10 Tips for Surviving a Kitchen Renovation

Since starting this kitchen renovation, I can honestly say that I was thoroughly unprepared for everything that came along with it. I (Gosh I’m silly) very naively assumed we could have the cabinets down, the walls painted and back-splash up within a few weekends. I mean, how hard could it be? HGTV does a whole kitchen in 3 days!

We ordered our counters and scheduled delivery for 4 weeks later. While we were doing the kitchen we figured we might as well address the adjoining rooms since our floor plan is fairly open and I had planned on carrying the paint color throughout the first floor. This meant whatever drywall work would need to be done, spackle and paint in the laundry room, dining room, living room and hall.

I would not recommend doing it this way.

We are now in week 4 of not having a functional first floor and the WaWa sandwich ladies are starting to judge my wife skills. My dining room is in my living room, my kitchen is in my dining room and my laundry room is at the dry cleaners. We’ve eaten so much Olive Garden in the last few weeks that I perpetually hear Italian music in my head.

So, to help anyone who may be going through a renovation and hitting the renovation wall, I’ve put together a list of 10 ways to make it through without losing your mind. While I’m writing this with a kitchen renovation specifically in mind, I think a lot of these could apply to any space.

Tips for Surviving a Kitchen Renovation

  1. Research and prepare. Spend some time researching kitchen styles, evaluating your lifestyle and setting up a design plan. Make crucial design decisions before you start taking down walls. There’s nothing fun about putting a hole in a wall only to realize oh shoot we actually need that there. Don’t get sucked into what is the latest design fad. If you hate farmhouse sinks (we are the minority), there’s no rule saying all new kitchens need to have them. Consider how you plan to use the space and where you see it going in the future. I recommend Pinterest and Houzz for design inspiration. Ask your friends and family what they think of your ideas. Oftentimes, when I do this, a friend will make me realize something that I had overlooked. Two heads are better than one!
  2. Have a safe zone. If you need to be living in your house while doing any kind of major renovation (and are a total type A like me), this step is crucial to your sanity. Especially if you have pets or kids (God bless you for doing a major renovation with kids), keeping an area where you don’t have to worry about stray power tools or loose nails is important. For us, upstairs is a construction free zone. Nothing remotely resembling construction materials is allowed upstairs and it’s my lifesaver that I can go upstairs to a tidy bedroom, put on my spa playlist and pretend the downstairs looks like something out of Better Homes and Gardens.
  3. Spend where it matters. Even if you’re doing a major renovation, there’s no reason to go completely insane with your budget. (Unless you are a lottery winner and that’s your thing. Then by all means go nuts!). However, I do think there needs to be a balance between staying on plan, and splurging where it will make an impact. I try to balance my purchases with 1:1 ratio of don’t-show-my-husband-the-credit-card-bill and looks-expensive-but-I-bought-this-on-clearance pieces. Price around and take your time finding features you love. In our kitchen I totally splurged on pricier modern faucet, but plan on installing a simple, hammered metal pendant light from Lowe’s above the sink.
  4. Clean as you go. This is a tough one to follow through with. Every night when we’re done I spend an extra 10 minutes sweeping up as much dust as I can and wiping down as much as possible. In the scheme of things, I’m not sure how much this actually helps the final clean-up, but I definitely feel like I haven’t completely given up on maintaining a clean house by doing this one!
  5. Keep calm and renovate on. This is supposed to be fun! Especially if you are working on a project by yourself, it’s certainly not going to happen overnight. If you take the process too seriously you’re gonna have a bad time. I’ve personally been working on trying not to freak out when things are not perfect. John and I are not professional contractors. There are a lot of things we’ve never done before. I doubt anyone is going to come in and notice that we missed a spot with spackle or a drywall seam isn’t perfect. And if you are going to be doing that you can leave!
  6. Eat all perishable food before starting. Seems simple, right? I wish someone had told me this one! Spend a few weeks leading up to your kitchen renovation clearing out the refrigerator. Whatever your intentions are, it’s impossible to prepare food in a kitchen that’s being renovated without getting drywall dust in your food. We tried to save money one night and eat something from the fridge. Take it from me, this is a disastrous idea. John has been an absolute champ with this project and I can think of 50 million ways to thank him that are not “Here Honey, I made you a chicken and joint compound sandwich”.
  7. Take your time. This kind of goes with bullet #5, but it’s super important not to rush the project. Do you have a hard deadline in mind like a 40 person party or a holiday? This is a bad idea. Not only is it emotionally taxing to have a hard deadline (read: panic), but you also run the risk of doing things too quickly and have the finished project not look as great. We’ve been spackling for 2 weeks. The humidity here has been terrible so we’ve been giving the spackle almost 48 hours between coats so it cures properly. I’m glad we’re doing this because every time it settles I am amazed at how much it shrinks!
  8. Be grateful. Are you working on the project alone? With a spouse or family member? Isn’t it great to be able to spend quality time with that person! When John works alone he puts on his talk radio or listens to podcasts, and when I work alone I put on Shania Twain Pandora station. I’m so grateful for the reflection time and that I am happy and healthy enough to have this project to work on. When we work together we chat about our days, life, which cat is our least favorite and other random things you still need to talk about after being together for 4 years. When you feel yourself getting frustrated it’s always good to take a minute and think of a few things to be grateful for!
  9. Take a night off. Life doesn’t stop because there’s wallpaper to strip (although that would be great wouldn’t it!). This is also why I don’t recommend having a hard deadline. I tend to get tunnel vision and like to plow through things from start to finish. If it were up to me I’d just jack myself up on Red Bull, call out of work for two weeks and get this kitchen done. Take a night or two off a week and reward yourself with a physical and mental break by seeing a movie, hanging with friends or whatever makes you tick. The last thing you want is to kill yourself renovating a room and then have flashbacks of 3am sanding sessions every time you walk into it.
  10. Decide beforehand what (if anything) you want to bring in a professional for. Although John laid tile in our last house, he told me long before going into this project he wasn’t comfortable laying the porcelain wood-look tile I want in our kitchen, laundry room and dining room. He’s never laid this specific tile before and it’s a very large space that he wants done right. It’s totally fine to recognize what you are not good at and call in a professional. Evaluate your skill level before going into a renovation. It’s been great to not be thinking “and after this we still have to lay tile” because we both agree this is the best solution for us. If you’re scared of electrical work or seaming drywall, don’t stress yourself out by trying to do it all yourself. It will be 100 times worse if you get yourself halfway into something and then realize you don’t have the patience/skills/desire to see it through.

I hope my tips on making it through a kitchen renovation were useful! When the drywall dust settles there’s noting better than waking up every day to the kitchen of your dreams (or at least slightly more updated)! Have fun with the project and don’t take it too seriously.

And if it doesn’t work out you can just eat at Olive Garden for the rest of your life.

They don’t judge there.