After a few years of discussing, researching (exclusively on the part of my husband), and complaining (exclusively on the part of me) that we were outgrowing our space, we recently started a home renovation project. The house that we purchased nearly seven years ago that, at the time, seemed downright spacious after decades of apartment living, had started to feel cramped and insufficient for our family right around the time that the pandemic started. When we bought it in 2016, we had a toddler and a baby on the way. Now, there are four people sharing one bathroom, and half of them are still working on their aim. It was time.
Although I am completely uninterested in picking tiles, choosing doorknobs, and deciding which one of the 50 shades of gray carpet feels both soft and durable, I am fascinated by the renovation process. As a society, we are obsessed with quick fixes, before and after pictures, and makeover shows that overhaul a space -- or a person! -- in less than 30 minutes. We want to believe that transformation is not only possible, but easily within our grasp. It gives us hope. It allows us to dream.
But, the truthy truth is that there is nothing glamorous when it comes to making a major change. In fact, do you want to know what the first sign of construction was at our house?
A porta-potty appeared in our driveway a few days before the crew even began their work, followed in short order by a large dumpster. Only the kids were thrilled.
I should mention that this “first” step of the project only came about after many, many, many months of exploring, planning, saving, consulting, deliberating, researching, contracting, waiting, designing, checking, double-checking, permitting, triple-checking, resubmitting, waiting, inquiring, nudging, cajoling, and then waiting some more.
When the big day finally arrived for the actual work to begin, I was fully expecting the crew to break through the walls where the addition was slated to go. Instead, they spent the first few days creating a pathway from the street to make it easier to shuttle their supplies followed by tunneling trenches in the backyard. I was struck by how they needed to clear away the obstacles, dig deep, and make space before even attempting to build anything new.
It took another week to create the framework, pour the concrete, and let it dry. Because we live next to a trail and they couldn’t access our backyard with trucks or heavy machinery, the crew had to mix the cement by hand. This step was both labor-intensive and time-consuming. Even though it looked to us on the outside as though nothing was really happening, the contractor explained that it takes a long time for the foundation to settle. There was no point in trying to build on it prematurely; rushing into the next step before it was fully ready would be a disaster. I understood what he meant.
For a project that is estimated to take seven to eight weeks (I’m releasing expectations and saying ten to twelve), we were more than 25% of the way in before they even touched the existing structure. The contractor informed us that it was time to clear out the rooms that would be most impacted by the construction and take down any valuables from the walls and cabinets. Sh*t was about to get real.
Much to my children’s extreme disappointment, the team didn’t use a wrecking ball to demolish the old sunroom in one fell swoop; they dismantled it piece by piece, strategically and cautiously, so as not to disrupt the existing components that we were still actively using. In doing so, they found an original inspection certificate from 1978, the last time an addition had been put on this house, and, coincidentally, the year of my birth. What a reminder that we often unearth pieces of the past as we engage in the hard work of making a change for the future. Evidently, that piece of paper had been there all along; it was just hidden and kept out of sight until we stripped away the layers to uncover it. I wondered if that family in 1978 also felt as though they had outgrown their space, and if, someday, the next owners would feel the same way.
One aspect of the building process that I did not know beforehand, but am obsessed with now is that a site inspector from the county has to sign off on each stage of the process. Their role is to ensure that everything is up to code and that the work is safe and sound before the crew can transition to the next phase. Although this undoubtedly slows things down (a challenge for this efficiency gal), what a great message about the importance of pushing pause, checking in, and making sure that things are on track at every step of the way. Reflection and revision are literally built into the process (pun 100% intended).
As of this writing, we are about halfway (?) through the renovation and my takeaway is this: change is super messy. Our backyard, front yard, and driveway have tools, materials, and equipment everywhere. The dumpster is overflowing (though, thankfully, the porta-potty is not). There are non-descript holes in the ground and a tarp where our sunroom used to be. Our great room is boarded up with plywood where a wall once stood. All of the windows in our living room have been removed so the space feels small and dark. My home office, which was already moonlighting as a guest room, is now the temporary bedroom for my younger son and a makeshift storage facility. For the time being, I am commuting to a desk at a WeWork location so that I can have a quiet space for my calls with clients. There is currently a couch in our dining room and a recliner in our kitchen. The kids are using an empty bedroom as an indoor basketball court.
Everything is out of place, out of sorts, and out of whack. Our household feels even more chaotic than usual and, with so much more work yet to be done, it’s really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
And, that’s when the doubts start to creep in: why did we think this was a good idea?
The timing is not ideal; we should have waited until the spring.
What if we go through all of this (money, effort, time, inconvenience, more money) and are not happy with the results?
Is it even going to be worth it?
To be continued…
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