IDEAS: The Real Reason Home Improvement Matters

In August 2016 my wife and I waved goodbye to our first child to go away to university. Joseph isn’t our oldest, but he is the first to go beyond high school, and when he came home from the University of Tennessee at Christmas it reminded me of something that I don’t think about as often as I should.

Joe has always grown up in a house where we try to keep things organized, clean and in good repair. And like many kids, it was pretty well impossible for him to understand his boyhood situation until it changed. Even a fish doesn’t appreciate being wet until the lake dries up.

Four months of living in a dorm room with four other guys has a way of changing a young man’s outlook, and the occasional trip to houses off campus where light bulbs stay burned out for months and sheets hardly ever get changed had a positive effect on Joseph. One of the best Christmas presents he brought home was an appreciation for how a clean, organized, fully functional home makes life better. And that reminded me how home improvements and homemaking are about more than just practicality. They’re actually about creating spaces where the heart can set roots and flourish. Ultimately, home improvement is about turning the shell of a house into what I call a “home place”.

Any successful home place is both a physical thing – four walls and a reliable roof –plus a state of mind.  Good memories, feelings of safety, warmth, shelter, food, beauty and physical amenities that are both inviting and functional. Sounds simple enough, but according to Joseph’s experiences away from home, it’s not common for young people these days.

Joe has told us more than a few stories about students he met who were glad to be away from home and how these kids never got homesick. Visiting some of these places with his classmates he understood one reason why. Among other things, Joe realized in new ways how important home improvement work is in making an inviting home place, a zone where people make, miss and love the pleasant memories they create over time.

It takes work to keep the lights burning, the walls in good shape, the deck finished, the garage organized and home cooked meals on the table. And while all this might seem boring and ordinary in a world where everything is so often about flash and glamour and fun, isn’t the boring work of life usually the most important? In a time where so much is changing so quickly, and true home place experiences are getting more and more rare for young people, it seems to me that us old school DIYers need to be extra diligent about passing on the hands-on home place mindset to the next generation. It won’t happen automatically.

So what does this mean? In my experience, successfully managing the practical side of a home place comes down to five simple habits: First, keep a list of jobs to do. You need to record the jobs that need doing or you’ll forget. Second, maintain a DIY shopping list. You’ll need to buy supplies to keep your home place homey, and nobody’s memory is good enough to remember everything all the time.  Third, set aside time to make home improvements happen. Consider making one day a week “screen free” and you’ll be amazed how much more gets done around the house. Fourth, organize your tools and supplies. Maintaining a home is challenging enough without the frustration of looking for essentials you can’t find. And finally, learn the skills required to keep your home place in good shape. So much of what’s needed isn’t complicated, and it’s easier than ever these days to learn the how-to behind creating a memorable home place for your family.

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