and I will drop to my knees in gratitude that The Lord carried us through this when I couldn't see the full picture.
I keep thinking of the question Joanna Gaines asks at the end of the intro to their show Fixer Upper: "Do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?" Apparently we do. And I know the whole behind-the-scenes trauma that we've been experiencing will make it so much more worth it in the end. DIY Home renovations are not for the faint of heart. Luckily ours withstood it, and hopefully got strengthened along the way. In hindsight, it'll be a small price to pay for a lifetime of happiness.