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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?