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The Happiest Mom: A Fixer Upper

by | Feb 19, 2012 | Authentic Living, Decorating Inspiration

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The Happiest Mom: A Fixer Upper

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 

The Happiest Mom: A Fixer Upper

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.

The Happiest Mom: A Fixer Upper

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.

The Happiest Mom: A Fixer Upper

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?

The Happiest Mom: A Fixer Upper

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.

The Happiest Mom: A Fixer Upper


  1. JoAnne

    So well said and a wonderful reminder about what is important in life. We have an older home that still needs some large projects done so this really hit home for me! ♡

  2. Deanna

    This is such an important lesson to learn isn’t it?

    Our culture says we must have, have, have…more of everything, and we must be more, etc. We are richer than most folks in the world, and often don’t even recognize it!

    Great reminder!

  3. Simple Daisy

    What a lovely post!!
    I love how she relates home repairs to repairs to ourselves!
    It’s true nothing is ever perfect in life:)

  4. Lisa

    Beautifully said. Thanks for sharing Melissa!

  5. Susanne

    Awwwww…that was a very sweet. I could hear just a little sigh in Meagan’s voice, but no complaining and tons of love. Time has become her friend, not fighting it, but working along side of it. For me, it was a point of view that I needed to hear and be reminded of. Thank you Meagan and Melissa.

  6. Susan

    Thank you, Meagan for that timely reminder. My path to home ownership hasn’t been easy, and now that I have a brand new home, I know I should be extremely grateful, but when I see all the wonderful homes on the blogs I read, I start to feel inadequate – I know there will never be money in the budget for all the things that I see others doing with their homes. Instead of lamenting this, I should remember to be grateful – we have a home over our head, and our son living with us full-time (which is something we didn’t have for a long time).

    Thanks, Melissa for this guest post!

  7. Ms A - the monkey keeper

    oh I love this. So very true. So wise to be able to see it in the moment and treasure those loved ones.

  8. Meagan

    So thrilled to be a guest here today, Melissa, and I’m loving all these warm and welcoming comments! You have a great community here and I’m happy to be a part of it today.

  9. Tonya

    Truer words were never spoken! I feel like this could be describing me and my home (ok minus the collapsed retaining wall and 5 kids). Isn’t it funny as you get older you realize what’s important. I have a solid house (well I assume it’s solid because it’s still here after 131 years) and I have wasted so much time and energy making excuses for my house. Or worse– not allowing people into my home because it was less than perfect. What I have FINALLY realized–it is perfect for us. There is no perfection. Stop trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. And appreciated what you have. (Boy were those some hard lessons to learn!) Something will ALWAYS need fixed, will always be out of square, level plumb, cracked , faded, or worn. I will NEVER have enough time or money (probably money) to change things. I have learned to be creative. As a result I am finding joy and learning to love my house again. Just like people it is these imperfections that make it unique and every bit as lovely.

  10. Faith

    Well said! I really came away with food for thought from this post. Thank you!

  11. Dee

    We build brand new homes..

    And I’ve often thought it was harder.. and you have to have greater ‘vision’, to do a remodel.

    Dee :)
    p.s. I love the white picket fence in front to your house!

  12. Jenny

    That is so true. I keep having to tell myself that it’s okay for my new home to not be perfect- it will be exactly how I want it one day, but there’s no use going into debt for it now.

  13. NanaDoll

    The gift of contentment is just that–calling what God has provided good. We don’t have to be all topsy-turvy in love with our situations, but how timely to remember that where we are and what we have are from His hands, given in love to us. We seek that place of thankful, quiet, inner joy that endures through it all. Lovely post.

  14. Elizabeth

    What a lovely reminder to appreciate the home we have. Yes, our tiny rental house of 15 years is what’s called (with good reason) a “scraper” in our otherwise tony neighborhood, but its location lets our first-grader attend one of the best public schools in California.

    • Noelle

      Thats me too! I have 5 kids, 3 in college, and now after having 2 of them in a very expensive private school that was well worth every dime! We live in a rental in a very affluent area, so that the last 2 at home could go to one of the best public school districts in our state. The homeowner has said we could do whatever we need to do to feel at home, and of course I feel grateful to have that priviledge. But there is only so much money you are going to invest in a rental home. So every day I deal with what I would do if I could. Struggling with feeling blessed to be here and wanting to have my “dream” home. God help me be content!!!!

  15. Aunt B

    Thank you for the reminder. It’s important to maintain an attitude of gratitude!

  16. E & E

    Thank you for this! I so needed to hear it. I got married a few months ago. As we’re both in our thirties, we both owned our own homes. Neither of which we can sell in the current market. So we’re living in my tiny one bedroom condo while doing a few renovations to my husband’s house- just enough to make it doable for the next 3-5 years. I have spent the past year complaining (mostly inside my head) about how much I hate that house and don’t want to live there. Thanks for the reminder that I’ll be living there because I found the man I want to spend my life with, and have a family with.

  17. Kathleen

    Wise priorities! Thank you for this great message. One of my frequent prayers is to make me thankful; to be like Paul, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” (from Philippians 4)

  18. Jen

    What a beautiful message, and so true. I fear even when a whole house is “done”, it really never is. So I try not to feel the need to fix everything and have everything done before I feel contententment, because I’m surely setting myself up for failure.

  19. Linda

    You wrote this one just for me!! We are in the process of having a new home built – the last for us (we have retired!). It is lovely, and I had planned on all sorts of new things to put in it. Our furniture is as old as our other home (nearly thirty years), and I have been looking forward to buying new things and decorating just like all those beautiful pictures I’ve been eying.
    However….even at this season of life, money is not in abundant supply and there have been the inevitable “extras” we hadn’t counted on. So….the old will be moving into the new (in more ways than one!)
    I am learning contentment. The old will be fine for now – or for the duration – however long it may take. We are blessed in ways that can never be measured in earthly terms.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  20. Jill Flory

    Amen! I too can get caught up in the ‘I’ll be so much happier when…’ thinking.
    I love making our house a home. I love every time we finish another project. I look forward to the day we can say we are ‘finished’! But really, it’s never truly finished is it? Even if you build new there are always mainetenance and little ‘fix-it’ things to be done. So I need to sit back and just enjoy it all!

  21. Marilyn

    As a mom of four, three of whom are gone from my home, I say “Hear, hear!”

  22. Diane

    Having a heart of gratitude makes for a beautiful home. And maybe it’s its prettiest DIY makeover.

  23. Collie

    What a wonderful post, just when I needed it. Writing for my blog tonight and having a useless ‘feeling’ about myself, you are reminding me that improvement doesn’t happen overnight, that self improvement is important, that my surroundings are my home, and my family is my life. The two aren’t exclusive from each other, and we may have negative things going on, but the negative isn’t ‘me’. Thank you.

  24. Mimi

    Melissa, Thanks so much for this guest post on the secret of being content. A sometimes difficult, but always rewarding perspective.

  25. Julie

    Such a sweet and thoughtful post about what is truly important. My family means everything to me, and without them, fixing up the house wouldn’t mean near as much.

  26. Holly

    Thanks for the great post! After living in many different shaped quarters (Army family) in many different places, different sizes, etc I so appreciate the fact that it’s not what size, layout or age your house is it’s what’s inside that makes it home ….

  27. laxsupermom

    Great post! It’s so easy to be caught up in the inspiration pics, and working towards that moving finish line, that it becomes difficult to celebrate the here and now. Thanks for the reminder.

  28. Tiffany

    This is a really lovely post. It’s so true. Sometimes I have to remind myself that fixing up our house is not a sprint. Sure there are a lot of things that I have planned, but we’re very lucky to just have a place to call home.

  29. Donna Christianson

    Thank you for sharing this…I really needed to hear this today! I am embarking on yet another remodel in my 1930’s cottage home. When the washer went out in November, I decided to alter the configuration of the Laundry Room. I am still visiting the laundromat where I have made a new friend in the Owner. God’s blessings are everywhere! I actually find it quite efficient to launder 4-5 loads at a time and return home to dry all while working in my home office. The idea of remodeling the 6’x 20′ space led to tearing out walls and ceiling and including the Breakfast Room in the adventure. In this bargain, I am getting a Butler’s Pantry!!!

  30. Ashley S

    What a lovely reminder to be content and thankful for our homes as they are. Thank you.

  31. Shayda Windle

    couldn’t have said it better myself!! best of luck to you!

  32. Pat

    Great post. I am an empty nester myself and am just coming to this same revelation!

    enjoyed it. Pat

  33. melissa*320 sycamore

    Oh, I love that quote. Meagan sounds like my kind of girl :) thank you both!

  34. Alyssa Barnett

    Thank you! I needed to read this post this morning…it brought me back around and helped my perspective!
    God Bless!



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