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What it’s really like to live in a fixer upper while you renovate it

What it’s really like to live in a fixer upper while you renovate it

Ever wondered what it’s like to live in a fixer upper while renovating it all yourself in DIY fashion(with no prior experience)? In today’s post I am getting some stuff off of my chest and sharing some truths you won’t ever see on HGTV…

When I decided to sell my brand new construction home for my first ever fixer upper almost five years ago, I never could have imagined what kind of roller coaster ride I would be embarking on.

Particularly inspired by the dramatic,  eight-week transformations on Fixer Upper, if you had told me I would still be renovating my 1980’s rancher several years later, I would have foolishly laughed in your face.

My God…how clueless I was.

modern farmhouse diy fixer upper reveal

While not everything about the experience has been negative (hell..this website is the product of the whole fiasco), I thought it might be helpful to share some surprising truths I have discovered from my first home renovation …things they won’t ever show you on HGTV.

Renovating with Children in the Home

When my husband and I first set foot in our fixer upper home, we only had one child- a thirteen month old baby boy to be exact. Given we started with renovations immediately (mostly painting and scraping popcorn ceilings), I found it such a blessing that our son was a late walker as it was relatively easy to keep him out of the mess- working on projects during the plentiful nap sessions.

Once our second child came along several months later, it did get a tad bit more difficult (we now had a toddler and a newborn on our hands). Nonetheless, we managed.

With regimented nap times and an agreement with my husband that I would watch the babes while he worked on the home (sometimes we would reverse roles), it wasn’t all as horrible as I had initially imagined it would be.

Oddly enough, I have actually found it much harder to complete projects now that the kids are older. Between the absence of nap time and all of the extracurricular activities they are involved in, life seems much busier now.

As a DIY blogger I feel weird (and kind of guilty) admitting this, but I am starting to grow weary of weekends filled with home improvement tasks. Between the DIY projects, the children’s needs and my husband’s long work hours, “fun time” is getting more difficult to come by.

The Process Has taken Longer Than Expected

As a rookie DIY-er, you are pretty much learning on the fly (lots and lots of Youtube tutorials). What might take a professional one hour to complete, will most likely require at least a half-day of your time.

Not only is the process slower because you have no effing clue what you are doing (and you will probably have to correct some of your rookie mistakes), there is only so much time in the day. Until this blog grows big enough to support my entire family, my husband has to work long hours-leaving us with only the weekends to complete projects.

To maintain our sanity (and ease up on construction materials spending), many times we have to put projects on hold or approach them with baby steps.

While I used to be ridiculously impatient about projects, I have learned when to freakin’ chill.  Come to think of it, spacing out projects (we prefer only one to two major endeavors a year), has been our saving grace (not only for our sanity, but for our marriage).

When you are doing everything on your own, it’s ultimately a marathon- not a sprint, like HGTV would have you believe. Eight week timelines my a$$!!

When Hiring Professionals feels Impossible

With our recent DIY-burnout, we decided to approach the professionals for  some quotes on more daunting projects. You would be amazed how hard it can be to find anyone willing to work.

Not sure if this is due to the real estate boom, or just our specific location -Chattanooga, Tennessee, but it seems no one can even be bothered to supply us with quotes at the moment (whether it be for a stair rebuild or a relatively extensive garage conversion).  Chip and JoJo never prepared me for this odd situation.

And one more tid bit of wisdom when hiring professionals, only pay them for the work they complete. We learned this one the hard way a few years ago when we paid a contractor for decking materials (upwards of $3000) only to never hear from him again. Surprisingly enough, the guy had great references (two of which were family members).

diy modern farmhouse kitchen transformation

Boring Sh*t that drains your budget

Perhaps it’s a good thing we haven’t been able to find any professionals to complete our next exciting projects, because we just recently ran into a plethora of boring sh*t to allocate our budget to. Actually…this has been a recurring theme the entire duration of our home reno.

Just as it seems you have saved enough for a sexy, “fun” project, you find more pressing and boring issues to tackle.

Most recent case in point? Rotting casement windows. Just to have the front of our home addressed is costing us over $12,000. There goes my bathroom remodel (for the fifth year in a freakin’ row).

Other items that have reared their ugly heads during our remodel have included septic tank and septic lines, a pool excavation, A/C unit issues and broken appliances.

diy pool deck transformation

When Your Style/trends change

In case you didn’t feel like a dog chasing its tail with all of the unexpected expenses and surprise projects, just as you start to move on to the next room, you notice you aren’t loving the “finished” rooms anymore (ya know…the ones you completed 2-3 years ago?).

Whether it’s because you have fallen in love with another trend or your former style simply doesn’t resonate with you anymore (or it’s already outdated), when you take years to remodel your home, you will most likely (especially if you are design-obsessed) want to return to rooms you once thought were complete.

The Perils of living with OCD in a Construction Zone

If you are a neat freak (which is definitely the case for me), you may want to think twice before you commit to living in a never-ending construction zone.

While some people can block out the noise and mess of a remodel, I am undoubtedly not one of those people- messes give me heart palpitations.

While I have gotten a bit more chill during projects (like 15% more chill), the constant chaos still weighs on me. Returning from a vacation this week all mellow and zen, as soon as I stepped foot into my home with a wall knocked out and sheet rock dust everywhere, I felt a panic attack coming on.

What should have felt like a comforting return to my home sweet home, felt like a stressful return to the daily grind of unfinished projects.

what it's like to live in a fixer upper

On the bright side…

Not to turn this into a downward spiral of negativity and b*tching, I feel it necessary to also share the bright side with you.

Believe it or not, some blessings have actually manifested from this whole quest.

For starters, my husband and I have grown so much more confident in our own talents and capabilities. As you may already know,  I have turned this blog of mine into a legit profession- these daunting projects have essentially fueled the majority of my website. Even more,  my husband has discovered his gift and love for carpentry.

Not only that, despite all of the surprises, we have still managed to afford much more home for our buck by restoring our dilapidated ranch .

Looking at the current housing market, if I wanted to put this whole fixer upper situation behind me and purchase a brand-new home, we would have to take on a much larger mortgage or compromise on square footage and property acreage (not to mention, I find builders’ design taste to be greatly lacking).

My husband even reassured me, pointing out the fact that, with my design criteria, I would ultimately  turn a builder-grade, new build into just another construction zone. He knows me too damn well!

erica van slyke of designing vibes

So…for any of you still reading this rant…please do not be discouraged from embarking on a fixer upper journey of your own. Please just know there is so much more to the process than what television producers include in a thirty minute episode.

I hope you are now a little more informed.

Now get out there and design some good vibes, and if you found this post helpful, please share with a friend or on social media. It truly makes all of the difference.

tips for buying a fixer upper



My journey in interior design and home improvement began with transforming my first fixer-upper home, all while managing a budget and raising two young boys. My work, a reflection of my passion for creating beautiful, uplifting spaces, has been recognized by top publications like Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, HGTV, and more. I invite you to explore my site and witness the transformation of my home and the vibes we've designed.Read more...

Mary-The Boondocks Blog

Tuesday 10th of September 2019

Ok that was enough truth Erica. Now I will never touch another DIY ever again. I get tired just looking at the messes. But your home is certainly coming along very nicely and I bet if you ever decide to move you will get a pretty penny for it.

Designing Vibes

Thursday 12th of September 2019

haha! I didnt mean to tire you, Mary. lol! I really do appreciate your encouraging words though....I seriously needed them. Thank you.


Thursday 29th of August 2019

Our home is an 1892 Victorian farmhouse, we are going on 40 years and still tackling renovations! Your post totally describes the process, and every Reno tv program should be followed with your post! Your comment about rooms once renovated 2-3 years later feel the need for upgrades/ resonated! My dining room is on its 4th and we have one bath and home office that haven’t made it top of the list yet! Looking back, we love our home and have managed to maintain the character but made it functional and to our style and can’t imagine living in any other home, but I do tell people if I EVER have to move , it will be a place that requires nothing more than paint! Thanks for sharing the real side of renovations!

Designing Vibes

Thursday 29th of August 2019

I feel the exact same way, Karlene. We have decided if we ever move, it will be a home we get to build ourselves from the ground up. No more correcting other peoples' messes. haha! Wow...I bet your victorian farmhouse is beautiful. I bet you could teach me a thing or two. Have an awesome day, my friend.

Pat E.

Thursday 29th of August 2019

My husband and I have lived in two older homes (1901 and 1920). We redid the kitchen in both, and pretty much a whole house renovation on the other. Then, we moved 3 months after completing it due to a job reassignment. My only criteria was to buy new - in 2000 - the idea being that we could just "move right in " and maybe upgrade some small items later. Since then, we have finished the basement. We hired professionals (after an extensive stressful interviewing and bidding process), but being the decider was like a PT job. Luckily, it looks great and we use the space daily and I kind of forgot how overwhelming the whole thing was. So, now it is time to redo the kitchen, re-repaint the house (what was I thinking with butter yellow everywhere and a dark red office), and re-replace the carpet that we bought on the cheap a few years ago. And then the un-fun stuff (replacing fogged windows, ailing appliances and a rotting deck railing) started to add up. Some of the simple upgrades we envisioned - fireplace mantel, built-in bookshelves and new light fixtures have waited 20 years on the to-do list. I also now find myself dreaming of a minimalist white box in the city or a blackened timber cabin deep in the woods somewhere. Like you, I think the real estate market has justified most of what we have done -- and plan to do. But for now, reading design blogs and pretend shopping is keeping me sane. Barely. Thanks for the honesty, humor and craziness of it all.

Designing Vibes

Thursday 29th of August 2019

haha! Yes...pretending shopping is a favorite past time of mine too, Pat. Listening to all you have been thru makes me feel less alone in all of this fixer upper madness. Thanks for sharing your story. Wishing you a fabulous rest of your week.

Julie S

Wednesday 28th of August 2019

I am with you on the freakouts when my home is mid project or just messy in general, and also with you on having gotten say 15% more chill/patient after several years of house projects and young children. Solidarity, sister. My husband sometimes accuses me of unrealistic expectations to this day, like when I say "just cut a hole in the upper cabinet and install the vent hood to the existing ducting" he's just in pain trying to make me see it's NOT a simple project. Hahahaha!

Designing Vibes

Wednesday 28th of August 2019

haha! We sound so much alike, girl. Our poor husbands. It's always those "simple" projects that will get you. We will somehow get thru this...just maybe not with complete sanity. Guess that's what wine is for. Cheers!

Tammy Burkhalter

Wednesday 28th of August 2019

I haven’t been following your blog for very long but I’m so glad I found it. I love all the renovations you have done. I love to read your blogs, they crack me up every time. I like your sense of humor !!

Designing Vibes

Wednesday 28th of August 2019

You don't even know how happy that makes, Tammy. I think it takes a certain type of person to get my humor, so I already feel like we are kindred spirits. Welcome, girl!