how I manage home decorating/renovation projects

Marian ParsonsAll Things Home, Decorating, home improvement23 Comments

A few weeks ago, I received this e-mail from a reader and I thought I would share it along with the answer to how I manage my home renovation projects.  Here is an excerpt from the e-mail…

“I know you’re extremely busy, but if you haven’t already done so, I would really love to see a blog post on how you arrive at your project list(s).  Do you sit in a room and add everything that ever needs to be done, and then add more as things come up?  Or do you just start a running list as ideas come to you?  Do you keep track by project (i.e., everything that needs to be painted), or by room?  How do you decide what gets moved up and down on the list?  How do you resolve competing priorities for projects including decisions re: resources (money, time, motivation)?”

Now that I have shared I was working on a book, the flurry of projects over the summer probably makes more sense!  I didn’t just have a bee in my bonnet to get projects done, but I had actual deadlines and an incentive to start and finish projects that I’ve been considering for a while.  That included our bathroom renovation, sewing room makeover, installing and refinishing hardwood floors, building & installing beams in the living room, painting the fireplace surround, hanging paper in the 1/2 bathroom, and adding more character to my home office.  It was a lot more than I would typically tackle at one time, but I worked on the projects systematically and got it all done!

Before I dive into some practical tips, I want to offer some perspective and, hopefully, some encouragement.  I have been working on my home for years as a part of my job…for books, for the blog, for freelance articles, and sponsorships.  I am literally paid to work on my house.  So, please don’t look at all of the projects I complete in a year (or any other home blogger for that matter) and feel like you’re not getting things done fast enough.  It’s not a fair comparison and I can completely understand how it can be discouraging.  Take the ideas that serve and inspire you and make them work on your own timetable and budget.  It’s not a race or a competition.

dining room makeover progress | miss mustard seed

dining room makeover

Set priorities

I think this is the best advice I can give if you’re not sure where to start or you find yourself scattered and distracted.  Priorities are always going to help you manage your home projects with more efficiency and purpose.  As I was planning out projects that would be photographed or featured in the book, I made sure to focus on the things that truly were the priority and would make the biggest impact.  This would prevent me from getting lost on sewing pillows or cleaning out a closet when I really needed to be caulking and painting the beams or hanging fabric in the sewing room.

Real-life deadlines might include company coming over, hosting an event, or starting to telecommute or homeschool.  When you need to focus on a quiet, efficient workspace it is counterproductive to start ripping out the tile in your half bathroom!

refinishing wood kitchen floors | miss mustard seed

Set a reasonable budget with a buffer for unexpected expenses

There are few things that are more stressful and can suck the joy out of giving a room a makeover than racking up debt and going over budget.  For most decorating projects and room renovations, I would suggest saving the money for the projects up front with a little buffer for unexpected expenses.  (There are always unexpected expenses that pop-up as you manage home projects!)  This might mean that you have to make do for a while, but the rewards of paying cash are worth it!  I think cash holds you accountable when you manage a home project more than a credit card would.  If the cash is running out for that project, you’re going to have to get creative!

Budgets can be frustrating.  I mean, who wouldn’t want a completely unlimited budget for a home project?  But budgets can force you to get creative, which can yield wonderful results.

installing bead board | laundry room makeover | farmhouse style | miss mustard seed

laundry room makeover

Be realistic about what you can do yourself and what needs to be hired out

I am such a DIYer at heart that it’s hard for me to hire projects out, but I’ve learned over the years that it’s sometimes best to spend the money to pay the professionals.  When weighing out what to do ourselves and what to hire out, I look at the tools and expertise required, the labor involved, and the time commitment for the project as well as other commitments happening in my life.  I also try to break the project down to see if it makes sense to do some of the work ourselves to save some money.  We’ll often do the demo work before bringing in the professionals or we’ll take care of the finishing touches – installing the baseboards and quarter round, painting, etc.

Focus on one thing at a time, if you can!

In the three years that we’ve lived here in MN, I’ve learned that we end up doing several projects during the summer, simply because the weather is nice.  We can work outside, open windows for ventilation, etc.  The days are also longer, so it seems to spur on the activity.  This summer, I had to manage multiple projects in order to meet my deadline for the book manuscript.  That might be the case for you if you’re getting a house ready to sell, finishing up projects before the holidays, etc.  What I tried to do was pair like projects together.  If I had several sewing projects for several different rooms, I would group them all together into one or two large sewing days.  I grouped painting and woodworking projects together.  While the brushes and rollers are out or the miter saw is set up, let’s just get it all done!

The ideal scenario, though, is to focus on one project at a time and not start the next project until the one you’re working on is complete.  I know all too well that decorating and renovations are like dominoes and one thing just leads to another!

staircase makeover from carpet to wood | miss mustard seed

finished staircase reveal

Make sure you understand the order of work

If you have long term plans for renovating a room, make sure you understand the order the projects should happen in.  It is so frustrating to install tile and learn you should’ve had your door replaced first (because the trim has to be removed and it butts up against the tile!)  It’s tempting to knock things out that you can do yourself, but it might end up causing issues down the road or what you’ve done will have to be undone for a future project.  I’m all in favor of making things look good until you have the time and money to do the big project, but make sure you’re not spending too much time and money on something that will ultimately cause issues or have to be ripped out.  That’s frustrating.

starching fabric to a wall | miss mustard seed

hanging fabric in the sewing room | fabric source

Be patient & particular

My tendency is to want to rush to the finish line.  Done is better than perfect!  That does mean I get projects done efficiently, but it can also mean I have regrets along the way.  When you’re working on a big renovation, especially when you’re dealing with things that are semi-permanent like kitchen cabinets, flooring, tile, etc., be particular!  Take the time to really think about what you want and don’t feel pressure to move on it until you’re ready.  It can cause painful delays and be annoying in the short-term, but in the long-term, you’ll be glad that you took the time to get it right.

When we were deep into the ensuite bathroom renovation, my tile installer pointed out that the boxes for the lights didn’t line up with the faucets.  I already had an electrician come out to move the boxes up to accommodate the new light fixtures and mirrors, but I didn’t even think to check that they were centered over the sinks (and neither did the electrician.)  We were about ready to put marble over the entire wall, so it needed to be right.  As much as I hated to pause the project to get the electrician to fix it, it was worth paying attention to the details.

patio makeover before & after | miss mustard seed

patio makeover

Fully complete a project before checking it off the list

I know I’m not the only one who lets the finishing details of a project languish for years!  Unhemmed curtains, floors without quarter round installed, trim that isn’t painted…  I have learned that to manage a home project properly is to not check it off as done until it’s completely done.  In the past, I’ve scheduled an “annoying project day” (you can read about those HERE) to get all of those hanging threads tied up, but I now try to get them all done while I’m in project mode!  It does take a little added discipline to keep going when you’re tired and weary of a project, but it is worth it to know that the project can be emphatically checked off the list.

I hope this post gave you a little peek into how I manage my home projects and hopefully a little encouragement for when you’re tackling your own!

What home projects are you working on right now?

how I manage home decorating/renovation projects

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23 Comments on “how I manage home decorating/renovation projects”

    1. I actually don’t have any going on right now, either! We just finished a bunch and I’m taking a break…just working on organizing, small projects like painting and crochet, and then I’ll be getting ready for Christmas.

  1. I feel like I could have written your post! We bought our house 7 years ago, it was original to 1969, no real old-home charm or character, and we completely gutted the entire thing and DIY’d the entire renovation… your last tip about just persevering through that ‘last 10%’ as I call it is SO WORTH IT.

    I wanted to mention that I so appreciate that while your job is working on your home, u like so many decor blogs, you never seem to do any sort of project simply because a sponsor approached you, or because you’re endlessly keeping up with trends. I’m tired of seeing so many IG accounts I followed for their esthetic 2 years ago turning into completely different homes because they are working and re-working the same spaces every few months. I have loved watching both of your homes evolve as they go, and all along the way, you have always stayed true to your style and stuck with what you love instead of what’s trending. Thank you for that!

    I am so excited for your book, and congratulations!!

  2. Thank you for starting off setting perspective and offering encouragement as to the pace of getting projects completed in our homes. I have always admired your ability to complete projects and did wonder this past summer if you had a bee in your bonnet! Looking forward to your new book. Congrats!

    1. Thanks for this post! And the reminder that working on your home is your job :). I feel a little overwhelmed with all you do compared to what I do.
      Unrelated question –I am planning on applying gold leaf to a frame and read your previous posts on the process. Do you ever put a protective coat on your frames when you finish? (I was afraid it I commented on those posts you’d never see it. Do you see comments on old posts?)
      Thanks!

  3. “Annoying projects day” 🙂 We definitely need to have that day on the schedule at our house! Our next big project is our bathroom — gutting it! Short term, I’d like to get my foyer finished and papered.

  4. We are sort of being forced into a couple projects! A leaking water heater now means we had to tear out drywall and trim in our laundry room! Our kitchen Renovation (new cabinets and counters) has been half done for about 4 months. Just waiting for some family to visit to help us finish.

    1. ugh, I was sitting at my computer the last day of December and heart a loud noise all of a sudden! The pipe from the toilet to the wall had burst! You would not believe the amount of damage that happened. and, one thing led to another!

  5. Thanks for reminding us that you are in business as a professional designer, contractor and skilled laborer that works on your home and shares that knowledge and experience on your blog. We can see that you are passionate about your work and enjoy. Thank you for the inspiration and good advice.

  6. I love all of your good tips and can’t wait for the book to see all the finished surprises.

  7. Almost two years ago we went away for a month and had our kitchen and master bathroom redone. Yes we have a valued contractor (also he is an employee) so we felt comfortable leaving him in charge. Ofcourse with the internet it is the icing on the cake about keeping in touch nd top of things.

    I think the important thing is to get all of your supplies including fixtures assembled before you start, Our livingroom
    looked like an extension of Home Depot. If you re DYI don’t go off in ten different directions. finish what you start. I cant tell you how many homes i have been into and this is the result.

    We are very happy with the results………..M.

  8. I recently went through each room and made a list of what needed to be done after the wood flooring was laid throughout our whole house. I will chip away as I can. We have been here 8 years and still have major projects that need to be done. They will get done according to priority and budget – and that’s ok. I follow several decor accounts on IG . I can see where you constantly have to redecorate just to keep up, or you have to buy/flip in order to have a project. It’s competitive, but it’s also not realistic for followers. I think we need to realize that and just follow for the inspiration. Thank you for the points you made about what we see online. I love following you because you continue to stay true to your design and offer content that is inspiring.

  9. One of the first thing I noticed about the ensuite bathroom is that the lights are not centered over the sinks. It bugged me then and still bugs me. Need to get that taken care of!

    When I moved back to my hometown, I rented for a couple of years, then bought a house. I used HomeAdvisor to find someone to help with small projects – imagine my surprise when the 2nd contact they sent me said he already knew me as we had gone to High School together! It’s so nice to have someone that can help me “putter” that I can trust.

  10. Remember that movie The Money Pit? Seems like crisis management around here with a hundred year old fixer upper but your projects list always keeps our noses to the grindstone. Thank you for all your inspiration that certainly motivates us. Love the annoying project day! I am too often motivated by what I “want to do” not “what needs to get finished”. Cannot wait for the book!

  11. Marian I can’t wait until your book is on the shelves. Just a quick question that has been in my mind every time I see your kitchen….I love those brass bells you have by your sliding door. May I ask where you purchased them? Thank you so much!

  12. I am gearing up to gut my master bathroom/guest bathroom. Been searching through blogs, IG, and Pinterest and still can’t make up my mind. I even shopped for floor & wall tile and still it hasn’t hit me. I’d like to find an antique dresser and have it made into a vanity but I’d need it 60″ long and that length is very difficult to find. Normally I would go antique shopping at the Pasadena Rose Bowl but it’s closed due to Covid restrictions so I might have to get a cabinet maker to make it.

  13. Pingback: Saturday Seven 153 Inspiration for Quilters | A Quilting Life

  14. Relandscaping the front yard. We’ve been talking to landscapers off and on for the last 2-3 years (the onset of Covid was the last thing that shut us down!), mainly because we are working around some problems caused by the neighbors trees. Love the trees, but not the roots! Anyhow, while it’s been frustrating to have it drag on this long, I realized that we’ve learned a little more with each person we’ve talked to and clarified our design, goals and budget along the way. For us, we needed that education on such a big ticket project…not wasted time at all!

  15. When i first saw your transformed patio my first thought was the underside of the stairs needed to be covered in ship lap. Not only would it have a more finished look, it would offer another area to decorate…….

    1. yes, those stairs are an eyesore, but we need to completely replace them. They are rotting and leaning heavily to the right. We’re hoping to redo the deck next summer and that will include the stairs.

  16. Hi Marian, this was a great post! We’re starting to get our house ready to sell, so I can relate to this. I don’t remember seeing a post about building and installing beams in the living room…did I miss it? I did a search, but couldn’t find it. Anyway, I would be interested in knowing how you did that!

  17. Thank you for writing this Marian. As I struggle through completing my projects I find myself constantly skipping from one to the next or doing none at all because I can’t make decisions on how to proceed. I sometimes skip them all together and opt to take a ride to Hobby Lobby or target because I find that relaxing and enjoyable. Unfortunately I sometimes come home with another project.
    So you writing this has inspired me to get my act together. Focus on one project at a time and finish it before moving on to the next. Start with something that will make an impact and make me smile every day. Your advice is priceless and so appreciated! It’s a game changer for me! Thanks dear Instagram friend!💕

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