I want to share a story about the day I signed my life away two days shy of my twenty-first birthday. Okay, big exaggeration… but it felt that way anyway. The big day finally came after almost a year of working hard to save money…and there I was, signing the papers to close on the house I had just purchased.
It would be another year before I would meet my husband and two years before we were married. As proud as I was that I was doing this on my own, I was also extremely nervous. About an hour before I eagerly signed my name until my hand was cramping, I was crying my eyes out, worried if I was making the right decision and trying to let the reality of this huge responsibility set in. It wasn’t just about paying the mortgage and the escrow. What would happen if the furnace quit working, if I had a water leak, or some other unexpected expense? Fortunately I had family around to help if I needed it, but it was still a huge responsibility staring me in the face and there was no going back once the papers were signed.
When I moved in, I got to work painting and cleaning. I spent nights after I got off work doing as much as I could until I just couldn’t stay awake anymore. I was scrubbing cabinets and appliances, cleaning the carpets, painting, and the biggest nightmare of all….removing wallpaper (that story could be another blog post). My house seemed to be in a state of repair for months. I would come home, have a warm bowl of oodles-of-noodles, and blast the radio just before getting to work. Each night I would hope to hear Pink’s hit song, Most Girls, on the radio so I could feel empowered by the lyrics about a woman who worked hard and supported herself. Well, it did have the main part about finding real love, but I wasn’t looking for that at the time because I was too busy making my new house a home.
It didn’t take long for the unexpected expense to come down like a ton of bricks. I had heard about the rising gas prices in late 2000/early 2001, but when I received a bill for $256.00 in the mail, I thought I would hit the floor. I’m sure some people have seen higher bills come in, but when I had less than $100.00 left of one bi-weekly paycheck after I paid the mortgage, it seemed like I would never be able to keep up…hello, weekend restaurant job! Similar to the “I had to walk to school in the snow uphill, both ways” stories, I now tell of the few nights I spent sitting in the kitchen with the radio on, covered up with my robe, and sitting by the oven that was open and turned on. Why? Because it was cheaper to pay the electric company and I was cold after turning my heat down just enough that it wouldn’t freeze the pipes. It really wasn’t the smartest thing to do, or the most comfortable…so, I wouldn’t recommend it (You’ve heard of space heaters, right?). The following month the gas bill was $72.00. Yes, I paid the gas company seventy-two bucks just to freeze all month long.
Anyway, enough of my whining and remembering the hard times. I pushed through it, and then pushed through more hard times after I got married and had kids. I’ve learned some very important lessons…and I’m still learning.
One lesson I was taught early on as a homeowner, were wise word from my Grandfather. When I bought my house, he had a long talk with me about handling my spending and what was really important. I’ll never forget his words (in his southern drawl) ” The thing that gets people into trouble these days, is that they see what their parents worked thirty years to get and they think they should have it right now.” Those words always stuck with me, still rattling around in the back of my head anytime I think I might “need” certain things for the house. Although I have made some stupid decisions along the way (thanks to credit cards and occasional impulsive behaviors), I’m thankful his advice reeled me in most of the time.
So, this is where my blog comes in. It’s not filled with spectacular, jaw-dropping, magazine quality home improvement projects and decor. People often ask me how I learned to do DIY projects. The truth is, while my creative side really enjoys them, a lot of them happened because it was my only option to giving my space or an old piece of furniture new life. I had to do it myself! I couldn’t afford to hire a contractor to paint my house when I bought it…and after all this time, it still isn’t in our budget.
I’ve been a homeowner now for almost fifteen years, and married over twelve years of that time, and we have been hit with unexpected expenses and circumstances that were out of our control at times…well, hasn’t everyone? What I’m trying to say is that after all this time, we still have to watch our spending very closely and have just as many limits. Plus, there are more important things to spend money on, such as our children’s activities, family outings, or the occasional date night with my husband. Those things are more important than the next home improvement project (that is a want and not a need) and are possible without spending a lot of money.
So, is it possible to have a nicely decorated home on a limited income? Of course it is…but that doesn’t mean you will have it all the way you want it. It takes time, planning, and adding things little by little. It’s not necessary to do it all at one time. I started my living room project over a year ago and I still have areas of the wall which are empty. I am still trying to decide what I want to hang on the walls and don’t want to go wasting money on things that I might not like or get tired of easily. I also want to spend as little money as possible, which is why I covered my old furniture with slipcovers and still haven’t changed the chandelier above our dining table that doesn’t match the current decor. Oh, believe me, I have found several chandeliers that I would love to have but until the price is reduced within my budget, it won’t happen.
And if you’ve seen our kitchen updates on the blog, you’ll also notice our kitchen appliances do not match…and I’m okay with that. Really I’m perfectly fine with it and plan on keeping them around as long as I can. I am happy with the progress of our kitchen over the past eight years we have lived here, although there is still more to do. Painting the kitchen cabinets made the biggest difference and although I wouldn’t say painting them and replacing hardware was cheap, it certainly was much more affordable than buying new cabinets. Not only could we not afford them but we would probably still be paying for them had we purchased them on credit. That is hardly worth getting the jaw-dropping looks from others as we show off a nice, new kitchen with top of the line appliances. Maybe someday we will have them when we can afford them, but lucky for us our friends and family will still be there either way to visit us and not to judge our house by the way it is presented to them. Although I will admit cleaning it before company arrives makes me uptight…but that is my issue, those who visit don’t really care.
I still hold on to my Grandfather’s words of wisdom and even after fifteen years, not once have I financed furniture. We still try to wait for the right time…which is when we have the extra money and the time to get it done. Our house will continue to come together a little at a time and if you are living on a budget like we are, yours will too. There is no need to swipe the credit card just to make your house look like a magazine cover. There is no need to feel inadequate while you are looking at amazing spaces on Pinterest (I have actually heard people say that). Who are we trying to impress? Do the Jonses pay your bills? Those brief moments to get someone to notice your amazing home won’t cover the bills, or the added interest that the neighbors don’t notice coming to your mailbox.
There is a reason I continue to blog about my DIY/home improvement projects even though they don’t compare to the magazine photos and TV shows. I believe there is still an audience for what I am sharing, and truthfully has been inspired by other bloggers and famous designers on TV. Have you ever read the credits at the end of a show or inside a magazine? That’s right, there’s an entire crew of people behind those featured makeovers and photographs. I don’t have a crew of people and awesome designers, although I wouldn’t mind their help sometimes! I am a big fan of Vern Yip, Sarah Richardson, and Chip and Joanna Gaines’ beautiful designs, but like me they have a family and I would like to think they have to put just as much cleaning into a room before it’s photographed in their home, right? That’s why it isn’t necessary to feel inadequate because of a beautiful space in a picture. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that most readers aren’t aware of…and yes, I do have to clean and remove some items before taking photos for my blog. I don’t want you to see it because I don’t even want to see it. Bills cluttering the kitchen counters, the floors I haven’t vacuumed, toys and dishes sitting around, and the bathroom sink that looks like a toothpaste massacre occurred (which is why I have to clean it every day). I could tell you more, but I’ll spare you the ugly details. You get it anyway. The beautiful homes in front of the lens are meant to be appealing and inspiring. That’s it. Just a snapshot, taken quickly before life happens and it’s all a mess again.
I hope this will encourage you to enjoy your home even if there are things you aren’t happy with and want to change. There are many things about my home I want to change right now, including our master bathroom that I could take a sledgehammer to and gut the entire thing. It looks so bad I make sure to keep the door shut when we have company. I do believe it will happen some day though, when we have the time and money. I have always found that no matter how long we have to wait, it is always worth it in the end and never really mattered that much while we had to wait. The most important part of our home are the memories we create while we’re in them. I have plenty of pictures and memories of good times we shared with family and friends all while we had an ugly kitchen.