Refreshing a Disarrayed Residence

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After college, I am moving into my parents’ house, but in a good way. They are empty-nesters who just did the snowbird thing of getting a place where it’s warm. They will be down there from September to March, and I’ll have the house to myself for free. Well, not entirely for free. I’ll be living there, but they asked me to spruce the place up, and oh-my-god does it need sprucing. Try shadowy drapes that haven’t been changed since the 80’s, a gas stove with only two working burners, a fridge that gets the floor wet (ugh), and my dad’s collection of college baseball paraphernalia (he didn’t play baseball).

I realize that I am lucky to have a place that I won’t have to pay for, but I’m freaking out a little bit. They’ll be paying for the upgrades, which is fine, but I’m going to be the one making sure everything gets done. I’m not a DIY person. I don’t know the first thing about making a house look good. However, when I asked them what they wanted me to do, they said, “do what you like!” Literally. Really helpful, Mom and Dad.

The house needs a major re-design – and some repairs on top of that. Where do I start?

You are pretty lucky, but it sounds like you have your hands full! Whether it’s by choice or not, moving into a house full of your parents’ stuff can be daunting, especially if it’s the first time you have lived on your own. You asked where you should start: my advice is that you start with a plan. What do you want your house to look like by this time next year? Write down what you want to happen. List what you want your house to look like. This will define how much work you think has to be done — your scope. Are you doing a full remodel, a redesign, or just a light touch-up? Since you are the one living there, you have to ask yourself what you are willing to live with. Maybe you are ok with having a bathroom full of sawdust and brushing your teeth in the kitchen! But you don’t want to start a major renovation, only to realize that you have made yourself miserable.

Then, break your projects up one-by-one, so that you can focus on them one at a time. Say you wanted to get rid of the drapes and replace them with in-window shades or plantation shutters. Either of these will let more light into the house, and show off your window trim, which has probably been hidden since before you were born. You like the idea! You are going to have to have questions – “how much do custom plantation shutters cost?” for example – and you should absolutely keep track of them. By keeping track of the questions that come up in your research, you will begin to get an idea of what is feasible, and how that comes into alignment with what you want.

Since you are new to this whole “taking care of a house” thing, do yourself the favor of studying up. Any house you live in will eventually have problems. You want to be ready for that eventual dripping faucet, tilting door, or chewed electric cable. The Family Handyman books are a good place to start for a complete beginner. Because the house you are moving into has lots of old stuff, the Upcycling series by Danny Seo can help you turn rubbish into riches. Finally, Annie Sloan’s Room Recipes for Style and Color can help you get an idea of looks that work for older houses.

As your work on your re-design plan, you will want to ask yourself what community you are going to be a part of. It might seem counterintuitive, but the world outside has a huge impact on the world inside of the house. This is one of the reasons why we have planned communities. The internet is chocked full of them: look at Sixty West, this community in Alberta of Sylvan Lake homes for sale, or the Bridge Street District, a planned urban community in Ohio. These places have been designed from the top down, so that the houses and apartments match the look and feel of the entire community, which impacts the lifestyle of the residents. As you work on your re-design plan, consider who and what will come through your home. Are you going to entertain, or do you prefer solitude and serenity? Will you work from home, or will you commute?

Another part of your question jumped out at me, and I think my advice for your kitchen can be more straightforward: get your appliances either fixed or replaced. It sounds like they frustrate you. Buying all-new can get expensive, so sometimes repairing them is the better option. According to Oregon Appliance Repair (appliance repair Bend, OR) gas stoves (especially older stoves) can be finicky, but many of the most common problems can be taken care of with a professional cleaning. Old fridges are the same way: sometimes they just need a cleaning because of sediment buildup. You’ll be amazed how much more you will like your kitchen when all the burners work and the fridge no longer leaks.

Finally, and this is going to be the hardest step of all, get a dumpster. I’m sure your dad’s baseball paraphernalia is (or was) very important to him, but there’s a reason why he hasn’t taken it to his new pad. He probably likes the memories associated with his stuff, so before you pitch it, snap a picture of it on your cell phone and save it. That way you keep the memory, without the dusty old baseball glove cluttering up the home you now live in. This may lead to some hard conversations with your parents, but remember, you’re the one living there, not them, and they probably know that they have more stuff than they need. You have to be the person to remind your Dad that, yes, that baseball glove is important, but no, it’s not important any more.

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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