Rules for a Happy Marriage: Renovations

Many years ago, the first renovation project the mister and I did together was to move an outdoor staircase in our first home. The original stairs stuck straight out of the house’s second storey in one long ugly tongue. We moved them along the side of the house with a platform halfway down to break it up into two strings of steps.

I wanted to plan, measure, re-measure, estimate costs, make a timeline, mitigate risks. He wanted to build the stairs. Just build them. No plan. How would he know how deep to make the cement platform at the bottom? He’d figure it out when he got there. This broke my brain. I remember sitting on the stairs wondering if our young relationship would survive this staircase.

My good friend Rena, during a call to rant about the disturbing reality of the mister’s project-management style, reminded me that just because he sees the world differently, doesn’t mean he’s wrong. The staircase was built. The old stone platform ingeniously moved from its original location to the new space using a rock and a lever. Rena was right: his way worked fine and it was a delight to watch it unfold.

This summer we replaced our kitchen cabinets. The whole project was joy. Yes, joy. We have achieved renovation nirvana because, after over a decade married and with many renovation projects under our tool belts, we have unconsciously established a set of, until today, unwritten rules that make it possible to renovate with your spouse without it being harmful to your relationship’s health.

The Rules

Rule #1: Have no expectations.

If you expect your kitchen to look like the one in the magazine, and you don’t have the funds to ensure that expectation is met, you’ve lost. Set your expectations so low they can only go up.

Rule #2: If you’re not doing the majority of the work, you don’t get a say.

The worst thing I can do is show up mid-drywalling to point out a flaw in his taping. This is a no-no and most likely will result in a stream of barely audible colourful language. Conversely, he’s not allowed to tell me my white-washing painting technique is incorrect. Same result.

Rule #3: When it’s not perfect, eventually no one will notice or care.

The flaw in the drywall and the sketchy whitewash will be insignificant when the whole project is complete. You probably won’t even notice after a while, unless it’s a big flaw, like that time the Universe took a piece of paper from my fingers and dropped it into the not-yet-cured resin coating on the mister’s custom dishwasher panel. Oopsy.

Rule #4: Accept the project will never be complete.

Unless you’re a perfectionist or unemployed, other priorities will move up your to-do list. If the baseboards take a year to nail in place, they take a year to nail in place. The sooner you get comfortable living in your incomplete renovated space, the sooner you will reach nirvana.

Rule #5: Drink

We had two cases of wine in the cupboard before this project began. No bottle was left behind. I only remember the project as a joyful experience. This is likely no coincidence.

Next time you renovate a space with a loved one, test these rules and report back—when you’re sober.