The Process of Renovating and Paying Down Debt

When Dustin and I got engaged in 2013, I was living with a roommate in a condo that we were renting and he was living with a roommate in a house that his roommate owned. We started looking into our options for housing together after the wedding and decided that we would start looking for a house to buy together. We live in a tourist town that is located on Lake Michigan only two hours from Chicago so real estate prices are always pretty inflated, but we wanted to try and stay in the same town. There weren’t a ton of viable options for us within our price range due to this, but we were diligent with our searching and finally came across a home that had been foreclosed on and had become bank owned. We had seen it listed in the past but the price had recently been lowered by $20,000 so now it was more feasible for us to consider. It sat on a beautiful 2 acre lot that was dotted with trees just outside of town in a nice neighborhood that was still close enough to everything to be convenient. We took a look at it one winter evening and immediately saw its potential. It was livable, but definitely needed some work.

After we had walked around the house and property and liked what we saw, the bomb was dropped on us….all of the copper piping in the basement had been ripped out and stolen, which meant no plumbing and no heat. And in addition to that, the house needed to be hooked up to city water and we would have to pay for it. Hearing that news while standing there in the middle of winter in the freezing cold house, we quickly understood why it had sat empty for the past couple of years. Although the task of re-plumbing the house sounded daunting, Dustin has a good friend who is a plumber and another friend who works for a heating and cooling business. Dustin is an electrical engineer himself so he figured that between the 3 of them, they could figure out how to get the house up and running.

We spent a few days praying about the decision together, looking into what the utilities would run us each month, how much annual taxes would be, how much it would cost us to hook up to city water, how much insurance would be, etc. I had never owned a home before so I was extremely excited but also a little apprehensive with making such a life changing decision. I had always rented and I had enjoyed the flexibility and mobility that it allowed. I was never tied to one place and it was comforting to my gypsy soul to know that if we wanted to up and move somewhere else, we could. Now we would be planting roots in our hometown. I was ready though. My family along with Dustin’s mom all lived in the same town and it felt nice to know that we would be starting a home and a life together there.

I don’t know if we were overly excited that this was one of the only houses we could find that was within our budget or just gluttons for punishment, but we decided to make an offer on the house, even after knowing all of its flaws. After a couple of counters back and forth, our offer was accepted! We were ecstatic! This was February of 2014. At the time, I was in a lease at my condo until October of 2014 so I talked with my landlord and told him that we had bought a house. He agreed to let me out of my lease if I could find a suitable person to take over the lease. Luckily, my professional background is mainly in property management and leasing, so this was a piece of cake and within a month, I was out of the condo and into the house!


Dustin and I both have full time jobs so after work each day, we would head over to the house and work some more until it was time to go to bed. He worked on fixing the plumbing and the hot water heat and I cleaned and painted.


The whole house had this terrible orange-ish stained wood trim throughout it and I had the brilliant idea that painting it all white would help brighten up the place and make it look newer and cleaner. Boy do I wish I had talked myself out of that one! It felt like there were miles of trim with tons of tiny crevices to try and get the brush into. And a word to the wise-“one coat” never means one coat!!! We bought paint and primer in one and it didn’t even begin to cover after only one coat! Even after we had spent DAYS priming it by sanding and de-glossing the areas prior to painting. Needless to say, the painting project took waaaay longer than I had anticipated that it would, but it looked fantastic when we were done!


While I was painting what felt like every inch of our new house with only the heat from the space heater and the wooden fireplace in the living room, Dustin spent countless hours in the basement teaching himself how to plumb so he could get the hot water heat up and running. There are no pictures of this because I literally didn’t step foot down there for awhile due to the spiders! Dustin’s friend Anthony helped him out quite a bit at first but then got busy with his own projects so Dustin had to teach himself the rest. Dustin never ceases to amaze me at how handy he is. He can fix anything and if he doesn’t know how to do something, he will teach himself how. Soon enough, the toilets were working and the heat was going! I was very impressed!


Since the home had been empty for the past couple of years with the pipes not working and no heat on in the harsh winters, there were a few busted pipes so he had to find all of the bursts and solder them up, which required him having to put on a suit and squeeze his way through the creepy crawl space in the basement. Not me though… You couldn’t pay me enough to go in there after seeing some of the monstrous spiders that hang out down there! Ick!

After we made the house livable, I moved in what little furnishings I had. I remember at one point while we were getting the house ready, the refrigerator was in the living room because we were fixing a wall in the kitchen and we were sitting in bag chairs, using the space heater as a table because we didn’t have a couch and my table hadn’t been moved in yet. It’s pretty funny to look back on and to see how far we’ve come from then!


To help on expenses until the wedding, my roommate Kristyn, moved into the spare bedroom downstairs. This room started out as an office space/storage room when we bought the home and had cabinets all the way around it at desk height. Dustin ripped out the cabinets and redid the drywall. He found that the electrical was not wired properly so he also redid the wiring before putting the walls back together.  The room did not have a closet so he built one in the corner then we painted everything and put in brand new carpet. Pretty much everything got a makeover in that room and it turned out great!



Both of the bathrooms in the house were covered from ceiling to floor in some very tacky looking wall paper.

I scraped for days and went through numerous bottles of wallpaper remover spray. Even the entire ceiling was covered in wallpaper with a cloud print on it! So ugly! And so annoying to remove because just about every other piece that I scraped off fell in my face or hair and got stuck! Once the wall paper was finally off, I touched up the drywall and painted both bathrooms and although not brand new, they looked a million times better. We would still like to renovate them completely at some point, but for now, they serve their purpose, only with a little more glamour than before.

Before 😦


After! 🙂


In the fall of 2014, Dustin somehow convinced me to take a week off of work and use my vacation time to re-roof the barn. I have never been one of those people who likes to use my vacation time sitting around the house or working on projects, so needless to say, I was less than enthused but agreed to do it because I knew we were on a time crunch and I didn’t want him being left doing all of the work alone.

I was pretty proud of how I did for my first time roofing!

A friend of ours named Mike from down the street came to help quite a bit that week and even brought his automatic nail gun for nailing on the shingles, which saved a ton of time! He did accidentally shoot himself in the foot with it at one point and had to go to the hospital to get a tetanus shot, but that’s another story! I even went to the dump with Dustin at the end of the project to toss all of the old rotten wood and debris. They made me wear a stinky hard hat and vest provided by the dump, otherwise it wouldn’t have been that bad.



Since it was so pricey to rent a wedding venue, eventually we decided to have our wedding at our new home. We had plenty of room and a barn we could use if it rained. The only problem with that plan was that the barn was a dilapidated piece of junk and kind of looked like it might fall in on itself! Plus, the house and yard needed a ton of work in order to be ready for every person we knew to be there to see it! Even still, we made a mile long list and did our best to knock out all of the work ourselves. Our families and a few friends and even Dustin’s grandparents helped us out a ton throughout the process and we were extremely grateful to each of them for their help! We ended up power washing the house, painting all of the wooden trim on the outside of the house, rebuilding the front of the barn, residing the barn, putting in a new window in the barn, sanding and painting the sliding door to the barn, painting the outside of the small outbuilding next to the barn, painting all of the exterior doors of the house to match the barn, re-wiring the inside of the barn and adding a lot more outlets for the wedding, ripping down the upper loft, painting all of the shutters, painting and re-staining the back deck off of our master bedroom, tearing out and building two new decks on the front and side of the house, building an arbor over our sidewalk, painting the mailbox to match our barn, landscaping all over the entire 2 acre yard, planting and watering new grass seed, hauling in new crushed concrete for our drive way, building a bar in the barn to use for the wedding, glazing the kitchen cabinets a darker color with a 4 part process to revive them a little, installing new sinks in the kitchen, rewiring the barn and adding outlets, installing motion lights on the outside of the barn, etc.

By the end of all of these renovations, we were exhausted and so ready for the wedding! However, we were glad we put so much effort into the house because it may not have gotten done so quickly had we not been planning on having the wedding there. We even had random neighbors who we hadn’t yet met stop by and tell us what a nice job we did on the house, which felt really good!


After the wedding, we were pretty burned out from all of the work we had done in the previous year and a half so we decided to take a hiatus from the renovations. Over the course of the next couple of years, we started talking about what we ultimately wanted out of life and it seemed we were both on the same page. We had everything we had ever wanted- God, each other, a house of our own, friends, a great family that we lived in close proximity to, good jobs, a boat, and even a hot tub out back! But both of us felt like something was missing. We wanted to see the world and we wanted to do it while boating! We started lightheartedly talking about how we wish we could quit our jobs and sail around together, knowing full well that wasn’t a legitimate option at the moment. But that topic kept coming up more and more and that desire stuck in our minds as well as our hearts. Now it’s all we can think about.

So fast-forward to a year and a half later, and now we are back to working on the house, but this time not for ourselves, but to help us get closer to our dream. We are fixing up the house so we can hopefully sell it for more than we bought it for and be able to purchase a boat that we can eventually outfit for sailing around the Caribbean, and who knows, maybe even the world! Our plan is to finish the laundry room (drywall and re-tile), finish the 3rd bedroom downstairs, and redo the upstairs of our house (2 bedrooms and a staircase) at the bare minimum before putting the house on the market. Three brand new, really nice houses have been built right around us in the past year and the house across the street from us got renovated a little recently, so the chances of us getting top dollar for our house if we continue fixing it up are pretty good! We will do a before and after photo blog when we are done with everything!

In the mean time, we are selling off some of the larger items that we own and trying to pay off debt with the money that we make. In fact, we just sold our Rinker Festiva power boat earlier this week and used the money to pay off Dustin’s truck. It was bittersweet because we won’t have a boat for the first time since we met, but it was a step we needed to take for the greater good. Not having a boat this summer will also save us a lot of gas money that we would’ve spent otherwise!

Another way we are getting our debt paid down quickly is by picking up some side jobs in addition to our full time jobs. My dad owns a kettle corn business so we are working for him 14 weekends of the summer this year and all of the money we make will go towards paying off debt. We helped him a little last year and were amazed at how much one can make in a 3 day weekend of selling!


I have also picked up some side jobs with basic graphic design and office projects, and I clean cottages in the summer as well. We live in a seasonal tourist town so summers are ripe for the picking when it comes to finding extra work, and we want to take advantage of it as much as we can this year! This will make it so we have no life this summer, as we will be working 7 days a week for half of it, but it will help us pay off debt in half the time it would’ve taken, thus being completely worth it.

By next summer, we are hoping to buy a small sailboat (30′ or so) and begin learning to sail. For Dustin, it will just be a refresher since he used to sail with his mom as a kid, but for me it will all be brand new, and I am really excited get a boat and get going with this dream of ours! Once we feel comfortable sailing, we plan to sell the house and the small sailboat and purchase a larger one that is equipped for ocean sailing. The rest of the plan is yet to come once we are further along! 🙂

2 thoughts on “The Process of Renovating and Paying Down Debt

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  1. That was a very nice write up babe. After reading this and seeing the pictures all the memories came flooding back to me. I can’t believe how much work we did in such a short period of time. You were such a big help and so were the friends and family that stopped by too. I’m sure some people will ponder our choice to get rid of everything we worked so hard for, but sometimes it just doesn’t matter how much stuff you accumulate or how nice it is. Sometimes it’s just about simplicity and enjoying what God put here for us. After remembering what we have already accomplished I know we will be able to make the next phase/dreams for our lives happen.

    Liked by 1 person

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