Tuesday, March 25, 2014


As a homeschooler and a WAHM, I spend a lot of time in my house. The truth is that, over the mearly two decades that we've lived here, we've grown into and out of our house. We started with bare walls and almost no furniture to fill the many rooms, and the house was just slightly bigger than we needed for the four of us and our twice-a-year houseguest.

Then, we added two more children, and our twice a year house guest became a permanent resident, and here we are, in a house that was just only barely slightly too big for four, almost bursting with seven (and, in fact, the ancient, made-for-two-people, septic system did burst under the pressure of serving seven full-time residents with a dishwasher and a washing machine - both of which were in pretty constant use).

We started with too little furniture and too small of a budget to furnish the house, and what happened over the many years was that we ended up filling the space with, mostly, found or donated or second-hand furniture, none of which was ever pre-considered or thoughtfully acquired. It was more like we answered an ad on Freecycle for a rocking chair, the color of which never matches what we already have. We bought a desk at a yard sale. We needed more bookshelves and bought unfinished ones (which we've never finished), or we cobbled some together using old fence pieces.

The result is this mish-mash of stuff that doesn't quite go together, and often, doesn't quite fit in the space we have, because our house is incredibly unique in its construction. Nothing is level, nothing is square, and nothing ... NOthing ... is a standard size - not even our counters in the kitchen, which means, even if we wanted it, we couldn't have an under-the-counter dishwasher installed without ripping out the entire counter and cabinets (including the sink) and rebuilding the whole thing.

I'm not complaining, just explaining, because every now and again, I look at pictures of kitchens, like these, and I think how much I could see myself in any of them. I know most of the designs wouldn't really work in my kitchen, because of the size and shape, but they're pretty cool to look at, and every now and then, I do get inspired to do some quirky things.

I love my shelf of jars ...

... and my chalkboards.

The longer we live here, the more of these, little, eclectic touches we add, the more this house becomes ours.

Still, there are things we need the house to be that it's not. We have a lot of projects, a lot of things we're trying to learn and do that we just don't have the space for. With no easily accessible attic space, no garage, no basement, and no shed, everything we're doing is right out. Piles of soon-to-be-upcycled clothes, bags of raw dog fur, pieces of wood to be carved or "burned out" for bowls or spoons, brewing supplies, batches of wine and beer and vinegar, and canning jars and equipment all sit in wide-open spaces with no cabinet or closet or out-of-the-way, but easily-accessible place to store them. People may wonder that I rarely decorate for holidays, but the fact is that I simply don't have a place to put those ornaments when they are not in use, and in fact, the box of Christmas tree decorations is still sitting in my office - with no place else for it to go. It makes our house look incredibly cluttered and messy, which is hard to live with - especially for Deus Ex Machina who is inclined toward austerity, and me, who needs things, at least, orderly to be most productive.

We also don't make the best use of the space that we have. Like the very deep pantry cabinet that we have might be better used for storing things we don't often use than for food storage, and the more shallow shelves we have might be a better place for food - so that nothing gets lost in the back of a dark cabinet, which happens. We're working on rearranging things, a little at a time to see how it works, but the transition is incredibly messy and cumbersome.

There are also some structural issues with the house. Without going too much into things, we do need a new roof, and we've decided that we don't just need to resurface what we have (been there, done that ... x3!), but rather, we need to have the entire roof ripped off and an entirely new roof put back on. The hope is that with the new roof, we can add some much needed storage area. Oh, and wouldn't it be wonderful to have some stairs - not a pull down ladder or a tiny, claustrophobia-inducing hatch - to access the area? It wouldn't even have to be a place where I could stand upright, or even something finished, but if I could just get up to it, with my hands full of canning jars or brewing equipment, and not be afraid of falling.

Last weekend, I spoke with my neighbor, who is a few years older than I am. She and her husband have been doing extensive renovations to their home. She said that when she talked with the contractor about what she wanted her house to be, he argued with her, stating that her design would compromise the resale value. She just smiled, and, basically, told him, it's *her* house, and she's planning to live there until she dies, which may include some period of time during which she is wheelchair bound. Her house plan is designed with that eventuality in mind.

It made a lot of sense to me, and it's been in the back of my head for a long time. We've hesitated to make some of the more radical changes that I would like to our house - changes that would make the house work better for the way we want to live - because we were concerned about resale value.

But the bottom line is that most people (clearly, not us), move into a house and start ripping things up and painting walls and making it theirs. We never intended to stay in this house, and seventeen years later, we're still thinking about moving, and so we hesitate.

This roof re-do is a huge project. One of the contractors even asked, in the nicest way possible, if moving were an option. I laughed and told him that the roof really did need to be fixed, and either we could fix it or the next person, but it had to be done. If it's financially prudent, it will be done, and then, this house is ours, and a lot of other things will be changing as well.

And if we end up moving, I swear that I won't take seventeen years to make my new home work for me and the way I wish to live my life.

1 comment:

  1. We've faced the same dilemna - how much of this house to "make our own" and what money to put into any changes, what the resale might be on that, etc. When buying this house, we knew we wouldn't be here forever, but yet wanted it to function well for us.

    Lessons pondered: we put in laminate wood flooring. It was cheap and (relatively) easy to install ourselves. It is *VERY* sensitive to too much water (even with sealant on it), warps, scratches, etc. Thinking back, I wonder if we should have just spent more for real wood. I mean, we installed THIS ourselves, how much more difficult would that have been? At the same time, this looks nice and is a "quick fix" to our previously nasty vinyl floor.

    The wood siding on the house needs replacing. Badly. It's the original siding from 1978, and by the looks of it the painting was kept up but still after all these years, it's ragged (at best). Knowing we'll only be here another year, the consideration is to put vinyl siding on ourselves. It would be an affordable option (granted, a bigger project than our floor was), and will increase resale value greatly. What if we get in over our heads with the project and mess it up? Yeah.

    There are windows that are original. You know, the old kind where the top frame slides down on you from time to time? It's a safety hazard, and since we're likely going to be renting this house out for several years (rather than selling it), we need to consider safety (as well as the fact that the windows are super drafty - which also becomes a safety hazard when you consider a family would likely resort to adding in space heaters to combat the draftiness).

    So, do we replace the windows? If we were staying here, would we put the money into that, or just suffer with it as is?

    Then there is the lack of cupboards. We decided that instead of doing any reno in the kitchen (like you, options really limited there), we're going to create a "pantry", of sorts, by installing some shelves in the stairway that leads into the basement right off the kitchen. That project has been in stall-mode due to busy schedules, but that is a definitely one on the list as it will really help with functionality for our renters (and if we were staying here, would be a huge help to us).

    I agree that if we have to survive in place, we'd have to make changes (like the new windows, to increase heat efficiency). I'd want to build more vertical growing spaces outside against the south side of the house (which is our backside). I'd consider some reno in the basement to create a sort of "apartment" in case we needed to take on some borders to help pay for expenses (I think in a time of survival mode, many people would need to consider doubling/tripling up and should move forward with reno or redesign with that possibility in mind).

    Great food for thought in this post, even though it's a relatively simple one (if you will)....because we all should be thinking about how our homes may need to be used in a survival or challenging situation. What if we don't have the option of moving for some time? How can we make do and make the best of it?