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hardhats construction site renovating with kids the life creative

Living on-site while Renovating: What you Need to Know

Renovating is stressful, period. Adding a complex, bank-breaking, life-disrupting project into our already busy existence sounds like utter lunacy, yet so many of us find ourselves there, up to our armpits in sawdust, for a whole assortment of reasons.

Add to this delightful renovating scenario the responsibility that never sleeps – parenting – and you’ve got the perfect storm. Hey – the end result will be TOTALLY WORTH IT! And life-changing, and just what you always wanted! But in the mean time, get a therapist on speed dial.

Renovating: The building site battlegrounds

We recently completed a rather large renovation, which lasted on and off, for about a year. It started with a couple of bathrooms. It continued to a full garage/granny flat conversion. It culminated with the five of us moving into said granny flat and living for four months while the rest of the house was re-jigged. Did I say Granny Flat? That sounds big. I meant room. Plus bathroom. Day after day, night after night. 

I’m pleased to report that after renovating, we’re still alive, still married, and we’re back in the renovated house. And it has all been TOTALLY WORTH IT! And life-changing, and just what we always wanted! But I do have a few learnings to take with me, just in case we ever get the taste for sawdust again. I’ve kept them, as a letter to myself, that I’ve filed under ‘M’ for ‘Madness’. Take a look…

Blue tent camping the life creative
Living on-site is kind of like camping, but less fun and with more noise

A letter to my future repeat-renovator self:

Dear Sally,

What are you, nuts? Have you totally forgotten, like your amnesia about childbirth, and are backing up to go again? Has it slipped your mind, the challenge of living on site? The punch-ups in the queue for the bathroom? The conversation curfew at 7pm so you could get the youngest to sleep in the pitch black? Sure, you all had book lights, but there was nowhere to store books!

Look, I know, the rewards were amazing.  If you really must do this, then heed your own advice. (And buy more vodka this time.)

My choice wise words:

1. Are you sure you can’t rent somewhere else?

OK, so you may not even have a choice when you’re renovating. But if you do, weigh up the dollar cost of renting vs discomfort cost of staying. Just remember those little icky details about living on site that sent everyone a little cuckoo.

Your kids couldn’t have mates over, and nor could you. If one person got sick, it was an instant infirmary with bodies dropping like flies. It was too much to ask a babysitter to wrangle that situation so you never went out. Run those numbers one more time, would you?

Paint swatches renovating the life creative
The only colour you’re likely to see during this process is red.

2. Plan, woman, plan. Like a Military General.

I’m not just talking a few lists. If your strategy is to stay on site, you need weeks-in-advance scheduling, coordinating backup plans and calling in the support network. Start having kids over for playdates now, so your kids can have fun at theirs when your place is less ‘home’ and more ‘hazard’.

Compile a catalogue of no-fuss, no-mess meals for your nightly repertoire.  Chock the freezer with some home-made meals now. Line up some storage and work out which are the select few toys to make the cut and stay, and which will be in hibernation (this negotiation will take 10 times longer than you expect).

3. Diarise some shopping.

Despite your bribes and best efforts, poring over bathroom finishes is NOT your child’s idea of fun, and will inevitably end in a very public Mark III Meltdown. Get hold of the deadlines and turnaround times for each finish and fixture of the project, and schedule in some child-free time for selection and sourcing. For everyone’s sake.

Renovation living in the house during the reno the life creative

4. Safety first.

Inevitably you will find yourself amidst the dust and debris of the construction site, whether for a site meeting, urgent decision-making or just to have a perve with a wine in hand. It really isn’t the safest place for kids, so set some firm rules with them about being anywhere near the work.

Obviously, first and foremost, they must be with an adult, and if there’s any risk they could find their way in alone, ask the builders to firm up some barriers with temporary fencing or boarding up. They want on-site accidents even less than you do, trust me.

5. For Fun’s Sake!

As tragic as it sounds, you need to actually organise a few laughs and fun times. Budget to eat out a bit more, picnic like a pro, go to the movies, go camping, have a family games night, grab takeaway to share with mates at their place… whatever. A sense of humour was a key survival skill last time and it will be again. 

Good luck, see you on the other side. It will be TOTALLY WORTH IT!



Have you undertaken renovating with kids in tow? What are your survival tips? Share your renovating story below!


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Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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