A little over a year ago, my husband and I took on our third biggest journey together – buying a home! And in case you’re wondering what the first two were: having a baby and moving cross country. Because homeownership was something that we never imagined to be a reality, by the time it happened for us last year we realized there’s a lot we just didn’t know. As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. That said, in the past year since becoming homeowners, everything has basically felt like baptism by fire. We’ve learned a lot about a lot in such a short amount of time… and yes, we’ve been able to ask a few people questions here and there. Truth is though, there’s just a lot that we had to go through & experience firsthand to really get it. Like I said… baptism by fire.
While I won’t go so far as to say we’ve done anything “wrong” in our first year of homeownership, there’s definitely been a lot of hindsight thinking going on – what we would’ve done differently, what we would’ve kept the same, and everything in between. Personally, as I’ve been thinking about this, it’s been not just as the homeowner, but also as a content creator who happens to create content around said home. Those personal lessons and shoulda-woulda-couldas are intrinsically linked to my professional life… for better or for worse.
So in looking back on our past year of projects, improvements, renovations, and blunders, here’s what we did right, what we would do differently, and what we learned.
Remember last year when I talked about saying “no” to project pressure? All things considered, we did a pretty good job at resisting the urge to do all the things all at once. From the very beginning, we promised ourselves we weren’t gonna be “house rich and money poor” so keeping that in mind def tempered us. From the outside looking in, it may now look this way, especially since in our first 60 days of homeownership we furnished the living & dining rooms, replaced all the carpet in the bedrooms with new flooring, began our DIY laundry room renovation, removed popcorn ceiling in one of the rooms, and redesigned (and relocated) our new media room.
As I am sitting here writing this, we’ve actually managed to cross almost everything off of our 2021 home goals list… and did so without any project pressure…
renovate kitchen upgrade pantry system upgrade hall closet system
- convert guest bonus room closet to shoe closet
complete said bonus room
- furnish back yard
- furnish balcony
upgrade the mini’s closet system renovate laundry room
- remove carpet throughout the house
upgrade hvac system to ductless
- switch out storm door
- switch out patio & balcony doors
new window treatments throughout the house
- remove popcorn ceiling throughout the house
- upgrade the interior & exterior lighting
complete garage insulation & drywall
- clean out & repair garden bed
So what’s the problem? We did A LOT in such a small amount a time, and we didn’t always check in with our original priorities list. As a result, we sometimes went rogue, taking on projects that could’ve waited. On the other side of that, we realized our priorities list wasn’t very good to begin with! We prioritized, for example, furnishing our back yard yet didn’t account for the fact that we needed to replace our back fence… with the latter being the last project we’ve done for 2021. It wasn’t on the list, and it should’ve been on the list. Going into 2022, we’re going to take an honest & intense assessment of the condition of our home… thinking about what we need to do in our home versus what we want to do in our home, and what that’ll all look like realistically.
Speaking of realistic expectations…
Can I just go on record and say that no one talks about what things cost… and it sucks! We were hit with, not necessarily “sticker shock” but something like it because every time we got a bid for a job we were like “is this what it’s supposed to cost… this feels high… maybe that’s too low… how are we supposed to know!?” I am so thankful for my realtor turned friend, and friends like Sherry (@younghouselove), Rashida (@rashida.banks), and Shavonda (@sgardnerstyle) because I could text them and ask “does this make sense?” As a content creator, there might be an assumption that when we’re working with brands, we collect a check & spend nothing. Nope. No ma’am. We still pay for labor – at the bare minimum – and that still doesn’t account for work that isn’t sponsored. That said, every project we took on came with a price tag. Because we’d never done anything like this before – renovate a laundry room, get a new HVAC system, rip out carpeting, build a new fence – we didn’t know what these things would cost to DIY and/or hire out. The problem this presented for us was an inability to budget accordingly. For future projects, we are already doing so much research to quantify every detail – sponsored or otherwise – so that (a) we can budget accordingly and (b) I can charge accordingly should it be something that’s part of a campaign.
Being that I do what I do, whilst my husband works a more “traditional” job outside of the home, not like the money, we didn’t do a very good job at budgeting our time. One project that’s not on the priorities list, yet was part of our 2021 calendar, was our powder room. The materials have been in our garage for the better part of a year. So why didn’t it get done? Time. Every single time we thought we had a window to tackle the project, another project either got derailed (taking up our time) or we were burnt out from putting out fires elsewhere and needed time to recharge our batteries. Trust me when I say, had we done that powder room this year, it would not have been good… like at all. Not giving ourselves realistic timelines – at least to the best of our ability – really set us up for failure. To be honest, it’s an absolute miracle we got anything done at all this year (and we sometimes sit and wonder to ourselves how we did it because we don’t know).
Every day this year has felt like it had something for us to do – big & small – which kind of started to drive us to a place of resentment & discouragement. I remember saying to my husband, “I just want to enjoy the house!” and ever since making that declaration, we promised ourselves to never do this again! In 2022, we plan to set designated windows for tackling projects with breaks in between… at least for the projects we can control.
…and speaking of control. On more than one occasion we’ve had to remind ourselves “we bought an old house” and with that comes some good and some bad… we just need a reminder from time to time. While working on different improvements – from simple maintenance tasks to larger projects – we would need to remember that some of this stuff is just par for the course… it’s normal… and we did nothing wrong. This being such a huge accomplishment for us, there was a lot of self-imposed pressure to do it “right” – whatever that means… as though the home we bought was some precious/fragile object that could easily shatter. We bought a house. Like we bought a frigging house! And in a year managed to furnish every single room (some are still “works in process” but furnished nonetheless) and renovate two major areas. A lot of this is partly due to what I do for a living, however, taking the time to actually say “wow we did this!” made us realize we set some WILD expectations for ourselves if we still don’t think we did enough. It still amazes me when I see people react to our home. Their reactions are always a gentle reminder of what we’ve accomplished and how we’ve earned the ability to just sit down somewhere to enjoy what we’ve created.
I am giving myself – especially as a creative, as the lead designer of our home, and a recovering perfectionist – permission to chill out in the new year. My husband, on the other hand, is constantly on the lookout for something to fix, so I’m also going to be encouraging him to just sit down somewhere because the house is fine… we’re fine… everything’s fine.
Having just crossed off the very project we’ll be doing this year mere days ago feels surreal… namely because it’s one of the first things we thought we were going to do a year ago. LOL. If that’s not a clear indication that we need a better way to manage our projects, finances, timelines, and expectations… then what is? I am thankful for every high & low this past year of homeownership placed before us. We were able to increase our equity, refinance our home, tackle both cosmetic & safety upgrades, and somehow come out on the other side of it all not hating homeownership. Now the goal is to build on what we’ve learned…
(1) setting realistic & attainable project goals, with bite-sized tasks outlined for each so necessary steps aren’t being overlooked
(2) establishing an overall home improvement budget in addition to separate budgets per project
(3) creating a calendar of work with intentional breaks between major projects to allow time for recovery & stillness
(4) granting ourselves the gift of grace, not as an alternative for accountability (because things do need to get done) but as a reward for progress
I don’t know that there’s much I “wish” I knew before buying a home – and I think my husband would agree – however I do wish we were exposed to more conversations about what it really means to be a homeowner. After purchasing your home, did you find yourself wishing you knew more or do you think you were pretty well prepared for your homeownership journey? And feel free to share any sage words of advice for us as we enter year two.
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Ellie Lillstrom | Design by Albie K. Buabeng | From: What Happens When You Design Your Living Room and Then MOVE?? You Make It Work… Albie’s New Living Room Round One!