Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Surviving house renovations: Things that make living on a building site a tiny bit more enjoyable

We have moved into our first house a year ago. After a year and a half of 3h daily commute, we wanted a house within a walking distance of work, and the only way we could afford one in the area we liked was to buy a house that needed a lot of work done. A LOT of work.. We thought it would not be such a huge issue, as my dad is a builder and was willing to help us renovate the house. We were 100% sure it would be all done and dusted within 6 months, 1 year max if things did not go to plan.

Well let me tell you: it's been a year and we barely scratched the surface! Between my dad being very ill for long periods of time, him having crazy work schedule,  less-than-reliable local tradesmen, us having no clue about renovations, and just generally all the surprises that a 125 year old house has to offer, we are still living on a building site! But after a year of such experience I have realised a few things that can help endure it.

Concentrate on one space at a time. 

  • Even though building-wise it is not very time efficient, this approach leads to having at least one space completely finished before the rest of the house becomes habitable. Unfortunately for us we had to do a lot of work on the roof and the loft before we could move on to spaces one can live in, but once our spare  bedroom was completed bar a few details (like skirting boards and the last layer of paint), it finally became so much more manageable to tolerate the building site in the rest of the house. 
  • I think having at least one room finished allows two things: first, it can serve as a space to escape from all the tools and materials and general crappyness scattered all over the place; and second, it serves as a reminder of why we are doing this. Since our renovations have dragged on for so long, a lot of the time we are wondering: why did we take this on? why didn't we just buy a nicer house that didn't need that much work? But once you see  something finished, you know it is all worth it in the end. 
  • And a minor third reason - furniture. We only had the bare necessities when it came to furniture during the process, e.g. our bedroom only had a bed and 2 cheap small chests of drawers. We always planned to buy all the furniture we needed once the rooms were finished. As we started with bedrooms, I cannot find the words to express how much sanity can be brought to ones life by a wardrobe! 
Keep the building stuff contained. 
  • If there is a space that can be used as a storage room and closed off so it is never visible - do it. We use our front living room for this, so all the building stuff is piled in there. Out of sight, out of mind! 
Keep the house tidy.
  • This is the part that I struggle the most with myself. It is very hard to motivate yourself to clean the house when all of it is such a mess anyway. So it is very easy to go for a week.. then another week.. then two more weeks.. without cleaning up anything. And when we stop tidying up, our mental state gets much worse. Even though the paint is peeling, the floorboards are coming up, the stair banisters are half-destroyed, and electric wires are hanging out of bare walls (not live, don't worry!), it just feels so much better when the surfaces are dusted, the floors are squeaky clean, the dining table is not hidden underneath 2 feet worth of papers and booklets and invoices, and the bathroom walls are not covered in mould. The clean smell of disinfectant spray and bleach can definitely lifts the spirits!
Fill the house with things that make you happy.

  • For me this generally means flowers. Fresh flowers add so much warmth and happiness to a place that it's impossible to feel sad about my living conditions when I see flowers everywhere I turn in the house. I always have a bouquet on my dressing table and another on the dining table. 

  • Another thing that brought a lot of joy and happiness to our house was adopting a cat! We did not want to adopt one before we finished all the renovations, but come last September we were suddenly aware that the renovations will not be finished for a very long time, and I was dying to have a creature of my own to love! So we adopted a cat from Cats Protection, and she is the sweetest girl ever. Because she is already 9 years old and had a family before, she is never bothered by any housework-related noise. Our adorable cat is the best thing that happened to us last year, and she makes our crappy house truly a home. A crappy home, but at least one that I now enjoy to live in!

Remember that it will not last forever. 
  • Even if sometimes it seems like it will go on forever, it is useful to remember that one day, maybe a bit further away in the future than we imagined, the renovations will be done. The walls will be replastered and painted, the kitchen and bathroom will be relocated, the windows and wiring will be replaced, and then the only thing to worry about will be cushions and drapes and flower pots. And these are all happy worries!
I hope this is of any help to someone. Tackling full on renovations is never easy, especially when doing graduate degrees and planning a wedding. But if we - probably the most unorganised people - can manage, so can everyone else. And it all is going to be worth it in the end!