Are You Renovating Your House...Or Avoiding Your Inner Demons?
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Are You Renovating Your House…Or Avoiding Your Inner Demons?

Some people believe that if they bury themselves in a big home renovation project, the Big Scary Stuff can’t get them.

By Kris Frieswick
Fri, Oct 22, 2021 1:45pmGrey Clock 4 min

One day, out of the blue, my dad decided to turn our back porch into a screened-in back porch with a big cathedral ceiling. We didn’t need a screened-in porch with a big cathedral ceiling. No one had asked for one. The existing porch worked just fine and wasn’t even that old. He’d never even mentioned the project until the day the work crews showed up.

The project dragged on forever, but my extremely impatient and cheap father never complained about the delays or the money once, which was beyond weird. Then it dawned on me and my siblings: Dad was convinced that as long as the porch was under construction, our mother, who had late stage cancer, wouldn’t die. We thought he was nuts. Maybe he was. But the fact is that Mom enjoyed many afternoons on that beautiful, completed screened-in porch before she left us.

There is something in our human nature that leads us to believe that as long as we are in the middle of a huge, complicated project that takes all our time and focus, nothing big and scary can happen: We are just too darned BUSY.

This belief is demonstrably, laughably wrong, yet we cling to it.

The ultimate example of this is the strange case of Sarah Winchester, the widow of the man who manufactured the Winchester rifle. She believed that as long as her home was under construction, the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles could not haunt her. Her home was under construction for about 40 years, right up until the day she died.

Be it cancer, ghosts, guilt or a relationship gone bad, you or someone you know has probably tried to keep it at bay with a massive home renovation project. Here are some of the most commonly seen forms of what I refer to as the Winchester Effect:

The Unemployment Delusion

Your company is on its last legs. There have already been three rounds of layoffs. You, a highly-placed employee, has survived them all, but who knows when the blood-letting will stop. Does this prevent you from hiring contractors to put in a massive 40-by-80 foot swimming pool with a gazebo, outdoor kitchen and wide-screen TV pavilion? It does not. You think that as long as you are spending and planning and living like a highly-placed executive with a stable, well-paying job, you will remain one. Who would possibly fire a person in the middle of such a project?

Pro tip: Your company would, that’s who. Unless you are expecting the mother of all severance packages, this is just a bad idea that will result in a giant muddy hole in your backyard that you can’t afford to fill in. Make living as frugally as possible your new big project.

Renovation Redirect

You are constantly involved in one home renovation project after another. You’re not methodically tackling one room at a time. You are maniacally reconstructing the whole shebang, from roof to cellar, as soon as the last project is done. Just like Mrs. Winchester.

What you’re really doing is creating enough mental static so that you can’t think about all the shady deals, the crappy relationships, the abandoned goals and dreams. You have the financial wherewithal to clutter up your brain with the sound of Sawzalls and nail guns. Who can think honestly and openly about committing massive securities fraud when you’re sleeping in a bedroom that’s been hermetically sealed to keep out construction debris? No one.

Pro tip: To paraphrase Buckaroo Banzai: no matter where you put the new kitchen, there you are. Instead of another gut reno, donate your construction budget to a relevant charity and stop being a horrible person. In the dark, when the bandsaws stop and the nail guns are silent, it’s just you and your guilty conscience and MAN is that thing noisy.

Historic Home Distraction

You are half of a disaffected couple that has decided that, in an effort to come together on a project—since the “marriage” project just isn’t as much fun as you thought it would be—you will buy and renovate a historic home. Well, my friend, you will be praying for just a simple, garden-variety crappy marriage the first time you tear down a horse-hair plaster wall and see the knob-and-tube electrical system that dates to the 1940s.

Pro Tip: Your marriage will not survive this house project so just sell the house now as is and pay for daily couple’s counselling. Compared to the house restoration, the marriage restoration will be about one-trillionth cheaper and it might actually work.

The Envy Endeavor

Your neighbors are attractive, wealthy and intelligent, their children are polite and their pets do not shed. You hate them all. Your life is a shambles baked into a hot mess. It is nothing like theirs, but your house can be! So you’re building a huge three-car garage with an in-law apartment above it, just like your neighbour’s.

Pro tip: Copy cat construction won’t make you feel like any less of a failure. Worse, you’ll attract the neighbours’ pity—they know you own only one car and don’t have in-laws. Stop construction and remember this: no family is as perfect as they appear through their picture window.

The Illness Illusion

You embark on a massive home renovation project when someone you love falls ill, convinced they cannot die until you’re done.

Pro tip: Sounds crazy, but what do I know?


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