We have this area of our house that we’ve affectionately referred to as the Crap Room since we moved in. It’s a living room that’s between our garage and the main part of the house, and it’s very dated and dark and typically filled to the brim with all sorts of, well, crap. Kid toys, a full-sized punching bag, discarded shoes, backpacks, eight hundred tons of individual Legos strewn all over the floor, random pieces of paper, an old cat scratching post, pieces of various Hot Wheels tracks, dumbbells … anything and everything, pretty much. Several months ago I convinced JB to put in a door at the top of the little stairway so I could just close off the chaos of the Crap Room when it felt too visually overwhelming.

This past weekend we spent a few hours tackling this room — throwing away the garbage, donating the rarely-used stuff, and finding homes for everything else — and while it’s still dated and dark, it looks a thousand times better. A million times. I mean, you can actually sit in there now, although those wood-paneling walls do sort of wear on you after a while.


There are so many things about our house that I don’t love. I don’t love that we have no utility room and our washer and dryer are out in the garage. I don’t love my kitchen with its ill-placed, totally mismatched cabinets. I don’t love that the master bath is the size of a Porta-Potty and thus all four of us share one hall bathroom and people are always spitting “Sparkle Fun” Crest all over my makeup brushes and peeing on the toilet seat.

I’ve been hugely reluctant to commit to any major upgrades to this house, though. We did two big remodels on our old house and while I absolutely loved the results, I’d never want to make that kind of financial investment again. Basically, I don’t want to do anything to this house that we can’t pay for with cash.

It’s always kind of hard to find that balance between dreaming of improvements and being happy with what you have, isn’t it? When it comes to the lesser-loved parts of my house, I try to think of that Melody Beattie quote: Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.

Truly, I am beyond grateful for the things that make our house a home. What does it really matter whether I have design-magazine-worthy rooms, I tell myself, when my rooms are warm and more than adequate and filled with love and laughter (and if someone breaks something it’s not exactly the end of the world, because it probably came from TJ Maxx)?

Also, as I learned last weekend, a little elbow grease goes a hell of a long way. Some primer and paint on that paneling and I bet our Crap Room wouldn’t be that crappy at all.

I’m curious, what’s your approach to home improvement stuff these days? Do you have a wish list of things you’d love to do to your house, or do you feel pretty settled with what you have? Has your feeling about prioritizing upgrades changed with the economy and housing values (because boy, mine sure did)?


79 Responses to “Greener grass”

  1. Alli on November 5th, 2013 5:18 pm

    3 years ago we moved into our house and were in love with so much- the extra space, the back yard, the dining room that fit my heriloom table. But if you put me in a specific part of the house, I start to deconstruct how much I hate it. The master bath- I hate the jet tub (such a pain to clean) and I hate the ceiling. And lack of storage. The kitchen is smaller than our old house but we can’t do much. So these days (to answer your question) we have mainly been decluttering and trying to keep Legos in the boys room and the games cabinet. Hopefully I will clean out the garage soon and make it less of our crap room and more of a place we can put our car.

  2. Katharine on November 5th, 2013 5:31 pm

    I live in an apartment, so your prompt for today doesn’t apply to me. However, re: your Crap Room, the house I lived in during high school had a living room with the exact same dark 70s paneling as depicted above. Same low ceiling, too – it was a ranch house. It even had a brick fireplace, although not a stove like that one. The room had a dim, depressing feel, even though it was our only choice for where to hang out, as the Nice Living Room was not for everyday use.

    My mom waited until our fourth and last year there to paint those paneled walls white, and I cannot even express what a difference it made. It was a completely different room all of a sudden, a room you WANTED to spend time in instead of the opposite. So, yes, should you decide to do it, I think you’re right that paint and primer could make a difference. :)

  3. Erin on November 5th, 2013 5:34 pm

    Everything you said here. I needed to read that quote.

  4. Lisa on November 5th, 2013 5:36 pm

    I just love this. i am so tired of magazine-worthy homes of working, busy people with kids and love the idea of everyone just calming the eff down and LiVING. Your room looks so cozy and I would love to have some coffee in there!

  5. Tamara on November 5th, 2013 5:56 pm

    I can’t answer your questions because the LA real estate market has us trapped in a rental, barring a rich long lost relative dropping dead and giving me a nice inheritance it’s probably going to stay that way for a while. BUT! I will say, as a kid and even today as an adult, my friend’s non-magazine worthy houses were/are always so cozy and inviting to me. Their couches seem more comfortable and their kitchens more warm.

  6. Sarah on November 5th, 2013 5:57 pm

    Once upon a time we owned a condo that was our big DIY project. We mighty as well have flushed the many dollars down the toilet. So yeah, not so much on spendy projects these days.
    For the last three years we have happily rented an adorable little house with contractor white walls and one teensy bathroom for the three of us. It’s bright and happy and clean. Helps that the yard is enormous and the house itself is 25% larger than our old overstuffed condo.
    I occasionally dream of owning our house and adding a bathroom and office space but eh, no thanks.

  7. Meagan on November 5th, 2013 6:09 pm

    I’ve painted the 1970s crappy wood paneling and just want to let you know, it makes a HUGE difference. It feels kinda cheap as you’re doing it, but once it’s done it brightens and uodates the room in a flash, and you won’t even notice. There are probably better long term solutions, but paint is cheap and fast, and you won’t regret it if you go that route for a year or ten.

  8. Maureen on November 5th, 2013 6:22 pm

    I happen to love those walls, the room has a very retro feel to it. That is just my own taste though.

    I’m one of those people who are still so grateful that I own a washer and dryer, instead of having to go to the laundromat-that I don’t mind we have to keep them in a big closet in my daughter’s bedroom! We own a duplex that is small and out of date-but I love it. It is our home, and we aren’t so mortgage heavy that we can’t afford to do things we love, like travel. I also hate chaos, and I think I would have a really hard time dealing with renovations.

  9. Holli on November 5th, 2013 6:37 pm

    Paint the paneling in your crap room white. Doesn’t cost much.. and looks really good.

  10. Lisa S. on November 5th, 2013 6:48 pm

    Ha ha ha ha ha boo hoo … I’m on fixer-upper #2 (we sold #1 when we had reached the end of what we could do + needs changed).

    We’re on a 10-year plan with this one, quite possibly 15. Because we always pay cash for our work, I’m freelancing like mad to swing the total rewiring + breaker panel replacement and plumbing retrofitting we want to get done in the next 6 mos.

    Painting the rest of the house is on my to-do list. Our fridge is cri-zappy & it’s going to be 5-7 years before we can redo the kitchen so I want to DIY something insane and fun with it. My mom & I are committed to planning the hardscape & demo’ing the fence and extended driveway this winter …

    I’m lucky that I love this stuff and my parents retired out here, and they love this stuff too. Lord knows we’ll all be at it for a while yet.

  11. Joanne on November 5th, 2013 7:12 pm

    My laundry is out in the garage too and I don’t like it. BUT I comfort myself with the fact that I can do laundry in the evenings and I can’t hear the washer or dryer. We are the same way, we are not borrowing money to do home improvements, who can afford it?

  12. Donna on November 5th, 2013 7:21 pm

    Nooooooo! Don’t paint it! Make it into the boy’s man cave with some deer heads, bows, guns, that kind of stuff…..and legos! Lots of legos!

  13. Deb on November 5th, 2013 7:43 pm

    In the Fall of 2011, we sold our house (at a giant loss) and all our crap and traveled the country with our kids (my hubby works from home and we homeschool).

    Then in March of this year, we settled down again. From our storage unit, we unearthed a ratty couch, a tv cabinet, and two dressers that I bought the kids one year that better last them till college.

    Since then, I have pretty much decorated my house on the Super! Cheap! I love thrift stores, antique stores, and Craig’s List. I have scored some truly amazing deals and probably spent less than $2000 in the last 8 months decorating my entire house. My daughters bedframe was $7 at the thrift store. I painted it pink with chalk paint (thanks, Pinterest) and it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I have an awesome kitchen table from Craig’s List that was an office conference table, a set of lockers in my kitchen from the Army Surplus store, endless dressers from the thrift store at $30 a pop for solid wood mid-century awesomeness….

    I love thrift store shopping now. Some real jewels can be found there. And every time I bring home a gorgeous chair that has been covered in old-lady plastic for the last 50 years and is still practically brand new, I vibrate with happiness. I actually went in Pottery Barn the other day (I used to lust after everything in there), and I couldn’t find anything I wanted. It was weird.

  14. Pete on November 5th, 2013 9:03 pm

    We bought a 40 year old fixer-upper so I would tackle one room at a time. Strip the walls to the studs, rewire, insulate, and in some cases, put in sky lights. Mostly is ended up being a couple of hundred on material with the most expensive being the living room at about $3,500. That was mostly for a glass block room divider and a circular stained glass window. Cheap enough to pay cash while I was doing it. Also got to teach my kids to work on a house. Now they really hate me.

  15. Skance on November 5th, 2013 9:07 pm

    We were lucky enough to buy our (tiny, 106 yr old) place in San Francisco at just the right time and I never, ever dreamed I’d be able to own real estate here, so I forgave a lot. When we first moved in we did some minor updates because it had been a rental for 40+ years and was TRASHED. After fresh paint, a small kitchen reno and new carpets I was enthralled. We have a dishwasher! We have a washer/dryer in unit! Now, two years and one baby later I see the old drafty windows, miniscule split bath, no storage, creaky floors, noise transference from neighbors and a billion other problems. Then I walk my baby 5 mins to Golden Gate Park, or catch a glimpse of the view, or find a killer restaurant and I realize how completely lucky I am to have this thing I never dreamed could be mine, even though it’s tiny and drafty and foggy. Sometimes you just need the reminder. Thanks for the nudge.

  16. Ang on November 5th, 2013 9:24 pm

    We we were really low on money – right after we moved – we did very little, replaced some carpet that was gross, and painted. Things have gotten better and we’ve still tackled some of the bigger things (new bathroom) by ourselves so that it was 1/3 of the cost. One space at a time, paint and cleaning do make a huge difference!

    We had actually reasonably nice 40 year old paneling in our family room and I had to TALK my husband into letting me paint it – because PANELING – and now he LOVES it. Do lightly sand (and wipe down) the paneling first, then probably two coats of primer.

  17. Carla Hinkle on November 5th, 2013 9:43 pm

    Paint that paneling! It is cheap and easy and you will not regret it. You need something bright and cheery during those long, rainy Oregon winters.

    If it were ME I’d also paint the brick stove surround. Maybe rip out the carpet and put in some cheap peel-and-stick tiles (not because the carpet looks bad, but because I hate the maintenance of kids + carpet, which seems like a never-ending, always-losing battle against dirt & stains).

    But if it is a room you are in and will have to live with for more than a VERY short while, I’m all for the cheap fix. For example: in our new house we had a kitchen we weren’t going to redo. It had a HIDEOUS pink marble tile backsplash. I mean, really, REALLY pink and horrible. I was resigned to live with it until a friend suggested painting it (with the spray enamel paint you can find to resurface tubs & sinks, etc). A ridiculously cheap solution and it is SO MUCH BETTER. I am in that kitchen every single day and now I look at plain, calm, white backsplash tiles instead of that hideous pink marble.

    So DO IT! Paint the paneling!!

    (Oh, second the advice to lightly sand/primer/then paint. It will really help the paint stick.)

  18. Jess on November 5th, 2013 9:52 pm

    We were lucky to purchase our home as a short sale in a great neighborhood. It was a GREAT price and 2 years later it’s worth $50k more than we paid (!!). But I have an entire notebook broken down room by room from things as simple as “add baseboards in family room” to “add master suite over garage”. But my BIGGEST pet peeve is the laundry room. The house is a quad and the laundry is in the basement. So I’m up and down three flights of stairs all day everyday!! My dream would be to move it up one flight to this strange room off the family room that serves as our crap room. Or, if we ever do the master addition (which terrifies me), put it up there!!

  19. Bethany West on November 5th, 2013 10:13 pm

    Oh, DO paint the paneling! We just painted ours and the room was drastically changed. We did it white at first, but that just drew attention to the heavy, yellowish stone fireplace surround, so we repainted with a green-gray that turned out to be pretty close to the grout color.
    I love it. The fireplace (which I used to hate) looks trendy and attractive. The room is pleasant to be in, and I get a thrill every time I realize that it’s beautiful, now.
    Go for it! Best $50 bucks you’ll ever spend on your house (if you buy cheap paint. Expensive paint would be more. Like double. But I understand if you like expensive paint, since it’s a dream to work with and smells nicer, to boot).

  20. lisa on November 5th, 2013 10:35 pm

    I always go cheap, out of necessity. We can barely afford our house (the cheapest we could find, hello SF Bay Area), and definitely cannot afford any remodels any time soon. My house is dated and parts of it are kind of ugly, but I love it. I have a three-step path to contentment:

    1)Clean. I try to have a good attitude while doing it. This requires that the rest of the family be cleaning at the same time. Not even the same amount of work, but all at the same time. Use nice-smelling products.

    2)Paint. When in doubt go white. When not in doubt go with a crazy bright happy color (but that’s just me).

    3)Set low standards. This is seriously the most important one. It is hard because my kid attends a rich school and has rich friends, and so I sometimes find myself in mansions, which is awkward and depressing. I come home and hate my house. The same thing happens on blogs and Pinterest. You start out looking for inspiration, but end up feeling crappy about your own life accomplishments. I battle this by following hippie/thrifty blogs and board. I search Flickr for pictures of creative, real spaces. I bookmark rooms that I love, that look like they are part of actual houses with actual people. I look for images that make me happy, not jealous. This has led me to some questionable design experiments, but all of my mistakes have been cheap enough to correct.

    I think it’s great that this room has been a “crap room” because the bar is now set really low. Anything is an improvement, right? I’d paint the paneling white (it’s not like it’s a cedar ceiling or anything) and turn the room into a rumpus room for your boys. After they get older and start hiding in their bedrooms, you can reclaim it for yourself. By then you’ll probably have lots of ideas about what to do with it.

  21. Jenny on November 6th, 2013 12:01 am

    I am super in the minority, but I love the wood panelling. I think it’s pretty and warm and woodsy. So cozy!

  22. Marna on November 6th, 2013 12:08 am

    I think I’m a really bad person to ask:) we moved into our home in April 2002 and it took me 10 years to paint the walls anything but white:)

  23. Marna on November 6th, 2013 12:09 am

    Well – it took me 10 years to paint our customhouse that we thought was so modern anything but white:) we need some improvements and some remodeling but it will take another 10 years I’m sure.

  24. sooboo on November 6th, 2013 1:06 am

    We do one project every year or so and we do it on the cheap. This year we Ikea-ized the kitchen. I hate, hate the Home Depot tile that’s throughout the house (laid badly and ugly!) so we are removing it room by room over time. We had a crap room that we turned into a guest room/ movie room. We bought a cheap projector, big floor pillows and we watch movies on the wall. I say paint that room too! You can get a free or cheap ping pong table off Craigslist and make it a game room. Or you can make like Candy Spelling and have a gift wrapping room lolz!

  25. Lucy on November 6th, 2013 4:13 am

    A few years ago I was unwell with OCD. I thought a perfect home would make the rest of my life perfect. Erm – no! Now I am more relaxed and we all just live and it’s lovely! And I’m well!

  26. NancyJ on November 6th, 2013 4:40 am

    I’m with the majority – Paint The Paneling! I’d go with an off-white or something light but warm.
    I live in the house I grew up in and we’ve done a lot of work on it over the 18 years we’ve been here (52 years but with an 8 year break) and my husband is a contractor but even for us – remodeling costs money!! We do what we can but mostly now it is painting.
    The bane of my existence is organization – I think I actually have enough space but a lot of stuff hanging around needs to find a better storage home!

  27. Maria on November 6th, 2013 4:43 am

    I haven’t owned a home since we sold ours (at a 100k loss) but I’ve done just like decorative wee improvements in the two places I’ve rented. Paint and wall stuff and rearranging furniture make me feel so happy. Last weekend I found a workbench for my garage (I’ve never had a utility room and I would looooooove one some day although the garage is okay since it’s never too cold) and I feel so badass with all my tools in one place now. I enjoy slowly learning how to do things with wood and small crafts and repairs. A major reno sounds awful and scary.

    I love that corner stove thingy.

  28. Sonya on November 6th, 2013 5:17 am

    We had paneling like that in our dining room and I hated the darkness of it. Yup, primer and paint went A LONG way. My suggestion would be to use a separate primer because it really needs to adhere and it took a little extra care to get it to stick.

  29. Anu on November 6th, 2013 5:49 am

    Man, we live in NYC and my husband is incapable of being a suburbanite so we had to search long and hard for our home (closing next week!). We managed to find a couple of neighborhoods that are rapidly gentrifying and ended up backing into a fabulous value of a home that we’ll be able to stay in for a long time (eastern end of the Jersey City Heights, with a full skyline view of Manhattan right in front of our house!).

    Anyway, we were looking at fixer uppers and I think painting the paneling white and replacing the carpet with wide plank pine flooring (so cheap and so gorgeous! cheaper than vinyl usually!) would be in keeping with the woodsy cottage feel of your house but with a brighter and more modern flair.

    My approach to home repair? Is to look at my husband and say “you have a civil engineering degree from one of the most famous engineering schools on the planet. We are doing this sh*t ourselves.” He actually has a natural sense of space and design as well and I enjoy making him put his money where his mouth is in terms of slagging architects.

  30. el-e-e on November 6th, 2013 7:26 am

    I struggle every day with being content and grateful for my home of nearly 12 years, versus hating something in every single room. We’ve been thinking of putting it on the market. I think, “No one will want this piece of crap kitchen, e.g., it will never sell, why bother?” and then I think, WHY is this not good enough for me? (The reasons include the neighborhood which has declined a bit, and the need/want for just a little more space. Specifically a guest bedroom for my parents who visit a lot.)

    I’m also certain we won’t find THE house we are looking for. We have a lot of requirements now, after living with what seems like so many imperfections.

    If we can’t sell it I definitely want to do a kitchen remodel, but totally dread it (financially and physically) at the same time.

  31. Christina on November 6th, 2013 7:29 am

    Maybe it has to do with being “older” (dun dun dun) but I do not long for things like how beautiful and amazing my house can look like I once did. We are like you cash in hand before we can do a project. We make a list each year of things that need to be done for that year. Usually small things (paint the trim around the doors, etc) and one bigger thing. We put in new flooring recently upstairs (2 story walkout). The year before that it was a new patio and the luxury of hot water (new hot water heater). The year before that a new deck.

    Yes, I would love to redo my kitchen with new counters, a back splash and cabinets and I find it is okay to dream but I am also happy with what I have. I do not want to live in a magazine worthy house. I often look at those magazines and wonder how on earth do they have five children and it looks like that? Everything nice we have has either been broken, chipped, or looks worse for the wear. The thing I think about most is that I have plenty of time once the kids are grown to have a magazine worthy house and I would not trade in the state of our current home to get to that point faster. I rather love the noise and love and joy that make up those rooms rather then the content of the rooms. One day I will have the kitchen of my dreams but until then I am going to enjoy the amazing family of my dreams more!

    I think that room is fab!! I love the square of sunlight and the fire place in the corner. It reminds me of a cabin, super cozy and warm – definitely some primer/paint and a trip to Goodwill and you could jazz that place very quickly I am sure!

  32. Chris C. on November 6th, 2013 7:39 am

    We just bought our place this summer (a 200 year old farmhouse) and so we’re still in the thick of just-moved-in renovation stuff. We’re only doing what we can afford to pay for in cash, and we’ve definitely got a priority list. At the top, and still in progress, is converting the barn into J’s painting studio, since that’s a career issue. Beyond that, we’re focusing first on “invisible” priorities, like a better hot water heater, and things that don’t require much money or effort. It’s amazing the difference a fresh coat of paint or a few houseplants can make.

  33. Jessica on November 6th, 2013 7:39 am

    Did a huge remodel in our first home – spent wads of money and didn’t get it back when we sold. At the bottom of the market, mind you. But we were able to turn around a buy a much larger house (to fit our growing family) and now we are very conservative about what we tackle. And only with cash – not with loans. With our tax return we do some small to medium improvement – new lighting in the basement (can lights) one year. Last year, a deck out in the back yard. I have a handy husband so he does a lot of the work himself. Do I wish for a magazine perfect house like I used to? Not really. I mean, not enough to actually spend money on it. That’s my answer. I agree with previous commenters – a clean and nicely organized house feels so much better than super expensive, fancy molding and floors and counter tops and loads of debt. That’s where I am these days.

  34. jen on November 6th, 2013 7:42 am

    We have a long term plan (10-15 yrs from now) for our house (full remodel/addition to the kitchen and tearing down walls) and little things we want to do before then (tear out a closet and build a drop zone, replace the carpeting, hire someone to paint the vaulted ceiling). We plan to stay in the house we are in forever so that makes it feel a little better and has also caused us to slow down doing things to make sure we really wanted to do them.

    Also, we had a paneled room in our old house and while it is a complete PAIN to paint paneling (I had to brush in the lines/grooves and I was up until 3 a.m. finishing a coat), the results are very much worth it.

  35. Alison on November 6th, 2013 7:44 am

    I haven’t done much decorating in our current house. It was the first one my husband and I bought and (God willing) we’ll be moving into a larger one in the next few years. It’s a wonderful house (especially for our first) and it’s our home. There are tons of things about it I don’t love, but I just can’t put time and money into something that I know we’ll be leaving soon.

    Plus, I suck at decorating. I have no eye for it so I just don’t. :(

  36. jen on November 6th, 2013 7:48 am

    I should say too, I very much get not wanting to do anything to a house too. We lost about $25K on our last house ($16K at closing and at least $9K of improvements) and even though it has been 4 1/2 years since we sold that house, it still hurts my heart to write that.

  37. Cheryl S. on November 6th, 2013 7:57 am

    I like my house, but I also have such a wish list! We pick one project a year to do with some/most/all of our tax return money. It always seems to be stuff that HAS to get done, so the wish list doesn’t get shorter, but it does spruce the place up on a regular basis. Last year we had the house re-stucco’ed and painted. This year we’ll have the bottom and sides of the pool re-done.

  38. Maggie on November 6th, 2013 8:04 am

    We bought new construction (will never do that again) about 8 years ago and everything is just shit quality and now falling apart. We did put a ton of money into finishing the basement, but that was totally worth it since we are down there all the time. Basically doubled our living space. I am desperate to have the kitchen upgraded and new flooring, but it is hard to justify the cost. I am with you there. Trying to be happy and grateful with what we have.

    FYI, we painted paneling in our previous house and it made a WORLD of difference. Our paneling had pits in it so we used a really thick roller and it worked great!

  39. Miche on November 6th, 2013 8:24 am

    I’ve had a Kill Two Birds With One Stone approach lately. I’ve sold tons of clutter (and perhaps a few things I’ve ‘picked’) on kijiji and earned almost $2500 in the last two months. Its helping dig us out of a hole and relieving the stress of too much crap. Lift the pix from amazon etc so they’re nice and pretty and post that shit. You will be amazed at how quickly it adds up!

  40. Janet in Miami on November 6th, 2013 8:32 am

    I agree with all the paint the paneling recommendations. It doesn’t have to be a true white or a brilliant white – It can be a warm off white, or very light blue, and it will warm the space. Put a few larger potted plants around the stove (when its not on, of course) from Home Depot or a nursery that don’t cost an arm and a leg. With another older, comfy couch and reading chairs – that looks like a brilliant reading / libraryish spot to me.
    Can I come over?

  41. C on November 6th, 2013 8:36 am

    Paint! Paint that living room paneling! It will help SOOooooo much! So Much!

    We’re in the middle of redoing our place, which is, in all actuality, an old trailer.
    We stalled on the cabinets because what the heck is up with how gd expensive cabinets are.
    I cleaned out our hardly-usable closet yesterday and felt like I’d cleaned a full closet out of my brain while I was at it. Free home improvements FTW!

  42. KP on November 6th, 2013 8:37 am

    I love that room. Paint the paneling. Perfect family room, rumpus room,etc.

    I, too, would love to update some things in my home. But like you, the money factor holds me back.

    I’ve come to appreciate what we have and try to let go of what I think we need. We have a beautiful home and it doesn’t need to look straight out of a design magazine. For godsakes, we have two kids. Sometimes we all need a little reality factor, not a glossy magazine cover.

  43. Janet in Miami on November 6th, 2013 8:40 am

    I loved @Deb’s comment about how after she was, in essence, ’spoiled’ by the trophies she got employing the thrift model. I used to love Pottery Barn too, and now while I may use something from there for inspiration, I haven’t wanted to buy anything there anymore. In fact, full retail doesn’t appeal to be in the slightest. I’m so glad I’ve found other members of my tribe !

    One other thing. Lately I found myself not too happy that I was doing the dishes again after I had done all the cooking, which I had done when I came home from working all day. Then I had a flashback to the time as a child when I was washing the dishes. Our entire family had 3 forks. There were 3 of us, we had 3 forks. Not a lot of clean up then. Perspective.

  44. Janet in Miami on November 6th, 2013 8:44 am

    The grass that is greener on the other side is usually astroturf. Stay real.

  45. Krissa on November 6th, 2013 9:05 am

    I don’t have a place of my own yet, but my parents are practically professional fixers, in every house they’ve ever owned. They went back and forth on how they financed things, and that decision basically boiled down to 1) need versus want (puddle in the master bedroom, even though no one has been in there since the day before? Need! Tear down the wall between the perfectly functioning kitchen and dining room to open up the space? Want. (Although when they did do this one, we found a join of wire with no box, where the wire nut had melted and looked like a plastic string hanging in the wall, with scary burn marks around it. That wire was to the OVEN.))

    I think if I were in your shoes, I would look into changing up that master bathroom – you’re already sharing the other one so it’s not like you’d be more out, and the end result would be fantastic for you guys AND help resale. Downside, you might find an almost-fire in the wall, but even then you’d be able to take care of the problem! :)

  46. Snerp on November 6th, 2013 9:29 am

    7 years ago when we had one child we bought a ’starter’ home – 2 bedrooms, no garden – at the height of the Irish property bubble. About a year later that bubble burst in the most spectacular fashion and our home is worth probably less than half what we paid for it. We now have 3 kids in a 2 bedroom house with no garden, no chance of expanding our very cramped house. Its stressful and annoying to live in such a small space but I try and remind myself that we are all healthy and happy and our relationships are solid. The important things are all going well – the rest is just icing. And while I would love a garden and more bedrooms learning to live with less is not such a bad lesson. To be certain our home really makes our family very close indeed!

  47. Phoebe on November 6th, 2013 9:35 am

    We bought our 100+ year old house in the spring and while it had been updated, they didn’t do the greatest job. All of our projects so far have been DIY and pretty simple. I am honestly a little afraid of our house because of it’s age. I worry that the second we try to do anything major it’ll be like opening a can of worms. And for the time being I prefer the worms to be hidden away, out of sight, out of mind :)

  48. Mary Clare on November 6th, 2013 9:57 am

    Since we bought our home 6 years ago, we focused on furnishing it and maintaining it (e.g. replacing appliances, siding, windows). Both very costly in themselves. We’re painting and will start some low cost home improvement soon.

    I second the paint the wood paneling idea! If you’re feeling ambitious, you could tear out the paneling and put up drywall.
    That’s still a relatively cheap fix up.

  49. billie on November 6th, 2013 10:25 am

    We painted a paneled room. What a difference it made. Such an inexpensive improvement. Go for it!

  50. Lisa on November 6th, 2013 11:08 am

    We purchased a house built in 1940 in a “transitional” neighborhood in Richmond, VA. The house was very affordable which was good because it was financed in my name only (on a legal secretary’s salary). We’ve been there 7 years and have tried to tackle one or two projects every year – from installing a vapor barrier in the crawl space to completely gutting our master bedroom and running new electrical wire. I used the inspection report that we received when we bought it as a starting point for fixing non-critical but noted problems that the inspector found that I knew we’d be dinged on if we hadn’t fixed them when we decide to sell. Some repairs/upgrades have gone on the credit card and some have been pay as we go affairs which draws out the process but is kinder on the wallet. A can of paint is affordable and can do wonders to that paneling. Demolition and a crowbar can also do wonders as a stress reliever. Because we have little extra money, we’ve done all but two of our projects on our own – an incredibly frustrating yet satisfying experience. Pay as you go sucks when you don’t want to have to wait months and months for the end result (or 2 years for our bedroom remodel), but it’s a good lesson in patience and being happy that you have a home to live in to begin with. Good luck!

  51. Jessica V. on November 6th, 2013 11:24 am

    We bought our house 8 years ago at the top of the market, so are probably stuck in it for a while. We ended up doing a lot of work in phases because it was a total disaster (new drywall, central heating/air), new paint and carpet in the bedrooms and living room, and then followed up a couple of years later with a kitchen facelift (new counters, painted cabinets, new floor, moving the washer/dryer out of the kitchen and into the garage) and finally a total master bathroom redo (it was leaking into an adjoining closet, so we gutted it). We ended up dumping a bunch of money in it, but we love where it is now – and since we’ll be here for a while, we felt it was worth it. I think we are done now though – not much else to do at this point.

  52. Heather on November 6th, 2013 12:23 pm

    I see a difference between home projects that are designed to make it look better vs. home projects designed to make the house work better. Redoing kitchen cabinets because they are outdated would slide to the bottom of my priority list, but reworking the kitchen to create a better working space that I’ll use daily? Worth it. And in that case the new cabinets would be worth it as well. New dining room table just because the current one is old? Again, not high on my list. But adding a small desk to the corner of the kitchen as a computer/homework table? That helps my house work better for us and in that case, it’s an expense I’m willing to take on. With your space, primer + paint is such a small expense, I think it’s worth it just to try to make that space more inviting – you will want to use the space more, which makes your home work more for you.

  53. Courtney L on November 6th, 2013 12:26 pm

    I can wholeheartedly relate to this post. We bought our house in Southern California in 2005 aka the most expensive time to buy real estate in this area ever! It is a solid house, roomy, in a “transitional” area. It had laminate counters, 4 kinds of shag carpet – but underneath the shag was beautiful original wood floors and we have a lovely front room fireplace. Everything was cosmetic! We could fix it up, make it pretty and get out of here in 5 years before our kids started school! Then it dropped to half its value and the the momentum on home improvement also dropped dramatically. I can’t justify putting money into a house knowing I may never get the investment back. Our house is completely functional, even with it’s wood paneling, popcorn ceiling, avocado green kitchen sink. There is more than enough room for our now family of 4. We got our children into a neighboring school district that doesn’t suck. The one room we didn’t touch is now the room I spend the most time in, it is my office while I work from home. It sometimes depresses me, but then I try to remember the bigger picture. I’m grateful for a home to call my own, period. Our hope is to one day turn this house into a rental and I’ll make my forever home beautiful.

  54. sarah on November 6th, 2013 1:23 pm

    I compare a lot, and find the woe in it, but I’m not competitive at all, so the DRIVE to live up to something isn’t that strong.

    Our house was purchased the week I started grad school, and was financed completely by me on an undergrad research asst salary of $26,000. It is a modular house, and had HIDEOUS wallpaper throughout, mismatched and poorly hung. Our realtor was shocked we wanted to buy the place, but we could afford it, and it met our specifications. Our counters are old & cheap, and if we could afford to upgrade them, we would. We did tear up the teal carpet throughout the house and put in cheap laminate.

    Our couch is a hand me down, and hurts my back but we can’t afford a new one. So we sit/lay on it and don’t think about it much.

    I grew up really having to value what we spent our money on, and am uncomfortable with incurring unnecessary debt. I also lived in an apt until I was 12, when my mom bought a house. When we lived in the apt, we went on bike rides, and to the zoo, and museums; things we liked to do together. After we bought the house, we mowed the yard, painted, pulled weeds; things I had to be cajoled to do.

    So, yeah, I hear ya. Other people have more spectacular houses, but that’s not where I want to spend my money or energy. I’d rather keep what we have neat and well cared for.

  55. Liz on November 6th, 2013 1:36 pm

    My parents’ house had a basement with dark paneling like this, which they have recently renovated. But their quick fix solution before doing this was just to paint the paneling white. It sounds like it wouldn’t look great, but it actually was perfectly fine and definitely made the room nice. Something to think about for a cheap fix!

  56. Marolyn on November 6th, 2013 1:50 pm

    I just read a meme that said “Someone Else is Happy with Less Than What You Have”. I live in a trailer. All my walls are fake wood paneling. Except in the kitchen where we have fake white tiles. All our cabinets were mixed and matched from other trailers and some even made from old pieces of random wood from the looks of them. We took off all the doors. Hubby white washed what was left of them on the wall all to match and I took cardboard and cut it to fit the back of each cabinet. Covered cardboard in an AWESOME black and white damask contact paper and now my tiny trailer kitchen looks freaking awesome! We’ve rented 4 places since we lost our home in 2009. All of which we have done cheap and cheaper upgrades to, including buying a 600$ pedestal sink at the Habitat for Humanity resale store for only 35$, re-paneling the bathroom and even went so far as to put in new shower walls. We painted everything and had this little house looking awesome….Then we moved because the floor in the living-room was slowly sinking into the ground. We found the trailer to rent out in the middle of nowhere instead of in the town where we were. We had an awesome garden harvest this summer and ate from it everyday. I spend more time outside than in here in the country. I had given my husband a list of things that would have to met if I were to have to live in a trailer, again (25 yrs ago, when my son was first born). The next morning he found it on Craig’s List. When we drove up the gravel road and turned into the drive I almost started crying. the feel was just like the place I grew up in ( minus the trailer and insert a big farm house instead)~ The yard was full of trees, had a perfect garden spot and a shed for my hubby to piddle. We’ve since done more to the outside and yard than inside. Small things like the pallet garden that was beautiful. A big handmade porch swing my hubby made for me hangs between two of the backyard maples. Handmade Fire-pit from Rocks around the property. For Mother’s Day my husband finally showed me what he had working on all spring in his shop. A beautiful buffet that is now an instant heirloom.
    We spent more time and money on the changes to the house we bought and lost to foreclosure than we have the rented places we have lived since. But we are SO much more happier than we ever were before.

  57. Amber on November 6th, 2013 2:33 pm

    Love that quote. What a great reminder and good timing for the season.

    Oh, the dreaded remodeling. We recently sold our first house/purchased our second. While we are thrilled with having more space, much of the house is dated (and not in a quaint, vintage way).

    Considering the constraints you mentioned, and keeping in mind that upon sale we want to recoup whatever we put into this house, we are proceeding with caution. For us this means doing what we can ourselves, saving/using tax returns, etc. to pay cash for the rest and not over doing it with the super high end finishes like the carrara marble slab kitchen counters that I would love to have but honestly just aren’t necessary for our family.

    While not all parts of the house are “our style” right now, everything is functional. And as much as I would love, love, love to take out a loan or tap into equity and just have the updates done tomorrow, I know that in the long run we will be much happier that we took the route we are on.

    Why is it so hard to distinguish between wants and needs sometimes?! I tell ya, sometimes my wants FEEL a whole lot like a need in the moment.

    Your room looks great all cleaned up and organized! I’d do exactly what you mentioned and get some light, bright paint on the walls. I would be willing to bet it makes a world of difference.

  58. Maggie on November 6th, 2013 3:16 pm

    In 2008 we considered redoing our extremely small and unfunctional kitchen including taking out a wall and expanding it. We got designs, we got bids, at the last minute I couldn’t pull the trigger on spending the money. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because my husband got laid off about 6 months later. He got another job and got laid off from that job 2 years after that (he’s in real estate, good times). He once again found employment, but we managed on my salary for a few months solely because we didn’t take out a big loan to redo our kitchen. Since then, I’ve been extremely gun shy of dropping a lot of cash to make our house significantly different. In the long run, my piece of financial mind is worth more than more counter space.

    In addition, I’ve got two relatively young kids and things are still getting ruined. Since the things are old I’m not greatly bothered. If they ruined something new and fancy, I’d be pissed. So is probably better for familial relations not to have a lovely newly redone home ;-)

  59. June on November 6th, 2013 3:53 pm

    I’m in a relatively new house (<10 yo), which I wanted in part because I would not have to upgrade anything. Except every appliance is breaking like clockwork and needs replacing – had to buy a washer/dryer (prev owner took hers), the fan on the heating system (that ran heated air through the house) died within weeks of taking ownership, microwave now makes a buzzing noise and then shuts itself off, dishwasher kinda rinses but apparently no longer cleans dirty dishes, and the freezer is making a buzzing noise. Holy crap.

  60. Annabelle on November 6th, 2013 4:58 pm

    I have currently put the big improvements on hold due to the immediate need for a brand new sewer line (curse you, clay pipe!). Here’s to embracing the cheap projects with big impact. I’m sanding and staining the bannister, painting the spindles, and installing a carpet runner on the stairs. And tonight I’m hauling the kids out to see a craigslist MCM sideboard.

    Another vote to paint the paneling.

  61. Karl on November 6th, 2013 6:41 pm

    We’re in a small house. We put an addition on it (2 rooms, shower bath, basement) after the first year because the family was growing and 2 bedrooms wasn’t going to cut it. We basically did *nothing* to it after that for about 25 years, other than a bit of inexpensive basement finishing to add a sort-of-bedroom down there. (It was actually rather sought after because of the isolation from everyone else.)

    About 5 years ago, after everyone had been out of the house for a decade, and with cash in hand, we took down a wall and completely redid the kitchen. We put more into it than I originally paid for the house, and I still love the results. I don’t see us doing much more, though; maybe a redo of the addition’s shower bath (which is the master bedroom’s bath).

    I agree with not being in a rush, especially with children, and especially especially with fundamentally cosmetic upgrades (like our kitchen). Painting the paneling sounds like it’s worth trying.

  62. Julie on November 7th, 2013 7:30 am

    I’d paint the paneling a nice light neutral colour. I’d also change the outlets (and switch plates?) to white. Painting the brick on the fireplace is also an option. I think as long as you have the space… it’s usually pretty cheap and easy to give a room a total makeover. Paint, doorknobs, light fixtures, window coverings etc. all give you big bang for your buck.

    We’re on our third home, having bought each one, spent money (anywhere from 10k to 50k) renovating nearly everything possible. My husband and I love renovating (it’s definitely a hobby), so once everything is to our liking… we move!

  63. Maud on November 7th, 2013 9:12 am

    We want to redo our shower. We have agreed that we should ask the guy who lives just down the road about it, since he did our neighbor’s bathroom and it looks great, and we know him. We have the money to do it, probably. We just haven’t got around to it, and our shower is gross and every morning we think how gross it is and that we should really call the guy, and then forget it again until the next morning.

  64. Olivia on November 7th, 2013 6:59 pm

    I’m pretty much anti-major renovation just for the sake of something different; if it ain’t broke and all that. And really, unless it’s something I think is truly hideous, I try to appreciate fixtures for the aesthetic of the time they were built. Our current home was built in 1951 and there are a few features like some original tile and the formica counter top with a metal edge, that are not in style now, but I think they bring charm to the house and they have held up well. I cringe when I watch rehab shows that just smash all the original details out of a home when they are in good condition.

    I’ll paint and hang pictures and sometimes change a light fixture. I really wish we could change the carpet because what we have is cream colored crap and is so stained, but we don’t have the money for it. Other than that, the only things we do is maintenance to keep what we have in good shape.

  65. Cheryl on November 8th, 2013 8:03 am

    I’m in the same boat you are – we love our house, but there are some aspects of it that we absolutely hate. (We have a room with dark wood paneling too!) It took some serious time and work, but I’ve managed to shift what I originally imagined for our house to fit our lifestyle more. My 2 rambunctious boys have made it perfectly clear that I need to think RUGGED – which actually works out because I’m a woodcarver and can build and design stuff myself. :-)

  66. Mary on November 8th, 2013 8:16 am

    I feel a lot like you do. I’m grateful for so many things about this house, which we’ve owned for about two years now), but there are some things that drive me nuts.

    I have two mental lists: the not-so-complicated things, like replacing the out dated lighting and getting better accent chairs for the living room and replacing the horrid gold paneling on the fireplace. And then there’s the complicated list: re-doing the hardwood floors, replacing carpet, entirely remodeling the master bath (MORE GOLD!).

    But like you, I’m a writer who is working a bit less than before to be the parent who is at home as much as financially possible, and while finishing the basement would increase the value of our house, I’m not going 30k into debt for it. Hellz no. So we’ll check one thing off the list at a time, starting with the small stuff.

  67. sara on November 8th, 2013 8:54 am

    We bought our first home 4 years ago and completely fell victim to how naive we were. Realtors make it all seem so simple… “oh, just knock down that wall and expand! No biggie, just some paint and new flooring, but it has such good bones!!” Combine this with the fact that the previous owner was a do-it yourselfer who never finished a project and OMG, HOT MESS!! … ugh. We planned to be in it 5 years, fix the problems and maybe have a baby here. Well, we’re on our second baby and have COMPLETELY grown out of it. I’m trying to see if as a learning experience for the things that I want in a future house.

    We’re considering putting it on the market next year and perhaps moving in with my parents for a little while. With a little luck we’ll be able to make our down payment back. We’re in Illinois now but we’d eventually like to move to North Carolina, by my husbands family. And I don’t see any way to do that in a decent amount of time without staying at my parents and getting our shit together financially. ANYHOW, we will not be doing any major work that we planned to do on this house, as I don’t think it would be worth it. However, when we do end up getting another house some day I wouldn’t be opposed to buying a house and doing work on it, if I plan to be there for the long haul and truly love it. I think that it’s a house you love and that you want to stay in for a long time, then the investment is worth it on a personal level. If you only want to be there a few years, then it’s risky.. and a pain in the ass.

  68. KDA on November 10th, 2013 1:02 pm

    Paint the paneling and move the sofa away from the wall, even if it’s a foot or two. I think the brick looks fine, but you could paint it too.

  69. Rachel Sea on November 15th, 2013 6:12 pm

    I have a list of things as long as my arm. I live in an older house, which was previously owned by an accursed “handyman” and it is literally a miracle the place hasn’t burned down from the shocking (also literally) electrical work. Finding all the scary electrical, and replacing water damaged bits (who lays down particle board on a bathroom floor? who fixes leaky plumbing with duct tape?) has meant that both bathrooms and the kitchen need full remodels, but because of some really shoddy work done by couchsurfing friends who wanted to help, and for lack of funds, all three projects have been creeping along for 9 years, because we aren’t willing to go into debt over it.

    I’ve learned to be happier with what we have through a liberal application of elbow grease. Sometimes just brightening up a door or changing a window covering can make a big difference in a room. I put up a curtain in the 6′ doorway between our kitchen and living room, and suddenly the stupid, awkward shaped room felt better proportioned, and more cozy

    Were I you, I would start by removing the popcorn from the ceiling. It is nothing short of amazing how much it opens up a room, and you can scrape and repaint it yourself in two days. When we did it at my parents’ and MIL’s houses, the ceiling suddenly felt a foot and a half higher, and the improvement in the light…the spaces just glow now.

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    Have you ever checked out the Young House Love blog? They’re big on what they call “Phase 1 Projects” – basically sinking a little bit of money and effort into something that they know they’ll put a whole lot more money and effort into down the road. Here’s a post that sums it up and shows a few of their Phase 1 changes: http://www.younghouselove.com/2013/10/are-phase-1-projects-just-a-waste-of-money-time/

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