As Spider-Free as a House Can Be

One of the things I am obsessed with is my house. Or our house, I should say. I say “I should say” because I couldn’t have done it without my husband Dave, yet part of me is possessive because I bought it before I met him. It is my baby. When we talk about possibly selling it one day for a “better” house, I scoff. There is no better house! After all, it is my first. And after all of the improvements we’ve made, I have such a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. And I can’t wait to do more!

I’ve always wanted my own house, even though I didn’t realize it. The desire came to light when I moved to Colorado for graduate school. My first thought was, why continue to pay rent when instead I can put those payments toward owning my own house? It was pure economics. What I didn’t realize is that I wanted a house for other reasons: security, creativity, stability. I started to crave those things in a more tangible form after graduate school, when I began to recognize my flair for decorating. Even though I had lived in dumpy apartment after dumpy apartment since my sophomore year in college, I had always made those dumps my own. Posters, rugs, candles, lamps—whatever it took to make my space comfortable. When I started fantasizing about painting my apartment walls and then tearing down those same walls to make an open floor plan, I knew I had to buy a house.

After finding a real estate agent who would actually help me after hearing my budget and finding out I was a poor, single woman, I finally found a house I knew I could love because I could make it my own. It was in terrible shape, but there was something about its style that I liked. I didn’t know it at the time, but that style is “mid-century modern.” “Brady Bunch house,” I called it—probably because of the cathedral ceilings, the picture windows in the living room and the moss rock fireplace in the “den,” which is really a converted garage. But the house I bought certainly was a fixer-upper; one friend later admitted that after he saw it, he wanted to warn me not to buy it. I wouldn’t have heeded his warning, though: nothing could dissuade me, save for the inspector telling me the foundation was sinking. Luckily, he didn’t say that. He did say a lot of other things, and since buying the house, I have done a lot to it myself and even more with the help of Dave, and I feel a sense of pride because of all we’ve done. I’m glad I didn’t chicken out of the deal. I almost did, but my parents told me to go for it. I thank them for encouraging me. I think their faith in me gave me faith in myself. The one thought that kept going through my head, though, was, “I can’t buy a house!” Thankfully, that thought didn’t win out.

In 2002, I started my home renovation by chopping down all of the overgrown foliage around the house and in the front and back yards. This was no easy task, but I needed a blank slate. I learned a lot of things during this phase of renovation. I found out where spiders go when you chop down their living quarters; I discovered that something as common as a bush can contain surprising secrets; and I learned handy landscaping tips for poor people, including, “Don’t stand on top of your roommate’s van to trim trees with a bow saw…”

Before I started cleaning up the landscaping, I had the help of roommates and friends to fix up the interior. We painted some of the walls and removed old carpeting, which revealed wood floors underneath. I’ve done a lot to the interior since then with the help of my hubby, but at the time, adding some paint and ripping out carpeting was about all I could do money wise.

After doing this initial interior remodeling, I moved the renovation outdoors. I removed overgrown foliage around the house and in the front and back yards, all to create a blank slate. The biggest foliage removal challenge was “The Juniper Beast.” Years ago, someone planted it too close to the house; you couldn’t even see the backyard from the side yard. I hacked away at that thing for a couple of months. In it, I discovered many treasures: old socks, beer bottles, various kids’ toys, tennis balls and a lot of trash. Anything that got too close got sucked in. I hope the owner of those toys made it out okay.

Because I was a new home buyer with little money, I didn’t have a lot of the tools you need to own a home. That “handy landscaping tip” for poor people about not standing on top of your roommate’s van to trim trees with a bow saw comes from personal experience. I didn’t fall or injure myself or damage the van, but I came close to doing all three. Let’s just say that tree branches don’t always fall the way that you plan.

I also chopped a huge lilac bush down to the crown and suddenly, you could see the front porch. Then when I chopped down a towering evergreen bush that was hiding the wonderful picture windows in front, the neighbor from across the street came over and said, “I’m amazed. I didn’t even realize there were windows there!”

So that brings us to the answer to the question, “Where do spiders go when you chop down their living quarters?” Into yours. Yep, it seemed as if every spider had relocated to the inside of my house. I put out spider traps along the walls—those little folded paper tents that smell like peanut butter. It took a few months, but, finally, the house was spider-free—as spider-free as a house can be.

I think the best part of the DIY experience is that everything you do feels like a major accomplishment, no matter how mundane. Pulling out carpet staples for three hours? Yes! Give me more work—this feels great! Ouch, my back. It hurts so good!

The photo on the left is “The Juniper Beast” halfway through its demise. The photo on the right is after the Beast was defeated.

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