Recently, we had a plumber come out to fix a slow drain in the children’s bathroom. This particular bathroom is the handwashing and toothbrushing station for 6 children, so it is heavily trafficked, and the plumber recommended that we put an organic septic solution in the drain once a month to prevent future back ups. It’s a fifteen minute process of mixing the solution, letting it sit for a while, putting it in the drain, flushing with hot water, and then not using that drain overnight. People do it on a schedule, he told me, like the first Sunday of the month they do it in all of the drains in their house. They also periodically take apart their drain stoppers to clean them.
I looked at him like he was insane.
The reason that I bring this up is that people used to tell me often that they couldn’t understand how I could manage with so many children and homeschooling. I would be demure and laugh it off, but inside, I would often be thinking that because I was young, and energetic, because I was generous with God, and because my kids were well disciplined, I was able to accomplish more.
Now I know the real reason: I wasn’t maintaining a house. At first, I didn’t even have a house, and I didn’t realize how much easier this was making my life. The major issue of a small, rented apartment is that you have to constantly declutter, but otherwise, if you have decent landlords, you have no responsibility for the house. There is the inconvenience and expense of moving every two years or so, but this also has the upside of giving you a clean slate and a chance to reorganize.
I would now say that a house is at least as much work as 4 additional children. If you homeschool, or have a job outside the home, or have toddlers who are not in school yet, I don’t know how you maintain your house. I am utterly failing at it. This morning I have 4 house responsibilities that need to be done. These are things outside of cleaning, laundry, dishes, family care responsibilities, and are things that are just for taking care of the house. There is a fuse in the basement that is buzzing, and may be connected to an outlet in my bathroom which no longer works. The outside house spigget is leaking enough that our water bill was extra high last month. I can’t actually remember the other things on my list at this point. Oh, and the kids drain is slow again, because I, ahem, have not been putting stuff in it the first Sunday of every month.
We are tackling these things because we are clawing our way out of “survival mode,” and we have the extra weight of maintenance that should have been done over the past few years and has been ignored. Some were things we knew we were ignoring, some were things we just didn’t get to, and there were still other things that we didn’t even know we were supposed to be doing (duct cleaning, anyone?). Five years in to home ownership, in some ways it is getting a little bit easier. At least I know who to call, I have established a rolodex of local small businessmen who will come out and fix things, and I have made enough friends in my neighborhood that I can ask around about service people. I have also gotten over the constant sticker shock of having them come. Everything costs more than you think. If it is less than $100, you are thrilled, if it is between $100 and $500 you do it but swallow hard, and if it is more than that you call your husband to talk about it first.
I only have a few minutes to spend on the phone during homeschool mornings, so I will use those to call the repairmen, and I will set up appointments for which I will need to be home for a 4 hour window of time. So, phone calls this morning and then 3 mornings set aside for appointments, just to cover the problems discovered this weekend.
The money that I hope to one day spend on a big dreamy upgrade, like replacing the mismatched brown tiles in that always clogged bathroom with chic grey subway marble, will instead be spent on snaking the drain every few months and other repairs that I can’t see. I understand now why my parents lived with purple bathroom fixtures for 30 years — when you are constantly fighting to just maintain things, cosmetics are not the priority.
I know that some of this could go better. I was thinking, for example, that at least some of the maintenance is routine and could be anticipated and spread out evenly over the course of a year. I have been contemplating making a master list, fully inclusive, like the one that Red made for Christmas, and using it for home-maintenance throughout the year. August – schedule stink bug treatment for chimney. February – set up spring tree pruning. Tree pruning is an example of something that we don’t need to do every year, it happens about every five years on our property. We could do one huge pruning every five years, or do a few trees each year, depending on schedule or budget, but our trees look really, really silly right when they are pruned, and don’t give much shade, so it is worth doing this with some sort of plan. I need to think about the trees every winter and decide, rather than look at them in June, as I am now, and realized that they are all overgrown and we are now looking at a huge project.
I know that I’m blessed to have a roof over my head, to be able to afford most of the repairs as they come up, and to have food on the table, so I am not complaining here, just trying to figure out, actually, how to get it done. We are getting our act in gear because an appraiser came out for a mortgage refinance and actually said “Most homes in this price range are better maintained, and I can’t approve this home right now because some of these issues go beyond cosmetics and threaten the structure of your home.” Great, my house is literally falling down around me.
Home Owning Friends – how are you making this happen? What are you learning as you go? Do you save up for big projects, like replacing the roof, or just cross your fingers and hope? How have you found reliable repair people, and how do you work with them? How do you organize and keep track of it all?