Living the Dream – The Joys of Home Ownership

Living the Dream – The Joys of Home Ownership June 5, 2013
I’d rather live in a bouncy house…

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?

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  • Mr. Red set up a google docs page for “Home Maintenance.” It is now a tab at the top of my computer bar, along with our shopping list. This makes me check it and add stuff regularly, and make sure the items I need are also purchased at the store for projects. In theory, we are both supposed to add stuff to it, and review it once a week. But it makes me sick to look at it, so really just Mr. Red adds things. I feel like I am failing and behind each week when I open the document. And I never add anything to list, but Mr. Red does! We review it and prioritize once a week, and then I make calls or he makes calls for repair jobs or upgrades or whatever. Something like that drain you were talking about would be added to our family calendar with a reminder and repeat monthly. The water filter on our fridge needs to be replaced every three months (but it must be ordered online), so I have a reminder on my calendar to do this because the lines can freeze if I don’t.

    As an aside, I think it is strange that the plumber’s solution to your bathroom created regular work for you? We have only one full bathroom in our house, and if we had a problem like this, I think I’d replace or remove whatever I could to create less work, not more!

    One of the points that jumped out at me in your post is that you are not just maintaining a house, but a lawn!!! You have a very large property for a suburban home, with lots of landscaping, trees, etc., and that takes A LOT of time to upkeep!!! Our lawn is a huge source of work for us that goes well beyond simple cutting and edging. Sigh. In fact, when I look at our home maintenance list, most of the items are for our property!

  • Jen

    We have the same problem and are surviving only by having other people take care of it for us. We hired a handyman service that comes out quarterly to do all of the regular maintenance things that are supposed to get done (replacing furnace filter, checking batteries in fire alarms, even changing lightbulbs!). We can add things to the list for the quarterly visits, so for example if a toilet stops working or we need a big light fixture replaced, we just add that to the list and it eventually gets fixed. They also clean our gutters twice a year, and will do bigger projects (like replacing the roof) when necessary. We usually remember to have someone come out to check the furnace and air conditioning unit at least every 2 years.
    Outside is a problem too–we have a landscaping company that comes once every spring to prune things, re edge all the beds, weed, mulch, etc. Things start to look a bit overgrown in between, but it’s good enough. My husband mows the lawn once every week or two. I say “lawn” but it’s pretty much entirely clover, because we never bother with weed killers or extra grass seed. It looks green from a distance, which again is good enough.
    On the one hand, I feel a little guilty that we have basically outsourced all home maintenance, but on the other hand my husband and I both have full time jobs and would rather spend our free time with each other and our kids.

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    Yes! “at least as much work as 4 additional children” is right on!

    We have a neigborhood board that I ask for recommendations and I also ask our homeschool group, which often leads to a qualified, Catholic workman. But even finding the right people, calls, meeting people for bids, etc. is super time consuming. Add in the disruption to the homeschool day by the electrician or roofer needing to ask questions and we are sunk. I’m considering joining Angie’s List, too.

    We had a contract on an awesome home/property, but the inspection showed major issues, including needing the roof/windows/possible some walls replaced. The money part we could work out, but I had to be completely honest that I could not handle renovations of this scale at this particular stage in our life. It was sad and humbling to admit that I couldn’t both be present to and take care of my children and fix a house. But I can’t.

    A maintenance schedule sounds great, but I struggle with knowing what needs to be done. I never learned anything growing up about home maintenance so we mostly just respond to small/large crises (you have floods, we have hail and tornadoes!). I’m sure there are some books/websites with info, but I feel like I can’t get enough time to figure it all out!

  • Mary Alice

    So, do you have a shared doc for non grocery shopping/errands? I feel like that would be a huge help, too, as with your Christmas to-do list, if we both knew what we needed, there would be fewer trips to the big box store.

  • yes, it is a shared google doc. The home maintenance doc just lists the projects, but then my shopping doc has a spot for groceries, a spot for department store items, a spot for hardware store, a spot for BJ’s or bulk items, and a spot for online orders. This has been tremendously helpful in avoiding extra trips to any store. We then use the list at Christmas and add stuff in the proper categories. Mr. Red put all these shared docs in the tabs at the top of my computer. The shopping list is actually my homepage for my internet browser! We both have these on our phones as well, and it is easy to add things when I am out and I think of it. It is really a big help, and keeps us on the same page.

  • Lindsay

    We are just embarking on this, and the humor here is so welcome! As are the tips on a maintenance list . . .

  • We have been employing the cross our fingers method. For the drain, you can use baking soda, vinegar and boiling water once a month. It’s what we use for a similar slow drain. Cheaper, safer and more doable than most methods. Good luck!

  • Jen

    I just wanted to add something else to your list; I’m assuming this applies to houses nationwide, although I’m not positive- we live in the Midwest. You should have your main sewer line cleared/ or cleaned every other year or so. We found this out the hard way last year when sewage came up into our basement. They ended up having to dig up part of our yard to replace part of our sewer line where tree roots had grown through it, completely blocking it. We were fortunate in that it ended up costing us around $3,000, because depending on the extent of the damage we could have been looking at up to $10,000. Having your main line cleared is typically less than $200 and would be well worth it!

  • Kat0427

    Becky, thanks for this tip. Could you give the ratio of ingredients that you use? Thanks!

  • Kate e

    Since I know Kellie is now iPhone ready….we use the our groceries app. It’s one of my favorites. We can add things from our phones anywhere. We have categories like you do (grocery, drugstore, hardware, target). I love it.

  • Oh my. We just moved and trying to get our fridge to work and our cable hooked up correctly has taken me HOURS of frustration.

  • Remove the drain cover and muck out what you can with a screwdriver, then add 1 cup of baking soda, followed by 1 cup of heated white vinegar. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes and then follow with a pasta pot full of boiling water. Run the shower or faucet on hot and then repeat if need me. We do it every couple of months in order to keep everything moving.