Move in day at 815 17th Avenue was a success. The old house is bursting with life as the student residents prepare for a year of study at the nearby University of Alabama. I think the house is happy to greet them and re-enter the mainstream of life in Tuscaloosa.
With the bulk of renovations behind me (there is still a lot of troubleshooting ahead, as well as a phase 2 renovation plan and landscaping), I have been reflecting on the lessons I have learned during the process. Four months went by so fast, but the old house was a good teacher. Here are ten things I learned:
1. Be Patient. Patience is virtue that is not often lauded in our hectic lives. But, working in an old house taught me that some things demand patience. Much of renovation work is repetitive and tedious. However, the results are worth it!
2. Do Your Best Work. Even if my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. McDonald, isn’t hovering over my shoulder with a gold star to give out, it really does matter that I do my best work. The house will continue long after I am gone, and I want to leave a legacy of good stewardship for the future. So, even when i was tired and dirty beyond belief, I always gave my best.
3. Be Humble. Humility is a virtue learned quickly in old houses. I quickly discovered that the renovation couldn’t be “all about me” or my ideas. To be successful, especially on a tight tim line, requires teamwork. NO egos allowed on the job site!
4. Pay Attention. Look closely at the house, and things will reveal themselves to you. I have learned so much about architecture, construction, history and humanity in these last months. Stop and really look at the house. There is so much to learn if you focus.
5. Book Learning Isn’t Everything. In the South, people are frequently divided into two groups, those who have “book learning” and those who have “common sense.” It is the rare person who has both, so each of these groups harbors contempt for the other. Until I started the old house renovation, I was firmly in the “book learning.” group. I have a MA in History, but spent my studies in the clean, temperature controlled library rather than wielding a hammer or paint brush. I hope I have gained some “common sense” during the last few months, as well as dropped a few pounds.
6. Age Gracefully. As my 50th birthday looms, I have learned from the old house that aging doesn’t make you irrelevant. Like the house, I might have a few wrinkles and get cracked up by life, but these are the price of experience.
7. Offer Yourself Joyfully. Do what you can and give what you can with a smile on your face. Open your doors even when things are messy. It is always better to invite life in than to shut it out.
8. Relax. It is easy to stress over details that don’t really matter and no one else will ever notice. It wont be perfect, but that is O.K.
9. Trust Your Gut. Being a “book learning” person means I have the tendency to run to the library when confronted with hardship or difficulty. I can research almost any topic right to death. I have learned that it is frequently better to look at the reality of the situation squarely and go with my instincts.
10. Celebrate. My old house is 175 years old this year. That is quite a milestone, and I want to enjoy every day of it!