Tips on surviving a gut remodel?

byzantineMarch 3, 2014

Our GC was suddenly ready and demo started last week on Monday. Everything that made my old kitchen a kitchen went away in a dumpster. Most of last week has been replacing the HVAC and water heater, so we had to move out for the weekend.

This is a lot more stressful and DRAMATIC than I ever could have imagined. Then again, I never imagined owning a home, much less having the cash to gut a kitchen. So far all good news, in that there needs to be a small amount of structural repair, but we also gained 18" of ceiling space.

I spent all Sunday wiping dust off the rest of the house (and I'm not done). Two of my oldest plants (11 years) died while the furnace was out. But none of this is a bit deal... not nearly enough to explain how edgy I am. Why is this so scary?

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"Why is this so scary?"

Because there will be more Sunday's spent dusting!

I kind of enjoyed not having a kitchen. It was nice not to have to worry about planning dinner every night.

Seriously, though, it made me edgy, too, whenever someone was working in my house. There was always some problem to solve, some disaster striking, some decision to be made, some unexpected expense to pay for, etc., etc. You'll get through it, though, and likely learn more than you ever wanted to in the process.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 10:00PM
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Crockpot, microwave, lots of disposable dishware and utensils, a wash tub for doing some dishes and lots of PB&J. You'll be fine. We did it last year with an infant (bottles, pacis, pumping equipment galore)... all a distant memory now. Exciting, enjoy!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 10:01PM
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We have an induction burner, an immersion circulator, a microwave, kettle and toaster oven. We ordered take-out all week and now we're feeling ill. We should get a crock pot, though. We used to use it regularly and then abandoned it for the circulator (which we cannot now fill because there's no sink, hah!). Thanks!

I prevented three almost-mistakes today, too. Just by being here and nosy. This is a nice luxury. But then one of the contractors fell partway into a hole in the floor. Waugh.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 10:05PM
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Going through a reno is sorta like having a kinda forget a lot of the pain once all is said and done. But, unlike being pregnant, you can drink away some of your frustration, so in addition to the previous suggestions buy a bottle or three of your preferred adult beverage.

btw, you will be dusting FOREVER, there is no escaping it.

Best advise is to stay strong and vigilant for the duration. Many get reno fatigue at the end, which is where you have a tendency to let things go because you are just so tired of being un-done. GW is a great support group for that.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 10:35PM
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I put all my most used items on 2 giant rolling metal shelves from Costco. I put dishes, pots/pans, food, etc in labeled, clear plastic bins, on the shelves. I zip-tied a multi-plug surge protector extension cord to the shelf and then just had to plug that one thing into the wall. The coffee maker, micro, toaster oven, etc all plugged into the extension cord unit. I just rolled the shelves wherever they needed to go to be out of the way of the contractors. I had a cloth painters tarp over the shelves as well for when the work in the house was particularly dusty. We were without a kitchen for just over 6 months. Crazy.

The other thing that saved my sanity was mental: I never locked myself into a definitive finish date. There are some things that are just out of our control and having the ability to roll with it will truly help you not lose your mind. It usually will take longer than you want/expect.

Hang in there. It's overwhelming for pretty much everyone, but the end result is both wonderful and empowering. :)

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 10:38PM
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Kelly Ryan

i'm slightly more than halfway through our gut remodel so not sure I'm fully equipped to answer this question. I haven't survived it yet ;-)

the dust and the relocation of EVERYTHING is what has made me the most crazy. dust is everywhere, even rooms not remotely near the destruction. Such a mess. one week in, my kids were begging for "real" food - not take out. It gets old quick! What also gets old is having to walk up stairs to get water out of a sink or to wash a fork. Our demolition started similar to yours - we knew it was comign "soon" but it happened quicker than we thought. We didn't plan things out as best we could have and have been playing catch up ever since.

only a few weeks left...ahhh1

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 10:53PM
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Too bad all the old stuff is gone. We've been in various stages of demo and rebuild since the beginning of July, and the cabinets and appliances have been gone since mid September I think. One of the firs things I did was wire up a spare range so we could cook with something other than a microwave. I strongly recommend it if you're able.

Otherwise there's a microwave and washing dishes with a bathtub. That's about all we were ever able to figure out. :(

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 11:00PM
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My tip? Eat lots of guacamole.

Okay, seriously though, we did - it was easy to fix, took very little dishes to prep and it could be served in the prep dish. So guacamole it was. And a lot of it.

We still aren't done, but today is the first day that I would say that I have a "nearly functional kitchen" in 3 months. Know what we had for dinner tonight? Leftover Thai food. It's a bit of a shame, but DH was getting home late tonight and I didn't want to have to learn how to play nicely with my induction cooktop late at night. Just for giggles, I DID take a pan of water and put it on the cooktop to watch it boil and observe the nearly instantaneous response in heat control. You can tell that I've been going through a remodel too long when a boiling pot of water amuses me.

Hang in there though - we're all going through it, went through it, or are about to...we understand.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 11:56PM
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Paper plates. Frying pan. Toaster oven. Bags of salad.

Ibuprofen. Wine.


Have fun!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 3:28AM
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The dust is insane - and you probably have not seen the end of it. But you will survive - we all did.

We got to eat a lot of pizza, barbequed, sandwiches, etc. And we went through a lot of paper plates including paper bowls for cereal in the morning.

And after your remodel is done - a few years from now, you'll remember that you made it through and that it was not as bad as you thought it was going to be . . .

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 3:43AM
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"Reno fatigue" i've got it bad! Trim guy did a lousy, and I mean lousy, job with our crown above some cabinets, its hidden by the cabinets, and I really felt for him because it was done in wrong order and he had a hard time reaching it. (Cabinets and cabinet crown went in before ceiling crown was fixed, hard to reach now, who does that?!) still not sure what to do about it.
We made temp counters with some plastic shelves and plywood, and we made them put our old sink back in, they apparently dont normally do a temp sink, but come on, I'm not hauling dishes up to my bathtub! We werent moving that plumbing so it worked out. We were still sans sink for 6 days between marble install and plumber, which sucked.

And it was lucky I was home when trim guy arrived, he started to rip out the one correct existing chair rail! Luckily I stopped himand got him straight, It would not have been pretty if I had come home to what he had been planning to do! And nicks and dings and scratches? Yup, everywhere. The one on my new whitehave sink bugs me the most. Itis small, but come on, lay some carboard over it when you do the trim around the window above the sink. And my range has some new scratches, it is being replaced but still, they werent there before and I am planning to sell it. I'll stop now. It is not fun to live through. I dont have time to babt sit everyone in my house, and that is what would have been required to get it the way I want it without damage. No one will treat your house like you do. Period.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 6:37AM
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OOTM-Mom is right about damage. Be ready for it. It's a shame, but it seems to be the rule rather than the exception from what I've read here. Babysitting them doesn't really help either. We have scratches in 65 year old solid wood doors that were in great shape and even with refinishing, probably the scratches are deep enough that they won't come out...hey, here's an idea...take an extra 30 seconds and pop the door off the hinges.

We were reusing our stainless fridge since it's only 2 years old. Scratches on that too. They aren't in the most conspicuous places, but still they were caused by carelessness.

We put down rosin paper and hardboard so that we wouldn't get scratches and gouges in our new/newly redone hardwood. They wound up peeling it back to work in places (which of course they had to do) and when they put it back at the end of the day, they didn't vacuum the hardwood, just put the coverings back down. Some nice pieces of electric copper wiring were under there and scratched/gouged areas of the floor. In 3 months, they've done more damage to our floors than what they have seen in the 65 years they've been in the house.

A friend of ours who just survived his kitchen reno was telling us about his GC scratching his new copper apron front sink and other mishaps.

Oh, and don't let your cabinet installer (our GC) tell you that the bowed piece of wood will flex down when the granite goes in, so he doesn't need to shim everything else up to match. The granite people install to the highest point, and shim between the counter and the cabinets. I would have MUCH preferred the shimming happen between the cabinet and the floor because it wouldn't have changed the sightline as much. But, we have a good 1/4 to almost 1/2" " of shimming under the counter for almost the entire way. 1/4" of an inch doesn't sound like much. but it really is in the world of cabinetry. Especially when you were going for clean lines and were very aware of how lines would play an important role in the overall look of the kitchen.

My list goes on, but for the sake of not taking up your entire post, I'll end by saying yeah, be ready for damage. if you can somehow come to terms with it now before it happens, it might be easier to deal with when it happens.

And, realize that the most of the damage and mishaps are likely ones that only you will notice. Your friends and family mostly won't see that stuff - they'll see a beautiful new kitchen.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 7:03AM
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I suggest you use every stress reliever you can, right from the start. Go ahead and buy Costco sized packages of paper plates and bowls, plastic cutlery, napkins, bowls, and flats of water. Every dish and utensil you don't have to wash is less stress, and all the little reliefs add up.

It was also more helpful than I first thought to plan ahead to just take a whole day off from the project, get away from the house when the contractors are not there, and do what best helps you relax. The break helps clear your mind of the endless details, and it feels like life is more normal for a while.

Another suggestion I haven't seen above is to buy some boxes of those thin nitrile exam gloves (they come in boxes of 200). You will be handling so much material every day, and washing your hands far more than usual, and the gloves are really helpful protecting your hands from little scrapes and cuts. Use them with abandon, throw them away, and it's OK for a few weeks. So easy to grab a paintbrush for touchups, screwdrivers, dirty cartons, etc, when you have your gloves on. I left a box of them right in the work zone and used them all the time!

One more strategy I used was to order a second meal for take-away when we went to restaurants. One meal eaten there, and another to take home with us. It helped a lot to have fewer "what's for dinner?" decisions every day, and reheating was easier than another drive to another restaurant.

Good luck with your reno, it will be SO worth it, and much of the loud and dirty demo is behind you.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 7:35AM
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I forgot one thing - vacuuming a lot can be a good thing. We've had problems with splinters in feet for the last week or two. I think it's from me finishing up the subfloor in one area.

If you're not DIYing, be prepared for missed appointments. Even on the two things that I'm not handling (drywall and insulation) it's already been driving me nuts trying to get people to show up so subbing it out is probably 10x worse.

IMO you can do yourself a favor and move the fridge to another room to prevent damage and wasting time from moving it around again and again.

If anyone knows a way to rig up the dishwasher so that it will work before the sink goes in I'd love to hear it...

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 9:01AM
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Wow. This is some really good stuff. Y'all're awesome. I wish I could hug every one of you, because I feel -so- much better now.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 9:18AM
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" I would have MUCH preferred the shimming happen between the cabinet and the floor because it wouldn't have changed the sightline as much. But, we have a good 1/4 to almost 1/2" " of shimming under the counter for almost the entire way. 1/4" of an inch doesn't sound like much. but it really is in the world of cabinetry."

This is improper cabinet installation. Stone tops should only need a 1/16" shim here and there.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 8:45PM
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I just went through a living room and dining room remodel. I drank alot of wine throughout!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 8:54PM
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We did a major reno during which I had a vacuum permanently affixed to one hand and a swiffer to the other. I also had a hard hat that said "Boss Lady" on the front so there were no misunderstandings as to who was in charge! We did lots of paper plates, BBQ, and microwave meals. Go with the flow, know that it's temporary and the end result will not only be so worth it, but you won't remember your current discomforts. Words of advice that I will have to remember when we start our kitchen reno!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 10:15PM
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And, remember, you *are* the boss! You can assert yourself when necessary (politely of course!) to the people working for you. Remembering that reduced my stress a fair amount!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 10:32PM
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Best tip: Learn to live with the fact that things won't go perfectly.

Things will be out of your control no matter how assertive, organized and direct you are. There's just sometimes nothing you can do when weather delays things, or the driver of the windows gets into a fender bender, or the marble you love can't be stretched into 2 bathrooms. Remodeling is not for the faint of heart but it gives back HUGE rewards.

You have some great tips for the actual "living" through things above. We are in a gut remodel where we are in a rental since our house is inhabitable. Some days this rental makes me crazy but I keep reminding myself that it's not forever. There are so many bad things that really are forever, so I try and keep that perspective. This is just a minor inconvenience--as my DH likes to say "A first world problem".

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 11:53PM
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Trebruchet - regarding the shimming...yeah, I pretty much know that it shouldn't have been that way. The one piece of wood on the sink cabinet bowed upward. When I asked out GC about it, he said that it would be fine.

When the granite fabricators came to measure, he told me that it was off level by that amount. I told the GC that he needed to raise cabinets because they weren't level. My GC called fabricators "lazy". I told him that I didn't care if they were, I wanted it fixed. It didn't happen. He said that when the granite was set, it would fix the bow, that the edges of the cabinets were level. So, I trusted him because he represented himself as knowing what he was talking about. Had he not acted as if he knew what he was talking about and said that the bow in the one cabinet was what was making things wrong, I would have asked my cabinet maker to redo that. I have no doubt he would have - he's been quite good with us.

Anyway, fast forward to install day. Granite installers get there and they say that they will have to shim. GC was there. I confronted him about what he told me and how that was incorrect, but by that point, it was too late.

I've expressed my disappointment and his response was, "I didn't know." Well, that's precisely the problem...he didn't know. But he didn't represent himself that way, in fact, quite the opposite. And because he wouldn't admit that he didn't know something, I now pay the price of the install the way it is.

Sadly, this isn't the first that we've had some issues. They weren't the low bid. And, we have used them for other smaller projects around our house and have been rather happy. Unfortunately, this large project, where it really counts...not quite so happy.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 12:20AM
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Go ahead...Laugh if you will, but our setup has kept us coping for quite awhile now.

We have a very small powder room near the family room, itâÂÂs less than 5â x 6âÂÂ. We turned it into a mini kitchen. We removed the small sink and its cabinet, storing it safely for reinstallation later. We had an old Ikea cabinet box from a sewing project that was kitchen counter height so we moved that in. Into that cabinet we dropped in a large laundry tub sink. We gave that the old faucet from the kitchen sink. gets better...We removed the toilet. It was a simple matter to tightly cap off the drain pipe. The drain pipe of course sits is above the floor. To cover it we built a 4â - 5â tall plywood platform/box that fits over the top. On the platform we put a full-size portable dishwasher. We also put up two of the old wall cabinets, above the dishwasher where we keep a few dishes and coffee and tea. The barista and mini coffee pot sit on top of the dishwasher.

So, we have coffee, we have tea, we even have lattes! Best of all though is that we have clean dishes. We donâÂÂt cook very much, nonetheless we run that dishwasher at least every other day. Honestly, for us it has been great!

One thing though...our powder room may always smell like coffee now...oh well.

Also, we haven't had much dust. We sealed in the work area with double-wall plastic wall. What I mean is that we built a wall out of 2x4s, attaching plastic sheeting to both sides. Heard it would work, and so far, so good.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 1:46AM
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IâÂÂm having a pretty nice morning, but the lady whose kitchen IâÂÂm remodeling apparently isnâÂÂt. Wearing her housecoat, slippers, and bed-head, she bumbles into the dining area and wrenches a cup of coffee from the pot without so much as a âÂÂGood morningâ or even a glance in my direction. The kitchen becomes noticeably cooler. IâÂÂve got enough experience with women to know when not to say anything and this is definitely one of those times. If feel like an intruder on my own jobsite.

Later when her husband takes a smoke break in the garage, he clues me in. âÂÂSheâÂÂs sick of having this house torn up. ItâÂÂs been 5 weeks.â There we have it. Confirmation of my initial and instant diagnosis, a classic case of remodeling fatigue. IâÂÂve seen this many times before and have experienced it personally with my wife of 32 years. If you Google it, youâÂÂll get several hits.

In fairness to myself, I havenâÂÂt had their kitchen torn up for 5 weeks. The dufuss âÂÂcontractorâ they hired to set cabinets and build countertops used 4 of the 5 weeks in question. This is the guy that didnâÂÂt know to use a filler strip where a cabinet meets a wall to provide enough clearance so the drawer wonâÂÂt strike the door casing when you open it.

Of course you canâÂÂt just pull this 6â run of cabinets, install the filler, and call it good. After you do that, youâÂÂve got to reset the 3â cabinet to the right of the stove opening and every upper cabinet has to be reset too. This takes time, looks like you havenâÂÂt done much work at the end of the day, and that feeds remodeling fatigue.

When my jaw is propped open while heâÂÂs performing my root canal, I may get fatigued, but I donâÂÂt get short with my dentist. He didnâÂÂt bite on that olive pit and split my tooth. Well I didnâÂÂt hire and give a fat down payment to a guy who couldnâÂÂt set cabinets, build countertops, or install flooring without taking cabinets out of level. So why is the guy who is saving your butt from your previous decisions suddenly persona non grata? IâÂÂd love to ask this question, but know better. You donâÂÂt stay married for over thirty years and have great customer reviews without the ability to hold your tongue.
The only cure is to finish the job right. I donâÂÂt tell my dentist how to do his job even though itâÂÂs my mouth, and IâÂÂll not have you rush me even though itâÂÂs your home. I know youâÂÂre sick of me and having your space unusable and messy, but thereâÂÂs only one way out of this that will make both of us happy in the long run and thatâÂÂs stay the course. WeâÂÂll get through this and youâÂÂll love me again, I promise.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 6:59AM
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Wow, now that's a good idea! I think the lack of dishwasher is what's bothering the other half so much.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 7:03AM
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robo (z6a)

First three weeks: "wow, I'm surprised how not stressed I am!" (Denial)
Next two weeks: "ok, I seriously need a vacation."
This week: "my life is just going to be like this now." (Acceptance...or maybe more denial!)

Except for an uncomfortable 10 days when we had to suddenly stay with the In laws and kennel the pets, it's been alright. I love my contractor but it is true that everything isn't necessarily the way I would want it. He still has to make decisions all day even though we have architect drawings. Everything from what size transition to use between floor materials to where to put the thermostat the architect didn't figure into the drawings. I have to learn what I really want changed and what I can live with. I wish I could work from home every day so he could pop his head around the corner and ask me whatever. I also learned that I'm a lot pickier than I thought I was and less easy going, And a lot pickier than my husband who IS home all day!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 7:19AM
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robotropolis: well said. And funny as heck. I am trying to skip over the "i need a vacation" and move straight on to acceptance. It doesn't help that my family doesn't quite want to follow my guidance on how to live in our modified house. A tantrum might be in order.

I'm flying to NOLA for the weekend on Friday. I've encouraged the contractors to take the day off.

We've already had to bail for the in-laws' and kennel the pets once, while the furnace was out. I, too, am home all day, and I rather love watching them work (which means I'm getting less work done myself), but I've managed to stick my nose in a few times to prevent mistakes.

The weather in Chicagoland is causing delays. Our GC is my husband's cousin, which is brilliant in a lot of ways, but also a slight tightrope act in that I love my husband's family more than my own and don't want any bad feelings are a result. They also live in the far west suburbs, which means it's a hike for them to get here. A hike that is far worse when there's snow. We've had other contractors mess up bits and pieces of our house, and it's nothing short of wonderful to see the thoughtful, careful, meticulous work these guys are doing for us. They are even't close to the cheapest, but the other contractors weren't exactly cheap either, and we couldn't get through to them that, yes, we really want to spend 2/3 the value of the house on fixing it up. So please do a proper job and send us a bill.

I'm also glad to know I'm not the only "Boss Lady," sherri58. That was another problem with other contractors that I no longer have. They would always look to my husband for guidance, and this is just not his domain. He put this all in my capable hands and everyone from the architect to the plumber has been made aware that I'm in charge. As it turns out, I've got some light construction experience under my belt (I can even weld). No one is going to "little lady" me. :-)

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 10:42AM
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athomesewing, I did not laugh. I turned green with envy.

deedles, mike1975: I have noticed an uptick in my wine consumption. :-)

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 10:43AM
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My saving grace was the installation of a forty dollar plastic laundry sink from Home Depot. That temporary hookup with real running water made everything bearable. We even kept moving and hooking up the gas stove from the framed out kitchen to the garage depending on where we were with the project. No counter or dishwasher but who cared ! Keep the faith. The sheet rocking is the worst of it.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 5:02PM
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byzantine, my parents built a house in 1977. Mom designed the house, and was in charge of all the decisions - my Dad wanted a fireplace and a wet bar - after that he didn't care.

The builder was old-school, and wasn't immediately prepared to deal with a woman. They had many conversations like this:

Builder: What do you want to do about this decision? (looking at my Dad)
Dad: DW, what do you want to do about this?
Mom (to builder): This is my decision.

This was repeated a number of times before Builder finally cut out the middleman, and asked her directly!

I was the boss lady for our kitchen remodel too, even though he's the primary cook in the family. It's his kitchen, but it was my project!

As for remodel survival - we washed dishes in the bathroom sink (we have a long vanity counter), cooked a lot with crockpot, rice cooker, and outdoor grill (it was summer), and used a lot of paper plates. I brought in a set of shelves from the garage to serve as pantry, and a card table held toaster and microwave.

The fridge was in the living room, which seemed awkward at first, but was certainly handy when one wanted to grab a beer during a baseball game!
We were without a functional kitchen for just under 3 months.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 5:41PM
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Beer. That's my late-to-the-party tip, having just discovered how hard it is to wash a wine glass in the bathroom sink. :)

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 8:13PM
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Have you given birth? Do you remember how uncomfortable you were during your pregnancy? How you felt like it was going to last forever? How much labor hurt?
Somehow, these memories fade, and we ooh and aah when it's all over and think that the result was more than worth it.
Kitchen remodel is a little like that. You stress, scream, cry, doubt yourself and others multiple times during the whole process. But, when it's finally over and you've "given birth" to your new kitchen, you'll ooh and aah and eventually forget about the agony of the "construction pregnancy"

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 8:29PM
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I came back to thank you all for your tips. We purchased two wire cart-rack type deals, where the microwave and toaster oven now can be rolled around to the nearest available source of power. I also purchased a commercial bus bin from Amazon to stack and tote dishes down to the laundry sink in the basement. Our reliance on delivery food has dropped to once a week. See link for the pot of carnitas I'm currently making for dinner.

And yes, canuckplayer, I have given birth twice. It was the second time that convinced me to get a dog. Not sure what that implies. *grin*

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 1:18PM
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How do you survive?
Remind yourself that you chose this.
Remind yourself of the end goal.
Remind yourself that if this is the most difficult thing you ever face, you're darned lucky.
Remind yourself that others live like that all the time.
Remind yourself that you are blessed to have this work done.
Remind yourself that you are paying for it for a reason.
Remind yourself to just quit whining and suck it up. It'll be done and beautiful when it's done and beautiful.

Do a search on all the other threads asking how one survives a remodel. Tips and tricks, etc.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 1:46PM
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