Blending Into the Background: Making Yourself Small When Contractors Come Around

by Anastasia Chipelski

 Image via  WikiCommons

Image via WikiCommons

Six years ago, I bought a run-down but affordable two-story house in Winnipeg's West End. Here we joke that even musicians can own houses — writers too, I suppose.

I wanted to be in charge of my own home space, and I was willing to live in a house where I'd either fix problems myself or learn to live with them. Then this spring, my toilet overflowed and flooded the bathroom, main floor, and basement. 

The catastrophe brought a steady stream of guys — trades, sub-trades, contractor, and adjuster — through my house, trailing a whole new set of expectations along with them.

  IMAGE: ANASTASIA CHIPELSKI /   "It's not so bad."

IMAGE: ANASTASIA CHIPELSKI / "It's not so bad."

At the first visit, the insurance adjuster cut right to the chase. It was worse than he thought. "We need to get the Guys in to open this up right away," he said. "OK," I replied. "I'll be home tomorrow."

The Guys showed up in a flurry and split into teams: Two removed the bathroom floor upstairs and one stayed with me, clearing space for more floor, walls, and ceiling to be ripped up. They left a smattering of boisterous fans and dehumidifiers in their wake. I wasn't sure how I'd sleep with all the noise. "It's not so bad," the lead Guy said. "When I was 16 I had six of these in my room."

After a few sleepless nights, I packed an overnight bag and found quiet at my brother's place. I'd wake up to a 10-minute warning from the Guys and then rush home to let them in and ask for updates.

For once, I wasn't known by my job, or even my name. I overheard my new title in all their conversations — I was simply the Homeowner.

Read more: How I Cobbled Together a Grown-Up Life From the Unwanted Scraps of Others

"We're not supposed to talk to the Homeowner," they said. "We need to go through the contractor and the adjuster, then he talks to the Homeowner." I begged for scraps. "Don't quote me on this," they said. 

We moved on from fans to flooring measurements.

Usually I would never let random men into my house without good reason and visible ID, but I had a relentless parade of new Guys at my door, on my phone, breezing through introductions if at all.

 Image: Anastasia Chipelski

Image: Anastasia Chipelski

"Contractor sent me."

"Are you home?"

"Can we come by in 10 minutes?"

"We're here now, where are you?"

It started in a swirl of urgency, with the promise of moving forward to put my home back together. I thought, "I can make time, I can move everything," and for a time, I did.

I cleaned up, packed living rooms away, carefully considered the value of damaged goods. "We can't do anything about illogical attachment to sentimental objects," the Adjuster had said. I wanted to be diligent, so I read my claims guide: Be available. Respond promptly to your adjuster and contractor. Don't linger on decisions like paint color — this will delay the workers.

But I was caught in an impossible scenario — to always be around but never in the way when the Guys were working. Their friendly "Talking to Homeowner" banter was abrupt and left me with even more unanswered questions. My home was their construction site. I hid away in my office, or sipped my soup in the corner of the kitchen while they talked guns and studs and water.

Read more: How to Melt Your Bathtub Without Really Trying

After they left, I'd wander through the changed space and inspect the bones of my home — sub floors, lathe, exposed studs above the ceiling. The walls that used to hold photographs, the hardwood floors that my mom and I painstakingly refinished ourselves, the sparkly gold ceiling that delighted me as I lay on the floor with my critters — all these things had become abstracted into Actual Cash Value and Estimated Time for Repairs.

  IMAGE: ANASTASIA CHIPELSKI /   the author's cat

IMAGE: ANASTASIA CHIPELSKI / the author's cat

I wondered how I might keep a sense of home in this process. How will I use the bathroom without a floor? Where will I work? Any time I had at home was quickly filled with renovation appointments, and my own work was falling behind. I hadn't even begun rebuilding, only witnessing the damage control and generating an estimate for the work yet to come.

"We can fix your house but we can't replace your time or peace of mind," the Adjuster had said, a rare acknowledgement of all the things not quantified but still lost in the flood. Irreplaceable, and eluding the categories laid out in the claims guide.

I walked past a pile of cat puke, and stopped to clean it up so it wouldn't damage my soon-to-be-demolished hardwood floors. It was an act of futility, but I couldn't help it. I guess I'm a homeowner.

 

Anastasia Chipelski is a writer, editor, foul weather cyclist, and retired musician from Winnipeg, the middle of Canada. Follow her on Twitter at @anachips.