How to live happily ever after… When your castle is way less than fairy-tale ready

As we shared in our last post, Cane and I recently had a sorta fight.

We never fight.

It’s not that we’re special (or stuffing all our bad feelings behind a wall of denial)–it’s just that usually we talk about our frustrations/hurts/disappointments/etc. way before we get to anything that even resembles a fight. And resolve them.

But last week there were angry words.

Stomping off.

A paint roller flung across the lawn.

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OK, so all of that came from me–which is why it was only a sorta fight. While I was clearly losing it, Cane was able to hold onto it, so it wasn’t the kind of mutual meltdown some couples have. (Lucky me.)

When my heart rate returned to normal and I could participate in a calm conversation about what was going wrong, we came to realize some important things about how we’ve been tackling home renovation. And, we thought it might be helpful to share our new insights with all of you.

You know, so you don’t have to fling paint rollers across your lawn.

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I’m sure your lawn looks better than ours. This dirt scab used to have some huge, boxy azaleas-turned-hedges in it. Tearing them out is just one of the things we’ve been working on.

Lesson 1: Divide and conquer just divides.

Sometimes, divide and conquer seems to be the only thing that makes sense. When we began putting the tile on our bathroom wall, we worked on it together. But it’s really more of a one-person job.

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To make sure that everything lined up and that we didn’t mess up our pattern, we really could work on only one wall at a time, and we didn’t need two people to lay mud and stick tiles to it.

So, Cane ended up doing the tiling alone, while I was…cooking, cleaning, taxiing kids, doing laundry. All of which are important things that need to get done, but they aren’t very fun things. They clearly are not the same kind of thing as tiling (or painting, or building, or knocking holes in walls).

We talked about this, and we both decided it was OK, but we stayed in this same pattern after the tiling was done. Then it really wasn’t OK. Cane began feeling resentful because he was doing all the house project work alone, and I began feeling resentful because I was doing all the housework alone.

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One is the loneliest number…especially when we own two ladders.

Lesson 2: Summer chickens can’t do as much as spring chickens.

We aren’t in our 20s anymore.

Heck, we aren’t even in our 30s. (So maybe we’re actually fall chickens?)

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Some chickens we encountered on a walk this spring. Portlandians love their chickens.

We get tired.

I, especially, cannot physically do what I used to do. I’ve got about 3, maybe 4 good hours of labor in me on any given day, and then I have to quit. If I don’t, I’ll probably get a migraine. Or, I’ll just hurt a lot (fibromyalgia).

We forget that we can’t do quite as much as we used to do, or as fast as we used to do it. And we get frustrated at our slow pace. We have a tendency to bite off way more than we have time to chew.

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Our house painting project is feeling as big as this bite of pizza. (And in case you’re wondering, those are sweet potato fries he’s piled on top of it. We might not be in our 20s, but sometimes we still eat like we are.)

We’ve realized that before we start tearing stuff up, we need to be much more realistic about how much time it will really take us to do a project.

Lesson #3: We need to prioritize our projects.

We suck at this.

We like to make plans and throw them out. We like to be spontaneous. We like to follow our whims.

We can’t afford to do that this summer! We must get this house painted.

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Most of the walls are not as bad as this one (on our attached storage shed), but we need to get new paint on all of them before the siding is damaged.

It’s not a want-to. It’s a need-to. The old paint is starting to peel, and there are even bare spots on some of the siding. When we bought the house last summer, we knew it would need paint this summer.

What makes this really challening is that we don’t enjoy this project. It’s not fun at all. All the fun part–picking out paint colors, making design decisions–is done. The rest of the long, long way to finishing is all grunt work.

Hmm…you might be thinking. If that’s the case, why did you decide to do this one yourselves?

Excellent question, one that leads right to Lesson #4.

Lesson #4: Don’t begin a big project without making sure you’re on the same page.

Back in December, we agreed that we’d hire someone to paint the house because we didn’t want to lose our summer to such a big, hard, long project. (We have so many other ones we want to do, and we also wanted to enjoy our time off from work.)

In the spring, when it was getting to be time to find someone to do that job, Cane started having different feelings. Hiring someone to do the painting would cost a lot. He didn’t want to pay someone to do something we can do ourselves.

“It’ll be fine,” he said. “I can do it, and it won’t take over our summer.”

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I wanted to make sure we’d have days like this one from last summer.

I had some doubts, but I didn’t express them–not in any real way. If Cane wanted to take it on, I didn’t want to stop him. But I was determined that I was going to have the summer we’d talked about. I was going to do some house projects that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I was going to have some lazy summer days, too.

And that’s what I’ve been doing–while Cane’s been chomping at the bit every day to get stuff done.

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Painting the family room and getting some new furniture was not a have-to project, but it’s what I dove into at the beginning of our summer.

We never talked about how the painting job was really going to get done–who would do what, what our work pace would be like, how long it would take.

Of course, we each had assumptions about those things, but we never shared them.

Turns out, our assumptions were really different–which is what got us to the paint roller throwing day.

Lesson #5: We each need to own our own stuff.

Cane has been feeling the need to push hard on our big projects so that we can be done with them. He says he won’t feel like it’s really summer until the monkey of painting the house and finishing the bathroom is off his back. As time has passed and we’ve made much less progress than we’d hoped to, he’s begun worrying that he’ll end the summer feeling like he never got a real break.

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I’ve been feeling the need for a relaxing, rejuvenating break because I’m feeling anxious about some things waiting for me in the fall. I’m OK with doing a little bit most days, but I want to take time every day to slow down and do fun summer things. I’ve been worrying that I won’t get the kind of down time I need to feel ready to return to school in the fall.

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Neither of us is responsible for the other’s happiness. Cane’s realized that I shouldn’t have to work at his pace because he has difficulty relaxing until the job’s completely done. I’ve realized that Cane doesn’t owe me a particular kind of summer just because I’ve got some work issues that I’m feeling anxious about returning to. In finding compromises we can both live with, we’ve had to be clear about what difficulties are our own, and which ones aren’t.

Moving forward

After our sorta fight, we came to some agreements.

We set our priorities and agreed that we really need to finish the house painting before the end of the summer, and that we really want to finish the bathroom. If we can do more than that, great–but we probably won’t. And we’ll have to be OK with that.

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Why do we need to finish the bathroom? Because it’s been 7 months, and we really want our bathroom back.

We got on the same page about painting the house and agreed that we are going to finish doing the work ourselves. We have more time than money, and as much as I’d like to just turn the house painting project over to someone else, I really don’t want to spend money that way, either. It means we won’t have quite the summer either of us hoped for–but we’re sucking that one up and making the best of it.

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And we’ve been making the kids pitch in a bit more so that we can get our have-to-get-don jobs done.

We’ve decided that we don’t have to do every project together, but we need to work on the same kinds of things at the same time. Preferably, within eyesight of each other. That way, we get to talk. Laugh. Commiserate. We don’t feel alone in doing the work.

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While I was sanding the front door yesterday, Cane was nearby putting more paint on the house.

Each day, we make agreements for what we’ll work on that day and how/when we’ll do the work. We’re trying to have some balance of work/play over the course of a week. Some days are heavier for work, but some are heavier for play.

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Monday we took the day to play in town. We had fun experimenting with some bathroom art ideas we’ve been tossing around.

So far, so good

We’ve made quite a bit of progress this week. More importantly, we’re having more fun doing it. We never want to lose sight of why we’re doing all this work on our house:  To make a true home.

If things aren’t right between us, it won’t be anything but a beautiful house. We want  much more than that.

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How about you?

We’ve been so gratified to learn through your comments to our last post that we aren’t the only ones who have difficulty finishing projects! Do you have any lessons you’ve learned to help you get them done? We’d love to hear what works for you.

And if you want to see some people actually getting stuff done, check out the William Morris Project at Pancakes & French Fries:

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