“I can’t spend another second in this dust-filled shell of a house! We’re staying in a hotel tonight, I’ve had it!’
This was a few years ago, during my first renovation project. We knocked through a wall to create an open-plan space between the living room and kitchen. Anyone who’s lived through a renovation has probably experienced a similar breaking point, especially if you’ve lived on site. Renovations are inherently stressful – and I’m certainly not going to be able to magically make the entire process as relaxing as going on a spa weekend. But I can give you a few key tips to help make sure there are more moments you enjoy than ones that make you want to run outside screaming.
1. Be Realistic with your budget.
The number one stressor in any project is usually budget. If you start out with a budget that requires you to cut corners and doesn’t have room for anything to go wrong, you’re signing up for an unpleasant reckoning – if not several. It is better to scale back your ambitions just a bit so you have funds available for contingencies when things do go wrong. This also will help make sure you don’t have to cut back elements of the design that you love while the work is going on and things are already tense.
2. Be realistic with your time.
Good planning can reduce delays, but most renovations have at least one thing come up that was unexpected and pushes things back. So if there are hard deadlines that can’t be moved (like a baby coming or a limit to how long you can stay at your parents) make sure you haven’t planned right up to the edge of the time available.
3. Don’t be in a rush to start.
Before you plunge headfirst into the building work, make sure you’ve lived in the house, or at least spent time thinking about how you will use the spaces. Really let the design settle in your imagination so you can figure out things that maybe won’t work as well in reality before they’re constructed and plastered and painted.
4. Bring decisions forward.
There are so many little decisions that have to be made – from the type of skirting board to the placement of electrical sockets to the design of windows. Some of these decisions might be made by a designer, architect or builder. But if you are doing more of the legwork on the design yourself, take time to go through the house and think about all of the little things – and big things – and choose them in advance. This will help when you are getting a quote for the building work because you have the exact specification so builders know what is required, and reduces the number of times you have to make a panicky decision while the builder is standing there waiting for you so they can get to work.
5. Get to know your builders
The tradespeople coming in and out of your house every day will have a huge impact on the outcome of your project – and your mental health. Offer them tea and biscuits and ask them how they are doing – treat them as an extension of your home rather than strangers traipsing through. They’ll be more motivated to work that extra little bit harder or think of creative solutions when problems come up, and you will all have a nicer time if you get along. Your renovation team is like any work environment – if you enjoy being around your co-workers, you’re likely to get more done and be happier while you do!
6. Remember the End Goal.
Why are you renovating? Is it to have a better space you can enjoy as a family? Is it to create somewhere you can relax? Is it to have a kitchen that you love using? Before the work starts, make sure it is clear for you, your partner, anyone living through the process with you, this is why you are going through this crazy time. That way when the inevitable tough decisions and dust-filled existence come, you can remember what you’re trying to achieve and focus on that, rather than the fact that you’re all sharing one bathroom or using the outdoor hose to wash your dishes.
7. Not all stress is bad stress.
I remember watching a TED talk by Kelly McGonigal who found that rather than stress itself causing harmful effects, it was the belief that stress could kill you that ended up damaging people’s health! There’s some nuance to that, but ultimately nothing truly special or worthwhile comes without a little bit of stress. So do what you can to limit the potential for stress in your renovation by watching the budget and doing your research and planning – but when it does get stressful, focus on finding ways to cope with the situation like planning time to get away from the work, using mindfulness practices, and making sure you have a support network in place to help keep you in a positive place.
After that day when I nearly lost it, the work started falling into place where I could see the shape of the house, there was a functioning kitchen, and the excitement of watching the design and plans come to life took over from the stress. Focus on what you are gaining with the renovation, and document the process so you can look back and remember where you’ve been, and enjoy living in the home you worked to create!