Blog post

When your Home’s Needs Exceed your Budget

April 24, 2018

I fantasize about being able to take perfect care of our modest, 128-year old home. Nothing extravagant—just TLC. Install a flawless new roof when it needs one. Repair and refinish every inch of wood flooring. Replenish the glazing putty and restore the weights in the lovely old windows that no longer hold in place once opened (those that don’t open at all are yet another project). Etc.

If you have an old home, you know the list is endless. In fact, if you have any home, you may often find yourself wishing you had deeper pockets for home maintenance. Not having that endless supply of funds, I look for ways to come to terms with it.

There are three things I do when I’m feeling discouraged about home repairs: I reach deep for gratitude, I make lists (books full of them), and, most importantly, I get busy doing what I can.

Gratitude

The first thing I do when I find myself feeling bogged down by my inadequacy when it comes to home maintenance is to boost my gratitude. I know, gratitude is a popular antidote these days. But for good reason.

In this case, reminding myself that I am blessed to live in a beautiful—if in need of repair—old home quickly settles the dissatisfaction. She’s solid and charming, welcoming to family and friends. She hosts dinners and celebrations galore, both indoors and out, on wrap-around porches and tables in the garden. These are my lucky specifics, but if I lived in a small apartment, I imagine I’d be grateful for the coziness, warmth and safety it provided.

Gratitude for what I have in our family home magnifies all that’s good in it and minimizes what’s lacking. When it comes to home improvements, gratitude feeds my patience.

List Making

When I’m troubled or overwhelmed or confused, I sit down with a pencil (I love sharp pencils with clean erasers) and paper. And I start making lists—of what’s wrong, of what needs to be done, of options, etc. I also have running lists of to dos, including one exclusively for home maintenance.

Actually, I have an entire notebook dedicated to house needs. In it goes everything from “Stock up on furnace filters” to “Get quotes for porch repair.” Somehow, once I’ve written an entry for a household need in my yellow notebook (whether or not I’m able to meet that need in the near future), I feel a bit less negligent.

When I make that entry, I’m acknowledging the necessity for upkeep, I’m prioritizing it on my list, and I may also even make some hard plans for doing something about it (even if it’s a baby step, like “research the best porch floor paint”). And, because it’s super satisfying to check things off this list—which, eventually, happens—I add a nice, big, blank box for checking next to each to do!

Doing What I Can

Doing what I can usually involves thorough cleaning (and repair that’s within my limited repertoire), a good dose of problem solving, and abundant creativity.

So, I can’t refinish the wood floor in the kitchen right now. I can clean and polish it, though. And maybe add a runner in front of the sink to protect it from further damage. And while hiring someone with “This-Old-House” expertise to fix the window weights isn’t in the cards, I was able to find some charming wood window sticks (with steps to hold the window open in different positions—from cracked to all the way open).

When I think a room looks tired (and I wish I could do a complete makeover!), I challenge myself to first do everything I can do to improve the room without spending a dime. I’ll spackle nicks in the walls and touch up the paint, polish the floors, repair tears in curtain hems (which I’ll also wash and iron), and get the windows squeaky clean. I’ll polish wood baseboards and clean light fixtures, plants, bedding, and mirrors.

Then, if it’s in the budget, I’ll gift the space with a new throw or pillow (extra credit if I can make something from fabric on hand), some flowers, or even a new piece of furniture (and by “new” I probably mean “used” but new to the room). If it’s not in the budget to spend anything, I still feel loads better about the room at this point.

I apply this same approach outdoors, where a little TLC—without expense—can greatly improve an exterior. Despite a sagging porch or peeling paint, a home presents itself in an entirely different light when the yard is maintained, the trash cans are tucked away, the porch is swept, and the glass in the front door is gleaming. No matter where it’s located, when the owner has also fashioned a wreath for the door or some potted plants for the steps, well—hello kindred spirit!

Doing what I can also gives me an opportunity to be creative. I love designing room makeovers, complete with mood boards. Usually my means don’t quite allow for completion of the dream room (do you, like me, have expensive taste?), but those boards are great fun and helpful, too. (Pinterest boards are terrific for this, though I prefer something tangible to hang in my workroom—with actual fabric swatches I can handle and paint swatches with guaranteed color accuracy.) A mood board might dictate the feel of a room, or the color scheme, for example, if not the details for accessorizing.

When I couldn’t purchase a piece of original artwork for a large living room wall, I used little, sample pots of paint to brush large swatches of color across the expanse. (It was an actual motif: the I Ching hexagram “Grace.”) The colors were taken from the mood board I’d created for the room.

I’ve purchased countless pieces from Goodwill and Craigslist and given them new life with a coat of paint. Or I’ve loved them as is—we definitely embrace the wabi-sabi in our home. (More about that in a future post!) Being resourceful and creative doesn’t ever feel like settling. In fact, being creative in lieu of purchasing the perfect item can bring depth and personality to a room—and satisfaction to the soul.

There’s a lot to be said for taking loving care as best we can. And when we’re doing the best we can while appreciating all that we have, there’s not much room left for dragging on about what’s left undone on that household maintenance list.

Do you get discouraged by all that needs doing in your home? What do you do about it?

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