Our Renovation Story: How We Got Started & Some Things We’ve Learned

This post was originally written in November 2017 on my original blog, OurFiftiesFixerUpper.com.

Josh and I had never had any true experience with remodeling a home before we bought this house. This is our first home together and like most people, we didn’t have a massive budget for our first house. We live in St. Paul, MN and in the Minneapolis/St. Paul city limits, you are hard-pressed to find a fully move-in ready home with 2+ beds and 2+ baths and more than 1200 sqft for less than $300,000. It also doesn’t help that my idea of “move-in ready” might be a little more pricey than others peoples’ idea!

I got hooked on remodeling shows when we were engaged and renting out a cute renovated old apartment in a different neighborhood in St. Paul. I loved decorating our apartment and daydreamed about things I’d do differently in terms of renovating if it was ours. I found plenty of gorgeous homes while browsing online… but they were all at least $100k more than we wanted to spend! We knew that if we wanted a home customized to our taste, we’d have to do some renovations. Josh has always been handy- plumbing, electrical, woodworking, building… he just gets it. His brain just works that way. I have tried my hand at DIY projects but I’m certainly no professional; my biggest problem is that I’m too impatient and will spend a lot of time on something and then rush the ending because I’m antsy to get to the finished product.  However, I’m always willing to learn new things and HGTV makes renovating a house look so fun, am I right?

Our view of the living room on the Open House day

I still remember when we found our house- we were sitting on the couch on a Sunday after church, watching TV, me scrolling Trulia on my phone- and this house popped up. A good $50k less than our max budget, in a good neighborhood, with a 2.5 car garage (Josh’s dream), a fenced in backyard (we were planning on getting a puppy!)… but it needed a LOT of work. We decided we’d go check out the open house that was going on that day. We didn’t even have a realtor yet! We spent at least a half hour walking around the house, talking about what we’d change. We liked it but weren’t totally sure so we took a walk around the block. We realized just how close the house was to the Mississippi River and the paths and parks along it, along with being close enough to both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The neighborhood was cute and well-established with big trees and sidewalks on every street. We then looked at comparable homes in the area and realized just how well-priced this one was- if we wanted it, we’d have to act fast. So, we walked back into the open house and told the agent that we wanted to place an offer, but that we didn’t even have a realtor yet! She said she’d be happy to work with us, so later that afternoon we went to her office and made an official offer. After a few long days of waiting, we heard back- they accepted!!!


All of that work was actually kind of fun. It was new and exciting and the transformation was fast and relatively easy- things like removing the carpet or pulling down wood paneling make a big difference immediately! Since then, however, things have not moved as fast. We have been doing the majority of the work ourselves, and we both work full-time jobs. I do have weekdays off, being a nurse, and do work on projects on those days. Josh can usually only work on the house on weekends- his two days off from his job. Spending every.single.weekend. working on something gets exhausting pretty darn quick. It’s always so rewarding to finish a space and think “we did that!” and admire the room, remembering what it used to look like compared to what it is now. It’s easy to dream about the next project. But when it comes to the work, it just takes so long to finish things that it’s also easy to think “what in the world were we thinking?”


If you’re also renovating, you know exactly what I mean when I say that it is not for the faint of heart, the impatient, or the I-need-results-now type. It is a long, exhausting, financially, mentally, emotionally, physically, socially draining process. (Yes, socially draining- I can’t even count how many social opportunities we’ve turned down because we had to “work on the house.”)

However, I’ve learned so much throughout the process. There is of course the actual work itself- I had never laid tile, skim coated a wall or ceiling, or really even painted any trim or rooms for that matter. Another major lesson is patience: you simply have to be patient. It is not always easy, of course, but it is a necessity in a DIY renovation. It also refreshes my creative skills regularly- I love to find inspiration and then tweak it to fit our personal tastes, along with keeping a future buyer’s tastes in the back of my mind. Then, when we get started on the project, we’ll undoubtedly find something that needs to be changed for a reason that I never even thought about. I’ve learned that the process is often lengthy, but the results will come eventually- and they will be so worth the wait. It also teaches the value of hard work; both at our jobs, where we make the money to pay for the renovations, and in the renovation process itself.

Finally, you have to set your pride aside and realize when it’s actually time to call in the pros- a lesson that has been a bit tough for Josh, especially. He’d do absolutely everything if he could, but the truth is he is just not an expert and just doesn’t have the time that some of these projects require. The only things that we’ve hired out are the cabinets/countertop installation, replacing the windows, and installing the drains for our new master bath and replacing the old leaky drain stack for the bathrooms. Some things just require a professional to do the job and it’s actually sometimes cheaper to hire someone to do the job right, rather than to try it yourself and do it wrong.

We know that it will all eventually pay off financially when we sell this home in a few years (as long as the market stays like it currently is, fingers crossed). However, it also pays off every time we invite new people into our home and we get to explain everything that we did to transform the currently finished rooms, and what our plans are for the rest of it. I know I haven’t tired of seeing the before and after pictures of what it used to look like- sometimes when I walk into a room I just have to look around and admire the space and think about how much work we put into it. It’s been a year and a half, and we’ve finished maybe 2/3 of our first floor. We have the entire basement and exterior renovations to go. I dream of the day everything is completely finished… but let’s be honest- we’ll enjoy it for a year and then get bored and want to do it all over again!!! Despite the downfalls of renovating, I think it’s safe to say that we’re hooked… and plan on doing this for a long time to come.


Author: Laura Sima

Hey there, I'm Laura- creator of Sima Spaces. I'm a home renovator, designer, and blogger based in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. When I'm not designing or renovating homes, you can find me working as a pediatric ICU RN, snuggling my dog or cat, skiing in CO, soaking up the sun on our boat, or enjoying a glass of wine on our patio!

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