In the Northeast, there is this saying:
“Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without.”
It is the epitome of Yankee frugality. It is my own motto!
In 1997, my husband, four children, and I purchased an 1855 home in Upstate (central) New York. This house is not the oldest in the neighborhood, but it had not been updated like the others in the area.
The house is a broken-down bag of roof leaks, plumbing woes, and ancient electrical wiring. It is livable, in a batten-down-the-hatches-winter-is-coming kind of way. We freeze every winter, and like most old-house homeowners, we freeze in the summer. The plaster walls and ceilings date back to 1855. The doors and door frames are all original. It has 100-year old windows, 70-year old electric wiring, 50-year old flooring and furnace ducting, and a disturbing 40-year old kitchen remodel from which Norm Abrams might flee. The house was beautiful in its day. It was no squire’s mansion, but it was attractive with typical middle-class style of the 1850s. Most of the interior woodwork is hemlock, but the Living Room is beautiful walnut (but has been painted over ten or eleven times). The house is now past the flower of its youth. We intend to restore it to its usefulness, and hope to bestow on it the mature grace that comes from a well-worn home.
A common assumption is that we live in New York City. We do not. We live in Upstate New York, still quite rural. I live in a rural area of the state, and the closest city is Utica, NY, (population 50,000). Our 1855 house sits on a lovely parcel of property, at 1.5 acres. The land is just as rambling and neglected as the house, so we are renovating the property as well as the home.
We are doing all this work ourselves, although I have decided I will not do plumbing work, so I hire a plumber. I have learned to wire the electricity myself, using books as guides. I even wire the circuit panel myself (a fun job, actually). The children help me with demolition, and sometimes we garner a small crew of relatives to help hang the sheetrock. So far, we have only two rooms renovated. Yippee, only 8 more rooms to go!
So this is our story. Read it and weep.