In Focus – Sonya Matthews
Meet this month's woman in focus Sonya Matthews, a young mum who manages a large portfolio with toddlers in tow. Sonya shares her tips on “renovating with children” below:
Renovating With Children
by Sonya Matthews
Almost 6 years on, I still get fired up at the way I left my engineering career. I was 3 weeks short of 12 months of service with my employer (and I would assume eligible for maternity leave) when I had to leave to have my first Baby. I DID NOT get maternity leave. I had to hand in my resignation. My then boss, although a lovely fellow, was a hopeless communicator, and I had made assumptions that I obviously shouldn't have made and didn't realise I was not getting maternity leave and a job to return to. Needless to say I was devastated. I was forced to resign, and felt like I had been sacked a bitter pill to swallow for a very career-focused woman who had her sights set on the glass ceiling and above.
Long and short of the story…best thing that ever happened to me! I have had a beautiful time with my babies and a clear run to focus on my property investing. Our portfolio has gone from 2 to 8 properties since being forced to resign, heavily pregnant, and our portfolio of around $750k-$800k at that time is now worth a few times more than that, less than 6 years later. We purchase using equity and expend serious effort educating ourselves on how to grow our portfolio safely and successfully.
My husband and I did our first two renovations (our own homes) before the children were born, but since then, all eight or so other renovations have been carried out with young children on site. The renovations have ranged from a one-day clean up on a buy-and-hold, to a one week landscaping project to a seven week saga in the depths of a South Australian winter. In fact, both of our boys (currently 5 and 3yrs) have done at least one renovation for each year of their life! I could write a book on what I've learned about renovating with children. Being a mum (or dad) at home with young children is difficult anyway, so one may as well go out and renovate a property and create some equity, I say! The standard rules apply, but so do some additional ones. I've summarized what I believe needs to be foremost in our minds when our precious children are helping us towards our dreams.
1. Renovating on a time-line is critical to success, but nothing is more important than the safety of the children
There is no point in executing a perfect renovation project if we've sacrificed a child on the way! We prefer properties with full fencing to at least a part of the yard.
Safety First !
2. The usual rules for caring for children apply
If they are well fed, well rested, entertained or otherwise engaged, children are relatively happy and we can get some work done. Having said that, my husband and I operate on a one full-time-equivalent worker basis (generally around-the-clock) when renovating, because one parent renovates flat-out, while the other has primary responsibility for the safety & well-being of the children. I find that if my husband is doing a heavy job, I'd be the buyer Bunnings is a great place to take children (toilets, playground, cafe, high ceilings drown out noise and if they leave a trail of squashed sultanas up each aisle, no one seems to notice).
3. Stick to a regular time schedule for waking, meals, bedtime
It's really hard to down tools in the middle of a job, but one person can keep going if the other keeps the children's routine going. We all know children are much more settled if they know what's coming up.
4. Break some rules
Have takeaway every night if it means getting through the project. I'm generally very strict on veggies at every meal etc, but dinner and the night-time routine has to be slick and quick, because once the children retire, the adults get the real work done. We were lucky to be able to use a hammer-drill in a masonry wall to install a kitchen whilst our 18month old slept, once, but if your children won't sleep through that, choose to paint at night instead.
5. Polish floors first
I know the experts would advocate polishing the floors last. But when you have a crawling baby, you're living in the house as you renovate it, and you're squeamish at the thought of other people's filth, it's quite okay to get the floors polished first, let the fumes subside, then move in and do the renovation. The floors will survive with a little care taken. We once renovated a house with ancient orange pile carpets that were mostly brown. No baby needs to crawl in that!
Polish floors first.
6. Designate a "no go zone"
I don't mind getting roughened knees, broken fingernails, paint in my hair, having unwaxed legs and having my daggiest clothes on, but I draw the line at sleeping dirty! When we renovate with children, at least one room is designated clean. One is only allowed to enter the room once scrubbed from head to toe, and cleanly attired (usually in PJs). Upon leaving in the morning, clean PJs are swapped for grotty work or play gear again. My children sleep in my bed more often than not so they need to be clean!
7. Assign a tool room
Renovating tools are dangerous, aren't they? So find a shed, room with a high door handle or lock, or even the car boot to lock tins of paint, chemical, drills, hammers, saws etc in. A three year old CAN get a lid off a full 20litre tin of paint!
8. Extra emphasis on planning ahead
A renovation always needs to be planned out as carefully as possible, using a scheduling tool such as a Gantt chart. However, with children in tow, it's not always possible to just drop tools and go off and buy a length of timber or a tin of paint when it's needed. If working in a twosome, one person needs to be the organizer (always me in our team) who plans, schedules, buys, and has a steady stream of jobs and materials on hand for the other person to utilize. We schedule two-people jobs for when the children are asleep. There's even less scope for winging it when you're managing children as well as a time-critical renovation.
9. Have a sense of fun
But always with a sense of safety-consciousness. Our Boys LOVE to help, as most children do. We give them a cordless drill with semi-flat battery , a Phillips-head bit and a piece of cardboard to drill holes in; a paintbrush to paint the outside battens, fence etc (stray swipes of paint can always be wiped off or painted over), or water to paint a fence; let them mound up the carefully-spread gravel into a volcano and then jump on it it'll only take 10 minutes of more back-breaking work to re-spread it, but you'll have an hours peace while they frolic. A pallet of fence pickets makes a sturdy and relatively safe stage for them to stand on and sing and dance to you and interested passers-by! A ripped-out air conditioner front panel makes a great superhero control screen take the sharp bits off and let them have it! Appliance boxes and old curtains make great cubbies. If they insist on playing in kitchen cupboards and pantries, ensure the cabinets are securely fixed to the wall, and can't topple over.
Boys in Boxes
10. Go Camping
It's fun! It's like camping! We get hot and tired and grotty during the day, sleep on the floor on mattresses and airbeds and have our normal life tipped upside down. But we do have a flushing toilet and bathroom that no-one else is using, sometimes an operational kitchen and always a little bar-fridge! And making a fortune with it! That's the real camping to me!