Friday, July 21, 2017

A First Timers Renovation Story... Part I

It has been quite the radio silence over here. I bought a house and then everything else in my life seemed to melt away. There was no time for friends, food, fitness let alone stepping back and processing / documenting the house buying and renovating process. Luckily I have been taking photos, so I am able to piece together the blur of the last few months. 

Three weeks ago was my targeted completion date. I was supposed to have friends stay with me on Wednesday and Thursday nights. But that deadline came and went, my friends stayed at my parents house, and my house remains full of dust and half completed projects. As I enter my 4th month of living in the basement out of boxes and without a kitchen - I've decided to take a look back and see how my timeline and budget went out the window. Now I'm not saying it's a bad thing - but definitely a learning curve and an exercise in managing expectations. I'm happy where we are at and the progress to date, but I anticipate that I'll be in the basement for another month or so which means I have to shift many other life plans going forward.

So remember back in February when I was really on the minimalism kick and then I bought a house? Remember when I only showed a picture of the outside of the house?... Well, I'm lifting the veil. Looking back, I now see the scale of the project that was in front of me. (In the future I will list out the things I've changed - and this is probably only 2/3 of what I would like to change within the next year)

The other thing, looking back (ah 20/20) is how many things I would have looked at when first purchasing the house. 

Let's start with that list

  1. The Walls and Ceilings - the quality of the walls is extremely important - how well they have been maintained in the past will ultimately guide the cost and the end product of a repaint. Looking for things like dents, holes, patches - but also feeling the walls - have things been painted into the wall already? (I had very rough walls - like pieces of small metal wire and debris were painted into the wall. And the ceilings - when it is light out, you can see everything on the ceilings and it looks quite terrible)
  2. Electrical - I would definitely have electricians come into the house and provide some quotes. I don't think that the cost of the electrical work would have deterred me from buying the house but it is currently 3x my budget and keeps on increasing. I would take quite a bit of time looking at the electrical panel (the size) and (if the basement is open to the joists) how well as where the wires were going. Additionally, I would look at light switches and outlets, and if I would want any of them moved / added. 
  3. Record and Categorize the Number and Scope of the Projects - this is a big one. As I walked through the house, I saw lots of little projects, things I would want to improve / change. If I would have made a list of them, I would have had a better idea of the magnitude of the project. I also would have been able to order things sooner (helping the timeline) and thought about DIY solutions
  4. Quality of the Siding - The exterior of the house is an expensive thing to upgrade, and most likely if buying an older house, hard, if not impossible to match / replace the broken siding. I am lucky that the previous owners kept some extra siding, but there are corner pieces that are broken that I don't think I can find a replacement for. This really affects curb appeal. 
  5. Quality of the Windows -  Windows are quite expensive to replace (because they will likely be custom size) and significantly affect the R-value of the house. Further, I have these awesome recessed windows (no casing) that I love, but it looks like most of the windows in those recessed frames will need replacing which will either cost me an arm and a leg to replace with the cool recessed detail, or I'll have to lose the detail
  6. Exterior Doors - One of the things I will keep my eye on when I look at a house is the quality of the exterior doors, especially if I am going to replace hardware. My back door was an interior door which was moved to the back. And so the handle and the deadbolt were not the same distance from the edge of the door (an important measurement). So while I thought I would just sand and paint the door, I ended up fully replacing it because I didn't want to buy new hardware with mis-matching distances from the edge of the door.
  7. Level of the Floors - this may seem extreme, especially in a 1956 old house, but this can really play havoc on the new flooring. It may also indicate some other structural problems. Luckily mine didn't indicate other structural problems, but it did cause some issues when laying the new flooring. Looking back, I would have likely replaced the subfloor in the areas where I was laying new flooring - but that adds up / may not solve the problem if the 
  8. General Condition of Items / Quality of Replacement Items - This is a big one. My house was really well kept. Like extremely well kept. The water heater was replaced recently, the furnace is less than a year old, the Vacuflow was checked every 3 years. But what I failed to notice is that most everything was done on the cheap. The new furnace, well it's not high efficiency, the vanity light was moved but the junction box was never covered up, the basement's dropped T-ceiling was the cheapest brand, and the foundation was painted with miss-match paints and missing in certain spots... It was good news with the wallpaper which took barely any effort to remove (I removed 4-5 different wallpapers) but for everything else, it means that in the long run I will have to replace it instead of keeping it. I liken it to a mid century dresser, you can get the solid walnut / teak ones, or get the laminate ones. While both look great initially, the solid wood ones can be sanded and refinished, the laminate ones cannot. Which in this house, means keeping less original items, and spending more money.
And now without further ado - here are the listing photos... (aka what I walked around and decided would be a good idea to buy...)
The front door to the left, dining room to the right and kitchen is behind the wall directly in front

Close up of the dining room

Kitchen - view from the dining room, - if you were to turn around right now, you would see this amazing orange banquet dining table

Another view of the kitchen coming straight in from the front door - who has sink that is offset with the window?

The master bedroom - and yes the A/C unit came with the house, and we could not find the original window!

Guest room - what you can't see very well is that this whole room was pepto bismol pink (even the light fixture!) maybe the next photo will help...

Can you see the pink?

Guest room 2 or an office - I am keeping it as an office

The main floor bathroom - needless to say I gutted it.

The basement - nothing is being done to this room. But this is my current living quarters

Creepy basement bedroom - pretty much the first thing I removed. There is still some wallpaper on the left wall - I'll have to dream up some way to remove it

All in all you may have counted correctly (well a few are missing) but there were 8 different wallpapers and 7 different types of tile. I quickly learned that while the house was pretty much 'original' many of the aesthetic updates were done by the owner (hence the debris in the paint). I found extra tile and wallpaper in the garage. Note to self - Be a good DYIer, or don't do it at all. 

And so the transformation adventure beings...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Renovating and Consuming (Part I)

Ever since buying my house - I have returned to consumerville.  I haven't actually bought anything, but in an effort to look for inspiration, I have been scrolling through pictures, 'pinning' images and searching high and low for the perfect floor tile, bathtub and fixtures. And I contemplated going to the home and garden show last weekend! What a 180 from here!

Bathroom in Montreal

Initially it felt fun, creative and inspiring to search images that made me swoon. I would close my eyes and visualise doing the work to create these designs in my bathroom and seeing the transformation take place in front of my (closed) eyes. Hairs on my arms would rise, a smile would break out on my face and a tingle of excitement would stir in my stomach. And then the feelings would dissipate - like any good junkie, I would search for those fuzzy feelings again - and back to the inspiring photo swipe. It's a vicious cycle.  

Hello Inspiration!
But what I failed to notice is that the initial photo caused the fuzzy feelings, and it still caused them when I looked at it for a second time. Sure the size of the subway tile they installed wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but I didn't need to search another inspirational image to feel the fuzzy feelings. Because with every new image, the fuzzy feelings weren't as strong (the first high is always the highest right?) Every incremental images had diminishing "fuzzy" returns... But really what's the harm in looking at one more image?

Starting to all look black and white

Then I found myself up at 11pm at night rapidly scrolling through images of bathrooms I had seen many times before, numb to any excitement, just waiting for the perfect image, the one that would bring back the fuzzy feelings... I was in compulsory consumption mode... but it sounds a lot like withdrawal from an addiction. 

The issue is that this addiction is at my fingertips. I don't need to know a guy who knows a guy who has some special stuff, and I'll meet them at the corner with shoes on the power lines and then I'll pay cash in small bills... No, that effort is why I'm not addicted to illegal drugs. But this, this is free, and readily available. I can scroll on my elevator ride to my office, while waiting in line, while sitting on my couch at the end of a long day. 

"maybe black tile on the walls?..." *start search over*
Additionally, google searches are reinforcing.  I like one bathroom with white walls and then I am offered 1,204,394,349,486 permutations of a white bathroom walls. No green walls, no blue walls, just white walls with very small, but ever important variations. So the images that are at my fingertips are all pretty much the same, and are taking up a disproportionate amount of my free time. I have yet to book a bin for demo day, but I definitely know the size, colour and finish of my bathroom floor tiles. I don't know if they are available in Canada, or how much they are, but I have narrowed down that one, ever important item. In my mind. 
Or maybe black floors and walls...
But how do I get out of this cycle? Because I want to be prepared for when I do renovate, I want to know my options, and have a good vision/plan to follow. So I've started to read. Read articles about people DIYing their bathrooms, the successful and not so successful adventures, their advice to newbies, their budgets, their timelines, their experiences. I am trying to transform the 'inspiration' into 'learning and action'. And funny enough, the more research and action I take the more the fuzzies come back...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Minimalist not Neutralist

As I build inspiration for my home, I scroll through images which are labeled minimalist, and most of the time the interiors have muted colours - greys, whites, tans, little colour and sparse use of pattern. 
There are 60 similar ones here
But what this house in Cleveland has reminded me - that there are two forms of minimalism - design minimalism, and stuff minimalism. I am trying to focus on stuff minimalism, but I keep on associating it with design minimalism. 

In other words, I want to keep reminding myself that stuff minimalism does not mean a grey couch, white rug, and wood coffee table. It means, making sure that I need / want a couch, rug and coffee table. If the answer is yes, then I can use colour and patterns -  a maximalist design. 

Now, I'm actually not going to buy anything new for my house, so this point is a bit mute. But I love how every day I can break my misconceptions about minimalism and build the definition of minimalism that works best for me. 

Because isn't that the point? To me, minimalism is about being thoughtful and mindful in our pursuit of happiness. Not filling our lives with stuff without thinking about the purpose of why it is there.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

One Step Forward, Ten Thousand Steps Back

Remember when, less than a month ago, I embarked on a minimalist journey? Spurred by the Minimalism documentary I was fully on board - destination no shopping, more time and intrinsic fulfillment? 

Well it was great, I embraced it. Built a capsule wardrobe, returned $1,000 worth of purchases, fixed the items I owned, found long lost items, spent time with family and friends and was generally feeling a high from being unburdened. I was only a few weeks in, and I still had a long journey left, but I was feeling like minimalism was actually going to take hold... And then... 

I bought a house. A house. A whole house. WTF?!?
Hello suburbia. Well it was suburbia when it was built, now it's almost inner city.
A paraphrased quote by Frank Mascia in the documentary says "The biggest impact on the environment is to live in the smallest space possible"... Ahhh? Apparently that went in one ear and out the other!

But in all seriousness - have been at a cross-roads between two competing sets of values for some time... Owning my own house, and reducing consumption and living with less stuff.

For years I have been dreaming about owning a house. Having a place I can put my stamp on and create a home. I dream (quite literally) of moving walls, changing floors, lifting rooflines, re-plumbing bathrooms (well...), painting walls, putting up art, moving furniture around. I see a house as a canvas on which to express my creativity, to pursue my passion for design and in all honesty to test out my design ideas. I love everything about creating a functional, beautiful, intriguing and practical home. And I always have. At 4 years old, after my parents would put me to bed, I would move my bed, dresser and desk around in my bedroom - trying to figure out and create a perfect configuration of furniture. Over the years I have decorated rooms for friends/family, spent hours doing DIYs and designing pieces of furniture. (As noted in many past posts - here and here and here for early examples)

On the other hand, over the past 10 years, I have been feeling a longer sense that consumption is not the answer. I have slowly been moving away from acquiring stuff. I couldn't articulate the name of the trend, or even realize that it was minimalism, but I could feel the pressure of my stuff in my life. My first post ever was discussing a fiscal fast, and I used to regularly post eco Mondays. Quite often I find myself giving gift certificates for my time (even if I should just be giving items!), spending money on experiences rather than items, making every effort to get out of town on a weekend in order to avoid malls or boxed stores, opt for hand me downs rather than new items and build or borrow rather than buy. I compost, wash and reuse my zip lock bags and spend an inordinate amount of time researching where to donate my clothes so that they don't end up in the garbage. 

So somewhere along the way I decided to buy a house. It was not out of the blue. I have been looking for several years with strict criteria (small, beautiful lot, lots of 'potential'). I had made a few offers, but none of them won. I was on the brink of calling it quits - especially because of my no shopping goals and my new pursuit of minimalism. But then I found a mid-century bungalow with a lovely yard. It's ~1,000 sq feet, and with very few updates since the 1960s. I put in a bid, and then won! 

My initial feeling (I am embarrassed to admit) was regret. That is the last feeling I expected. But the transaction is completed. My money is down, there is no turning back! 

So, here I am with a house. And trying to live a minimalistic lifestyle. And feeling really hypocritical.  

I'm not entirely sure where I go from here. Since my initial feeling of regret, I am starting to feel excited. Excited to discover a new neighbourhood, to try my hand at some DIYs, and see how far I can stretch my budget. I would like to do some renovations immediately upon possession, but that will require shopping before the end of April. And in all honesty, I don't need to do the renovations. But I really want to. So the debate lives on... 

Welcome to my journey through renovating with minimalism. Wish me luck.

Monday, February 27, 2017


As I sift through my stuff, I struggle the most with two categories - items that need repair/making/redoing and sentimental items. 

Take, for example, my grandmother's tea cups. She passed away just over a year ago, and I miss her all the time. A part of her personality was taking great pride in her possessions. She definitely did not own lot, but what she did own she used and talked about with such pride. Afternoon tea with my grandma was something of a tradition. You couldn't be visiting without having afternoon tea. And when she used her lovely tea cups from around the world, you knew it was a special tea. 

She used to collect them during her travels
My cousins were asking where those tea cups went to, and I wasn't sure, until I came across them today as I was going through some of my boxes. So what do I do with those tea cups? I am not sure I'll display them, and will likely use them very infrequently, but they hold such a strong sentimental value to me (even though they were in a box in my basement and I didn't know where they were - the irony is not lost!)

For the moment I am going to keep them, but I am worried that this will start to unravel my minimalism. In The Minimalists' TEDxFargo they talked about taking photos of items and then letting them go, allowing others to use them. But I'm not sure I can do that yet... 

For now my solution is to put all of my sentimental items (because a tea cup is not the only one) in one box. If I have more than one box worth of items, I will go through them and pick the most sentimental items in order to restrain the collection to one box. One box of non-minimalism. Is it possible?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Capsule Wardrobe

As I listed in the last post - I have built myself 2 Capsule Wardrobes. 

While doing the MariKondo Method over a year ago, I really paired down my wardrobe, and it felt awesome! I loved that I had only a few things to wear when I went out, deciding what to wear was much easier (not to mention I spent less time putting away clothes!)

But over time, I started to buy items again and I had a bit of a hayday with all the sales in November and December of 2016, so I wanted to bring myself back to a paired down wardrobe. But I couldn't figure out how many items to remove. And then I started to read more about Capsule Wardrobes. Others have been chatting about it too - here, here, here, and here. It was inspiring to see that it has staying power - Unfancy has been doing it for over two years! 

So I started to remove items from my wardrobe. It was difficult - there were many things that I could not part with permanently, so I put them in my storage area so that I could add them to my next capsule wardrobe. 

So here are my two capsules:

This one is not that exciting, I essentially already had a capsule wardrobe. I have several pieces by the same brand that are all the same fabric/colour/cut and can be mixed and matched.  
  • 3 pairs of pants (same suit)
  • 4 dresses
  • 2 skirts
  • 8 blouses
  • 2 pairs of heels 
  • 3 suit jackets
This one is a bit more fun, so I photographed some of the items. It includes:  
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 1 blue & black pair of leggings
  • 1 black pair of leggings
  • 2 plaid shirts - white and blue and reds
  • 2 sweaters - pink and grey
  • 1 tank top - lace
  • 1 black long sleeve T-shirt
  • 1 black short sleeve T-shirt with leather detail
  • 1 grey short sleeve T-shirt
  • 1 chambray shirt
  • 2 silk long sleeve shirts both black with patterns
  • 1 black jumper
  • 3 open sweaters 2 grey and 1 black light grey shirt
  • 1 light grey skirt
It is hard to take photos of clothes not on people or hangers!
I've noticed a few things about the items in my capsule. There is a lot of black. I shop at mainstream (and fast fashion) stores. I am agnostic to expensive or higher quality items. Once I like something I repeat (my jeans are the same cut and brand, just a different colour).

Eventually I would like to have a wardrobe full of independent or local and ethical clothes but I'm in no rush to convert my wardrobe. Honestly, I love everything in my closet. When I look at my capsule, it brings a smile to my face and I can't imagine changing out any item, even though I am sure those sweaters will be a little warm come summer. 

The funny thing about this view is that before I made a capsule, I didn't love each item in the capsule - the pink sweater wasn't the exact pink I was expecting when I ordered it online (there is some rust in it), I like to JCrew chambray shirt more than the Gap one I am wearing and so on. But now that they are part of my capsule, I love them. I cannot begin to describe what has changed my view of my items, but I really like it!

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Corporate Minimalist

I have been watching the documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. The first time was two Fridays ago, and then I watched it again this weekend. It is quite the hit on Netflix.  Ironically, the first time I watched it instead of creating my capsule wardrobe... (don't worry I made it back to my capsule) But I found the documentary inspiring, and it put together many pieces of minimalism I have been pondering over the last year or so. (as seen here and here and here oh and here)

The focus of the documentary is figuring out what drives us to consume and how that affects our lives. It also provides a glimpse of what our life may look like without all the material items. It is summed up like this: "We spend so much time on the hunt, but nothing ever quite does it for us. We get so wrapped up in the hunt that it makes us miserable." ~Dan Harris. 

The parting words of the documentary provide a guide to living minimalist: "Love people and use things, not the other way around."

But there is also an underlying theme in the documentary, that thoughtless consumption is synonymous with corporate employment. I think that most of the individuals in the documentary hated their jobs and bought stuff to compensate. Many of them quit their office jobs to become a blogger/writer/traveler promoting the minimalism movement. I can definitely see the association between the two, especially if your goal of employment is to gain money. But what happens to people like me, people who don't want to become bloggers/writers/world travelers? I've done the former and it's lonely. And while I may not love the job I come to now, I definitely like coming to an office, working with people, solving difficult problems and having structure in my life. 

Via Apartment Therapy
I definitely see how minimalism and a less corporate employment fit well together, especially if we are working with the purpose to acquire money. Removing the need for money, removes the dependency for the corporate job. And if we hate our job, that can be very freeing. 

I am going to try and argue that a minimalist lifestyle in a corporate job can work well together - just as well as becoming a minimalist to quitting the corporate 'rat race' fits together. See in my corporate job, I have limited free time.  I would like to spend that time doing things, connecting with people outside of work, getting into nature, not buying or taking care of material goods I own. So the less I own, the more time I can spend doing the things I love. 

So here is my experiment - not giving up my day job (which takes up my days and nights), but giving up the shopping. I predict this will have a significant effect on my life, because I find myself spending large portions of my free time researching, hunting, buying and storing material items. I am interested and worried to see what I spend my time on when I don't spend it on the hunt. 

So in the last week and a half, I have taken some steps down the corporate minimalism path:
  1. Returned ~$1,000 worth of clothing, I somehow bought over the past two weeks ($500 of which I only took home to 'try on', so was going to be returned anyway)
  2. Built a Capsule Wardrobe - Well I have built 2 capsule wardrobes. Because I wear suits to work and there is no crossover between work apparel and lifestyle apparel, I had to create two separate capsules. Both are less than 30 items. (more on that another day) 
  3. Made a pledge to not buy anything for 3 months. This is not confined to clothing, rather I am going to attempt to not purchase any material item that is not consumable and immediately required (ex. I am not going to buy my 10th bottle of body cream). 
  4. Unfollowed instagram accounts that are selling me items
  5. Went through 1/2 of my kitchen and removed items that did not "spark joy". I filled two medium sized boxes and kept quite a few items (I'm definitely not strictly following the Mari Kondo Method). Despite the limited reduction, I feel decluttered already
Via Apartment Therapy

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Me Time

It has taken me a few weeks to figure out what my new year's resolution / intention / goal is. If previous posts (here and here and here) are any indication, I like to set goals and work towards them. 

But this year, my resolution is to have less goals. Whoa. 180 degrees.

I want to spend more time with myself. Not time accomplishing goals, or working towards something. Just time to figure out on my own. Just typing this makes me nervous. I do not like spending time by myself. Maybe it is because I'm an only child and have spent so much time by myself, or maybe because I don't like myself...

Instead of being alone, I make a million plans, never say no to an invite, over commit and spend any alone time getting ready for the next time I will spend with other people. 

I am constantly driving forward. 

But I'm worried that in my forward drive, I have left me behind. Me without accomplishments, without to do lists, without activities planned. I have previously said "A person is only the sum of their actions". And I honestly still believe this. So in that case, why not attempt to fit in as much as possible to be a better person? More actions to sum = better person, no?

But it has hit me, that more actions is a difficult treadmill to be on. An exhausting treadmill, constantly trying to line up items in the future in order to not be alone in the present. The alternative for me is daunting. Stillness. No plans. Being alone. Thinking about this makes me feel very sad, lonely, hopeless, like I am wasting my life as a mere passenger on this shitty train to nowhere. (Dramatic I know, but that is honestly the way I feel.) It makes the exhausting treadmill looks rather appealing. 

But what causes me to feel this way? Why does a wide open future fill me with so much worry? I'm not completely sure why. But I know I must address these feelings. Sit with them so that I can unravel their meaning and address what it is that is causing them. 

I have a pretty good guess that it has to do with my relationship with myself. My natural instinct will be to be self-critical. Seeing where I'm not measuring up to both my standards or society's standards. Feeling the shame of not meeting those standards, for not acting in line with what I believe to be my morals / values / goals. But slowly, through tenderness, nurturing positivity, and time I hope to build a relationship with myself that I can feel comfortable in. 

It look the loss of an important relationship for me to realize that the most important relationship should be with myself - and I when examining my relationship with myself - it's not positive / healthy / supportive. I will make soup for someone who is sick, make nutrient rich freezer meals for my friend who's a new mom, spend hours finding the best gift for a loved one, but never do those things for myself. I never feel like I'm worth it. 

So 2017 will be all about treating myself the same way I treat my friends and family. And making an effort to spend time with myself. To take Me Time. 

Via here