One of the biggest drawbacks of living in an old house is that there are a LOT of things that need to be fixed. And I don’t just mean major repairs. The home improvements are often small, but there’s a never-ending amount of them. It often feels as though there are a million little improvements we want to make – all of which require time and money, which makes it impossible to accomplish all of them at once.
Don’t get me wrong, Maria and I love our house. Our 1925 craftsman-style bungalow is filled with character and all that we ever hoped for when we dreamed about our forever home. But the list of things we want to fix, tweak, or outright redo is a mile long and growing. So how do we manage it all without losing our minds (or worse yet, losing sight of how lucky we are)? We have a pretty simple system that helps us to prioritize our project list and keep our cool even though our dream home isn’t quite how we want it to be (yet).
We Accepted that We Can’t Do Everything At Once
It’s impossible to complete every single home improvement all in one go (unless you’re a multimillionaire, have a pile of cash stashed away, have your own show on HGTV, or are willing to take on a whole lot of debt). Ok, so I guess it’s technically not impossible to completely transform a house into everything you want it to be. But for most of us, those kinds of quick, all-in-one renovations simply aren’t an option.
For Maria and me, there just isn’t enough time or money available to accomplish everything at once. And that’s ok; that’s pretty much life in general. Anything worth doing usually takes a long time and home repairs are no different. We just assume that it will take several years to finally turn all of our dreams for the house into a reality. In fact, we have a ten-year goal of finally completing all of our home improvement goals. Having a timeline of realistic expectations makes the entire process a lot more bearable and gives us permission to be ok with a number of things in their current less-than-perfect state.
We Made a Big List of Home Improvement Projects and Prioritized It
When Maria and I first moved into our house, we sat down at a computer, opened a new spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, and typed a long list of all the projects we wanted to accomplish, no matter how small or big, expensive or inexpensive. It had small things like patching a few holes in our daughter’s nursery ceiling to major projects like building a garage or an addition to the house. We made note of every single change we thought we might make to the house, even if somewhat speculative at the time.
Then we set about prioritizing that list, ranking projects based on how soon we wanted them to be done. The projects we wanted to tackle first were moved to the top of the spreadsheet (like fixing a fallen gutter) and the truly long-term projects (like adding a garage, finishing the basement and building an addition onto the back of the house) went at the bottom.
Once we complete a project, we cross it off and move it to the bottom of the spreadsheet. That way, we can always see how far we’ve come and find satisfaction with our progress, which can otherwise be difficult to appreciate when so many repairs remain on the list.
We Save Our Money and Do the Projects When We Can
Maria and I stash money away every month for a lot of different long-term goals, but home repair projects are one of our biggest savings categories. When we’ve successfully saved a couple thousand dollars in our home repairs sinking fund, we call up the handyman company we use to knock out a few more of the projects at the top of our list. Most recently, we just had our perpetually peeling bathroom ceiling refinished, some holes patched, squeaky floors fixed, and a few other minor repairs.
This method will work pretty quickly for us as long as our repairs and other projects are a few thousand dollars or less. As we move down our list, the projects get increasingly expensive and will take longer to save up for. But that’s ok with us; we’re devoted Dave Ramsey followers and we would much rather save up the money and pay cash rather than take out a loan for home renovations.
A quick word of caution to anyone planning to start saving money to conquer their own home repair lists – our method of saving, then spending works so well for us because we have a dedicated emergency fund. We can make all the plans we want, but something unexpected will always, inevitably break and require immediate repair/replacement and completely change our existing plan. This past winter, our water heater gave out on Maria’s birthday. At that moment, we had a small sum of cash saved up for planned home repairs that we could dip into to cover the cost of the water heater. But if we had recently drained our fund on a different project, we could have relied on our emergency fund to pay for the new water heater. Unexpected household repairs are not nearly as exciting as the home improvement projects you get to plan for and look forward to, but they are a lot less frustrating when you have the cash on hand to pay for those repairs.
We Stay Calm Along the Way
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a long list of desired home repairs – especially when we are surrounded by household conditions that aren’t exactly how we want them to be.
But the waiting isn’t that bad and we aren’t bothered by all the projects yet to happen. It helps tremendously that we have written out our plan for how to prioritize and pay for projects. Since we know they will get done in a certain order and when money is available, it makes us much less anxious to get through everything on the list and allows us to focus on how the things we truly love about our hose.
The things that had driven us crazy when we first bought the house have become much less of an emotional strain because we know roughly when and how they will get done. It isn’t always easy to remain positive every single day, but when we are struggling to find contentment with our home, we simply open our spreadsheet and scroll down to the completed projects list at the bottom to reassure ourselves that we’re actually doing pretty good (especially since we’ve only been living in the house for a little over a year).
We Know that Time Can Be a Gift
As we slowly chip away at all our household repairs, we are also a family doing our best to raise a little girl to be the best version of herself. Dessa closely observes us all day long and imitates what she sees. We frequently remind her to wait patiently when there is something she wants rather than provide instant gratification to all of her toddler desires. She learns a lot about patience and hard work by watching us discuss our goals in front of her, check our progress, and continue to wait until the timing is right to make our goals a reality.
We’ve also learned from experience that we sometimes change our minds about our visions for the house. The little desk area we once wanted to install upstairs doesn’t feel so important, nor does the white privacy fence Maria really wanted when we first bought the house. We may decide in a few years time that the garage and addition on the back of our house aren’t so important after all if they are going to cut into our available yard space.
We are thankful every day for our house and the waiting is a valuable lesson in patience and contentment. Some days are easier than others, but overall we feel VERY content with where we are at in the process; which is a blessing – especially while we patiently wait and save our pennies for a front porch renovation and landscaping upgrade.