Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

April 9, 2015

Money Talks: Those Darn Joneses


Anytime I indulge in a little magazine devouring, Pinterest trolling, or blog reading, I see folks undertaking expensive renos, splashing out on pricey furniture, and/or shop-shop-shopping for lots of gorgeous accessories (or craft supplies, to make gorgeous home accessories) - and rarely, if ever, with the accompanying hand-wringing and stress I feel when spending money.

Renovating and decorating (or even crafting) can be frustrating because it seems like I never have enough money (or time).  I try not to compare my life or spending to someone else's, but although budgeting and planning may be done in the logical part of my brain, the feelings about money do not originate from the same part.  I remind myself that choices Hubby and I have made (that bring us so much joy), like buying a more expensive house so we can live lakeside, or paying cash for our truck, changed the game for us.  If we had bought a small home somewhere else, kept our affordable car, didn't have our lovable Szuka (vet bills! food!), things could be different - but I wouldn't want to trade any part of my life.  A part of my brain gets this.  But the pang of, "oh hey, I want that," the whiny little voice complaining, "it looks so easy for them," or the creeping feeling of doubt: "am I doing something wrong if I can't afford this bath reno and a holiday?" aren't always easy to shake. 

I figured that I can't be alone, so I wanted to be open and honest about how stressed I am about renovating the bathroom, and spending money on the house in general.  I want to paint a more realistic picture of what's going on behind the scenes and just admit: sometimes I can't afford to do, buy or even make the things I want.  Plain and simple - no shame

This isn't a pity party for me at all, because I think that being able to chat about any of this - renovating, decorating, even budgeting - is a luxury, when many people are barely scraping by, or worse. 

But you should know that embarking on this bath reno has definitely made me nervous, especially because the estimates we calculated were a little optimistic...


So, we're in a mini spending lock-down until the dust settles.  We're scrimping and saving to top up our "bath reno fund" - now, instead of a Mustang in my wallet, I've got the photo above.  We've already made a few larger purchases from our savings, like closet doors for the bedroom and some fabric for drapes, but it looks like other changes will have to be put on hold until we come out the other side of the bath reno.  Meanwhile, I'm trimming our grocery budget a bit.  I'm trying to avoid the Siren Song of the thrift stores.  I'm finishing up neglected projects - and using supplies we have on hand.  And, other than a quick trip to visit family, vacationing is out of the question for now. 

Truthfully, it isn't just the bathroom reno that has me nervous about spending money.  I started thinking about money differently, and re-prioritizing a bit, after the loss my family experienced.  The funeral home created a photo slideshow for us, which had us pouring over dozens of photo albums.  It made me think about my own life, and finding the right balance of fun and responsibility - especially when it comes to money.  As we flipped through photo albums, no one said, "he had such a great home with a beautifully renovated bathroom," but instead they said, "man, he sure loved to be outside".  Meanwhile, Hubs and I had a truckload full of cabinet samples for our impending bathroom renovation.

I panicked.  

After the funeral, we returned the cabinet samples.  Staring glumly at a stack of wood doors, I turned to Hubby and said, "I don't care about a bathroom reno.  Let's use the money to travel instead.  Let's do stuff".  That night I got stuck inside our space portal shower, which is starting to fall apart and smells like a monkey's butt, no matter how thoroughly and vigorously I scrub it.  Hubby freed me and, naked and freezing, I relented, "okay, maybe a renovation isn't such a stupid idea".

Hubby and I feel very privileged.   Not only do we benefit from certain unearned societal privileges, we have a roof over our heads, warm stew in our bellies at night, our health, and the complete luxury of choosing how to spend our savings.  Should we save the money instead?  Should we blow it on a huge trip?  Retire earlier?  How much interest could we earn?  Mortgage balloon payment?  What if we die tomorrow?  What will be important?  What if we live to be 100?  Man, I'll really hate our current bathroom by then... Should we spend more and get quality?  Why do laminate counters get the cold shoulder? 

Whew.

ALL decadent choices.  Still, I find it very stressful to think about spending a good chunk of change on our home, and yet I wish we had more to spend.  I have a laundry list of things I'd like to change, update, switch up, and improve.  I just have to be patient, and understand that while in some cases we have to wait, we might never have the money for certain things.  That's just life.  And it's a good life!  What we have is enough, everything else is just icing.

I've been getting into the habit of taking some time each day to really appreciate my life, and my loved ones, and to just be grateful.  Truly, I'm so grateful.  And, to be honest, I feel it immediately when I just disconnect a bit: tear my eyes away from Instagram, power down the computer, and close the magazines - when I get away from the daily deluge of inspiring room makeovers, crafty projects, and the endless lists of things bloggers and magazines think we should buy.  Right away I feel my priorities, and my brain relaxes.



I always think of that saying, "yesterday I didn't know it existed, today I can't live without it".

This post in my (very infrequent) Money Talks series is noticeably devoid of any meaningful money-saving tips or tricks but, with this reno looming, and talk of fancy walnut cabinets and quartzite counters, I just didn't want to contribute to any illusion that spending this money on renovations is easy (or necessary). 
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36 comments

  1. I think the thing you are missing here is that your home is an asset, and by making improvements (especially of the bathroom variety), you are increasing the value of that asset. No one is saying go and splurge on all sorts of crazy expensive upgrades...but improving your home is a wise place to spend your money!

    And when that bathroom is done, think of all the money you will save on spa trips since you will have one at home!! :). You will enjoy it for years to come, while a trip is fleeting. There will be time for trips too one day!! You dont need to accomplish everything TODAY

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    1. Haha, if only I went to the spa! I think ordinarily you'd be correct, but in our market I won't be making any money on updates. Oak and laminate are still hot commodities in my sleepy little municipality. I'd make more return on investment by adding a new laminate counter and calling it a day! But we will derive many years of joy from a new, functional bathroom!!

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  2. Your "nest" is important, making it better gives you a better quality of life. I quiver when we start talking home rents. We've done some, have more to go and each time we do it I hate, absolutely hate, spending the money, even though it is money we can afford to spend. So many years of "making do" are hard to let go of. Do your bathroom and enjoy!

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    1. You raise a good point about a comfortable home improving quality of life. I think this is especially true for homebodies (like us). It is comforting to know that you also struggle with spending the money.

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  3. OK... This post totally resonates with me! I'm the same way (and not just on spending on the house but just about everything in general)... We're planning a bit of a big reno at the moment to boot (doing it ourselves since hubs is a contractor and having half the materials already accumulated has definitely helped of course).... But we keep asking how big, how much, WHAT do we really need! I think the more I look at what others are doing, the more I think HOW can they do that?!? Which eventually brings me down and we get nowhere fast on the planning phase (since let's be honest, that's where it's still at lol).... So I try to step back and really think about our situation instead of someone else's. I try to focus on the things that need the money to be spent on, which is hard, but in the long run will be worth it (right?!? I better be worth it ;) lol).

    And in the meantime, I try to find 'cheap' experiences for us all to enjoy. We spend time outside, we spend time biking, fishing, kayaking (garage sale score!!), whatever we already have on hand. It's hard sometimes, especially when we're in a town where it seems like the only thing to do on weekends is hit the mall, drive south to Toronto or drive north to cottage country. But we manage. At least I'm hoping according to everyone else in the house we do ;)

    P.S. Sorry for my own mini essay (this post was kinda what I needed today I think lol)

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    1. I am SO happy that your enjoyed the post and that you left such a great comment. I really like your perspective on finding cheap experiences to enjoy. It's such a great reminder that to rack up those fun times, we don't need to venture very far! Thanks for that!! I think that with the weather still so lousy, I forget that summer will bring fun, free adventures. I'm on the hunt for a cheap stand up paddle board (maybe I can score one yard saling, lol).

      It's so easy to see someone else's situation, because I'm sitting here thinking, "of course it will be worth it!" I'm excited for you that you're planning a reno (and how great that hubby is a contractor!!). It's definitely hard to just focus on what's important, when there are so many gorgeous renos unfolding before our eyes. I'm going to wish you "good luck" on sifting through it all - I'm sure you'll figure out exactly what you need and when the dust settles (haha), you'll love it! I hope that for me too ;)

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  4. thanks for this honest post on your feelings. our bathroom has needed a complete reno since we moved in 7 years ago. i have been a little jealous seeing your plans since i love all of your new plans. :) i stress a lot about money and have been thinking of trying to get more work to be able to afford the reins. (i currently work only very part time from home) i feel comforted to know that it isn’t easy for all the bloggers with their amazing houses to part with the $ for renos. i appreciate your realness. Thanks, beth

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    1. Hi Beth! It can be so difficult to wait, so I can appreciate how frustrating it is for you to see people planning bath projects when you'd like to make yours over. I feel the same way about laundry rooms! And kitchens. And a lot of things :) I also understand the struggle between the work/life balance - more than you know! I really hope you get your dream bathroom some day, and I'll share some more of the bumps in the road with this reno - hopefully that will make it a bit easier to see ;)

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  5. Loved this post!

    There's a fine line between spending money and creating memories vs. spending money to make your space comfortable. I know you can achieve an awesome balance...but it's so difficult when you're surrounded by so many others doing massive projects and travelling to beautiful locations. Either way, do what makes you happy - even if it's a little at a time. :)

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    1. Hi Alex! I'm so happy to hear you loved this post! I actually wrote it over a week ago, and kept delaying publishing it because I was nervous about the response. I didn't want to sound whiny or ungrateful, but yet I really wanted to write the post I've been wanting to read.

      You're so right about doing what makes a person happy. Sometimes it just takes a little soul searching to figure out what that is- and, you're right, being patient!

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  6. Thanks for this! We are about to embark on a basement renovation to make more room for our family of 4 (including a 2nd bathroom - oh what a luxury that will be!) and I'm having all the same thoughts - its hard not to be envious of these people who seem able to do it all and make it so luxurious. We're spending most of our budget on the unsexy but necessary systems stuff - new draintiles, waterproofing the foundation, sewer pipes in slab repair, etc.

    We're trying to make long-lasting design decisions knowing that we aren't going to be able to spend money in 10 years to redo stuff that's gone out of style or that is no longer to our taste.

    I get a lot of inspiration on budget renovations from HouseTweaking too. We're living modestly while trying to make our home as functional as possible for our family. We're not worried about investment or resale, because to almost anyone else, our home is a teardown (so sad - but modest sized 50s bungalows don't usually get saved here in Vancouver).

    We're immensely grateful we were able to get into the market when we did and have to be careful with every dollar we spend, and juggling childcare, and the mortgage is tough (childcare is actually more expensive than our mortgage payments) and I struggle with the home-vacation/experiences spending dilemma as well, but knowing that while our kids are small (a few more years) we'll be homebodies, I think it will add a lot to our enjoyment of life and family time to invest in some modest updates to our home.

    First world problems. Thanks for lifting the cloud off the design world mystery around "keeping up with the joneses" - makes me feel better to know I'm not alone and others are struggling with the same concerns!

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    1. I'm so excited for you, that you're renovating your bathroom. I can only imagine how a second bathroom will make mornings a little less stressful for your family! The unsexy stuff is the worse - and it is all so expensive. It sounds like you've made an excellent decision, despite the dilemma you faced. Being able to enjoy your home more will make everyone happier, for sure! It really makes me smile that you're renovating a 1950s bungalow - that's fabulous. I'm always a little bummed to see them torn down.

      Wow - I'm always surprised how expensive childcare is! I should acknowledge that I don't have that cost, because it can really take quite a chunk out of a family budget.

      Happy renovating!! I hope everything goes smoothly :)

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  7. Love your money talk series and your willingness to talk about money in general. I very much identify with the pangs of wondering why it seems so easy for others to spend when I feel so unable to do so. Thank you!

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    1. It's really hard to talk about money! I feel so lucky, like I shouldn't have a complaint in the world. But then I also feel like I don't have my ducks in a row, so I shouldn't give advice, either. So I struggle writing these. But I can share my issues with money, and how I'm sorting it out. I hope that, at the very least, people who - like me - feel a little deflated sometimes when they look around, don't feel alone in that.

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  8. We're in the throngs of a bathroom renovation right now and focusing on updating and creating something pretty generic for reselling the property in the near future. If we weren't selling soon, I know it would be much harder to stomach the expenses. What gets to me most about the process is not necessarily the money spent but the waste we are producing as a byproduct, the lower quality of living in our home for the weeks spent in a mini construction zone and the time poured into picking up tiles, sourcing materials, etc. when we could just be hanging out and enjoying our time as a family instead. I appreciate your honesty in writing this post. We did some upgrades to our last property right before we moved out of it and I was kicking myself for waiting to make those changes only for someone else to enjoy! If I would have done it differently, I would have made those improvements sooner so I could at least enjoy them a bit. Maybe that is sort of one way you could look at your bathroom reno : ]

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    1. Hindsight is always 20/20, right? I think some of my fear/worry is based on our experience in the townhouse. We made back the money we invested in the renos, but didn't make any extra money. And we made decisions with "resale" in mind but in the end we had to pretty much put the house on clearance to move on with our lives. Now I don't think about resale at all. I might live here forever, who knows? But I can definitely relate to your regret about not doing improvements so you could enjoy them. We did some last minute updates and I kicked myself for not doing them earlier so we could enjoy them, just as you said. That's a big point you've raised: enjoyment. I know we'll enjoy a nicer bathroom, that functions better, it's just hard to spend the money to get there.

      Until you mentioned it, I didn't think about the other "waste" - the time, the quality of life. That is such a good point. We'll be renovating when it's warmer, and that's such prime time for enjoying the outdoors.

      I hope your reno results in an easy sale for your house. I'm hoping you get top dollar for it!!!

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  9. Thank you for being very, to me, realistic in what you go through. We have been in our house a year and I have so many ideas, but it will be done very slowly and very budget minded. I have to remind myself to enjoy the process.

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    1. I'm happy this post was helpful. I feel like we work at a snail's pace sometimes too. We only just installed closet doors in the bedroom, after living without doors for over a year! Slow and steady wins the race, right? I'm wishing the very best things for you and your home - hoping that one day you get to see all of those ideas realized :) And you're so right about enjoying the process! I needed that reminder, so thank you!

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  10. My financial adviser once explained it to me this way: If you spend money on a vacation, it's a great experience and you'll have wonderful memories. But after the experience is over, you will only have memories. If you invest in your house, you are investing in something that you will be seeing / enjoying / appreciating every day for the long-term.

    Or something like that.

    That's something I'm trying to hold onto. For what we are about to spend on renovations later this year we could take a number of incredible vacations. But at the end of each vacation, we would be coming home to a house in need of renovating.

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    1. That's not bad advice! We can also certainly make great memories at home. Maybe not in the washroom, lol, but by creating a welcoming space we'll want to spend more time here. Certainly, having a space a person likes can be viewed as a longer lasting benefit than a week or two spent somewhere fun. It's nice to hear that you're choosing renos over travel, because that's what we're picking too! It's not an easy choice (for those of us who have to choose between the two), but I hope that you (and I) are totally happy in the end. Happy renovating!!

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  11. Great perspective! This is a reminder to prioritize what's important to you and that is sound financial advice. It is too easy to get caught up in covetous desire when pretty posts and pins flood your screen. I recently pared down the blogs I subscribe to and pinners I follow and left only those that I really connect to, those that are more than just eye candy.
    I still think your bathroom reno is a wise choice. There are some functional problems with the current one and you will get the benefit for many years. I regret that we delayed on a couple of upgrades on our old house until we were about to sell- it does make sense to do it so you can get some pleasure from it while you still live there. And not to be forgotten, some people derive greater pleasure than others, from being surrounded by beautiful things (not just spendy things- nature, flowers on the table, etc)- that is how I'm wired- I derive much happiness from beauty and simplicity around me (for my sister, it's travelling- she could live in a barn for all she cares). That should also factor into our choices when deciding how to spend money,
    Excellent food for thought, thank you for this.

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    1. It can be a struggle to prioritize - it's definitely not easy. But you and other commenters have raised excellent points about deriving enjoyment and pleasure from renovations. Hubby and I are homebodies. We like being at home, so it makes sense to make it comfortable. It can be difficult, though, to work hard and think we're doing things "right," only to see people with bigger, better, more... I don't enjoy getting caught up in that, so I'm working on just focusing on us - what we need/want/can afford. I like what you said about enjoying beautiful things that aren't necessarily expensive. I need that reminder to enjoy simple pleasures. I think I will feel that more when spring/summer arrives - these grey, muddy days are dragging me down, I think!

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  12. We have lived in our 100+-year-old house in the north of the Netherlands for going on nine years now, and we are only half done (kitchen, bathroom, living/dining and guestroom are lovely, the rest not) but I am fine with that. The choice renovate vs. travel is an easy one for us: there is a wonderful world out there, and exploring it is much more important to me than a Pinterest-worthy home. We don't intend to sell anytime soon, which makes it easier, mind. :-)

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    1. Lynn, I'm really inspired by how sorted your priorities are! Sometimes I can really make up my mind, sometimes I waffle. I don't sense any waffling from you - and I love that. I am so happy to hear that you are exploring the world and taking your time to complete your home.

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  13. What a great blogpost! I am exactly in the same position. I bought a beach house with aloan some years ago(10 in fact already) and I still have 15 more years to pay. So renovations in the city house and fancy items or clothes are out of the question. And I don't even have a caar. But once in a while I prefer to travel or to do some minor spending on little things that will make me happy. Renos are too expensive for our budget so we simply enjoy with what we have and walk the sea front to enjoy the sunshine and the sea! Priorities are what counts in this life and being happy with what we have!AriadnefromGreece!

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    1. You've hit the nail on the head: figuring out one's priorities and making choices! That's what it's all about. I imagine that your beach house brings you more joy than any renovations could. I love being by the water, and walking the sea shore would be such a dream :)

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  14. I totally feel ya. When I get down about my situation i always thing "well, it could be worse".....and it's so true. I am lucky to have a great, healthy son and supportive family. I have struggled most of my adult life with money which I knew would probably be the case since having a child on my own. But I am always thankful for what I have and who I have in my life because I know some people are not so lucky. Even when people have a bunch of money they could be miserable, have no supportive loved ones or be sick. As most of us know, money doesn't equal happiness or make life easy, though it can help sometimes lol. I love my dad to death but I wish I was more like my mom and brother because they are both good with money, my mom even retired early at 54.....I will never retire lol. My tv just died and I can't afford to buy a new one, so I will be getting an old hand me down from my bro, and I'm completely fine with that. I don't need the newest of everything, as long as it works, I'm good.....and if I can fix it up so it's cute, even better. I will admit I do get a little jealous when I see some of these people I follow on Instagram buying all this awesome stuff that I want so bad....but then I swipe to the next pic and the thought it gone. I think it helps I'm not a window shopper, if I don't have the money for it I'm not usually looking at it online or in the store.

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    1. Taking stock of what we have is always a good thing - there is so much to be thankful for. I have such admiration for parents - especially single parents - because raising kids can be so expensive and can be making so many hard choices. I can imagine it's really difficult balancing two sets of interests and needs.

      And you're right about wealthy people still being unhappy! I think maybe then those people just look toward the next big thing, or level of wealth. There are some people, I'm sure, who just never have enough - no matter how many millions they have! We used to have SO much less money to work with and somehow we never felt we were missing anything. That was before IG, Pinterest, blogging...I didn't know I was missing anything. I'm trying to get back to that point.

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  15. This is such a sensitive subject for me that I've actually put off reading your post for a few days, so I find it interesting that you hesitated before posting it. Money is a huge issue for many of us! We recently spent a bundle to add a new bath -- of the most stripped-down kind possible -- to my mother's house so that we could all live together and help her. The new bath required drilling through concrete to lay pipe and new wiring, so not cheap even though I did all the painting myself. This leaves the old bath (nasty old tub surround and ugly formica countertop) for us to use, while Mom gets the new one, which makes sense because of room arrangements and access for walker, but still... As you say, it's hard to look at all the nice stuff on AT and IG and Pinterest and elsewhere while trying to imagine how to get some of this old stuff just to look as good as it did when it was young! One of the reasons I especially appreciate Dans Le Lakehouse is that you plainly weigh the priorities and don't assume that there will always be more in the bank whenever you want it. For what it's worth, my husband and I have been talking about Paris since 2003... only to find ourselves lucky to get a day off from caring for my very frail and often confused mother. So... yes, you and your hubby may have many years ahead of you, but don't count on the future for everything. Lots of homebody time is great, but make a definite plan way ahead for a holiday, too, so you don't feel like tomorrow will never come.

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    1. I didn't even think about how this post might be upsetting or difficult for people to read. I did worry about someone with less reading my complaining and feeling even worse, but I did want to expose the worrying/stressing/limitations that happens. I think I should work on being more sensitive next time. It's so difficult to talk about because everyone's situation can be really different.

      From my conversations with you over the years, I've always gotten this picture of you being very caring and supportive. It's so heart warming, the sacrifices you're making for you Mom. I can only imagine how stressful that reno was, and it's so sweet you've ensured that your Mom has a nice space to use. I hope you're able to give your bathroom a little spruce (will paint help?). I also hope that you make it to Paris someday. It sounds like you could use a nice break! You raise an excellent point about not waiting for the future - you never know what the future holds!! Maybe next years we'll be able to set some cash aside for some travels.

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    2. No, no, no... not insensitive at all, Tanya! Forgive me sounding like I'm playing my little violin of self-pity! :) I totally agree with one of your Anonymous friends above who calls these "first world problems." That's absolutely right, and I try to remind myself of it every day. So, reading your post AND the comments that followed really gave me great encouragement. Don't stop! It's clear that there are lots of us out here working to keep the balance in our lives. Thank you for giving us a way to talk about it.

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    3. You did not sound the least bit like a tiny violinist - not at all! I also worried that I had my own tiny violin. Yes, there are worse problems to have, but I still think these concerns are important. Under one blog post about very expensive furniture, on another blog, I saw an ad for debt management and relief. Consumer debt is a huge problem in North America, and I think the constant exposure to things to pine for contributes. I agree with you that reading the comments has been very encouraging. It's so comforting to hear that so many people are also working to find, and keep, the balance in our lives - as you so succinctly put it. Thanks for chiming in - I always enjoy reading your comments.

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  16. Oh Tanya, I love this post. I almost laughed out loud reading comments of, "Oh, just do it for your home and happiness!" because that is not an option for many of us. Small projects, regular home expenses, and vet bills left us $30 in our checking account recently... and we are frugal people! Life tends to add up, especially when you are young and working a job you love that doesn't include a salary you love. Or still looking for work.

    Our bathrooms are hideous in our 1970s home, that's a reality. Handicap rails, sparkly seashell sinks, gray faux-wood cabinets with gold deco light fixtures... We thought about using our tax return to fix one bathroom, and then realized our return just wouldn't even cover things. So we used our tax return to paint the remainder of the house. Just paint. And you know what? It looks so lovely and made a huge, huge difference in beautifying our dated home.

    We're taking small getaways: a cabin trip with friends, dayhikes closeby, visits to relatives a few states away. Since we bought our home, we think of every big purchase as "kitchen" or "vacation"? We've decided we will live with our kitchen for, oh, ten years so we can have some memories in the meantime. And when we rescued a dog, it was my husband who said, "But I thought we had a lot of home projects we wanted to do" to which I found myself responding, "There will always be time for that. It's time to start living life!"

    I love home blogs, including yours, and always appreciate creative DIY ideas and IKEA hacks. The teeny upgrades we've made to our home bring us great joy. The rooms are cheery, and we cherish Saturday afternoons just reading magazines in the sunny lounge. But you know what? Coming home each day to our puppy is priceless in a way we could have never imagined, and now I spend much more time just enjoying the neighborhood instead of hanging out on pinterest.

    Go live your life! Bathrooms will happen, and will be awesome when you can afford it.
    Okay, I need to go get my morning shower in the handicap bathtub now...

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    1. Hi Lindsey! You're so right - life does add up. I am routinely left wondering where the money went, even though I keep track of it and try so hard not to spend.

      Paint is a wondrous thing! It goes so far toward updating the dated and making spaces feel fresh and new. You made a good choice. I think you've really made an excellent point about taking time and being patient with projects. Small updates do make a huge difference in making a home feel comfortable. From what I've seen, your home looks lovely - definitely a place to relax and play with that adorable pup of yours.

      And you're so right about getting off Pinterest and out into the real world, where, I'm realizing, most people don't have expensive new everythings, but instead make do with what they've got. Pinterest is such a skewed version of how people really live. And living is really the point...

      As always, thanks for such a honest, thoughtful, and engaging comment - I love chatting with you :)

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