Zen and the art of disruption

The topic of this post was nowhere on my running list of things to write about, but sometimes life or the random or unplanned event zips itself to the beginning of the queue, screams for attention, and ends up being shared like this:

I usually experience the before-during-after of home remodels, construction, and the like through the eyes and emotions of my clients. As the calm and practical voice of reason who can see where they are, where they’re going, and how to bring them back to center, I’m called on to help with the preparation, navigation, and resettlement img_7428of their spaces and minds.

As a long-time renter, and unlike many homeowners, I had yet to experience the temporary life-interrupting effects of residing in my home while contractors did their thing. Leave it to some defective paint issues in an old Victorian to provide such an opportunity.

For regular readers of this blog, the photo to the right depicts a familiar corner of my kitchen table. This particular scene – still-life with fruit, dental care, and toilet paper – is unfamiliar to all of us. The bathroom items (including the wandering dental floss) had to be relocated  to the only other room with a sink while the bathroom was being repainted. The extra roll of toilet paper was placed strategically in the event the contractors needed a fresh roll when Sven and I were out of the house.

But why the kitchen table? There is no actual physical counter space in our 100% countertop-free kitchen, so when we had to move the essentials out of the bathroom cabinets, the dining space was encroached upon. I knew things were going to be out of whack for a little while, and I was surprised by the effects this little dose of non-normalcy had on me. For a couple of days, my overall productivity and focus suffered even though my office and rooms of respite had yet to be impacted.

Four days in and the overall situation felt quite manageable and less uncomfortable even as the next phase of painting and repair work pushed us out of our bed and bedroom and into greater inconvenience.

You see, preparation for the seemingly simple job of repainting the ceiling in the bedroom revealed severely compromised plaster, the original from when the house was built in 1887. While things would move along quickly, the job would now take nearly twice as long as initially projected. This wasn’t the project our landlords signed up for. This certainly wasn’t what we tenants signed up for either. It was time for the dust to fly as demolition of said plaster began in order to make way for drywall.


We gathered enough clothes for a week, carried the pillows and blankets to the room next door, and settled in as guests in our very own multi-purpose guest room / dining room / parlor. (I forgot to grab a belt before the armoire in the bedroom was shrouded and taped for eight days. Oops!)

Five work days in with a bonus weekend reprieve, we had to re-nest again as the contractors were ready to tackle the ceiling in the multi-purpose space. We moved further west to the living room, or what I began calling “the studio apartment” within our apartment.

Our greatly compressed, stacked, and scrambled living space was rather comical at this point. In order to fit the guest futon in the room, the couch had to be rotated ninety degrees to nest (with inches to spare) in the bay window. Temporary sleeping quarters were to be a mere three feet from my desk. The view was a landscape of inviting pillows.


My office nook was piled high with boxes for a project I’d been working on in the parlor, a rolled up rug rested beneath my desk, and a chair from the bedroom was wedged in at the entrance to the space. The latter served as Sven’s clothes staging zone and a traffic calming feature. After walking twice into the chair that’s not usually there, I was forced to slow down when making the turn into my office. For some crazy reason, in the midst of all the chaos, I was more focused and productive when working at home than I’d been in weeks.


Work in our flat ended a week ago. The ceilings are beautiful and our spaces are mostly back to normal. There’s a renewed appreciation for things being as they should and not taking basic conveniences for granted. Sweeping up the last bits of dust and re-hanging the last pieces of art have brought me back to center.

Being prepared and flexible made a huge difference. Little did I know this adventure was going to give me firsthand affirmation of the recommendations and strategies I present to clients when they’re getting ready to have walls opened, painted, added and otherwise.

  • Remove fragile and/or valuable items from the spaces in and around the site in advance of work commencing. Taking time to do this before contractors arrive allows them to get started on their work without delay. Knowing that ladders and other equipment were going to be brought up and down the stairs, we cleared artwork from the stairwell and the walls in the immediate areas where work was taking place. This is also a perfect opportunity to recommend triaging things you no longer want from the spaces.
  • Prepare for inconveniences. Things are not going to be where they are supposed to be, and the rhythms and habits of your days may be impacted. Have a backup plan if vital rooms – like the bathroom – will be partially or fully out of commission. This is where it helps to be on good terms with your neighbors and/or have really good friends who live nearby. Being able to use the loo at the cafe a half block from our house was a life-saver on days we worked from home. (The toilet and sink were accessible overnight.) Gym membership came in handy for taking showers until the paint finished curing in the bathroom walls.
  • Take care of your body and mind. In the midst of upheaval, what will make things easier or give you comfort? This is a fine time to indulge. Giving myself permission to go bed earlier than usual and simply checking out for a night or two was pure magic.
  • Expect the unexpected, delays, and all that jazz. Sometimes a contractor has to literally get into the work before discoveries are made that may lengthen or change the trajectory of your project. Tapping into your inner zen, sense of humor, and flexibility will make inconveniences a little more palatable. Bonus points if your contractor has a good and honest sense of humor, too!
  • Take the time to do a deep clean as you resettle. Putting everything back where it belongs is the mechanical part of reassembling the house . Cleaning (i.e. dusting, laundering, wiping down, etc.) provides a fresh return to and reclaiming of your spaces.

In the same way getting more organized can be a messy process, so is life in your own home while wonderful improvements are being made around you. What seems linear and clear as a bell, can also take you off your tracks for a little while. Resiliency kicks in, new habits can be discovered and unlearned. Take it from me. It took no time to find my way back to the bathroom for the toothbrush.

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  1. Avatar
    Barbara Becker Reply

    Hard to be Zen about this construction project going on immediately below us! Especially when you work from home!

    Wanna visit? 😉

    • deb
      deb Reply

      When it’s not your own project, the Zen goes out the proverbial window. Hang in there, and of course I want to visit…after your neighbor’s construction ends : )

  2. Avatar
    theorganizedone Reply


    So timely! My contractor just packed up all his tools yesterday from his 5 -week daily stay at my house. My bathroom is 90% done, waiting on shower doors to be made and to pick a paint color and lighting.

    I’ve had to go down 2 flights of stairs for 5 weeks to use a bathroom! My productivity sucked! Still does!

    I’m in the putting things away (and cleaning) phase.

    Timely piece alright!

    • deb
      deb Reply

      Meg, I’m glad to know your home is almost back to being yours again. Savor and enjoy the return to normalcy. If you can look on the bright side, you had built-in exercise for bathroom use. Of that I’m jealous. At least you didn’t have to put on a jacket and walk half a block to the nearby cafe to use the bathroom or drive to the gym to shower!

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