Thinking about totally remodeling your house, but staying put while the work is being done? No problem! I just did that myself! Mine was a 3 ½ month-long (and I do mean long), top-to-bottom home renovation, complete with gutting the kitchen and bathrooms, and re-doing all nooks and crannies of every room in the house.
Did I live? Sure—but just barely, and there are many things I wish I had known before I kicked off the project. Not things about dealing with the contractor, managing the job, or how far in advance to nail down selections. I’m talking about strategies and tactics that would have safeguarded my sanity—because while my house now looks nice, my mental and emotional health sustained some major damage. But hey, my pain is your gain. I’ve heard that writing helps you to work through trauma. So, I’ve written some pro-tips to help you emerge with both your home and your sanity in tact.
Handle up on your relationship. Before you kick off the renovation, take a cold, hard look at your relationship. If you are not madly in love, go ahead and break it off now. Unless you two are rock solid, the next three months will destroy you. And the only thing worse than living through your home renovation is living through your home renovation while you’re also going through a breakup. On a more positive note, if your relationship is already strong, the project will actually make it stronger. I know this first hand. Our job wrapped up in April, and we got engaged in May—and we had been dating for nine years! If I had had known that it worked this way, I would have remodeled our house seven years ago.
Stock the liquor cabinet. And by liquor cabinet, I mean the plastic storage bin containing your bottles of booze that will you keep shoved under two sawhorses straddled by a piece of plywood in your garage. That’s what will serve as your kitchen for the next three and a half months. Thirsty yet? Perfect! Let’s move on to the next pro-tip.
Suspend your normal rules about drinking. Step aside, coffee. This is a job for alcohol! Whatever normal rules you might have about drinking, like not drinking on weeknights or not having more than one glass of wine with dinner, forget them. Drink early. Drink often. Drink to remember how good your house will look when this is over. Drink to forget how it looks now. There will be a time to lay off the sauce, but that time is definitely not now.
Know that eating out will eat into your budget. There are only so many times you can dish up unevenly scrambled eggs from an electric skillet in your garage and pass it off to your family as dinner. Before long, you’ll throw in the towel and start eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That adds up quickly. Plan for it now so it won’t bust your budget later.
Chummy up with friends and family—especially those who live close by. Not only can they provide emotional support—and you’ll need lots of that—they also have running water! You never realize how often you need to wash something (or someone) until you don’t have functioning sinks or showers. Even when you’re only using disposables dinnerware, items will pile up faster than your contractor’s requests for draws. So, keep some plastic tote bags with sturdy handles at the ready, because you’ll be loading them up with dishes, clothes, and other odds and ends, and hauling them to friends’ houses every other day or so.
Pick your contractor carefully. Don’t just consider the usual things like price, reputation and references. Ask to meet his crew. Your contractor will come and go throughout the course of the job, but his workers will be your roommates for the next several months. They’ll be there when you get up in the morning. They’ll be there when your kids get home from school. They’ll be there on the weekends. They’ll be there when you’re laid up in bed with the flu. So, sure, it’s important that you trust your contractor; but it’s equally important that you get along with his crew.
Who’s the boss? It’s your house. It’s your vision. It’s your money. Add all that together and you still don’t have enough to override the cold, hard truth that your contractor is the boss. And you know what you are? You’re the squatter who has taken up residence in the middle of his job site. Your refusal to vacate is the single most challenging thing about your job to your contractor. So, when your contractor tells you to move everything out of the kitchen by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, the only acceptable response is, “Where would you like me to put everything so it will be out of your way?”
Giving your contractor pushback on these (or any other) issues will only make the job harder, jeopardize the schedule, and make the climate between you and your roommates very chilly. So, if your goal is to end everyone’s misery as soon as possible, you have to do everything your contractor tells you quickly and with a big smile on your face.
Send pets packing. Just because you’re going to try to live through your home renovation doesn’t mean your pets should, too. Best-case scenario: Your pet will take a liking to the crew and constantly get in their way. Worst-case scenario: Your pet will be so terrified of the noise and the strangers milling around that he will hide in your closet and stress-hurl in your dry cleaning basket every day. Then you’ll have the unexpected expense of having to buy new work clothes. That’s not cheap.
So, make arrangements for little Fluffy to go on vacation until the job is over. This will be the best thing for everyone. You. Your pet. Your contractor. Your remodeling project. Your wardrobe.
Have a backup plan. Before the job starts, research short-term rental options in your area. That way, when the going gets tough you can reassess your decision. If you decide the pain your enduring is not worth the money you’re saving, you can easily correct course. But if you haven’t done the research, you will be too shell shocked to make other living arrangements mid-job.
 Paper, of course, because you won’t have a washer or dryer for long stretches of time.
 Pro-tip: Don’t pack the bottle opener. You’re going to need that.