Keeping Your Sanity During a Home Renovation

By Kate Riley May 29, 2013

This subject is near and dear to my heart because I have lived it all too painfully, with and infant and toddler underfoot. I remember the year, 2006 to be exact. We decided to add on to our home when my son was still a brand new baby and my daughter was a toddler – we had this crazy notion to extend our home, to add a new kitchen with a bedroom above, and a studio above the garage. And it was one insane year.

In the end it was worth it but OMG there were some bad weeks we lived through (see the link below to our construction photos), which is where these tips come in so handy. You all know contributing writer Liz of It’s Great to Be Home, home flipper extraordinaire and the lady who’s lived through a home renovation herself. She’s back today sharing her tips on how to maintain your sanity during a home renovation and her advice is spot on. Please welcome back Liz!

“Many ordinarily sane people have been driven to the brink of bonker-dom during a renovation. Some may say such insanity is an inevitable byproduct of the messy ordeal of construction, but I say nay – you can keep your sanity and end up with a glorious renovation, all at the same time.

Here’s how:

1. Know thyself. Renovating your house is stressful, regardless of whether you’re doing it yourself, hiring it out, living in your home while it’s going on, or living in an entirely different time zone. Renovating is also messy, time-consuming, and sometimes seemingly endless. For some people, all of those stressors can combine into a stress tornado if you’re not careful, so take every step that you can to reduce the insanity swirling around you. Steps 2-8 will help with that!

black and white kitchen


2. Move out (or at least take an aptly-timed vacation) Construction is a dirty business, and living in a dirty construction zone with drywall dust on your pillow will not make you a very happy camper. Compound the dusty pillow with the fact that you can’t even wash your dusty pillow because the water is turned off and you will quickly understand why I have recommended that you live anywhere else but in your home during the renovation. I hear you saying, "But wait, I’m only renovating our guest bathroom! We have another bathroom we can use and we will be fine!" And maybe you will. If you are bound and determined to live in your home while it’s being remodeled, see #3-4 for further instruction.

3. Find an alternate space where you can carve out the same function. If your kitchen is being renovated, you likely won’t be able to use your fridge, stove, kitchen sink or dishwasher, meaning that if you’re living in your house during this destructive process you will need to find another space in your home to do all kitchen-y things. Maybe that means balancing your microwave on your nightstand or washing your dishes in the bathtub – whatever works for you is fine with me, but you need to have designated zones for cooking and cleaning up or else things will go downhill quickly. And obviously, if all of your bathrooms are being renovated you need to shower at the gym or a friend’s house.

gray walls in bathroom


4. Become best friends with plastic sheets and painter’s tape.  Drywall dust, sawdust, insulation…these are all nasty little particles that want to come to roost on your pillow (see #2 above) and in your air ducts. Do yourself a favor and section off the construction zones from the non-construction zones, using painter’s tape and plastic sheeting from the hardware store, to keep your living spaces as livable as possible. Katie has a great post about how to do this here.

5. Work with the best trades that you can afford. I know, renovations are expensive and it can be tempting to opt for the plumber that didn’t come quite as highly recommended but had a great price. Things may work out fine, or your frugal decision could turn into a budget nightmare as your toilets overflow during a dinner party because the budget plumber didn’t include a sewer test in his bid. The "best" trades aren’t always the most expensive, but they will have the most positive recommendations from your friends and family – go with those guys.

kitchen with coffered ceiling


6.  Plan ahead. One day your electrician is going to turn to you and say, "And where are all of your light fixtures? I’m ready to install them." Unless you have planned ahead and already purchased your lighting fixtures, you are going to have a minor heart attack. The same thing will happen with the painter, the plumber…you get the idea. Go ahead and buy all of your fixtures, appliances, hardware, etc. at the beginning of the project, get them delivered to your house, and have them ready and waiting for each trade as they need them.

chrome pendants above marble top island bhg


7.  Be flexible. Things will be broken, supplies will go missing, delays will happen, and your construction schedule will take a hit. You might wind up without your kitchen for 2 months instead of 4 weeks, or you could be living at your parents’ house for 6 months instead of 3 (I’ve learned that one first-hand).

While these delays are incredibly annoying, most of the time they aren’t life or death if you’ve built in a little flexibility, like making sure you can go month-to-month on your rental until your house is ready, or having a little extra stash of cash on hand, or buying a little extra tile so that you don’t find your shower half-tiled with discontinued tile. Have game plan for your renovation, but also have a few contingency plans in place in case the you-know-what hits the fan.

gray and yellow bathroom


8. Have a drink and complain a little. It’s incredible how much stress can be relieved with a little venting session. Of course, you don’t want to turn into the person that people run away from because all you do is whine about your house, but a few carefully considered complaints here and there are perfectly acceptable. Top it off with a margarita and you’ll feel better in no time.


9. Remember that it will all be worth it when it’s over.  I promise.

Image sources:  Better Homes & Gardens

Fantastic advice!  You can catch up with Liz at her blog It’s Great to Be Home. Her words of wisdom ring so true and the memories come flooding back. Want to see pictures of our home renovation from over six years ago? It took some rooting around through the archives, but I found some old pictures and posted these construction images and bit of story to go with it. It’s all the ugly “before” that had to happen to get us where we are today.

So many of the tips Liz shared today are exactly what we lived through six years ago. I remember buying my first Shop Vac just to get rid of all the incredible amounts of dust, and truly regret hiring the cheap plumber who never did get the bathtub faucet to work properly.

For those of you who have lived through a home renovation, what advice can you share from your experience?




  1. This is such a timely post! We are considering a kitchen and bathroom remodel but with five kids I’m not sure that I could survive through the process. I’m still on the fence and loved reading these great tips! :-)


  2. What a great post! we have only done a few minor, minor renovations around the house but never completely demolishing a room or adding on somewhere. But we think about it quite often. This definitely helps give some perspective as we possibly move forward. Thank you! Beautiful pictures too. That’s enough for me to start the home reno right there!

  3. I am living through it now, it has been almost two years since we moved into the construction scene (we started in july and moved in on oct)!
    we are doing a gut renovation of our house. Two days before my wedding day, i was tiling the bathroom so we could move in after the wedding!
    But so far it’s worth it! i still can’t believe of the stuff we have accomplished and reactions from friends and family are always encouraging.

  4. My parents were always doing construction. I’d go off to school and my bedroom would be upstairs and come home to find that a wall had been knocked down and I’d been moved to the basement. (This is not an exaggeration) I moved out when they started the 4th kitchen remodel. Now I don’t have the option to move out because it’s my house. These are good tips, thanks.

  5. You ladies are heaven-sent! ‘I’m about to do our very first renovation, and it’s gonna be OUR KITCHEN! We start July, so I followed advise #6 already and have begun ordering appliances etc. and doing research on lighting. Thank you for your advise, luckily too, we have a second kitchen in the basement to use, but your right, no dishawahser for us for over a month! Thank God my hubby’s assigned to do dishes ;-)!! I will go over this again when I start going insane and whip me up some margarita or 2!

  6. I know exactly what you mean. I’m expecting the first baby…., Together with my husband we’re in the process of selling our apartment and we are also planning doing the house extension. We have the planning permission ready, at the moment we’re doing a lot of DIY, so the weekends are exhausting. It is really stressful, but as you said it will be all worth it in the end.

    Thanks for sharing with your tips.

    Lots of love

  7. Laugh. If you have small children, someone is going to get a virus, and will pass it on to the rest of the children in the household, necessitating numerous loads of middle of the night laundry, and the washer and dryer are waiting in the garage for the laundry room to be finished. This is why the laundromat is open all night.

    My best bit of advice. Carry around one of those little spiral-bound notebooks and a little pencil. You can use your phone, but odds are, you are going to lose it at least once a day during the reno. Write every thought down, every question, idea, “oops”, and need to buy/return/cut to fit/etc. As great as your memory is, your memory is always adversely affected by renovation progress.

    You are not the first person in the world to renovate. Happens daily all over the world. Bridezillas are ugly, and so are renozillas. Have fun with it! Sure, there will be glitches, but that is life. When finished, your new space will be wonderful and worth it.

  8. What I learned from even small renovations:

    Ask ALL of your questions, even the ones that you’re sure make you sound like a dummy.

    Use all of your folding tables and card tables — as well as your friends’ card tables and folding tables — in the non-construction zones. Empty out the room under construction completely. Do not think, “Oh, it will be fine to leave this in here.” It won’t; it will be in the way and it will get really, really dirty. Organize all that stuff on the tables so that it has an actual “home” during the renovation.

    If you can, schedule a renovation during a time of year when it’s easy to escape outside (especially if you have kids). I live in Texas and OMG, August is not the time to renovate. Even the pool water is hot.

    Great article, thanks!

  9. Olay I am all for #8 !! I think you made a lot of good points about getting through it ! Love your blog read it every morning!

  10. I’m there now. Over Memorial Weekend, my husband and I installed floor in our bedroom/bathroom. This completes the WHOLE HOUSE! It took us 2 years, but, finally, it’s done, over with. We replaced 1800sq feet of carpet with wood, by ourselves. No help.

    But, as you all know, there’s much to be done still to return to normal life: baseboards, quarter round, move back the furniture, and do touch ups.

    As for alternate locations, we set up our bed in the dining room and that’s where we’ve been sleeping for a week now. We emptied the closets and will be installing closet organizers, so our clothes are everywhere.

    Trying to keep calm but, it’s hard. Meanwhile, my 3 kids (6 and under) have run rampant around the house. :S

    • Ha, I totally agree with you on the little stuff, it took us almost a year just to trim out the kitchen baseboards and add hardware, we were just so happy to have functioning cabinets and appliances!

  11. My husband and I had our kitchen gutted and renovated recently. We set up a make-shift kitchen, which enabled us to keep a normal eating routine (and save on restaurant expenses). It was extremely helpful to have a plastic tub for dirty dishes which we took over to our friend/neighbor’s house on weekends. (I did NOT want to mess with washing dirty dishes in my dirty bathtub.)

  12. I really needed to read this today as Im 5 weeks into a kitchen renovation. We have renovated most of the house ourselves with a few more rooms to finish. Plan plan plan like you say being organised is the key to renovating successfully. I type up a list of things to do for each room with dates of when it needs to be finished and who will be doing it so we can make sure we have our products when we need them and trades are booked in the correct order.I also keep a spreadsheet budget for each room so I can keep track on expenses as they certainly add up!

  13. That is sooooo timely for me… in two weeks, we’ll be starting a major veranda reno. Major as in redoing everything, from the floors to the walls, the electricity… everything. We’ll even have to create walls, to close a powder room. I’ve never done any plumbing before and I’m really freaking out about lighting. We’ll do half the job ourselves, with a 1 and a 3 years old. Great…

    Any advice by the way, on how to correctly place lights in a veranda ? It’s about 30 square meters (10 square feet I think). I’m thinking about placing two table lamps beside the main sofa, an Arco-style lamp, two scones on the only available wall, and another table lamp. I have no idea if that will be too much or too few. It’s really weird, not having a white ceiling to project light on…

    And I’m freaking out again. I’ll go and re-re-re-read that great article above !

  14. We purchased our 70’s home in 1988….and finally…(I think)….our renovations are complete….it probably would have been more economical to build from scratch. We have rebuilt & renovated from the inside out. Up until one year ago….our home was a one bathroom home….now it is a one and 3/4 bath, in addition to a completed laundry room (previously an unfinished basement room).

    My friend dropped in the other day & asked, “Why do you have a tool box sitting in the kitchen?” My response “Doesn’t everyone?”.

    Enjoy your blog!

  15. KIDS MAKE EVERYTHING MORE DIFFICULT :) When we bought our old 1973 home, we needed to remove tons of wallpaper, get a new kitchen, new windows, etc. And trying to do all of that with 2 kids was TORTURE. Along came baby #3 and now, it’s been 2.5 years and we STILL have some wallpaper hanging up!

    My advice: When buying a home, try to get one that doesn’t need much work, ESPECIALLY if you have kids. It makes it difficult to get anything done :)

    Thrift Diving

  16. This might only be important for DIY home renovations, but KEEP YOUR WORKSPACE ORGANIZED!!

    In the space of the last year (our first as a married couple), we have completely gutted and remodeled 75% of our home, including the kitchen and only bathroom, and involving major changes that included taking out several bearing walls, and have done all the work ourselves. Well, we’ve had help, but not the professional kind. :) it is so so so so so important to keep our basement (our base of operations with all the tools and supplies) totally organized. No, you don’t want to put everything away at the end of the day when you’ve been mudding and sanding for hours…but you’ll be glad you did later when you need to know exactly where a certain tool, or screw, or whatever is. A place for everything, and everything in its place. Sanity begs for it.

  17. These are great tips – we’ve lived through remodeling several times and it’s really nice to see the tips organized and written out. Planning ahead is essential. One thing I need personally is a tradesperson who can collaborate with me. Absolutely hate wasting time on why I shouldn’t want something when, unless there is a cost I don’t know about, I’ve done the planning and I want MY vision – not the tradesperson’s vision of my vision. Collaboration is a key issue. We about to start on the Kitchen, which I’ve been afraid of doing till now, but this is the year.

  18. We did our kitchen last year and were cooking in the basement for almost 4 months but it is totally worth it in the end. Of course I can look back and laugh now but it’s very stressful while it’s happening. I cooked a lot in the gross basement but I had to start drinking wine out of red solo cups since our huge old porcelain work sinks were playing havoc with my wine glasses. You can see the chronicle on my blog. Starts in January 2012.

  19. I love tip #8! We are going through a gut job on the first floor of our house and thankfully living elsewhere. Though I know tip #9 to be true- it is nice to have a drink and complain sometimes! Thanks for these!!

  20. Great list! We are about 10 days away (please, Lord) from being done with remodeling. We just bought this house (build about 40 years ago) and started with a pretty serious renovation of the master bathroom, but have ended up with something being done in almost every room of the house. So, after all that, here are a few more tips:

    1. As you go along, prepare to uncover other things you need/want to do in addition to what you thought you were doing. When you pull up the flooring you’ll have to put in new molding, when you pull off the molding you might tear the drywall, when you see the drywall is torn you may as well move that switch in a weird place, and as long as the guy is coming you may as well do some other electrical stuff…and so it goes. So, either prepare for that and set aside time and money for it, or be very strict with yourself.

    2. You need a plan for pets as well as children.

    3. Agree that all your stuff will be dirty for a while – don’t bother cleaning your “open” rooms until it’s all over (it takes 1 day for them to return to their dirty state). Set aside funds for a top to bottom cleaning at the end or have your good friends over for a cleaning party!

    4. if you are doing multiple rooms, it may help to have a list for each room taped to the wall in each room. You get to cross stuff off, everyone is on the same page about what’s left, and then you get to rip it off when it’s all done! I found this worked better for me at a certain point than one big list.

    Hang in there everyone (and good luck to those of you about to start). Next stop, spray painting old furniture!

  21. Such great advice. I remodeled an entire 2000 sq ft house and lived to tell about it on my own blog. the one thing we were not able to do was really carve out a makeshift kitchen so eating three meals a day outside the home became tedious very quickly so I would encourage others to find a spot that is workable for at least a late night snack or that all important first cup of coffee in the morning.

  22. Just seeing this now as I’m catching up on old posts….UGH. We did a huge reno of our 50s ranch in 2003…added a second story, a family room, attached garage with complete facade redo of brick and stucco. Bid was for 12 weeks. We stayed the entire time at a local extended stay hotel Our son (then 7) thought it was the best time in his life as he could have swim parties every day. We learned we should have been our own general contractors (hubs watched everyone lile a hawk daily and I had several stern corrections about botched aesthetics). We used crockpots, portable grills and microwaves to stave off ‘takeout’ terror. We were in the hotel for Christmas, but it was fine as the hotel staff then were very concerned and caring for us (and hey Troy had waffles every day if he wanted) and we put a tree in our unfinished living room at home so our son could see that Santa found us.

    It was a great experience, and we love our new home, but I suggested part way through to all of those considering adding on to your home……just move into a hotel or temporary space for four weeks and you would be so appreciative of the space you had you might not add on.

    Love your site, Kate!

  23. I agree that it’s important to stay sane during a home renovation through having plans then having backup plans for them. My sister came and complained to me every once in a while when their home was going through a renovation and I’m glad she was able to get her frustrations out. I will be keeping these tips in mind in case my husband and I decide to add on to our home some day.

  24. The changes I want to be done to my home seem to be getting more extensive. It makes sense why you would want to remember to be flexible. It sounds helpful, especially after you mentioned that delays can happen.

Leave a comment!

Keep the conversation going! Your email address will not be published.*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Lately on Instagram (@centsationalstyle)