Erin Condren's Top-Down Approach to Organizing a Home Renovation

A couple looking at home renovation blueprints.

By Erin Condren, creator of the LifePlanner™ and expert organizer with Liberty Mutual Insurance

No matter your skill level, tackling a new home upgrade from start to finish can be a daunting task, and I know this because I’m nearly finished with a major home renovation myself. Speaking from experience, the biggest piece of advice I would give to anyone trying to stay sane during a renovation is to stay organized! According to a recent survey from Liberty Mutual Insurance, lack of organization causes worry for nearly one-fifth of Americans on a regular basis. Trust me, you definitely do not want to begin a home improvement project with a feeling of worry!

I’m all for taking pen to paper when it comes to preparing for a project, which is why I have a dedicated Erin Condren Notebook that I used throughout my entire remodel to keep myself organized. I used it to store things like my contractor’s information and Polaroid Zip photos with itemized descriptions of all of my appliances. I kept my notebook completely separate and then included major benchmarks and milestones in my Erin Condren LifePlanner™ so I could plan for the big picture. My motto has always been “Let’s get it done so we can have some fun,” and thus, I firmly believe in setting goals—and then celebrating when you achieve them!

I understand that starting a notebook from scratch can be overwhelming, which is why I’ve created the “Level Up Your Life” activity sheet checklist with Liberty Mutual Insurance to help people get organized before, during, and after their home improvement projects. This is a great tool for people to utilize, especially if they’re unsure where to start. It’s an easy-to-follow guide with organizational checklists that can be used as a jumping-off point. You can also use the sheet to help set project milestones and goals for yourself to hit. Throughout my renovation, I liked to reward myself for making the goals I set, which helped me stay motivated!

Below are some tips I have to stay organized during your home improvement project, starting from the top with a budget, all the way down to making a wish list of items for your new space once it's completed.

Set a Budget

My first tip to staying organized during a renovation is to “Plan for the Big Picture.” What projects are you hoping to complete and what is your budget? No matter the home project—big or small—leaving a 15-20% cushion in your budget is necessary. The cushion allows you to be prepared for the unexpected without hurting your wallet in the long run. Write down the project type and project to-dos. Document what you plan to accomplish during the renovation project and the exact improvements that will be happening along the way. Writing down the step-by-step processes will help you visualize how big or small of a project you’re planning. Mapping out the project details in this manner will also make creating the budget an easier process since you can go line by line for each item.

Keep Notes on Hired Help

The same survey mentioned above found that over one-third of Americans feel they need assistance or advice on managing a home improvement project. Writing down the to-dos should help you get a realistic sense of the project’s scope and help you gauge if you can master the renovation by watching YouTube tutorials or if you need to call in an expert. Some home improvement projects, such as those that involve plumbing or electrical, may be best left to a professional.

When hiring help, it’s important to research multiple contractors to ensure the most bang for your buck. Again, I like to make a list. I write down the project type, different contractors’ names, phone numbers, pros vs. cons for each, and a budget quote. Having all of this information in one place will help you organize your thoughts as you’re meeting with each contractor and will allow you to reference your conversations later in one fell swoop to make your final hiring decisions.

Declutter for a Fresh Start

Once you have the big-picture plan in place, organize and declutter your belongings so you’re starting off with a clean slate. Accounting for fewer items will help you easily get through the renovation process and when the project is complete, you definitely don’t want unnecessary belongings taking over your newly remodeled living space! Tackling multiple rooms at once can be tricky, so I’d recommend organizing room by room and giving yourself completion dates for each so you can stay on track. As you’re decluttering, determine which items you can keep, toss, sell, or donate. Depending on what you’re planning to get rid of, consider holding a garage sale. You might not need it anymore, but one person’s junk could be another’s treasure!

Make a List of Future Purchases

Finally, once the renovation is underway, I’d recommend keeping track of appliances and other must-haves (or wants) for your new space. I recently hopped on the smart home bandwagon and installed smart locks in my home. I never realized the benefit until I had them! If budget allows, I recommend considering smart home devices such as locks, security cameras, leak sensors, or smoke/fire alarms. You might be surprised to find that installing these devices can save you money on your home insurance, such as the Smart Home Discount from Liberty Mutual.