A person uses a level during their renovation in Oregon.

Tips from a Professional Organizer Who Remodeled Three Houses and Lived to Tell About It

Woohoo, you’re finally going to remodel! That avocado green kitchen will soon be history. Or maybe you’re saying a not-so-fond farewell to your ‘70s orange bathroom. Be excited! Be afraid! As a serial renovator, I can promise it’s going to be a bumpy ride, so here are some pointers to make it go more smoothly.

Nine months before your remodel

Get your money ducks in a row: If you need to borrow funds to renovate, then start talking to banks about financing options. There are several kinds of loans available, and they’ll help you find the one that’s best for you.

Need an interior designer or architect? Start now. Many large renovations require an interior designer and/or an architect. Ask friends and family for recommendations, and meet with several professionals to find one who’s right for your project. Doing a kitchen or bathroom remodel? Larger kitchen and bath showrooms often have their own in-house staff who can design your space at little or no cost. We went that route with one of our kitchen renos, and it was my favorite one. The designer crammed more storage into a small space than I ever thought possible.

Six months out

Find a contractor: Good contractors are hard to find and difficult to book, so start looking months before you want to begin renovating. Again, gather recommendations from friends, family, or neighbors who’ve done remodeling. Invite yourself over to their homes to see the work that’s been done. If you’re using an architect or designer, they’ll have recommendations too. Once you have a list of five or six contractors, start calling to set up consultations. (If someone doesn’t call you back, take them off the list. Don’t spend weeks or months working with someone who doesn’t communicate well.) Getting references is the best way to find someone reliable, so don’t skip this step!

Check out NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) to find a contractor. All of their members must have a clean background and adhere to a strict code of ethics.

Ask questions. Lots of questions. When you meet with a potential contractor, walk them through your project, then ask for their thoughts on it. Here are just a few things to ask:

Experience:

  • Are you licensed, bonded, and insured? (Be sure to check out their record for yourself on the Oregon Construction Contractors Board (CCB) or your state’s equivalent.)
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Have you worked on this type of project before? (Ask to see photos.)
  • Can you provide references from past clients?
  • Do you have repeat clients? (I’ve used my contractors over and over—that’s how much I love them.)

Costs:

  • Will you give me a detailed estimate that includes labor and material costs?
  • What is your payment schedule? (Avoid anyone who wants full payment before the job starts.)
  • How do you handle overages?

Logistics:

  • How long will my project take, and can you provide a project timeline with milestones?
  • Will you handle getting any needed permits and scheduling inspections?
  • Will you contact utility companies if services need to be turned off?
  • What will your work schedule look like?
  • Will you be hiring subcontractors? Are they people you use frequently? Who will supervise them? Are they licensed and insured?
  • How do you manage changes that might come up?
  • How do you handle worksite safety and cleanup?

Another pointer when talking to contractors, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, then move on. Once, when my husband and I were about to do a major renovation, one contractor we interviewed would only talk to my husband, even though I have a design background and was the one asking all the questions. He kept referring to me as “the wife.” He didn’t get the job. (Waving the feminist flag: The contractor who renovated our current house is a woman, and she’s awesome. Girls rule!)

Talk to your accountant: Some expenses may be tax deductible, such as doing energy-efficient upgrades or improvements for medical reasons.

One month (more or less)* before your remodel

Depending on the scope of your project, you’ll need to do some early prep to the room or rooms so the construction crew can work. This is the perfect time to rightsize things you no longer use. Just think how nice it will be to not put that giant collection of tomato sauce-stained Tupperware back into your newly renovated space! So, donate, recycle, sell, consign, or toss whatever you don’t really need or love.

Once you’ve rightsized, it’s time to get everything out of the space. (If you have furniture you need to move, consider hiring a mover.)

The most efficient way to clear the construction space is to pretend you’re moving and pack everything in boxes, rather than scatter things in piles around the house. In addition, this protects your things from dirt and drywall dust, which will get everywhere, including in your hair and teeth. Here’s a list of packing materials you’ll need:

  • Small and medium-sized moving boxes (large ones get heavy quickly)
  • Packing paper to protect breakables
  • Labels for the boxes (label each box with all its contents; this will help you easily find items when it’s time to unpack after your renovation)
  • Markers
  • Heavy-duty packing tape

A few more tips:

  • Try to pack in an orderly manner–i.e., put dish sets together, pack a drawer’s contents in the same box, and so on. This will help you unpack efficiently.
  • If you’re renovating more than one room, then assign a different color packing label for each room’s boxes.
  • Don’t pack things you’ll need during the renovation!
  • Store all the boxes out of the construction zone. Ideally, make room in the garage (if it’s secure and dry) or a spare bedroom.
  • If you’re clearing out furniture or have a lot of boxes, then consider renting a short-term storage unit. You can also rent a storage pod that will be stored on your property. If you belong to an HOA, check with them to see if they’ll have a conniption over this. Mine did, and ugh, they were so mean!

Before you tear your hair out:

If the thought of all that rightsizing and packing and storing makes you want to cancel the whole renovation project, remember that your *ahem* favorite organizing company would be very happy to help you. We’ll gently rightsize and pack all your stuff while you put your feet up and have a nice cup of tea. We can also drop off your donations and even recommend people to move (and store if necessary) your furniture for you.

Go do your homework!

Before the remodel starts, begin to think about materials and finishes, appliances, and all that jazz. Start a file of things that you like. (If you’re using a designer, they’ll shop with you for tile, flooring, and other materials.) Some items may have long lead times for delivery, so you may need to order before construction begins. It’s a good idea to meet with your contractor before construction begins to decide what needs to be ordered before they begin.

If you’re not confident in your design sense and material choices, then recruit a design-oriented friend to go shopping with you. People who love interior design also love to show off their great taste, so they’ll be happy to help.

One week out

If you’re doing a kitchen remodel, you’ll need to think about how/where you’re going to prepare meals.

  • Stock up on paper plates and plastic cutlery, because you’re going to be washing dishes in the bathroom sink, which is not fun.
  • Order takeout as often as you can afford it.
  • Plan meals that can be done in a microwave or on a hot plate, or that don’t require cooking.
  • If you have a garage fridge, make room in it for groceries.
  • Renovating a kitchen in the summer means you can grill outdoors.

If you’re remodeling other rooms, then consider how you’ll get along without access to those areas. Do you have a second full bath to use during the construction of your main bathroom? Will you need to use the gym for showers? If you’re remodeling your living room, do you want to move your TV to another room for the duration? Thinking through these details of living will help make the remodel less disruptive. (At least somewhat. Because, honestly, the remodel itself is going to be a genuine pain in the butt, I kid you not.)

During your remodel: keeping your sanity

A few things to keep in mind during the renovation:

  • It will be messy. Very messy. And loud. So loud.
  • It will take longer than expected.
  • Something will go wrong. (But if you’ve chosen a good contractor, they’ll make it right.)
  • It may go over budget, so plan to have more money set aside than you think you need. You don’t want to be scrounging in the couch cushions to make the final payment.
  • Talk to your contractor daily, preferably every morning before work starts, to make sure you’re both on the same page. This is particularly important if you work outside your home or otherwise won’t be home on construction days. (Ask me about the giGANtic fireplace mantel my contractor installed when I was on a business trip and didn’t talk to him about measurements.)
  • If you’re picking materials such as tile, flooring, or appliances, then work with your contractor to be sure they know exactly what you’re getting, and that it will all work in the space. Be aware that delivery timelines can change (ie: mess up everything). Be emotionally ready to roll with it if that happens. I mean, when that happens.
  • Be kind to your contractor and crew. Make sure they have access to a clean bathroom. Buy pizza for them once a week. Provide cold water and a basket of granola bars or other snacks. A little kindness goes a long way and will show in the quality of the work they do.
  • Above all, be kind to yourself and family members. Treat yourselves to dinners out, and if you can escape during the day, go for walks or out for coffee. Renovation is stressful, but it’s worth it, because eventually, finally, at long last, they said it would be six weeks but it took ten, you will walk into…

Your beautiful new space!

Remodeling can be a headache, but it comes with a great reward: A beautiful new space that works better and looks better than what you had before. (Oh, and one last thing, your favorite organizing company we mentioned? We would be honored to unpack all your stuff and neatly organize it in your gorgeous new space, so you can start enjoying it right away.)

Best of luck on your reno!

Additional tips (if you like getting into the weeds of organizing as much as we do):

  • Utilize Clear Plastic Bins for Storage: Clear bins are perfect for storing garage items or any room being remodeled. They allow you to see what’s inside and can be stacked in the garage or another storage area during the remodel. Plus, they’re reusable for future storage needs.
  • Keep Clothes on Hangers: For rooms with closets being remodeled, keep your clothes on hangers and cover them with garbage bags. This method protects your clothes from dust and makes it easy to move them around or store them temporarily.
  • Use Dresser Drawers: Don’t empty your dresser drawers if they need to be moved during the remodel. Keeping clothing and non-breakable items in drawers saves on packing space. Secure the drawers with stretch wrap to prevent them from opening during movement.
  • Pack Efficiently: Use any small luggage or sturdy bags to create an “unpack first” kit containing essentials you’ll need during the remodel, such as tools, cleaning supplies, and personal items. Keep these kits easily accessible and not in a storage area.
  • Secure Important Documents: Keep important documents like passports and certificates in a separate, secure location that you can access quickly. A fireproof lockbox or a dedicated folder in your home office can work well.
  • Smart Packing for Books and Heavy Items: Use small boxes for heavy items like books to make them easier to move and prevent injury. Source boxes from packing supply stores or local businesses.
  • Document Everything: Take photos of:
  • The setup and wiring of electronics that will be moved or disconnected.
  • Furniture or fixtures before disassembly for easier reassembly.
  • High-value or fragile items for insurance purposes.
  • Labeling Made Easy: Use retractable Sharpies for labeling boxes and items. This eliminates the hassle of caps and reduces the risk of accidental marks.

Reorganize with Intention After Your Remodel

The completion of your home remodel presents a great opportunity to redefine your living spaces. It’s the perfect time to bring order and harmony to your newly transformed home.

  • Embrace the Clean Slate: Your remodeled space is a fresh start. Before you reintroduce your items, consider installing shelf liners, purchasing new organizing tools, or implementing storage solutions that complement the renovations. This is the fun part! Just be sure to measure!
  • Thoughtful Placement: As you begin to populate your remodeled areas with furniture and belongings, do so with purpose. Evaluate the best placements not just for the present, but for future ease of use and aesthetic appeal.
  • Sustainable Unpacking: As you unpack, you’ll likely have a collection of boxes and packing materials. Instead of discarding these, offer them to others by posting on platforms like OfferUp, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or local Buy Nothing groups. This not only helps the environment but also helps someone else in their own organizational or moving journey.
  • Sit back and admire your accomplishment: You did it! Take time to just relax, look around, and fall in love with what you’ve created. Congratulations!

Our Big Rocks Team would love to assist you with your remodeling project! We are booking about four weeks out, so please reach out as soon as you know you need us. Schedule your free Exploratory Call here.

If you missed our “Ask the Organizer” event with special guest, Darcy DeGiovanni, of NARI, catch the replay here. His valuable slides with resources and questions to ask potential contractors can be downloaded here.


About Andrea Thompson

Andrea was an advertising copywriter/creative director for 40 years before retiring then unretiring to start a new career in organizing. She fully admits her new home is not 100% organized.