Today I have a special Sunday post for you from my friend Meagan Francis!
You probably know her from her awesome and inspiring blog and book, The Happiest Mom. I’m honored to have her at The Inspired Room sharing her real life “fixer upper” story. Thanks for welcoming her here today! –Melissa
When we bought our house, I was mainly looking for potential. Finding a home big enough for seven people on a tight budget puts you firmly in the “fixer upper” category, and while the house seemed structurally sound, there were a few cosmetic things that I assumed we’d be able to tackle pretty quickly.
Of course, after we signed the papers I learned quickly that homes don’t always cooperate with your best-laid plans, and that function has to come before form. First, the retaining wall collapsed and fell into the ravine behind the house. Then we found out that we’d need to divert water from our driveway away from the ancient garage so it wouldn’t collapse as well. Then the furnace needed to be replaced. And so on, and so forth, with various unsexy projects eating up our modest repair budget (and then some.)
So the two cosmetic projects I’d hoped we could tackle first – refinishing the hardwood on the first floor and renovating the extremely dated, awkward and just plain bizarre kitchen – got shelved for quite some time. The floors remained covered with a patchwork of stained rental Berber, dingy, battered wood, and vinyl tiles for a year and a half, while we tried to scrape by with a few quick fixes – a new paint color to cover the hideous mint green and some open shelving – in the kitchen.
And for that entire year and a half, every time I’d look at the floor or cook in the kitchen I’d think about how much I hated them. How much nicer and better the house would be when we’d updated. How much…happier I’d be.
Finally, we had some cash scraped together and were able to piggyback both projects at once. We took off to my mother-in-law’s for the weekend to avoid the process of putting down cork flooring in the kitchen and refinishing the wood through much of the first floor, and when we returned, we weren’t supposed to walk on the floors much or move any furniture back for a day or two. So we had to make do with a few loving glances at our lovely new space and then retreat upstairs to camp out.
Our house spent many decades as a duplex, and the upstairs still has the feel of a low-rent apartment. Right now it houses the boys’ bedrooms, a bathroom, what used to be a kitchen, and a TV/game room. The kids love having a hangout upstairs, but trust me: it’s not much to look at. Of course, we have big plans for it…someday.
That night, all seven of us crowded into the TV room and big boys’ bedrooms to sleep. As we lay there in the dark, in a room marked by ugly carpet, crumbling plaster, and dingy yellow walls, I was reminded of the apartments my husband and I shared with our oldest two children early in our marriage, always marked by aged, dated kitchens and cheap rental carpet. Somehow it never occurred to me, back then, that those apartments weren’t good enough for us. They were just what we had.They sheltered us, kept us warm, witnessed the growth of a young family, provided us with a retreat to be together, to be ourselves. I took pride in them when they were clean and decorated as much as my limited budget would allow. Of course, I loved to dream about the beautiful home I might have one day, but it never occurred to me to feel “less than” because my cabinets had peeling veneer.
Things have changed in the ensuing decade or so. Our income has gone up, sure – but more than that, our expectations have changed. I’m beginning to realize that home improvement can be just as tricky as self-improvement: how do you keep working, little by little, on making your surroundings (or your spirit) cleaner, warmer, lovelier, more functional…while still accepting that what you have – right now, this very minute – really is good enough – no, better than good enough; something to be celebrated?
As we lay there that night, I could hear the steady, sleeping breaths of my entire family, squeezed comfortably together in a space deemed far too small by middle-class cultural standards. And in that moment it occurred to me: this is all I need.
All the rest of it – the updated kitchen, the refinished hardwood, the coordinating kitchen towels – are the window dressing: something to be enjoyed, yes, but not taken too seriously.
I still love my new wood floors and almost-but-not-quite-completed new kitchen. But I’m also beginning to realize that my house is going to be “under construction” for a long while, and there is always going to be something I wish I could fix up. The trick is learning to embrace my home in the interim, to recognize it and value it for what it has and what it is: a place that keeps my family warm, comfortable, and all in one place.