Life in the Before

We’ve chuckled at times, Monsieur and I, pondering what our town friends might think of our current living conditions. With the desire to be mortgage-free, we’re living in the “Before”.

HGTV and shelter magazines and blogs make the renovation process sound so simple.

  • “Simply bump out this wall…”
  • “Raise the roof to gain more space.”
  • “Complete this DIY project in a weekend.”

I guess they have to. No reader in their right mind would endure lengthy descriptions of frozen water pipes or months of saving dollar after dollar for a new furnace. How boring would that be? But the foundation and inner workings of a home are vitally important, so they come first. (There’s a life analogy for you.)

Our family has lived for over a decade with exposed studs and be-plasticked insulation, among other life-in-the-before atrocities. Early on, I was ever so grateful that the insulation was an easier-to-live-with white instead of the usual pink or yellow I’d expected.

Naturally, Shabby Chic became my decor theme. It allowed me to think of the flaws in our home as an actual identifiable decorating style, catalogued and labelled. I could proudly call my procrastination in refinishing furniture, the distressed look. I could showcase my prized possessions juxtaposed with plumbing pipes and call it the raw, industrial look.

If Shakespeare is right that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, then surely it’s just a matter of semantics, right? Just a matter of how we present it? That first winter, with things largely torn apart, we noticed:

  • the Christmas lights’ reflection was mirrored ‘charmingly’ in the open heat duct on the living room ceiling. (How’s that for mind over matter?)
  • the kids’ snowboard boots lined up single-file on the narrow stairwell ledge evoked a kind of ‘onward and forward’ effect against the backdrop of raw drywall, inspiring us to ‘carry on, carry on’. (As good as any artist’s brochure, right?)
  • outdoors, an abundance of ‘weathered wood’ and rusted farm implements waited to become a backdrop for the flower gardens of my dreams. (Just thinkin’ positive.)

Maybe the reason HGTV and magazines are so inspiring is that viewers get to enjoy transformations without any of the sweat, mess, ugliness, expense, inconvenience, or the downright difficult waiting of a renovation. The driving reason for living in the Before, after all, is the great joy and satisfaction in completing the next improvement.

It’s been almost twelve years now. Although the work still needing to be done can be discouraging, it is gratifying to look back and recount our progress. There are flowerbeds where there were once piles of lumber or renovation debris. Last summer, we made major progress on siding the exterior. There are now no visible heat ducts in the main living areas. (In the white lilacs photo on my blog header you can catch a glimpse of one, now enclosed, in the dining room.) More than half our walls are wearing drywall now, too.


There are still projects to complete…window trim, hardwood floors, crown moulding and beadboard ceiling. But this is the After, for now:

Someone once commented that our kind of home is what most people would be living in, if it weren’t for mortgages.

Contentment is living within one’s means.






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