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Hold On to Your Sanity While Remodeling

By E. E. Kane

Remodeling a home has a way of pushing you to your limits. Whether you are doing the work yourself or have hired a contractor, life during renovations is hectic, full of important decisions, and exhausting. If you work full time, remodeling becomes your second full-time job. Certainly you will see the dividends in the end. Your home will increase in value, and you can enjoy the fresh new look. In the meantime, get a firm grip on your seat and put on your seatbelt; it's going to be a bumpy ride. The following is offered to give you the coping skills you will need.

1. Look for other lodgings.

Just for the sake of clarity, the following is based on the assumption that you are living in your home as it is being remodeled. Also assumed is that you have considered but cannot choose the option of living elsewhere during renovations, such as a posh hotel, resort, or club. Neither is a rented trailer or mobile home available to camp out in for the meantime. If it is, by all means take advantage of it, and make yourself more comfortable in your RV.

2. Organization, organization, organization.

If location is key for the real estate world, organization is key for remodeling. It is up to you to be organized; do not depend completely on a contractor for keeping track of everything. Keep copies of floor plans, receipts, contracts, permits, and anything else related to the remodel.

Organization of your belongings is second in importance, but will help save your sanity in the long run, especially in an extensive whole-house remodel. If necessary, pack unnecessary items in boxes and label them in detail. Store the boxes, and possibly furniture, by shifting them from room to room as you remodel, or rent a storage shed.

3. Create makeshift rooms.

Take away a homeowner's kitchen or bathroom, and the whole house feels handicapped. If your kitchen is being gutted and rebuilt, don't assume you will have to order carry-out the entire time. Choose another room in the house to set up what you need, camp style.


Use inexpensive metal shelves to store staples, canned goods, basic dishes, pots and pans. Cover your dishes with tea towels to protect them from dust and insects. Use a small side table to store your silverware, cooking utensils, towels, and boxes of foil, plastic and sandwich bags.

Your makeshift kitchen will also need a few small appliances: a microwave, toaster oven, and a one-eye electric burner. With the added help from a full size refrigerator somewhere on the property (if your camp kitchen has no room) and an outdoor grill, you can prepare simple, satisfying meals.

Are you washing dishes in the bath tub? Maybe it's a good source of hot water, but it's horrible on your back muscles. Instead, buy two large tubs (one for washing, one for rinsing), and set up a dish washing station on a waist-high surface, such as a folding table or chest freezer. Your back will thank you.


Even if you have super neighbors who allow you to use their showers, it will help your sanity to set up a makeshift bathroom.

First, designate a space and make it private with shower curtains, sheets or blankets. Then turn your attention to the toilet. It's a very necessary item, so don't skimp, but hopefully you will not have to use it for long. Happily, you can at least have a toilet even if the rest of your home is temporarily unplumbed. The first option is to rent an outdoor toilet, such as you might see on construction sites. You might also want temporary facilities indoors. Stores that specialize in camping equipment will have the best selections of port-a-potties. Visit a store that specializes in camping, and you can find a number of ideas to help you decide how you wish to set up your toilet facility.

If you do have a source of running water, your makeshift bathroom needs two more items: a large tub for taking baths, and a small basin for washing the face and hands. Put a carafe of warm water near the small basin, and stack clean towels and wash cloths nearby. Leave a laundry basket in the vicinity, as well as soaps and other items of the toilette, and you have a modestly comfortable (if somewhat old fashioned) bathroom.

4. Contain the dust.

A contractor will do his best to keep you comfortable, which includes draping plastic over doors to rooms in progress. Do the same if you are doing the handy work. Use protective covers for sensitive equipment like computers and entertainment systems. Check your central air conditioning unit's filter often; you will need to change it more frequently than normal. Vacuum around and inside registers and returns throughout the house. Whenever possible, open the windows to air out the house. A fan placed in the window facing out will help draw out dust and volatile chemicals lurking around from new materials like vinyl floors, paint, varnish or polyurethane.

Another important facet of remodeling is the cleanup involved. A contractor should agree to clean up any mess at the end of each day. If you are doing the work yourself, reserve at least 30 minutes to an hour, and enough energy, to clean and straighten up, before you stop for the night. A clean home and work area go a long way to preserving your sanity.

4. Prepare for battle with unwanted guests.

Most homeowners do not care to live with non-human or non-pet creatures. During extensive remodeling your home may experience a breach in your fortress. Mice and insects are experts at finding the tiniest holes and making themselves at home. If you suspect your home might be compromised for awhile, be ready with mouse traps and other lines of defense. Be careful with the use of poison if you have small children or pets. Also, be aware that some rodent poison blocks will only drive them into the walls of your home to die, where they will stink for about two weeks. Make your home as inhospitable as possible: put all foods in sturdy containers, the refrigerator or freezer. Wash dirty dishes after each meal. Put garbage in a covered bin. And to help you sleep better at night, if the infestation is mentionable, use a mosquito net over your bedding.

5. Be realistic about your goals and deadlines.

Anyone can suffer through a weekend-long project, but any serious remodel is going to take time. And it will likely take more time than you planned. Even contractors are notorious for being late, so do not make plans to host guests immediately after the deadline. What you can do is put a clause in the contract (before signing) that says the contractor will be penalized if he does not finish on time.

When the job is on your shoulders, expect it to take at least three times longer than you plan for. If your spouse is doing the remodeling, multiply by five. Real life interruptions will happen, as well as mistakes and unexpected disasters (such as finding out your foundation has termite damage). If you take on a Murphy's Law mindset and expect the worst, you will be better prepared to mentally face anything.

6. Obtain and use phone numbers.

Before you hire a contractor, check his reputation for availability. If references say he could not be reached easily, find someone who is. Don't waste the time of employees who are on the job by complaining about things unrelated to them. Go straight to the source.

When you are the project leader of your own home remodel, being the lone wolf is not necessarily the smartest way to operate. Many projects are dangerous to attempt without a supporting hand, and if you have the help of a true friend, the work seems to go faster. You might even persuade your friends to attend a party in which they are clearly aware that they will help you with a project. Wiring, painting, removing wallpaper, and other easy but labor-intensive tasks will go faster with help. Be sure to provide plenty of food and a festive atmosphere, and offer your sincere promise to return the favor.

7. When the going gets rough, get away for awhile.

Camping out in your own home gets old really fast. Attitude is everything. When the excitement of roasting marshmallows over the grill wears thin, as well as how nice your home will look some day (over the rainbow), it is time to take a break. Send the kids to their favorite aunt's house, and check yourselves in for a weekend at a bed-and-breakfast. Think about something else besides budgets, tile options and paint chips.

When remodeling your home, you can expect to be stressed, but you do not have to check into the psychiatry ward. Keep a cheerful attitude, and remember that this, too, shall pass. When it does, you can enjoy the rewards.