Tips for Historic Home Owners {#8 Make a List}

Sometimes the amount of work that needs to be done on an old house is overwhelming. Every little project seems to fall victim to The Mushroom Effect and your budget fades into a distant memory. The project gets so big that many homeowners get paralyzed and don’t know what to do next. But you can avoid “renovation paralysis”with one simple fix.

A checklist, a honey-do list, or just a plain to-do list. Whatever you want to call it a list helps you see the big picture and prioritize.

Here’s how to do it:

My Home Improvement List

Here’s a peek at my repair list (I obviously need more time to work on my own house!)

    1. Write down every improvement or repair you want to do to your old house. (Include little stuff. i.e. fix bedroom doorknob)
    2. Together with your spouse pick the order of importance for each item. (Hint: start outside)
    3. Rewrite the list in order of importance.
    4. Place the list somewhere prominent.
    5. Start at the top and work your way down.

Making a list keeps you focused. It eliminates distractions and help you accomplish your goals. And including little repairs in the list gives you small victories that help keep you motivated. Just be specific. If your list says ‘Renovate House’ you may have missed the point.


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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and licensed contractor. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and sons Charley and Jude.


  1. pj on said:

    That’s good advice. I tend to be a listmaker, my hubby not so much. I can add that the list should be updated periodically (something we haven’t done very well), because priorities can change. It might be good to make a list just for short jobs, because when there’s not enough time to get into a bigger project, it still feels good to check something off. I’ve experienced indicision & paralysis more than once, especially at the end of a big project (like stripping wallpaper from EVERY room). Once I’ve started on a new task, it’s easier to get to work because I know what to expect. Starting a different task often involves a learning curve, which can create anxiety & uncertainty. A list can help one keep focus & not get bogged down doing things that aren’t worth the time—like stripping shellac off the inside of a doorway, only to remember the opening will be closed.

  2. I like your personal list, Scott! Looks like you need to hire someone to work on your own house! I actually do a walk-around with new Old House owners after they first purchase their house. My list is very different from theirs, since I have “fix broken window” and “repair roof” and they usually have “remodel bathroom” and “knock out wall to make huge walk-in closet!” I can usually convince them to do my list first!

    • Ha! I definitely need help with my list! Yeah, it seems to take about a year for people who are new to Old Houses to get the feel of things. After that first year I find they start to really appreciate the house and make much wiser decision about remodels.

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