The Remodel Doughnut

I’ve been thinking a lot about our remodel a lot this summer. July, in particular, was full of reminders. On the Fourth of July last year, we moved into our bedroom and fell asleep to the sound of fireworks. Going to Tahoe this year reminded me of the conversation I had with our contractor as we were packing up for the lake last year.  We came home from Tahoe last July to a mostly finished kitchen and finally (eight weeks late, but who’s counting?) got to start seriously unpacking.

With a little distance from the remodel, I’ve been able to think about why I’d struggled so much with it (and to write about it without getting furious). The clearest (or the least emotional) illustration of why our remodel was a struggle for me is this image of where we spent our money last June and July.

june-july-mintThe plain-part of the doughnut shows what portion of our income was spent on the house. This includes remodel costs, mortgage payments, and HOA dues. The two little bands in the upper quadrant is everything else. This image quantified something that I’d often felt — and resented — about the remodel: it outweighed everything else. Although the image looks only at our finances, it could just as easily be a picture of where our heads were last summer or what we spent our time on. And to me, this isn’t a picture of a healthy mind or a full and varied life.

The doughnut doesn’t show all the other things that often competed for our time and attention during the remodel. It doesn’t show that I was taking the last editing classes I needed to finish the U.C. Berkeley extension Professional Sequence in Editing. It doesn’t show how Mr. WholeHog and I were trying to deal with his work schedule, which gave him more time to help with the remodel (and helped us afford it), but left us with no time off together. It doesn’t show the HOA drama we dealt with last summer when one owner sold their unit and moved out without fully paying their HOA costs.

And I don’t want to downplay what the doughnut does show: the financial side of the remodel. I’d never spent so much money so quickly and I found it really scary. About month into our remodel, I wrote that remodeling was like wedding planning. It turned out to be the equivalent of planning and paying for a wedding every month. (I’ll take a moment to let that sink in  — and if you just ran screaming from the room, I don’t blame you at all). While I feel happy when I spend money at the farmers market or when I’m booking a trip, spending money on a faucet or a sink did absolutely nothing for me. It felt like money that we’d misplaced somewhere. “What happened to that $200? Oh right, we bought….a sink.”

For me, the time and financial side of remodeling was a constant source of stress. In hindsight, we should have budgeted twice as much money and twice as much time, but we didn’t have that sort of money or time. We did it the only way we felt we could, and the best thing I can say about it is that we don’t have to do it again anytime soon. (And yet, when I look at homes for sale, I realize that chances are, we will end up doing a remodel again at some point. So many homes need some sort of updating.)

I have friends who hope to eventually remodel their homes and I try not to be too negative about our remodel around them. I remind them that there are some nutjobs people who like remodeling. My father-in-law, for example, seems happiest when he’s in the midst of a major overhaul. He says he makes learns something new every time and that every new remodel is an opportunity to re-do or perfect something he tried the time before.

I learned that I am really not one of those people who enjoys going through a remodel. (For me, the parts of the remodel that weren’t stressful were terribly boring. See: light switches, grout colors, trim.) But the remodel did make me realize how much is possible, and even now, I’ll still catch myself at times, thinking, “well if we’ll just remove part of this wall…” or “In a few years, maybe we’ll build out the attic”.


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