Today we are going to be taking a little detour from the normal topics of this blog and talk a bit about my house.
*I'm going to interject here for a minute and say that it feels weird to say "normal blog posts" when I write about things such as burning the hell out of my lady bits and taking my clothes off in a parking lot among the other more regular topics of rape and abuse. There really isn't anything "normal" about any of my posts.*
Anyways...after the post's "Make Money Makeover" and "I'm Not Paying For That" I got a surprising number of messages asking me home decor questions and money saving tips. While I certainly don't claim to be a specialist in the home design department, I can share with you guys the tips and tricks I used to haggle a good deal, find a great dumpster, and re-purpose what I could to get the decor I was looking for at a price I was able to afford.
On account of the fact that I'm not really a home improvement blogger, I'll sort of just take you through a tour of my house and point out where and how I was able to save money and still get what I wanted. Also, since I don't want to leave the rest of you out I'll end this post with something a little more "blog typical" so make sure you stick with the post to the end!
The email questions I got where sort of all over the place so let me back track a little bit and start here:
When my ex and I bought this place 8 years ago we chose it for it's location. Well, I chose it for its location, he couldn't have cared less where we lived. It was important to me that we lived in a family friendly town that hosted lots of family events and activities. I wanted to be able to walk to the elementary school but at the same time it was imperative that the taxes be really low. I longed to live in the country yet for convenience purposes didn't want to be to far from a shopping district. I wanted the easy maintenance of a townhouse because I knew my ex couldn't handle the responsibility of a yard (and I sure as heck wasn't going to take care of it) but still wanted the feel of a real neighborhood.
That's not asking for much, right??
Thankfully I found this place. Right off the bat the house was a money saving deal. Apparently the people that owned it before us were using it as a rental property, but because of a long line of bad tenants the association had banned them from renting it anymore. I made an offer the day I saw it, low balled them $40,000 below its value, and expecting a counter offer. Instead they accepted it without hesitation; turns out they only had a few days to sell it before it went into foreclosure. We didn't use a realtor except for writing up the contract and since he didn't put in more than a couple hours of work he surprised us by mailing us a check for half of his commission.
I am, as I always say, living on the edge of nowhere and yet am minutes from population. What that basically breaks down to is that my taxes are ridiculously low yet I benefit from the amenities of a larger town. I live in a neighborhood that is only one street of townhouses and the rest is single family homes which gives it the community feel that I was looking. There are walking trails, fishing ponds, playgrounds, community greens, and it is a four minute walk to the school. The area is definitely not anything fancy, there are absolutely nicer places to live than here, but it's simple, quiet living, and to be honest that is really what I need in my life right now.
Allow me to take you on a brief tour through our neighborhood:
|Walking to school (which isn't shown for privacy reasons)|
|He was going to catch her if she fell|
|Right outside our house|
|Scene of the scariest playground game I have ever seen|
My house has a floorplan that is spread out on three stories. On the first floor is the garage, the library, and what I call "the bunker."
When we first moved in, what is now my library was an unfinished room. The previous owners had essentially ripped it apart and left it that way when they sold it. Thanks to a couple weekends of hard labor it's now my library. I'm telling you, if you aren't a professional don't even bother trying to install crown molding. I'm fairly handy and I still wanted to punch myself in the face with a hammer and run screaming down the street while attempting that project. It is incredibly hard to cut the angled corners!!
Because I have so many books I knew that I wanted wall to wall bookshelves, but after looking at what most bookshelves were going to cost me I decided that my money would be best spent on mounting ten foot boards painted white and mounted to the wall with brackets. The entire project only cost around $75 and easily saved me a couple hundred.
At ten dollars even the rug was a steal. The best time to buy textiles (rugs, pillows, etc) is right after the college year starts and stores move all the dorm room decor to the clearance section.
After my daughter was born I was sitting in my living room and I realized that if I was going to be surrounded by primary colored toys every second of my day, I was going to lose my mind. Since I didn't want to be stepping over plastic kitchen pieces and blocks all day long, I needed to find somewhere else for the toys to go. The library was really to small for a family and a sea of toys to be crammed into it, so it wasn't feasible to convert the space into a playroom.
Enter, the garage.
The garage was a 2.5 car garage. My ex's truck didn't fit in it and since we live in a townhouse we didn't/don't have things like shovels or a lawnmower to store. Really the only thing in there was a stroller and my car. After weighing the pros and cons for a while I decided to sacrifice my indoor parking space and banish my car to the driveway in an effort to gain a dedicated play space.
The question was, how?
When I first came up with the idea to turn the garage into a playroom I couldn't figure out how that would work with the garage door, seeing as how when it opens it is on the ceiling. Since the front door of my house is on the opposite side of my building and up a very long walkway from the street, there was no way I was going to wall off the garage door and be forced to lug kids, groceries, etc, around my entire building every time I came home. What that meant was that I needed the garage door to be able to open yet I still needed to have some sort of wall in front of it to build the room.
Eventually I came up with the idea to build the playroom wall at exactly the point where the garage door stopped on the ceiling. What that gave me was this:
A decent sized playroom that is away from my main living area. See the glass door above? That was originally the doorway from the garage into my house. I replaced it with a glass door to bring the natural light in from my front door and to allow the room to flow into the rest of my house. I was able to purchase that door marked down from $200 to $30 because someone had returned it without the door frame, which I conveniently didn't need anyways. Always ask if you need something that is a variant of what someone would typically buy, because often times stores have odds and ends like this sitting in their warehouse and will be happy to sell it to you at a rock bottom price. The door was grey but a can of white paint and 30 minutes later it matched perfectly.
I took the door that I replaced the glass door with and moved it to become the door that now leads into what is left of the garage:
Since the playroom itself isn't all that big, I added adjustable shelving along the back wall for toys. I used the same budget friendly boards painted white that I had used in the library, only this time I used an adjustable bracket system so that the space had the ability to change with their toys. The wall was already recessed in that area so it was perfect for the shelving. It keeps the toys up off the ground and helps us avoid cluttering the minimal floor space with furniture storage. Under the shelves I added two rolling drawer units to hold smaller toys. I purchased them really cheap and then painted them white to match the room decor.
I keep all the kids art and school supplies in an armoire that I scored off of Craigslist (from pottery barn) and then painted white myself (see first playroom picture). The rug was a carpet remnant that I bought for $20 from a carpet store. If you need a large area rug, check places that sell carpet! They always have remnants to sell and will usually even hem the edges for you! The canvas artwork on the wall was a set that Walmart accidentally mispriced for $9. The couch wasn't too pricey and I chose it because it has a washable slipcover on it which is ideal for easy clean up in a playroom. I really wanted a space where kids could just be kids; crayons, sippy cups, mess, and all. Because I got the flooring on a closeout deal for ten cents a square foot (totally serious) and because I only had to build one wall and add baseboards, the entire room, building material, furniture, and all, cost me around $400.
What is left of the garage now looks like this (note that the wall starts where the open garage door on the ceiling ends):
I've thought about it and I am fairly convinced that I could parallel park in there if I ever got really determined to get my car in the garage. I'm not completely sure that I could get it out....but I'm fairly convinced that I could get in....
Either way the seating area is great! I grabbed the cabinets from someone's trash pile and painted them white. The counter top on the lower cabinet was actually trash from a counter top store; it was the piece that was cut out in order to install a customer's sink! It's made of corian and because it was a sink cut out it has perfectly rounded edges. I took a circular saw and cut one end off so that the piece would be flush against the back of wall and then took the piece that was cut off and squared it out to use as the backsplash for the counter top.
I got the mini fridge for $8 on Craigslist. A furniture store sent me a "$50 off anything in the store" coupon so I went to their outlet location and bought the already framed and hand painted canvas. It was priced at $49 which meant it was free after my coupon. I'm not sure that is what they had in mind, but hey, I didn't print the coupon. The lanterns that you can't really see very well (in the first photo on the counter top) were purchased for $1.75 marked down from $19.99 on clearance at a craft store in the dead of winter. The furniture itself was a gift from a boyfriend so that one you are on your own with.
On the wall that isn't pictured I installed shelving for the outdoor toys and gardening supplies. I then hung a curtain rod and dark brown curtains in front of it to hide everything away and not detract from the seating area.
Because my house is built into the side of a hill my front door is halfway between the first and the second floor. This picture is the hallway up from the first floor to the front door. I went back to the bridge that I slept under growing up and took pictures of it from different angles. I like the symbolism of walking through what I lived through as the transition to inside the heart of my home. Most of the frames I picked up off of a curb and spray painted black. The pictures, like I said, I took myself. I had them enlarged and printed at Walgreen's for free. Yep, for free. Walgreen's often puts out online codes for "one free photo enlargement, no purchase necessary" and I just place multiple orders. Probably not exactly what they had in mind, but hey, I didn't write the rules. The mattings inside the frames are simple pieces of cardstock that I used a razor blade on and cut out the middles myself. Buying mattes in the store gets expensive! Since I printed the photo's in black and white I played off their colors by framing them in black, matting them in white, and then layering the white matte with a thin, yet defining, black matte to really make the photo pop.
When you get to the top of those stairs you reach the landing where my front door is. Here is the view from my front door. As I said, being built into the side of a hill, it is between my first and second floor. The tile is kind of ugly but I have no desire to be ripping out tile.
Since the entryway is so small I simply hung a few coat hooks behind the door and use a basket for purses/book bags. We also changed the hanging light fixture and I painted the front door. I added a mirror that I got for $9 in Ikea's scratch and dent section (I couldn't find anything wrong with it) to give the entryway some depth and add the feeling of having space; something that it is obviously lacking.
I bought all the light fixtures in the entire house (everything from bathroom lights to kitchen and hallway, to the entryway light) at the same time from a warehouse store that was having a clearance sale. Since I bought so many I was able to double on the clearance price with a contractors discount which made all of the lights roughly 70% off of their original price. I've never had a place offer me a contractor's discount but I always ask and I've never been turned down. As long as you are buying multiples of something, are a frequent shopper, or are doing a large project, most places are happy to have your business and willing to extend the offer. Contractor discounts can range from as little as 10% off to bringing the item down to just slightly over what they paid for it. It's not a bad idea to comparison shop contractor discounts at different stores because they can take 50% or more off of the price sometimes.
On the second floor is my kitchen. In the kitchen I painted all the oak cabinets an antique white with paint that I got during a "free paint day" that the local hardware store has to drum up business. I added brushed nickle hardware that I bought in bulk with a friend, which allowed us to piggy back on each other for a contractor discount. When I had the quartz counter tops installed I saved money by removing the old and ugly laminate counter tops and backsplash with the help of a friend. Before the new top was delivered I spackled and electric sanded the walls down myself and then painted them. I got the undermount sink and faucet from a contractor store that was able to sell it to me at nearly cost. The hood range was originally a really ugly bisque color but after finding out how much it would be to replace it I settled for using appliance spray paint and spraying it black. (The stove and fridge were gifts from my ex's parents when we were still married and you all remember how I got the dishwasher. )
The kitchen has the narrowest walk-in pantry you have ever seen in your life (I'm talking like 18 inches wide at the MOST), but you can't see it because it's behind me in this photo (I should have taken a picture of it but I'm too lazy now). I have a friend who is on the heavier side and she jokes that my pantry is a diet plan because she literally cannot get in there. It really is an odd design, I'll admit it.
I recently sold the furniture I had in my dining room to pay some bills, but it worked out great because I was able to turn it into a small makeshift dance studio. I still need to get more mirrors but I need to make more money first!
|Had to edit out my reflection in the mirror!|
I found the table set for $49 dollars at a closeout warehouse that sells items that have a defect but overall still function. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with the set when I bought it but within two months it started rusting. I lugged the set out into the field by my house, covered the wicker and glass with tape and garbage bags, and then spray painted the hell out of it with rustoleum, a spray paint that stops, seals, and covers rust. I've had the set for several years now and haven't had any further issues with it. I highly recommend checking your area for places like that. If you are handy and don't mind putting in a little work you can usually find items for well below the at cost price simply because the manufacturer is trying to get rid of them. Because of laws they won't sell you anything with a dangerous defect, it's usually just something annoying and often times fixable.
As most mom's can understand, if you eat outside, you don't have to clean up the floor after eating!
This is my living room.
I changed the flooring, re-mantled the fireplace, and changed the light fixtures. The TV was kind of a fun steal. The store was having a "25% off last year's model" sale and they also had a sign up offering 35% off of all floor models. I happened to find a last year's model still being used on the floor as a display, meaning that the store owed me 60% off the price. I got the manager to put the price in writing and then I took it down the street to an electronics store that will price match the closest comparable item; meaning that because they did not have last year's model, I got the current model for 60% off. Not only that, but they were running a sale where they paid the sales tax, meaning I got a brand new TV for 60% off and no sales tax.
I bought the couch at a liquidation sale for 65% off and then got the manager to give me a "buy one get one free" deal on the chairs. The throw pillow on the couch and on the chairs were a random money save where I was buying them anyways but they had been mispriced from $19.99 a piece to $7.99 a piece and the manager was nice enough to honor the price. I have since sold the coffee table to pay a bill.
I think my strangest project in this room was the fireplace. Now as you can see there is an angled wall where a fireplace is clearly supposed to be....except that there wasn't one. For the longest time I couldn't figure out why the wall looked like that if there was no fireplace. It looked so much like there should be a fireplace there that I bought a gas stand alone unit and put it in front of the wall. One day a neighbor told me that there did in fact used to be one but with the previous owners trying to sell the property fast, they didn't want to spend the money repairing the one that their tenants had damaged and just simply covered it up. I wanted to see how much it would cost to open the wall and repair whatever was in there and so I had a contractor come out and give me a quote (gas lines are one thing that I am not willing to mess around with myself).
He looked at it, looked in the wall, assured me that there had been a gas fireplace in there but that someone had removed it. He told me that the labor would be cheap but buying the firebox unit and mantel for the oddly sized wall would run me about $2500.
I stood there for a minute and I said "how much would it cost me to have you shove the stand alone unit in the wall?"
He looked at me like I had lost my mind.
"No, seriously," I said. "If the firebox is expensive and the mantel has to be custom ordered, why can't I just use what I already have? Take apart the stand alone unit, put the firebox in the wall, then cut the mantel in half, and attach it to the wall."
He stood there for another minute, shook his head, and said "Well, I'm going to have to give you creativity points on that one. $50 and it will take me 30 minutes."
I kid you not guys, in thirty minutes I went from having this:
To having this:
He installed the entire firebox in the wall since it already had a gas line in there and then as I suggested, he cut the mantel apart and attached a much thinner version of it to the wall.
Best $50 I've ever spent!
The flooring throughout the second floor was found through an online flooring site that sells overstocked flooring from places going out of business. It was 75% off and as a special they were paying the sales tax. Thanks to a price match policy, the local home improvement store (unhappily) matched the price and I saved money by not having to ship it. What makes this deal even better was the fact that my original flooring was being replaced because the company that installed the quartz counter tops accidentally damaged the original floors during the installation. Their insurance company cut me a check for $7800, I spent $4000 on the floor, and I walked away banking $3800.
Right off of my living room, at the bottom of the stairs to the third floor, is a semi walk-in closet that I never used so I turned it into my closet office. I really just needed somewhere to pay bills and contain files. To be honest, you will never find me working anywhere other than my couch anyways so I really didn't need a "real" office. I added a few shelves and picked up the chair for a few dollars from the scratch and dent section of Ikea, filled in the scratch with a black permanent marker, and it looks like new!
My house has a lot of stairs, which makes bringing groceries and sleeping children inside a real treat. This is the stairway from the second floor up to the third and it is lined with the newborn pictures I took of my children. The only thing I changed here was the railing hooks from brass to brushed nickle.
I won't write about my bedroom again, seeing as how I already wrote about it, but if you didn't read the blog titled "Make Money Makeover" where I talked about making money on a bedroom makeover, you are welcome to click on that link to check it out!
I will however show you the master bathroom. It's by no means large but it works just fine. It was my first project when we moved in, seeing as how it had a purple counter top that made me cringe every time I walked in there.
The first thing I did was replace the counter top with granite, slate tiled the floor, painted the vanity/changed the hardware, installed a neato faucet where the water sort of "waterfalls" out, and replaced the light fixture. Since the bathroom is small I took the towel bar down and replaced it with a coat hook so that our wet towels weren't touching each other because ew, gross.
The biggest change was ripping out the tub and putting in the soaker tub. It's so deep that when I sit in it the sides come up to my chin, which is awe-some. It was also the first major project failure; when I brought the tub home I realized that because the tub was wider than the previous one, the faucet and drain weren't in the same place anymore. Learned how to do plumbing and soldering that day....
|You can only see the corner of her dresser in the bottom right hand side. It has a large mirror above it. Next to that dresser is another dresser with shelves above it just like the desk has.|
The girl child's bedding set is actually her crib set re purposed. As you all know I'm big on saving money and it seemed like such a waste to get rid of her crib set. The two pink pillows (pictured on the bed) in the front were made from the fabric of her changing table cover. The two longer pillows behind them with the design on them are actually the former crib bumper. You know what a crib bumper is right? It's the padded thing that goes around the inside of the crib so baby heads and limbs don't get bumped. Well it wasn't hard to take whole thing apart, cut it in half, fill it full of pillow stuffing, and sew the ends shut to make custom made pillows that matched the rest of the room decor.
I left the crib ties on because I thought it gave them a little character.
The bed skirt was the former ruffled/gathered crib skirt that when taken apart and sewed without the gathered ruffles, was able to fit her now larger bed.
Since the room itself is so small I didn't feel like completely closing it in would do us any favors if we ever decided to sell. Because of that we only built the wall halfway across and then installed glass french doors to keep the room open, airy, and full of light. I figure that when he gets older I'll just cover the glass with contact paper, but at this point I love that he can't hear us yet I can sneak a peek at him without waking him up. I also forwent installing a closet into the already small room and instead chose to bolt three cube storage units together to make one large wall unit. (You can't tell from this picture but the storage cube unit is actually three cubes across)
Painting the wall stripes was a huge pain in the ass but I'm pleased with the results. Also, lesson learned, just because we finally managed to get the crown molding installed in the office, does NOT mean we were meant to install chair rail. Let me tell you, it sucked almost as much as the crown molding. Those corner edges were hard to cut!!
The chair rail that I used in his room are actually door frame boards which saved me a good chunk of change. They all needed to be painted and primed but that was no big deal. The door itself was an open box return that I picked up in the clearance section of the hardware store, priced $799 and marked down to $150. I got his crib (which is now converted into his toddler bed) and dresser off of craigslist for $99 total, and the woman even threw in the picture frames that are on his wall. The chair in his room was from me and my ex's first place together, I just added a throw pillow.
Here's the layout of the third floor, picture taken while standing in the boy child's room. You can only see a tiny bit of the girl child's door to the right, next to it is a linen closet. The door on the other side of the linen closet is a the bathroom, and then my room is the door at the end of the hall. The laundry room is opposite all those doors, behind where the vent is.
I didn't take a picture of the laundry room because it's fairly standard, but I will tell you that I furnished it with canvas bins that I pulled out of a Bed, Bath, and Beyond dumpster. Yep, I have no shame and it really isn't as bad as it sounds, I promise. When I worked at the pet store the BB&B was attached to it. When I would go out the back door I always saw people rifling through the dumpsters. At first I thought they were crazy but eventually curiosity got the better of me and I decided to sneak a peek at what all the fuss was about. Turns out that Bed, Bath, and Beyond had a conveyor belt that ran directly from their warehouse to a dumpster. Basically people would return things or clearance items wouldn't be sold and they would be put on the conveyor belt and go directly into what was essentially a dedicated merchandise dumpster; there wasn't even trash in there. Jackpot!! I got quite a few nice things during my BB&B dumpster shopping days. I've since found out that this is apparently not an uncommon thing, this BB&B dumpster diving. Google it, I swear!
Moving on, we replaced all the doors from a contracting store which meant that while they were solid oak, they had yet to be finished or have the door knob holes and hinge grooves cut. It saved us more than half the price buying them that way but to be honest, I would never go that route again. The work was terrible and cutting the hinges to get the stores on straight...UGH. Never again.
The doorhandles I had to buy in bulk and I wasn't about to pay retail price when I was buying so many of them (for all the doors in the house), so after a little negotiation with the store manager I was able to get a case discount.
On top of the third floor is the attic. Now I only mention this because this is kind of weird; I somehow got the attic for the entire building. Literally, my attic goes over the top of all the other units in my building and the only entry to it is from my third floor hallway. Isn't that kind of odd? None of them have an attic, just me, because I have all of them. In other words, yay me!!! Also....how odd.
Because my house itself doesn't have a lot of architectural detail, we went ahead and added oak trim in places that were just kind of "blah" looking. It was super easy, just bought a few solid oak boards, cut them to fit, nailed them down, filled the holes with wood filler, and then slapped a coat of polyurethane on top. Here are two examples:
|I trimmed this one out with door molding under the board to give it some detail|
A couple years ago I sat down and went through all the receipts from our home improvement projects. I added up all the receipts in two columns; what I had spent and what I had saved. Over the course of seven years we spent $12,000 total. That includes everything from the wood flooring, tile, granite and quartz counter tops, light fixtures, bathtub, cabinet hardware, baseboards, solid oak doors, french doors for the boy child's room, playroom door, chair rail, crown molding, faucet fixtures, three new sinks, paint, building material for the playroom and library, oak trim, and nearly all the home decor including our furniture. I saved a little over $50,000 and that does not include the money I saved by doing the labor (our)myself and refinishing all the cabinets instead of replacing them.
These days I obviously don't have the money to be doing projects and more than half the items that I once furnished my home with are long gone, sold to pay the bills. At one point I even sold most of my kids toy's which was absolutely heart wrenching. Nearly everything that isn't attached to the house is for sale, so if anyone wants to buy my furniture, send me an offer! Just kidding, that would sort of blow my anonymous cover, but yes it is all for sale!
Since I wrote this post in response to your email questions I might as well kill two birds with one stone and answer a question that many of you have been emailing to me since the post "On My Way To Homelessness" and "I Didn't Win The Battle."
"Eden, how are you doing financially? Are you going to be able to keep your home?" The short answer is "I'm still not sure." Now that my boy child is finished with his intense therapy program (YAAAYYY!!!!) it has allowed me the time to be able to work a little more, but as I said in "I Didn't Win The Battle" that even working full time cleaning houses was not going to be able to fully support us and therefore I had decided that the best chance I had for any sort of stable future was to focus my efforts on getting the the nonprofit up and running. I'm happy to report that although it has been an incredible amount of work so far it is going really well! I'm not drawing a salary from it, but it is a nonprofit and that was to be expected at this point.
To supplement all the money that I don't currently make doing that, I am still cleaning houses on Wednesdays, teaching dance, and have picked up some freelance writing jobs. Those combined with an increase in the payments that I should be getting from my ex, means that I now only fall $300 short of meeting our extremely tight, no frills, monthly budget. By no frills I mean no health insurance, no home Internet, still waiting in line on Saturday's at the food pantry, etc., but with that being said $300 short is a lot more manageable than what I was falling short before so I guess I am feeling slightly more optimistic. To be honest I'm feeling hopeful but also really embarrassed. I guess because I know how hard I work I just feel bad that I still can't find a way to make $300 more a month when some people make that in a day or even an hour. I feel scared knowing that because my mortgage is less than a one bedroom apartment would cost me, if I can't afford to keep us here, I can't afford for us to live anywhere.
Lately I have often found myself lying awake in bed, scared of how I am going to pay the mortgage, and thinking "I wonder what life would have been like for me if I was given the chance to be someone before I was told that I was no one."
The thought is usually fleeting though as I look around and realize that while I don't have much, I have enough. I'm alive, my kids are alive, and the rest is really just left up to perspective.
Despite whatever happens with my situation, learn to love the place you are in. It might not be your dream home or your dream life, but it is what surrounds you. Be creative, use what you have, and make it into something that you love!
My life wasn't what I wanted, but just like my home I'm thinking outside of the box, putting in the effort, and turning into something I love.
Whether it's your home or your life, you don't need to start with perfect, you just need to start with potential, and finding the potential is nothing more than being open to the possibility of change with effort.