Unexpected Lessons Learned in a Renovation
It started with digging a giant hole in front of our house – an equally large pile of dirt sat in our front yard, which was soon joined by a surprising amount of detritus; sawed off boards, vinyl siding, bricks, tar paper, endless nails. We were embarking on a renovation – an addition of a much-desired coat room and an extension of the living room (along with new siding and floors). We have been in this house for twenty years so there was a long list of built-up repairs and fixes to address. The whole ordeal (after the two years of planning) took three long months, enough time for me to experience a whole gamut of feelings and learn some lessons.
There were times in the midst of it all when our house was totally ripped apart, my studio a depository for tools and with no end in sight to the noise and commotion, when I wondered “what did we do?” My husband at one point said if he could go back, he wouldn’t have done this. My teenage son did ok despite not being able to sleep in past 8am all summer with pounding outside his bedroom window or flooring being ripped apart outside his door. Throughout the summer we felt an overwhelming impatience for life to get back to normal.
I did feel good about at least salvaging a lot of stuff. A couple came and picked up all our vinyl siding to use as soffits for a giant shed, our old fireplace bricks were picked up for a solarium floor on Quadra Island and an outdoor bathtub floor in Bella Bella, we recycled the nails. We also reused some materials ourselves, finding some 100 year old siding from a house in Cumberland which I cleaned up with a belt sander and which then became the inside walls of our coatroom.
I helped as much as I could with the reno (trying to speed it along!) and learned new things such as what an EPR is – “ever present rag” when painting, what is a safe angle for a ladder, how to use a belt sander, caulking gun and chop saw.
The surprising lesson I learned though wasn’t about working skills, it was about myself. I was taught from a young age not to relax until the chores are done. However in this case, the chores were not going to be done for months. I started to think about how our lives in some ways are always in some state of change or renovation and how resisting the present (wishing you were in another time and place) makes you intensely irritated and grumpy. Throughout the renovation I was making a supreme effort to NOT wish that the dog would stop barking, that men weren’t traipsing through the house in their boots, that the sound of a saw cutting metal would stop or that I could find things I needed. If I couldn’t welcome the disruption; I at least tried to be aware of my irritation. Being in the present is way easier to practise when you are on a beach.
I felt a switch flip in me, but not in a “going crazy” way. I felt that paying attention to my resistance to the present moment played a part in how I coped and also maybe why my marriage was still intact at the end of it all. I managed to stay somewhat centred amidst the chaos. You could say the lesson was a bit drilled into me.
There is much optimism involved in picturing something better, (whether it’s a garden, a life change or challenging habits) and then having the confidence and vision to slowly work towards it. You need to be patient with how long it takes things to change and realize some unnerving destruction may have to take place first. Things actually CAN change, can be better, if we persevere, make sacrifices and take risks; this perspective is a whole mindset of its own. I think this is better achieved by being in the moment, being aware. Checking in with ourselves and our surroundings actually helps calm your fears. As you may have read on a tip jar “do not fear change”.
Now it is winter and I am grateful for a place to take off our snowy boots. Our cat has finally broken his resolve NOT to use the new cat door. The big pile of dirt and detritus is gone and new grass has sprouted. The blue house colour and yellow doors make me feel happy. The crazy summer is now in the past and “the now” is even nicer and more peaceful than I could have imagined.
Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now. Eckhart Tolle