I still remember the night we decided to go back and buy our old, beloved rental home. We were living at my grandpa’s house at the time, a newborn daughter sleeping in the nursery down the hall. We’d left that rental house about a year ago when my grandpa passed away and his sweet little ranch home suddenly became available to us, rent-free.
The day we’d packed up our things and headed for his house, I spent hours cleaning. I scrubbed every inch of that rental and cried almost the entire time. It was our first real home. We’d spent a bulk of our newlywed life there and made so many memories it broke my heart to leave it. At the time, we thought we were going to build near my parents’ property. So, when the chance came to save a little bit of money and live in a family home for a little while, we knew we couldn’t pass that offer up.
Still, I’d made my mark on that little brick cottage by the road, and leaving it made my heart sink. I’d burnt pies in the kitchen and planted vegetables in the dirt. I’d collected a ton of thrift store artwork and turned the bare, planked walls into galleries of needlepoint. I’d made lace curtains from pillowcases to hide the laundry room cabinet and I’d spent countless nights on the linoleum living room floor coaxing our little dog to eat.
But one cold autumn day in 2014, I packed everything we owned into my little Honda and we headed about two miles down the road to start again. I’d drive by our old home to go to work, and I’d see the bushes that needed trimming, and the paint that needed washing. I’d see myself sitting on the side porch, and tending to the garden. I wanted it back, and badly.
We went to the owners (our former landlords) one night and made our proposition. We were interested in buying the house and the surrounding four acres it sat on. It was her grandfather’s house, and she was delighted that we wanted to save it.
What happened next can only be described as two really long, hard and beautiful years. We raised a toddler, completely tore the house down to the studs, took down walls, and rebuilt it from scratch. We removed the threat of asbestos lying under the living room floor and replaced every single window. Oh, and about halfway through the project, we found out we were expecting another baby!
The process was difficult and there were many days when I just wanted to scratch the whole plan and go buy a tract home in an established neighborhood and call it a dang day. But in the end? It was more than worth it.
The house from being a tiny, 1950s bungalow with small, separated rooms to an open-concept dream home with an entirely new upper level, complete with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. We also finished off the basement, making it a three-story house. We’ve been in it for almost three years and it still hasn’t lost an ounce of its magic.
Just last night, I turned to my husband and said, “You know, this house has never given me a single bad day. There’s never been any bad day that I can blame on this place.” We’re one mile from my sister and brother and about two miles from my parents. We can walk to church and our backyard is covered with pecan trees, blueberry bushes that tower over our heads, and muscadine vines that drop sweet grapes in October.
There were many lessons I learned along the way before I got to this point. One is that there are approximately 1.2 million different shades of white paint and it’s entirely possible (and permissible) to have a breakdown in Lowe’s at 2:00 in the afternoon because you’re surrounded by different carpet types and your toddler just wants to get down from the cart and run.
Here are a few more ways I found to keep my sanity:
1. Focus on the future.
On the days that the remodel got really hard, I’d take my daughter in the stroller and walk to see the progress on the house. At first, I’d get really overwhelmed at what wasn’t happening, and why the progress was so slow moving. But then, one afternoon, all of that changed. I sat with her in the backyard and ate an ice cream sandwich.
I pictured her running back there when she was 10, and swinging on a tire swing from the back woods. I thought about how her bedroom would look and where she’d lay her head at night. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that the drywall wasn’t up yet or that the cabinet doors were still off the hinges. I could already see everything in my head, and that was enough.
2. Find fun ways to save.
Most big family projects will require a significant amount of capital to fund. In fact, average home remodel costs span upward of $10,000 or more depending on what you’re doing. In our case, that number was much higher, as in, move the comma one place to the right higher. That said, we were living on my husband’s income alone. At the time, I was a new mom and I’d left my full-time job to stay home with my daughter. He was crawling under houses and fixing leaky pipes for a living. We were hard-pressed, and money was extraordinarily tight. Still, we made it work, mainly by drastically cutting our spending wherever we could.
We didn’t just go out and cut cable and start eating cans of beans. Rather, we found really fun ways to save. We went to every free family community event possible. We found inexpensive recipes that everyone could help make. We ate out only once a week and made it really special for our daughter. Thankfully, her idea of fine dining is the pizza joint down the road! So get creative and think frugal, but don’t be afraid to throw a little fun into the mix.
3. Celebrate every little thing.
This one was major for me. Especially in a home remodel, you can go insane if you don’t see updates happening. I worked with an incredible contractor, who had new awards highlighted every year and a client list five miles long. Not only was he super busy, he was also an avid hunter. He’d leave every November and spend a month hunting in Montana.
As you can imagine, there were plenty of days when I went over to see the guys and at first, it would look as if nothing had been done. But if I really looked around, I’d see tiny updates taking place all the time. The upstairs laundry chute was completed one afternoon. The television built-in was painted in the shade of white I’d finally decided on. The doorknobs were installed and the front door was stained.
We celebrated each one of those little changes as a really big deal. With every hardwood that was nailed down or every baseboard installed, we were one step closer to moving in, and that alone was reason to celebrate!
As you prepare to begin any major family project, know that you’re not alone. I’ve been there in the trenches, mama, and I know the toll it takes on you, your children, and your marriage. I can also tell you, as someone finally on the other side of a major upheaval, that if you do everything with love, it will be everything you dreamed of and more.
So swing that hammer and make those big plans. Your future awaits!