In this mini episode, we’re sharing how we survive long and stressful renovations.
Thank you to Spoonflower for sponsoring this episode!! You can use code ‘ABMINTRO15‘ for 15% off your first order!
-Here are a few of our shocking before/after photos (these are all renovations that we managed ourselves).
-Celebrate *each* completed step.
-Find something happy to enjoy and look forward to that is *not* house related.
-It’s OK to take a break—it’s better than a breakdown.
-Hit “pause” when you need to.
-Release your negative feelings before you lose your sh%t on someone you love. Mark your calendars for a time to cry (find a TV show that helps you cry—this is a serious tip).
Elsie: You’re listening to the A Beautiful Mess podcast, renovating is such a roller coaster and the low points can be pretty bad, although these stories tend to be funny in hindsight, they’re gut-wrenching in the moment. In today’s mini episode, we’re sharing how we survive long and stressful renovations. Laura is joining me. Hi, Laura.
Elsie: She’s recently been kitchen-less and stair-less while raising a toddler and working from home. So she has some great survival stories to share with us today. Do you like the intro? Is it accurate?
Laura: Yes. Kitchen-less and stair-less. (laughs)
Elsie: Yes. (laughs)
Laura: That’s a big one.
Elsie: Tell them about like, how you had to go outside to access a sink story.
Laura: So our kitchen was being renovated, which takes a very long time. Especially when you’re doing like the floors as well, it was like a full gut, everything. So we were trying to get stuff done while that was happening. And so our stairs are from the main floor to the basement are awful stairs, like I call them the seven-layer dip stairs because they took like stairs that I think were bad stairs not to code to begin with, and then just built another layer and then another layer and then another layer. So if you look at them from the side, you can see like wood, linoleum, tile, more wood, like it’s just layers of all these stairs.
Elsie: So strange!
Laura: They’re super uneven. Yeah. Like pointy, dangerous. The rises are all over the place, which makes it also like dangerous for like, you know, to walk down like Lola had a bad fall down them within the first couple of weeks here. It was like terrible. So anyways, so I was so happy to get those taken out. But that means we have like, nothing to get downstairs unless you, like, go all the way outside through the garage, down into the basement. So not only do we, like, not have a kitchen, we don’t have a sink in the kitchen either. So it’s like while the stairs are completely ripped out before the new ones were in, you would have to, like, do something in the kitchen and then to go like, you know, wash your dishes or whatever you have to like, go outside through the garage into the basement where there’s like a little wet bar sink to, like, (laughs) do your dishes and then come back upstairs. And also you’re used to going downstairs. So I would constantly like go to go downstairs and then there would just be like a chasm drop off to like, nothing.
Elsie: Were you afraid you were going to like, step into it?
Laura: We had baby gates…
Elsie: Oh there was a gate. Oh my gosh, I would be so afraid that I would just like, jump off on accident.
Laura: Well, that’s why we did that. I mean, like, the cats kept trying to go downstairs and would be like, what the — like because there was nowhere for them to go. So we had things up so no one would fall down or go down. But you would still constantly like go to go downstairs and then just like almost kind of, you know, see a drop off. So that was fun. But with yeah. With having a toddler also and like just giant chasms open to downstairs, it’s not not ideal either, but thankfully that part was only for a couple of days. The whole kitchen was, was longer but and with the kitchen we thought we were going to have our floors demoed at a certain day. So like you have to prep for that because they’re going to take like the full kitchen out, like everything has to come out and be kind of boxed up, almost like a mini move. And so with our pantry, we, like put all of our food into just cardboard boxes. And then we found out after we did all of that and demoed the whole pantry area that it was going to be like pushed back almost another like month before they would start the floors.
Laura: But we just demoed the pantry and had nowhere to put our food. So we just had, like, cardboard boxes full of like cans and bags of rice and cereal sitting behind our couch. So I tried to think of the only benefit of it was that when you were sitting on the couch, if you wanted a snack, you just had to, like, reach over the back of the couch and grab the chips because that’s where the pantry was. So, you know, bright side, silver lining, I suppose?
Elsie: Well, you survived!
Laura: With our — and our outside was fun, too, because I think there used to be like a master gardener that lived here, like back in the day and he built or planted all this stuff outside, which was probably like beautiful at the time, but it would just been like let go for like decades and was really overgrown. And so we kind of had to take it all out to start over. So we had like a mud pit, like our whole yard is like a mud pit for seven months, like while the inside was crazy. The outside was just like a mud pit. So that didn’t necessarily help your spirits to, like, see the mess inside and then look outside. It’s just like a frozen mud pit the entire winter.
Elsie: You’re really selling us on buying a fixer-upper.
Elsie: Sounds fun.
Laura: It’s all sunshine and rainbows. But can I tell you my favorite part of the stairs though? So, my favorite part of the stairs, we actually saved one. I feel like we should somehow use them. I don’t know how if you have any good ideas, let me know.
Elsie: How would you?
Laura: But these — well there’s still the stair, not the stairs. Sorry. What we saved were the stair railings that were baseball bats. So instead of, instead of putting on a rail that was like long and to code and to the right height, they just put a really low baseball bat mounted to the wall. (laughs) And that was like the railing going down in two different spots. So we saved the baseball bats. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them, but I feel like I should, like, I don’t know, whittle them into a figurine or something, (laughs) transform them in some way. It’s just like, the funniest thing.
Elsie: It is funny. You have to keep it. Renovation, I think that like the mental toll it can take on you is so big. A lot of times when people are going through it for the first time, they’ll say something to me like I’m just not the kind of person who can handle this. I’m never doing it again. But the thing is, is that like I want to compare it to something I have no experience with, so validate me on this one. But I’ve heard people compare it to having a baby? That like, it’s like the most horrible trauma that you can go through. But then your brain does like erase itself a little bit afterwards because the reward is so great. I can’t speak to having a baby, but I can say that with renovating, my brain, like almost instantly erases itself as soon as the painful part is over.
Laura: Yes, I’ve done both. So I would say that is true. That’s definitely true. I think there is a period of time, though, for me where I need to, like, heal from the experience where it’s like I’m not ready like the next day, like I need at least like a year, a year or two, I think between renovations for sure. But yeah, like every time you think you’ll never do it again and then you do it again. So…But I think it’s good to remember that because when you’re in it and it’s awful and you feel like you’ve never felt that low or it’s never been that bad before, it’s good to remember, like, yeah, it was terrible the last time. And you were this low and it was this depressing. And it’s that’s how it is, you know, and it’s, it’s good to remember that because it’s not just it’s not just this time. It’s every time, which means that you get over it and it gets better.
Elsie: Yes. Do you have any funny low points that you want to share about your — from your renovation journey?
Laura: I think the low points are probably (laughs) they’re just like crying on the floor or like just lashing out at people for no reason. Like usually Todd. Like poor Todd because, you know, we’re doing stuff together most of the time. And so you get like frustrated and annoyed and like I’m a little bit better at the DIY stuff than he is. So sometimes it’s like me telling him how to do something while I’m frustrated and, you know, let’s…I lose my temper a little bit and get frustrated. But it’s lately I’ve just started, like, when I get like that, like, you know, I calm down for a second and I come over and I give him a big hug and I say, I’m sorry for the things I said when we were renovating. (laughs) And then we just move on from there. So I feel like I need to get that on, like t-shirts or something for both of us.
Elsie: Yeah, that could be a coffee mug. A novelty coffee mug for sure. Yeah, I would definitely like I’m a big like drama executer (laughs) if you know what I’m saying. So yeah. So usually midway through a renovation I have a breakdown, which just mostly like lots of crying and saying “I can’t do this” type of you know, situation. And Jeremy is. Yes, his response is always the same. It’s like, “well, this wasn’t my idea. I didn’t care. I would have been fine with how it was”, which is like the most unhelpful thing you can say in that moment, because it’s like once it’s already started, you do have to finish it. And it’s kind of like, you know, the saying they have with toddler tantrums when they say the only way out of it is through it. Like it’s like the only way out of a renovation is to keep like on the to-do list and, you know, following up, making the appointments, doing the things. And then one day you wake up and your house is done again and you can’t remember that it was ever horrible. (laughs) It’s just like, something you’re proud of and happy about. (laughs)
Laura: Yeah, it’s weird, like when it’s years later and you look at the before pictures and it like shocks you.
Elsie: Yeah, let’s show some shocking before pictures in the show notes, because I think that that will give, especially for our newer listeners, if you haven’t been following us a long time, you need to see some of the really extreme makeovers we’ve done. And then you’ll be like, I can do it, too! Or maybe you’ll at least be like they know what they’re talking about. (laughs) OK, so we have survival tips prepared for you. That’s what this mini-episode is. It’s a survival episode. I definitely think that if you’re going to do a renovation and you’re either going to DIY all of it or some of it, or you’re going to be your own general contractor, we talk about that in one of our previous episodes. You’re going to need a lot of resilience, a lot of pep talks and basically all of these survival techniques. So write them down, take notes, tattoo them on your soul and you’ll be good. It is all — it’s actually like so much fun. OK, so my first tip for surviving, these are all tips for like when you’re really in the grind. My first tip is to celebrate each completed step and I really do mean each step. I think that celebrating it even with just like a fun dinner or like a toast or like a fun show, I don’t really care what it is. It’s like just to recognize it and market as like that’s completed. We did it. Now we’re going to go to move on to the next step. I think that if you wait to celebrate until the very end, that’s far too long to wait and you’ll kind of have that midway burnout creeping in. So celebrate every single little nook you finish, every wall, every time you finish painting a room full of trim, celebrate all of it or otherwise, you’ll spend years frustrated and unsatisfied and just like burned out. That’s the alternative when you could be celebrating.
Laura: No, that’s a great tip that’s so hard for me to do, I don’t know why. Like, I know that is the thing that I should be doing, but I think I’m that personality. Yeah. It’s like, oh, I’ll do it when it’s done. Like, it’s not done yet. So, like the perfectionist mind of like, why would I celebrate a halfway or a little bit like I’ll celebrate it when it’s done. But it’s too long. It’s too long to wait.
Elsie: Yeah. These little extra celebrations in there can help boost you when you really need it.
Laura: I think it’s really important to have something happy that is non-house-related to look forward to. That’s like a big thing for me because it’s just plain distracting for your brain. So whether that’s like a trip you’re going on, a special dinner date you have coming up, your kid’s birthday, whatever it is like. Just have something happy on the horizon. Like not too far. Like don’t make it be Christmas when it’s February. That’s like a little bit…
Elsie: Way too far.
Laura: …too far. Yeah. Something you can grasp and prepare for I think is really, really helpful just to have a different gear. So like my sister and her family are coming up to visit in a couple weeks and that’s like a big motivator for me of like, OK, we’ve got something really happy coming up. And I think sometimes having those things when they are just happened to be sort of related to the house where, like they’re going to come to your house or something, sometimes that can be a little bit of a goal also to be like, oh, I really want to have this living room in good shape before, like my kid’s birthday, or I want to have this, like, cleaned up from all of the debris, because I know, like, when you’re working in a house and you’re living in a house, like my fridge is full of paint rollers, you know, there’s like just tools everywhere. And so just having like, OK, someone’s going to come over for, like, a fun game night and I’m going to get all of the, like, debris that has to do with renovation out of the way. And it’s going to feel like a real house, a real room for a couple minutes. And I think that’s like, important too.
Elsie: So I absolutely affirm this tip. Let’s stop right there and take a quick break for this week’s sponsor:
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My next tip is: it’s OK to take a break. It’s better than a breakdown. (laughs) So this is very personal to me because recently in the past six months or so I get well, OK, I’ll say in the past year since we’ve lived in our current home, so I have known that I was on the verge of a breakdown and that I needed a break, but I didn’t think it was possible to take one. And I just was like putting it off and off and off. But we’ve been renovating for — with small breaks — for six straight years. And there’s, you know, been like our home, like our first home in Nashville was a huge fixer-upper. We did every single room. It was like a three-year renovation. We did two AirBnBs in Nashville. You know, we moved to our house last year (laughs) where we only lived for four months. And then we basically decided to move instead of building on and flipped it really quickly, which I think that I fully told that story at the time, I’ll link in the show notes, if you missed it. But basically for about a month after we decided we’re going to try to move, so it was like a pandemic problem-solve for our family. Our house was like halfway done and we finished in like a month. And I spent every weekend painting trim and a fireplace and a bathroom vanity and just like, you know, DIYing it to a finish line. Honestly, like, I think it turned out pretty good and I don’t understand how in the time that we had, it was like, you know…
Laura: It’s crazy.
Elsie: Yeah. So to…and then we moved into this house and started again. It’s like a very large home, lots of rooms, you know, lots of 90s finishes that I wanted to cleanse away pretty quickly. And I’ve known for a while that I was overdoing it and burning myself out, but I didn’t know how to do it any other way because I felt like I was already like kind of in it. And it’s easier to just finish something than to, like, address the problem, but. Recently, when we found out that Collin was moving this summer, I had a moment of reckoning where I realized this is like my chance that I can take a renovation break. And if I don’t take a break right now, like, I’m almost like not a responsible human. Like, I need it. I want it. I know that I have to do it. The only thing that’s hard about it is just getting out of the cycle of constantly doing big renovation projects because of our blog. But, you know, our blog is about a lot of different things. We all have heard about the successful baked oatmeal post. It doesn’t all have to be room makeovers. I can take a year and do, you know, make homemade wreaths and garlands and frozen lemonade recipes and other things. And I knew that in my head. But getting that to be like a real commitment was really, really hard for me, I think, just from doing it for six straight years. So anyway, my advice here is deeply personal. If you know you’re burning yourself out, just find a way to take off six months or a year, you know, and in the long term, like when you look back at your life, when you’re old, you probably won’t even notice that your kitchen was delayed for a year. It won’t even matter. Right. So I’m glad I’m committed to it now. But that was a hard change to make.
Laura: Yeah. And even like a mini version of that, especially when you’re renovating, doing most of the work yourself, and especially if you have kids, you have to take breaks along the way because kids kind of get like, you know, the short straw. I feel like whenever you’re renovating, you’re always kind of like throwing something down for dinner, like, hey, can you play this near me while I paint this and sand this and they just don’t get enough, just don’t get as much attention as they would if you guys were just doing nothing on a weekend versus all these projects. So, I mean, sometimes you just have to put in the work because you’re trying to get your home to a spot that is safe and comfortable for everybody. But yeah, it’s good to remember, too, like, hey, you know what, we’ve been doing a lot. Let’s take this Saturday off and go to the park and get some ice cream and do like some real family time or maybe for a couple of days just do stuff when they’re in bed or they’re like at their daycare, you know, whatever, just to make sure everybody’s still getting their time and with each other. And everybody’s still connected.
Elsie: That’s a really good point. Yeah, it’s undeniable that it can take its toll on your family, just like your flow, you know, your weekend schedule. Definitely like your quality time with your spouse for sure, all of those things. So, yeah, if you feel like you need a break, just know that it’s not that big of a deal. I don’t know why it was so unimaginable to me that I would take a break from renovating. I think I just got so used to doing it at all times that it felt like there wasn’t any other option.
Laura: Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to stop, especially if you’re in the middle of something.
Elsie: So do you have one more survival tip?
Laura: I do. Speaking of breakdowns, I think it’s good to, like, release your pent up feelings because if you’re like me and a renovation, it’s just, you know, like, oh, you’re happy because something went well and is starting to go great and then something goes terrible and then you’re pissed again. It’s just like this roller coaster of like up and down, up and down constantly. And so you can feel that building up. You can feel like the pressure. You feel you’re about to explode and then you get to that where you’re crying and screaming. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t do it anymore. And so if you can find a way to, like, release that pressure before you blow up on people that you love, I think that’s a good thing to do. So finding ways, whether that’s like working out for you or like going for a run or like reading a book for a certain amount of time a day, whatever it is to like, decompress and destress along the way will kind of help you not have as many blow ups. I think for me, it’s probably good to have a crying release every so often (laughs).
Elsie: Yeah, one hundred percent.
Laura: So if you have, like, a show or a thing that always makes you cry like probably once or twice a week, just watch that and let some feelings out. So for me, it’s like Call the Midwife for those of you that have seen it I love that show, but I cry like nine times an episode. It’s so cathartic. So do you have anything that makes you cry? Like the whole time you watch?
Elsie: I cry during, like, a lot of TV shows, so yeah, it’s not hard for me. I definitely cry every week at a TV show. Yeah, most recently, I’m watching The Handmaid’s Tale, and it was like, the whole episode, I was bawling. It was like, yeah. but I love a cheesy movie. So I would also yeah. I would also go for a cheesy movie.
Laura: Like romantic comedy?
Elsie: Yeah, and just like I just love, like the 90s era, like the Tom Hanks type of movies, like we recently watched, You’ve Got Mail and things like that. That’s definitely like a good thing to cry to for me. But I agree with you. Cry — a crying release. It’s like physically healthy for my body. Yeah. Like feel the tension leaving. So yeah. OK, so if you’re doing a major renovation, the most important thing that I want you to remember is that it will end someday. Someday you’ll wake up and you’ll use the sink in your kitchen and you won’t even remember a time when you didn’t have one. So it’s I think just keep going, except for when you need a break really bad and then don’t keep going. I think just get through it and take care of yourself, like prioritize your health, especially your emotional health and your family time, you know, because that was the other thing about like taking a break that made me feel a lot was like, if I keep going at this speed, I could have spent like our daughter’s whole childhoods just renovating, which it’s not that that’s like all that we do, but it’s a big part of what occupies my space and my priorities and my just — my fantasies and just everything. So…
Laura: Yeah, and it’s very different. Like where you are in life and renovating I think can be very different because I’ve renovated a house when my husband was touring full time and traveling 10 months out of the year.
Elsie: That’s when I fell in love with you!
Laura: It’s true. You did. I don’t even know it’s happening. But it was and that like, it was such hard work and it was the same low in the low spot. But having that project, like, saved me at a time when, like, you know, I was lonely, my husband was gone. I just needed something to do. I needed a big project. And that was great for me to have. But it was different now from having little kids around. And I don’t want to spend like her whole childhood saying, like in ten minutes, I have to sand this, you know, so you kind of have to balance where you are with your own life. And if you can spend all your energy for longer or if you need to kind of chop it up into smaller pieces based on your family and what’s going on. So no one size fits all!
Elsie: Yes, definitely. I hope that these tips were helpful. If you’re renovating, just know that it’s…you have to take care of yourself. You’re the only one who can do that. So always make yourself a big priority in your renovation. Thank you so much for listening. So Emma will be back next month, so it’s a good time to start leaving us hotline calls for Emma and I again, we’ll be doing those soon. The hotline number is 417-893-0011. And you can also email us if you’d rather not leave a voice message. I get it. I used to hate my own voice until I did a podcast. Now I don’t care. (laughs) Our email is Podcast@abeautifulmess.com. We’ll see you next week.