I really struggled with what to call this post this morning. Not because I couldn’t think of any number of titles but because none of them seemed to quite encapsulate the essence of what it is I’m about to share with you.
I toyed with ‘The Great Fix-Up’ and ‘Building and Breaking Things’ but both seemed ridiculously cheesy. ‘Everything Will Be Ok’ and ‘Coming Out The Other Side’ sounded like titles for self-help books which is absolutely fine used in the right context but not so for today’s ruminations and ‘Housebuilding and Relationships’ was just plain dull. Instead, I took inspiration from a Robert Louis Stevenson quote which sums up perfectly the journey that Ste and I have been on with the house since purchasing it all those months ago.
I’m not going to lie, part of me does wonder if we were ever meant to buy our house. Selling our first home was pretty straightforward, that is if you leave out the bidding war and a couple that swore that they had no more money but then miraculously came up with another eight grand when we said we were going to go with someone else. But purchasing our second was tricky, I’m not going to go into all the details here as it is deathly boring, but it was a drawn out affair that sent my stress levels rocketing. And then all of a sudden, we were standing outside our house, keys in hand, the proud owners of our new abode with a to-do list a mile long.
I thought our troubles were all over, yes we had a mammoth project ahead of us but we’d refurbished a house before and we were equipped weren’t we. Surely the hard part – trying to buy the damn thing – was over? We had a plan so what possibly could go wrong. Answer…pretty much everything. Planning rejections, delays, unforeseen drainage rerouting oh and a pregnancy that was supposed to happen at least a year further down the line resulting in a massive chunk out of our budget and even further delays to the project. I’ve talked about all of these issues before in this post, this post and this post so I’m not going to go over old ground again here.
But what I haven’t talked about is the effect that this renovation has had on my and Ste’s relationship…because it’s been tough. Really bloody tough. So tough there have been times when I’ve wondered if my desire for a bigger house had ruined everything and was any of it all really worth it?
I’ve admitted before that I have sat at the bottom of our stairs on more than one occasion, head in dusty hands, sobbing about the enormity of the project in front of us and wondering when it would all end and whether it would break Ste and I in the process. But I haven’t really gone into any more details than that. It was at a recent RMS team meeting that Lauren suggested that perhaps you folks might like to hear about it, that my (over?) sharing might be therapeutic…for both me and for you. That actually someone somewhere might say…that’s exactly how I feel/felt too. So here I am…revealing all.
The project started well, both Ste and I went at the house all guns blazing, determined to be out of my parents’ house (where we had temporarily decamped) within the year. Walls were knocked down, plans submitted, skips ordered and so on and so forth. And then at the end of February 2014, just two months after we’d got the keys, I found out I was pregnant. Initially there was mixed feelings…well from me at least. Excitement that our family would be expanding before the year was out but a huge dose of trepidation about what this would mean for the project. For a start I was determined to be as much help as possible on the DIY side of things but at five months pregnant, Ste decided he really wasn’t comfortable with me perching on the top of ladders and breathing in the dusty atmosphere. That meant one less pair of hands to help out. Then on top of that I was very conscious about the impact of my maternity leave, less income for a start, and then when I did go back to work the subsequent effect of nursery fees on my monthly salary and what this meant for our renovation budget.
We’ve been lucky, very lucky in that we’ve been able to stay at my mum’s, rent-free and with storage space to boot. This has been a godsend in so many ways – complimentary in-house babysitting, on-hand support at any time of the day or night especially in the early days of Hector being a newborn and a constant captive audience for him to show off to. But…and it’s big BUT, there have been times when I’ve felt my personal space being invaded – something all new mums have to adjust to anyway – so god only knows what it must have been like for Ste to have to live with my family for that length of time. We had gone from living in our own house just the pair of us and our own rules and then suddenly we were cohabiting with several other people in a house where we weren’t exactly guests but nor did we feel like we could do what the hell we liked either. Throw in a newborn and you’ve got a bomb waiting to go off.
I became significantly less available when Hector was born, from a hands on DIY perspective, since all my waking hours were devoted to keeping our newborn bundle happy and fed and nurtured which meant the responsibility for keeping progress on the house moving fell to Ste. A project that should really have been about the both of us became something that Ste had to deal with on his own whilst simultaneously managing the rapid growth of his business on very little sleep when all he wanted to do was to be with us watching every moment of his little boy growing up. To say he was stretched is an understatement and naturally this spilled out into gripes and sniping and general discontent.
In return I felt a huge burden of guilt, guilt that I couldn’t be more help to Ste, guilty he was doing it all on his own when before we had the comfort of each other’s company when various bits of DIY got boring or tedious or just plain hard work. He was toiling away at the house, often in the cold and after a full week of work on a building site to boot. For him there was no respite and he was fed up to say the least. In turn I felt incredibly lonely; whilst he was building his heart out creating a beautiful home for us, we weren’t spending any time together and I really bloody missed him. It felt as though a massive gulf had opened up between us. Even typing this now is bringing tears to my eyes…
In short, we both respectively in our individual ways felt on our own with it all. Add into the melting pot, a budget that effectively ran out half way through, all the aforementioned delays and a reduction in workforce and you’ve got a project that almost ground shudderingly to a halt half way through. The effect this had on our morale was devastating; Ste regularly began to proclaim he hated the bloody house and that none of it was worth it which only made me feel worse in turn. Well meaning friends asking about how our project was progressing only bought the problems to the fore again even when we were out trying to forget about the situation for an hour or two. Both of us felt embarrassed about our lack of success.
And then it felt as if something changed at Christmas. Ste took, for the first time in forever, a decent two and a half weeks off for the festive break giving him the chance to recuperate and catch up on some much needed rest. The house seemed to have passed a crucial turning point with plastering being completed and rooms being painted and bathrooms being ordered and it now seems as if we’re on the home stretch. We’re hoping to have pretty much the whole of the upstairs complete, with the exception of carpets, by the end of February with a prospective move in date of April. Suddenly it doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming anymore…the excitement for both of us is coming back.
That’s not to say I don’t have any regrets; I would have loved to have been fully immersed in every single aspect of the DIYing rather than just making the various aesthetic decisions. Yes the vision for the house has very much been a joint effort but the actual doing/creating has been all Ste and I’m so incredibly proud of him for that if not a little bit gutted that not more of my blood, sweat and tears has gone into it.
As for us? We’re a bit battered but so much the stronger for it. We completely and utterly understand the importance and value of teamwork in a way that we hadn’t before. We certainly know a darn sight more about each other…our strengths as well as our limitations. The key is to work with these weakness rather than store them up and use them as barbed ammunition at the wrong times; I’ve certainly learnt this the hard way anyway. In actual fact, I’ve fallen in love with Ste all over again; he’s my real life hero.
Funnily enough only the other day Ste turned round to me and said ‘when we do all this again with house number three, because let’s face it we’re going to do it all again aren’t we… at least we’ve got a tonne of knowledge under our belt to help us and we’ll know we can get through it.‘ which suggests to me that he hasn’t really lost his appetite for the old house refurb game after all. Proof then folks that what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger. Just trust me on that one…