The Ugly Part

In our last house, we had a tiny bathroom. Like, 5 feet by 5 feet. The sink was in a tiny 2-foot-wide nook in the corner. All of me wouldn’t fit in the mirror. The tiled tub surround was made up of random colored tiles with no apparent order or design.

But that wasn’t the bad part.

When we moved in, we spent a lot of money getting the kitchen done and buying appliances and getting the flooring right, after ripping up layers and layers of plywood. We didn’t have any money to address the squishy floor in the bathroom. Basically, we spent the next two years hoping we wouldn’t fall through the floor.

It was a one-bathroom house, which also led to our delay, because anything we did to that bathroom would put our only working bathroom out of order. And at the time, I was working an insane schedule running a day shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

When I do something like renovate a bathroom, I have thought about it for months. I get a little obsessive, searching all sorts of ideas out on Pinterest, googling clearances, searching shopping sites for options. And so, when I start, it is a little like being on auto-pilot, because it has filled my head for months at that point. I have already built it three or four times in my head.

Even so, that renovation was fraught with difficulties. The subfloor was rotten, and had to be replaced. The cast iron toilet flange broke, and had to be replaced. The sink fittings had to be replaced. The water shut off had to be replaced. I had to tile the floor. Twice. I have never had anything go as wrong as that tiny bathroom did.

A friend let us sleep at his house the weekend I did the major work, but even so, we had a less than optimal bathroom for about a week. And it took a month of evenings and weekends for me to get “done”. And it all cost, almost to the penny, twice as much as our already stretched budget had allowed for the project.

I will tell you that when we were done, that bathroom was my favorite part of that house. Literally everyone who came over remarked on it. I had penny tile on the floor, corrugated metal wainscoting, and espresso shop-made trim. It was still tiny, and still had a crazy tile surround, but now it looked more eccentric than random.

Now, it sounds like this is going to be a happy ending sort of thing, and the end was worth the hassle and yada yada. And yes, you could tell the story that way, but I skipped ahead a bit. I want to talk about what it was like in the middle of that project.

My only bathroom was in shambles. I was exhausted, and out of money. I had to reinstall the toilet twice in the middle of the chaos because we needed to use the bathroom and had no other options. It looked dramatically uglier at this point than it did before I had done anything. I felt like I was moving backwards.

I was in the middle of what I call the ugly part.

Every renovation has the ugly part. It’s when you had to break up the tile floor. Rip out the sheetrock. Pull down the wall. It looks worse now than it did before you started. And it’s really easy to look around at all the chaos and to feel like this was all a horrible mistake. Maybe you should have paid a contractor to do it. Maybe you should have been happy with the ugly floors. Maybe you shouldn’t have tried to do it yourself.

It’s the ugly part.

Now, if you do enough renovation work, you eventually come to realize that this is part of the process. To fix things, you often have to break them worse than they were before. Things often do have to get worse before they get better. And when you have pulled a rabbit out of a hat a dozen times or so, you come to expect that the 13th hat, there will be a rabbit in that one, too.

But it’s not just renovations that have an ugly part. Lots of things do.

Medical school has organic chemistry. The second year of law school almost wiped a friend of mine out of the process. The third day you lift weights you will wish you had stayed on the couch. That third week of Couch to 5K has knocked me out three times.

Anytime you seek to change the status quo, you will have to disrupt things. Break things. Rip things out. And in the short run, it will look worse. But it’s not worse – it’s just not done.

It’s the ugly part.

It’s part of the process, but it is crucial to remember that it isn’t the end of the process.

Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. That part is up to you.

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