Home renovation: Knowing when it's time to spend

Why Sandra and her family have decided to put off a home renovation — for now.

Photo: YinYang/iStockphoto

When I want to put away clean dishes in our kitchen, I have to use my head.

This is not figurative speech; I’m being entirely literal. Our kitchen cabinets, which look so cool and modern — they are the “flap-up” style, which involve opening the doors from the bottom up, rather than from one side to the other — are dysfunctional in the extreme.

We loved the style of the cabinets when we moved into this house just over four years ago. But about two years after that is when they began to fail. My very handy hubby managed to tighten up the mechanisms a few times, until they would be tightened no more. We contacted the manufacturer (the previous homeowner had installed the cabinets, but it was clear where they came from) to see if we could purchase new locking hinges. Nope: They don’t make that style of cabinet door anymore. (Of course they don’t, because that style of cabinet door sucks!)

At the same time as we learned to avoid guillotine-like slamming cupboard doors, something funky was happening with the refrigerator. Lettuce, kale, celery and other veggies were freezing solid in the fridge compartment. We checked the settings, in case the dial had slipped to “Arctically cold.” Nope. The settings were perfectly appropriate to keeping potato salad chilled and preventing milk from spoiling.

Everyone we spoke to agreed it was a bad sign. Those who’d experienced lettuce-cicles in their homes reported that not long after the first appearance, their fridges up and died.

Great. Not only did I not want to spend $1,000 on a new fridge I did not want to replace our tiny, 30-inch-wide fridge with another inadequately tiny 30-inch-wide fridge.

“Maybe we should think about renovating,” I said one night when Matt and I were cooking dinner. “This kitchen is falling apart, and the layout has never worked for us.”

This is the thing about buying a resale house: You inherit someone else’s design choices. And we inherited a kitchen in which the dishwasher was as far as possible away from the sink, so that dirty water trailed from the latter to the former whenever we loaded up a meal’s worth of used plates and cutlery. Plus, there isn’t enough cupboard space. We have a “satellite pantry” in the basement where we store canned goods, extra rolls of foil and bottles of dish soap.

After talking a lot about it, we decided to aim for a late-summer or early fall renovation. “While we’re at it, let’s refinish the floors!” The floors, to be fair, are in rough shape and there are areas that no longer come clean because the finish is completely worn off. Why not? In for a penny, in for a pound! And, as our mortgage broker had pointed out, smart choices with our past homes, as well as this one, have made us (relative to the general population) “equity-rich.” Meaning, we own more of our house than we owe on it.

We went so far as to get preliminary quotes from a couple of kitchen reno places. And then the oven died! Clearly, this is a sign that our reno plans were meant to be.

And then… my credit card bill arrived for the month. I’d “forgotten” about that last installment payment for Bronwyn’s ballet classes. The girls outgrew pretty much all of their pants, so I had to replace a few. Got great deals on everything, but still — that was $60 I hadn’t planned on spending. March Break camps for both girls were on that bill, too.

All of a sudden, I realized that I didn’t ever want to be in a tight-money situation when there was no good reason to be.

Sobered, I said to Matt, “Maybe we should wait another year. Hopefully the fridge will hold on until then!”

“I think that’s a good idea,” he agreed. “And I think I can fix the oven — it looks as though the igniter just needs replacing.”

He did fix the oven (thank goodness for handy husbands!). And we are saving up for another year. It feels like the smart-money thing to do, you know?

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