A Look Back: Lessons Learned from 2021 ― Part 1
And now we come to the time of year where we look back at the last 50 columns, and revisit some of the standout moments. We’ve covered a lot of ground together this year, from the power of light fixtures to the power of love, from buying less to digging into a dirty industry. And those are only lessons learned from the first half of 2021:
In JANUARY, I took my home out of the dark ages. Months of sheltering in place (and climbing the walls) caused me to fixate on my home’s flaws, including the dark, heavy, oil-rubbed bronze light fixtures that looked like something out of a Medieval torture chamber. I dubbed the style “early dungeon.” Homeowners today want fixtures that are airy and light in color and weight, the designer chorus chimed. I joined them, and pulled the plug on the old fixtures.
Lesson: Updating a home’s light fixtures, or changing those that came in the original “builder package,” is one of those simple moves that yield big results, and that will make any production house look more custom. Highly recommend.
In FEBRUARY, I read a survey that touched on my two favorite subjects― love and home. Like the researchers, I worried about what a study on love in the time of COVID would find. I feared that the pressures of constant togetherness combined with pandemic panic could push more couples to the breaking point. If it didn’t, surely all that familiarity would destroy whatever mystery was left between them. (If she wears those yoga pants one more day …)
Lesson: Cupid would be pleased. Love may not conquer all, but it conquers a lot, and home improvements might fix the rest. The study, from Homes.com, found that 63 percent of those surveyed said spending more time at home, even under subpar circumstances, had made their relationships better. Only 10 percent said their relationships had suffered. Moreover, one in three couples dealt with the new abnormal by making home improvements ― hands down my favorite way to cope.
In MARCH, since the number one Covid-driven home improvement was putting in a home office, I went looking for the secrets to what makes a successful one. Chris Peterson, author of “Home Office Solutions: How to Set Up an Efficient Workspace Anywhere in Your House” (Chapel Publishing), has designed many workspaces, including some that backfired. He stressed that great home offices don’t just happen when you pull a chair up to a desk or table. They require careful, intentional planning.
Lesson: The most critical component of the work environment is the chair. “The wrong chair can literally be a pain in the rear,” Peterson said. Don’t buy a chair you haven’t sat in, and don’t cheap out. Besides a great chair, the optimal home office should have natural light, furnishings that go with the rest of your home, and a location away from others.
In APRIL, I stumbled across the great non-buying spree sweeping the globe. The Buy Nothing Project, a worldwide web of Facebook Groups where members post stuff they are giving away or need, was spreading as fast as the pandemic. I called the movement’s co-founder Liesl Clark. We talked about how the free-stuff forum removes one of the biggest excuses I hear from folks who want to thin out their homes but don’t want their belongings to end up in the trash. Now they can make sure their items go to someone who can use and appreciate them. Problem solved.
Lesson: Since discovering this way of giving away, I’ve gifted plastic hangers, home accessories and furniture, and joined a movement that saves money, reduces waste, lightens the load on our planet, and knits together communities.
In MAY, I lived out a vicarious fantasy. Admit it. You, too, have daydreamed about buying a decrepit old house for a song, fixing it up by moving a wall, raising a ceiling, changing out fixtures, and slapping on fresh paint, and ― Poof! ― selling the dump turned dreamhouse for a nice profit. Matt Lavinder, president of New Again Houses, started a franchise chain that does just that. However, his job isn’t always a trip to the ice cream parlor, he assured me. True, my daydreams don’t include finding dry rot, black mold, ruptured pipes, or snake dens.
Lesson: Successful flips are all about math and data, not emotion. This confirms my hunch that my dream of doing this needs to remain a dream. Though every flip is different, the method is the same: pick the right house, assess the systems before you buy, then plan the entire renovation before you start. “Too often, people make 80 percent of the decisions for what they will do, and decide the rest on the fly,” said Lavinder. Plan it 100 percent up front. Then don’t change your mind.
In JUNE, I dug into the dirty floral business. After several bad experiences with florists, where I didn’t get what I wanted, expected or paid for, I grilled a few industry experts to get to the bottom of what I was doing wrong, what florist were doing wrong, and how consumers could increase their chances of satisfaction.
Lesson: Avoid middle players, who all get a piece of your payment. Always go direct to a store in the city where the flowers will be delivered. Do not go through a wire service, or a call center masquerading as a store. Do not call your local wonderful florist to arrange to send flowers to someone in a distant city. Brokers take up to 40 percent of the payment then pass the order to a real florist, who has no relationship with you and less money to work with. Even still, florists need to step up, and not clean their coolers out on your dime, or substitute carnations for roses. As one florist said, “We can’t forget that people are behind those orders.” Amen.
Join me next week for a recap of highlights from the second half of 2021.
Photo caption: Flip those fantasies. Many dream of turning dumps into a dreamhouses, but if you’re goal is to make a profit, run the numbers before you plunge in. Photo courtesy of New Again Houses.