We crossed the threshold in our first home and took it all in.
Walls were missing, doors were covered in graffiti, and 5-year-old chicken bones were hiding behind cabinets, waiting to be uncovered by some uninitiated renovators. (That would be us.)
Ryan and I turned toward each other with wide eyes – What had we got ourselves into?
We recently celebrated our 9th Anniversary. As I think back to our time together, I also naturally reflect on the projects we’ve taken on – completing multiple renovations, purchasing rental properties, downsizing to a tiny (barn) house, and finally building our very own home.
But there have definitely been moments when it was hard to see the long road.
It was easier to focus on the graffiti and chicken bones.
When we purchased our first foreclosed property, we weren’t prepared for strains it could bring to our lives, our relationship or our budget.
With each renovation and building project, we faced new and unique challenges – and we also developed the skills and confidence to navigate them together. It just took a little practice and patience – and a lot of laughter.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Home projects can be a huge strain to any marriage. (So if you are in struggle-town, know that you aren’t alone.)
Here are a few tips for how to navigate your home projects together – while keeping your marriage intact.
When it comes to home projects, it’s about more than wood floors, paint and light fixtures. It’s about dreams of your future in that home – dinners at a table or movie marathons on the sofa.
And I think there’s really no better way to feel like a team than to dream together. Early in our marriage, Ryan and I would talk for hours about our future – our homes, kids, finances, jobs, travels. We would be painting walls or ripping up carpet – and dreaming. And we still do this – 9 years later.
We’ve dreamed about our forever home. We’ve dreamed about living in the country. We’ve hoped to be debt-free. We’ve dreamed about working for ourselves.
These are big dreams, friends. And don’t get me wrong, we don’t get there overnight. (And there are still lots more dreams to come.) But there’s nothing more fun than conspiring together and being on the same page. And then the daily work on your house is totally, completely worth it.
Ask your spouse: Where do you see us in 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? What are your biggest dreams for our family?
Agree on a plan.
Ryan and I have had our share of disagreements. And if you and your partner haven’t …. then … why are you here? Go bask in your bliss, my friend. You’ve earned it.
Remodeling and renovation projects can mean long timelines, tight budgets and high stress levels. This is a recipe for anger, tears and stress. We aren’t immune to this.
But once you’ve dreamed together, you can start the planning.
My tip – get it in writing.
We like to sit down at the beginning of a big project and list all of the things. And I do mean, ALL OF THE THINGS. This starts on our first walk-through. (Normally, our list is complete before we actually take possession of a home or rental property.)
Any project that needs to be done in the house gets put on paper. And then we start to map out a timeline and budget. We typically rework this list several times to be in the order we are planning.
We also include some bullets about projects that need done and who is responsible. In many cases, Ryan does the manual labor, but I’m working ahead to shop and plan and design the spaces. And I often do the cleaning, painting and small jobs.
Nothing has to be set in stone, but having everything in writing gives you something on which to agree. Plus, all that talking is good for a marriage. Promise.
Ask your spouse: What’s the plan? Who’s responsible for each step?
Allow yourself some down time.
As newlyweds, we spent nearly every waking moment working on houses. We would work all day at day jobs, work all night on the house, crash into bed, wake up, and repeat. There were months that we’d live on drive through food, eating picnic style on the front lawn.
I remember this time fondly now. But while we were going through it, the days were exhausting and frustrating and seemingly never-ending.
For years of our lives, we were on renovation autopilot.
And this can cause some serious strains. To your health (re: fast food), your sanity and your marriage.
Over time, we realized that we needed to build some downtime into this reno game – and it was a game changer for our marriage. We’d plan “off” days, date nights and vacations. And when Henry came along, we made sure to have time for dinners together and adventures as a family.
The best part of working in down time – you come back to your project refreshed and ready to hit the pavement.
Ask your spouse: How can we fit in downtime? Can we have a night off each week? Take a trip?
Stick to your strengths – and defer to the strengths of your partner.
There are lots of ways to renovate together – some couples always work together on a project. I imagine these folks are lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes as they rip out a moldy shower surround.
Just kidding. There’s nothing romantic about shower surrounds. Or mold.
In our case, we divide and conquer. We typically stay out of each other’s way and work concurrently. It’s kind of like when toddlers play next to each other at the park but never actually interact with each other. We are those toddlers. Even the occasional temper tantrums.
Early on, Ryan may have been working on plumbing or electrical work while I was painting all the trim or pulling staples out of the stair treads. Now that we have Henry, we typically swap working and childcare duties.
This is the method that works best for us.
But regardless of how you work best, defer to each other’s strengths. Ryan typically gives me authority on design decisions and I defer to him on technical decisions.
Ask your spouse: Do you want to work together on a project? Or should we divide and conquer? Is there anything you want to take the lead on?
Be (more than) willing to compromise – and embrace the veto.
My husband is married to a control freak.
Not pointing any fingers, but I’ve got control issues, my friends. That means I often want to be part of all decisions. And while Ryan’s much more chill than I am, he also has strong opinions about some home projects – especially anything to do with the budget. And he will stand his ground.
This could be a recipe for disaster – both for finishing projects and staying on speaking terms. (Ask me how I know?)
Over time, we’ve learned the art of compromise.
So that means we try to agree on the big decisions. We always agree on houses we are buying and any major design or budget decisions. And we give each other a little freedom when it comes to our strengths (see above). So I tend to take the lead on most design decisions and Ryan tends to make most mechanical and technical decisions.
But there are going to be times that we won’t agree. In our case, we give each other the power of the veto. And veto power is a beautiful thing, especially when it’s used sparingly.
Basically, we just give each other the chance to say “NO WAY” once in a while.
Ask your spouse: Do we need to agree on every single decision in this reno? Or can we each make specific decisions – and then implement veto power?
Give each other some grace.
With home projects, there will be nasty words, budget busters and loads of mistakes. These are givens. They will happen and it’s important that you move on and forget about it. Especially when it comes to your spouse.
It’s very easy to let stress tear you apart or place blame on each other when things go wrong. But there are going to be times you’ll need to walk away or let it go. You’ll need to forgive and forget. You’ll need to be supportive, even if you don’t want to be. Even if you want to scream and stomp and be angry.
But you can do it – because you have something more important than any bathroom tile or kitchen countertop or new roof. You have a totally rad partner by your side.
Nine years later, I know that the wedding day was only the beginning. A beautiful celebration on a snowy day among our friends and family. But then the real work and fun began.
And more than ever, I feel lucky to be half of this great team. I know you can feel the same way.
So go on with your bad self.
Renovate. Stay married. Live happily ever after. And repeat.
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