“Honey, where’s the sponge?”
“I think I saw it under the paintbrush!”
“The paintbrush the baby was walking around with? Um, OK. And the coffee filters?”
“Check between the washer and dryer. They might have fallen there. But more importantly, have you seen the girls’ shoes?”
“Nothing’s more important than coffee. They’re on the box with the chandelier. Or maybe the one with the kitchen sink.”
This is a typical exchange between my husband and me these days. And that’s because — as you might have guessed — we’re renovating. And not only are we renovating our house, we’re living in it with our three children under the age of 7.
I don’t recommend this.
But if you do find yourself facing a renovation and living through it with kids, here are my top seven tips for survival:
1. Set up temporary living that isn’t too temporary.
Most renovations last at least several months; if you’re gutting your kitchen and taking down some walls, as we are, you’ll be lucky to be done in six months from demo to light fixtures. So when you set up your temporary kitchen and general systems, be sure to do so thoughtfully. You’ll still want your calendar, your checkbook, stamps and envelopes, recycling and trash bins, paper products, etc. Make sure it’s all within easy reach so you can at least pretend you’re living a normal life.
2. Keep cleaning.
When you’re without walls, floors, and ceilings, it’s tempting to throw up your hands and let the whole place go. But a quick daily clean can give you a sense of control in an otherwise chaotic world: Vacuum, wipe up the dust, and clear away the clutter. And don’t forget yourself! A cute top and earrings can go a long way when you’re washing dishes in the bathroom sink.
3. Befriend the construction crew.
During a big renovation, it can sometimes feel like the crew is a bad roommate. Drinking your Diet Coke, blaring White Snake in the next room, leaving the toilet seat up. But in most cases, they really are on your side. So make nice, and encourage your kids to do the same. Learn the crew’s names, greet them in the morning, and thank them for a hard day’s work.
4. Accept the kindness of friends.
When friends gasp at your current living situation and offer a home-cooked meal at their place, take them up on it. You’ll bring the wine and dessert and, of course, will happily have them over to break in your newly renovated home when the paint is dry.
5. Get out of the house.
When it feels like the walls (or in our case, the studs) are closing in, fresh air helps everyone. So get out of the grime, and go for a walk. Eat at some of your favorite local restaurants. Plan a weekend away. If you can renovate during the nicer weather when it’s easy to picnic and grill, do it.
6. Seize the teaching moments.
My girls now know what the piping looks like behind their bathroom sink, where the water goes when the toilet is flushed, how many huge beams it takes to support the second story of a house, and how many men it takes to carry those beams inside the house. They know that a nice man named Brian (who just so happens to like White Snake) singlehandedly built the pantry that will hold their breakfast cereal. And that’s pretty cool.
7. Keep calm, and carry on.
This one is the hardest — believe me. It’s rather painful to wait for a plumbing inspection that’s been rescheduled twice when you’re eating Cup of Noodles with a plastic fork. But your kids — who, by the way, didn’t ask for this renovation — are taking their cues from you. So take a deep breath, take a sip of wine out of that red solo cup, and consider that you actually kind of like Cup of Noodles.
And how your house is going to be awesome in the end.