This week one of my sisters and her husband are hard at work on their house, taking care of a pile of big projects: tearing out an old, rotting wooden deck; replacing old ugly vertical blinds; painting and power washing and heavy yard work. This is because they are getting their house ready to be put on the market, in preparation for a move that will bring the kids closer to their schools, and the adults closer to their workplaces. In a way, they’re doing just about what we did three years ago – deciding to move closer to all the things they do, to cut down on the commute and make life a little easier in the long run.
They’ve put off ripping out that old deck for years because it was a big project and they knew it was going to be a major hassle, and they had no idea if what was underneath it might be even worse that what was already there. It turns out there was a very nice brick patio directly underneath all that wood – a patio that could have been used all these years, instead of a falling-apart deck that they pretty much avoided. Granted, it could have just as easily been ugly and nasty underneath that deck, and could have required even more work and annoyance, but oh, I know how that feels, to finally get something done and wonder why, oh why, you didn’t do this years ago
Reading their updates on Facebook made me think back to when we were getting our own house ready for putting on the market. We lived in that house for six years with boring white walls because I could never get around to picking a color and painting (the dining room was the only notable exception). We never got around to putting railings on the front porch, which meant the entire time we lived there it was a space that never got used. We never got around to doing a lot of things on that house because it always seemed like it was too much of a hassle…until it was time to move. So when we finally did the projects to make the house that much nicer, it was only to make it that much nicer for someone else.
I occasionally watch various home improvement shows on HGTV and some of the ones that fascinate me the most are the shows where they come in and get a house ready for market. Someone with a fresh eye and lots of enthusiasm comes in and suddenly rooms are painted, walls are knocked down, yards are redone, and the house looks like a completely different place. All of these things are usually done for not much money (just a lot of sweat and manual labor and determination to get it done). And I wonder how many of those homeowners look at the results and mentally kick themselves for never getting around to doing all those little fixes back when they could have enjoyed the reward themselves.
The house we live in right now is even more full of unfinished projects and good intentions than the last one, mainly because it is about 100 years old, and being full of improvement projects is sort of par for the course when you buy a house that age. It’s not like we’ve done absolutely nothing, of course – there was the whole flooring project downstairs when we first moved in, and the kitchen remodel, and most recently, the garden expansion. But there’s still so much to do in our house – things that would make it that much nicer to live in – and sometimes I wonder why it is that it’s just easier to try to pretend that the problem isn’t there and just ignore it, than to find a way to somehow get it done. After all, we have our own ugly rotting wooden deck to tackle – although ours is on the second story so it’s not as simple as just ripping it all out to expose what’s below. We’ve got a little building in the back yard that could be a terrific place for storing all the tools and gardening equipment and maybe someday chickens if the city council can ever get around to making it legal, if only it were cleared of bugs, and there was a cement floor put in, and it was wired and finished and cleaned up. There’s painting to finish downstairs, and closets that desperately need organizing, and shelving to install, and lighting to fix, and ugly vertical blinds to replace with curtains, and the yard, oh don’t even get me started on the yard, what with the raised beds all over the place and the dead peach tree and the frustrating lack of cohesive watering system, and on and on and on.
I know that part of the problem is that when you are living in the house, the sense of urgency just isn’t there. Home improvement isn’t very fun. No. Let me rephrase that. Home improvement is absolutely no fun at all while you’re doing it. Granted, there are some projects that can give you a huge sense of accomplishment once they’re done, but the ‘during’ process is invariably long and messy and exhausting, and sometimes it’s expensive, and it’s even more frustrating when you’re not entirely sure if you’re doing it right in the first place, or if it will even end up like what you envisioned when you started, and there are a bazillion other, nicer, less painful/dirty/annoying ways to spend your time. It all feels just so completely overwhelming sometimes – all those things that need doing and never seem to get done. And so I wonder what it will take before we eventually get them all done, in this house; if we’ll be able to get past all the obstacles that forever seem to jump into our way any time we think about tackling something big, or if instead, years down the road, the only reason they’ll finally be finished is to make the house nicer for someone else.