Tips for making renovations manageable

Let’s be honest. Renovations can be a nightmare. DIY renovations can be especially challenging. In watching my Dad do construction for his whole career, working with him for several years and talking to friends and co-workers, I’ve seen some of the same issues:

  1. The vision in my head is too big. I don’t know where to start.
  2. The vision in my head is big and beautiful, and I’m going to do it all right now.
  3. I’ve started, but the vision in my head has gotten bigger, and now I’m never going to finish.

I’m going to share some of my perspective on each of these three scenarios. I’d love if you would weigh in too with your tips… or your renovation challenges. Between all of us, I think we can come up with some useful tips to help each other make renovations more manageable.

Problem #1: The vision in my head is too big. I don’t know where to start.

Yup. Renovations are daunting. But like anything you do, there is a first step and a second step. Sure in a renovation you might get to 1,000 steps… or even more. But sometimes you have to just take the first step.

My original vision for the laundry room was a standalone room on the main floor. Full of natural light, it would be a dedicated space for sewing, crafting and laundry. I’d have a big island, tonnes of storage, multiple sewing machines, an impressive fabric and yarn stash and so on and so on. It would be beautiful.

I’m pretty sure that this laundry room is never going to happen, but even if it does, there’s nothing to stop me from having a pretty laundry room now. I started with updating the cabinets, moved on to paint, did some decorating and now I have a pretty, functional space in the basement, thanks to a simple makeover.

Problem #2: The vision in my head is big and beautiful, and I’m going to do it all right now.

I’m a big believer in taking your time when renovating. You have to really figure out what exactly you need and what makes the most sense for your family. You also have to build up your energy and your finances.

Renovations take a lot of time and a lot of money. Gutting a whole house and renovating every room and landscaping your entire property all at once is a lot to take on.

Renovating in stages takes longer, but it might make it more manageable, both for your budget and your sanity. Paint the walls, but don’t replace the floor yet. Update the hardware, but don’t feel like you have to renovate the whole kitchen.

Using the laundry room as my example again, there are a few things I would have liked to have done. To borrow a phrase from one of my former bosses, here are my “even better ifs.”

I think some wood butcher block counters would look great in that room. A new floor would definitely spruce things up. I’d love to add some more racks for laying sweaters flat to dry. It would have been nice to put the plumbing for the washing machine and the venting for the dryer inside the wall rather than on the surface and patch the old observation portal for the oil line to the furnace.

Laundry room venting running over the wall

But if I did all of that as part of my makeover, I’d still be renovating. Counters and floors and drying racks can be individual projects that I do someday in the future.

Problem #3: I’ve started, but the vision in my head has gotten bigger, and now I’m never going to finish.

Scope creep happens in most renovations. As I wrote way back when as we were just beginning the basement reno:

Scope creep happens when you say to each other, “Since we’re doing A and B, we might as well do C, D, E, F and G.”

Sometimes scope creep is necessary. If you uncover an electrical problem, you’re going to have to fix it. However, sometimes we just get carried away.

Towards the end of the laundry room makeover, I started thinking about replacing the faucet, sewing curtains and building a picture frame. These may sound like small add-ons, but they definitely would have extended the project. And just like the countertop that I mentioned above, none of these things were necessary. Pretty, but not necessary.

I was working towards a deadline for the One Room Challenge. I wanted time to take pretty photographs and write my blog post. Scrambling up to the last second with add-ons would have added extra stress that I just didn’t need.

Even if you don’t have a blogging deadline to meet, there are life deadlines, and sometimes you just have to stop. There’s always Laundry Room Version 2 (and 3 and 4 if necessary).

My tips:

So looking back over what I’ve written, I feel like these 7 tips sum up some of my approach to renovating:

  1. Start. Just start.
  2. Take your time and figure out exactly what you need.
  3. Don’t do everything at once.
  4. Have a plan.
  5. Break it down into steps and stages.
  6. Stick to the plan.
  7. Know when to stop.

I can’t promise if you follow these tips you’ll have a problem-free reno (does that even exist?), but they might help to make things go a bit more smoothly.

Now it’s your turn. What are your tips for keeping a renovation manageable? Have you ever encountered any of the problems I described? How did you work through them?

9 thoughts on “Tips for making renovations manageable

  1. OK Julia – very good tips. Let’s see…

    1. Start. Just start.
    OK, did that….
    2. Take your time and figure out exactly what you need.
    Take time…5+ years – did that. Didn’t do the figure part.
    3. Don’t do everything at once.
    Should have followed this tip
    4.Have a plan.
    I knew I forgot something.
    5. Break it down into steps and stages.
    Yep, it’s broken down alright.
    6.Stick to the plan.
    Missed that one too.
    7. Know when to stop.
    See above.
    I’ll keep this list for my next renovation. 🙂

    • Too funny. I was thinking of you a bit as I wrote this post. 🙂 You need a plan! Your update of deciding to move the furnace after you redid the concrete floor nearly did me in yesterday!

      You have such a good attitude about it, though, it’s hard to fault you.

  2. I think that’s an excellent list. Another thing that helps for me is to tidy up in between stages, or even in the middle. I’m less likely to get overwhelmed and feel like it’s never going to be accomplished. Renos are hard! Learning to be content with the process and partial results on the vision are huge.

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