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  • Belle Brett

The Writer and Home Renovation Envy

On the cold, dark days of winter, with snow and ice on the ground, I achieve my daily 10,000 Fitbit steps by jogging (slowly) in front of the TV. For a while, I would watch the news, and although informative, it heightened my stress and began to feel repetitious, as the same issues were picked over in minute detail. So, I switched to HGTV, the channel that specializes in home buying and renovations.

Interestingly, after five years of pouring money into the house we’ve owned for 23 years, we have concluded we are finished with the big stuff. It’s time to settle in and enjoy a period without the disruptions and endless decision-making that renovation requires. But I enjoy watching others go through this process and seeing the transformations. Perhaps it’s also a dress-rehearsal for the time when we will move from our two- family home.

However, I’ve noticed that as my knowledge of what’s trendy and what’s possible increases, I ‘ve become aware that as an adult, I’ve never had a home that remotely resembles the sorts of places depicted in the various HGTV programs. I’ve developed open-concept, kitchen island, fireplace, double bathroom sink, walk-in shower, and walk-in closet envy. None of these things are possible in our compact, urban 1927 second floor apartment without a complete gut renovation.

On my favorite program, “Love It or List It,” a couple, divided in their desire to move or stay, puts their house in the hands of designer Hillary to re-design within a set budget according to their top priorities while real estate agent David seeks an existing property that meets all their specifications. In the end, the couple must decide whether they will stay in their newly renovated home or move to one of the houses that David has shown them.

What I find so fascinating about this program (and some of the others that involve complete redesigns) is the ability to re-imagine a space’s potential. And yet, as a writer, I do something very similar all the time. The difference is that I am the original architect. In my writing, I create a whole world, combining both the familiar and the unfamiliar. Then, in the revision process, which is what writing is really about, I must consider how the parts and the whole work together to advance my characters in the story. I renovate until that world is inhabitable. Sometimes, no matter what I do, I can’t make it work, and it’s time to abandon it for another property. But, when I am successful with my revision, I can put it out into marketplace and hope that a publisher will love it and that all my readers will, too. I’m also a good editor, doing something akin to what Hillary does, with someone else’s writing.

When we visit other people’s worlds—whether real or imaginary, whether through a book, television, or other media, we have an opportunity to envision another life for ourselves and try it on. Sometimes, it’s a life we would never want; at other times, it’s a life we can relate to and learn lessons or truths that help us understand or manage our own lives; and at other times, it’s a life we ourselves might desire. But when I see that couple admiring their newly-enlarged entryway or stroking the counters in their carefully staged kitchen, I need to remind myself of life choices I could have made but didn’t for various reasons. I’ve chosen to live in a vibrant, but expensive city, where space and amenities come at a price. I’m fortunate to own at all. I also have to remember that what I’m seeing is a reconstruction of reality—conceived to maximize my viewing pleasure, just like I concoct my plots and characters. It all looks so easy, but none of it comes without pain.

Come spring, when I return to walking outside, will I continue to fantasize about that bathroom with the walk-in shower and the soaker tub? Or will I try to put my envy to good use—maybe apply a cheap and easy décor fix or take all those pointers and design my ideal home for my next protagonist to inhabit?

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