I can juggle – I taught myself over a long summer holiday when I was 10 years old. It was the summer of my pearly-queen hat obsession, hypercolour t-shirts and my new set of juggling balls.
I’m pretty good at keeping three balls in the air, each hand moving to anticipate the next receipt, ready for the next throw. I’m good at multitasking and I’m known for my efficiency – my family even joke about a task being ‘Georganised’.
It has therefore been a shock to face my limitations this summer – to miss the balls and watch as they fall to the ground.
Project managing the extension and renovation of Oakview, our West Sussex home, alongside running my freelance PR work and being mum to young kids over the endless-feeling school holidays has really challenged me.
Pulled in so many directions, I’ve had to dig deep to keep my own mental equilibrium – if I’m not balanced, I can’t balance anything else.
Now the kids are back in school, I’ve got a moment to reflect on the strategies I’ve used to stay afloat and advice I would give to other self-builders juggling many balls:
Building projects live and die by the budget – any project manager and indeed tradesman will tell you this.
My husband Sean, handles our master budget grid and he keeps a tight rein on our spending, ordering materials, paying tradesmen etc. Knowing where we are financially and how much money is left in the pot allows me to sleep at night.
We’re over halfway in to our project and the number of trades on site and being lined up can feel overwhelming. Plasterers, chippies, brickies, electricians, plumbers, glazing installers, tilers, decorators, flooring fitters – it’s my job to ensure they can all do their jobs.
Schedules do slip and mistakes do happen, but it’s good communications that will see you through.
Having a positive, honest and respectful relationship with each tradesman means that, if something does go wrong, we can discuss solutions and revise timescales to keep the balls in the air.
We’ve had two family holidays this summer – one of which, a week in Cornwall, coincided with the delivery and installation of our long-awaited windows, far from ideal timing.
But actually getting some space away from the site was wonderful and essential – our brilliant team of builders and glazing installers proficiently handled the windows, and Sean and I were able to give ourselves a mental break from the minutiae of the project.
We came home, refreshed and reenergised, to a watertight house. I would encourage anyone taking on a major build to book a holiday, get away for a few days, stop juggling for a short while – it will be beneficial.
We have a huge old trampoline that was too big to move in to our temporary rental accommodation so we’ve left it in Oakview’s garden, and it’s been a saviour.
Every time Sean and I need to be on site, checking, measuring, discussing plans, our two children run out to the trampoline, which, with its poles and netting offers a space for them to play safely, away from the hazards of a building site.
We’re very aware of the disruption to our children’s lives due to the build – we lived in Oakview for nine months while we sought planning permission and lined up our builders, and we’ve now been in the rental house for three months. Our kids don’t know whether they’re coming or going!
I think it’s important that they know why their lives are being disrupted – so we talk to them about the build and involve them in the process. We let them help choose their favourite from the tile samples, we show them the plans when they ask where something is going to go.
Our son is obsessed with watching the BBC’s Garden Rescue show and he keeps suggesting ideas for Oakview’s garden (he wants a water feature with a fountain and the water to be dyed black!).
As most big building projects happen over the summer, the six week school holiday clash is unavoidable.
I’d urge project managers who are also parents to book the kids in to some childcare – my kids went to a morning holiday club at our local leisure centre, and, begrudging though they were, we all recognised that they would have more fun at the club, than being dragged around flooring showrooms and visiting kitchen shops with me.
I’ve had some head-boiling moments of stress this summer – one in particular which involved a perfect storm of my daughter mid screaming tantrum, an urgent phone call from a tradesman, a delivery guy at the door, an important work deadline looming and burning fish fingers on the stove.
Sitting here, in a coffee shop, writing about that moment now makes me smile, but at the time I certainly didn’t find it funny.
These moments will happen during your build, and if you lose your cool, don’t feel guilty about it or dwell on it – cut yourself some slack, make a cup a of tea (or pour a glass of wine!), put a cartoon on for the kids and just get through it.
My older sister speaks Italian and uses the phrase ‘Forza’ which means ‘forwards, onwards, strength’ – I say this to myself when the going gets tough.