Building a custom home: Four steps to help you stay organized

There’s a wonderful discussion happening on the Unclutterer Forums. The topic: Building a new house. Quite honestly, it has me feeling a little envious. Building a custom home has got to be an exciting experience. At the same time, I suspect that it also can be a little overwhelming because there are so many things to consider and decisions to be made.

The process can go smoothly and with fewer hiccups if you do a bit of planning ahead of time. A key step would be to get everything out of your head and to organize all the necessary information in an easy to use system.

Think about changes you’d like to make

Start thinking about the home you presently live in. What seems to be working well? You’ll want to make sure those elements are present in your new home. What are some things that need to be improved upon? Do you have particular solutions in mind? Walk through each room in your current home and record the things that you would like to change.

Keep a list of “must-haves”

Once you’ve walked through each area in your home, you’ll have a better idea of the features that are most important to you. Create a list or chart of each room with the specific features you would like to have (hidden storage areas, extra outlets). Be specific about the things that you think would make each room function better based on your current lifestyle, and include any elements that you would find it difficult to live without. Your list will likely start out as a wish list and then get refined once you begin working with your contractor.

Collect important information in one central location

Speaking of contractors, consider using a binder (with tabbed pages) or a digital notebook (like Evernote or Springpad) to keep track of builders and other professionals (architects, designers) that you want to contact or who have given you proposals. Your binder, digital notebook, or a website like is also a great place to keep track of your ideas. Be sure to also include a copy of your budget in your notebook. That way, you’ll be able to find it easily and see the budgeted dollar amounts as you think about features you want to include in your new home.

Plan your next move

It’s never too early to start preparing you current home for your departure. You will get a timeline for completion from the builders, so you can schedule time to unclutter your current space. Then, when it’s time to pack, you’ll only be handling the things that you will be taking with you. To help you stay on track, consider using a moving checklist.

Building a custom home can be fun and managed without feelings of stress. With a solid plan and understanding of the process, you can successfully see your plans come to life. Keep in mind that you can always get more information before you make any final decisions. There are lots of articles (like 10 Things to Consider when Building a Home) and books (check out Building Your Own Home For Dummies) on building your home from scratch — as well as the mistakes to avoid — that can be great resources for you.

If you were to build your dream home, what uncluttered features would you include in the space?

10 Comments for “Building a custom home: Four steps to help you stay organized”

  1. posted by Jon on

    Great post! I will have to go check out the forum topic. My wife and I built our custom house 5 years ago. After visiting hundreds of homes, she laid out our ideal house on a basic computer program. That basic plan was then turned into a reality by an architect. The biggest thing I learned, even with the best plans your project will get out of control without an excellent builder. We still have our project binder with notes, ideas and the budget. That is a key to success as well and fun to look back at.

  2. posted by Jodi on

    We are remodeling our home (major remodeling – replacing 100% of the wiring, replacing 95% of the plumbing,replacing 75% of the plaster/lath with drywall, removed a load-bearing wall to open up two rooms, moved the kitchen to a different location in the house, turned the old kitchen into an office etc.)

    I’ve learned sooo much about organizing through this process, as I somehow ended up as the person in charge of all the planning/scheduling. No matter how long someone says it will take to do something, always plan on it taking 50% longer – there’s always stuff to do if the time-estimate stays on schedule (which, thus far, has yet to happen). Remember to plan days to PLAN – when stuff goes wrong, you’ll need some time on the schedule to re-group moving forward.

    Whatever your total budget, knock off 20% and plan for that – the extra will be needed for all those “surprises” you didn’t anticipate. Even knowing we were going to replace wiring/plumbing, I was AMAZED how many “unexpected” expenses came up in both those areas.

    If you’re living in the space while you remodel (not something I would recommend!) be sure to schedule time into the overall plan for moving things around. You don’t want the plumber showing up at 8:00 only to realize it’s going to take you 2 hours to move all the furniture out of the way. 🙂

    I cant wait to check out the forum and see what’s being discussed!

  3. posted by JC on

    One of the most important things is to extenstively vet your contractor. We thought we had, then ended up in court for 5 years and with a mortgage double what it should have been (in a down market) due to hiring all new contractors to repair and finish our home. Our circumstances have changed and as soon as the market recovers well enough, we will sell this home and build a smaller home on the adjoining property. We do know, now, who the best contractors in our area, and who we will have build for us.

    We had planned on being in this home with children for many years, but will be empty nesters in about 4 years. When we built, we asked a lot of elderly people what would make their lives easier. Wider doorways, lever handles, one floor living, easily accessable storage, few if any steps, and materials that are easy to clean are things we took into consideration. Our home isn’t one level, but the master bed/bath, laundry/mud, living, kitchen, and dining rooms as well as access to the screened porch and deck are all on the main floor. We have wood floors throughout that are less labor intensive than daily vacuuming would be, and they won’t need replacement.

  4. posted by Rosalie Donlon on

    I’ve lived through a major remodel on my current house in 2002(added a second floor and reconfigured the first floor), then we repositioned the stairs from the kitchen to the basement and remodeled a bathroom last summer. This year we’re facing a major project in restoring significant damage to our finished basement/in-law suite as a result of Hurricane Sandy. The 3-ring binder was crucial to keeping track of all estimates, contracts, plans, changes, notes, and brochures for all the cabinets, lighting, etc. But the most important thing is to maintain your sense of humor throughout it all.

  5. posted by purpleBee on


    For your future house, do consider including that all power outlets, and other outlets like cable connections, are around waist height and not close to floor level. Its a simple thing that will make life easier for you when you are too elderly to bend and retain your balance

  6. posted by Whitney on

    When building or remodeling, you can really save a lot of money by hiring an architect. They think of the things that you don’t, make sure the permits go through and the zoning is followed (so you don’t have to tear it down later – that happens!), hire contractors that they know to be reliable and good (no lawsuits like a previous comment), get deals on materials, and generally manage all the fiddly details. It’s one of those up-front investments but a good architect will save you more than it cost to hire him in the long run. (And no, I’m not an architect!)

  7. posted by Dorothy on

    I moved into my custom home in May 2010. I would never, ever build a home again.

    Before embarking on a project like this you need to be very, very realistic about budget, and your own tolerance for chaos. You can be the most organized project manager on the planet, and you will be amazed at how out-of-control things can get.

    I think most people build a home because they want it to be “exactly right”. It won’t be. Truly. In the one-hudred-kazillion options and decisions, some of them will be dead wrong. So you need to be somewhat philosophical about that issue. There are just too many contingencies, personalities and variables to exercise complete control.

    That being said, a couple tips:

    First, your contractor makes money on change orders, so keep them to an absolute minimum. He low-balled you to get the contract. Half-way through the project, he’s hurting for money. The only way to get more from you is to high-ball the change orders.

    Second, really, truly examine and understand the bill of materials. It’s tough if you’re not in the building trades because you don’t know, for instance, that you want OSB rather than plywood for sub-flooring (or vice versa). How would you know this? It really helps if you have a knowlegable friend or relative who can walk you through the bill of materials. Before you break ground is the time to make corrections and upgrades to it. Remember, your contractor low-balled you to get the contract, so it’s VERY likely there are some items on the bill of materials that are below the quality you want. As an example, our bill of materials included nails for the sub flooring. My DH decided we wanted the sub-flooring screwed down to minimize squeaks. You can walk the entire length of the house and not have the floor squeak, but we paid extra for that upgrade, mid-stream.

    Third, I advise against acting as your own general contractor. You will likely pay more in the long run and, just as important, your project will take longer. Tradesmen will work for a licensed contractor before they’ll work for you (because the licensed contractor can give them repeat business) so you will end up waiting for work to be done.

    Fourth, lots of contractors go into business because they don’t want to work for someone else. That does not confer magical project-management skills upon them. So, for instance, they may ask you to make decisions instantly that they might (with better planning) have given you weeks or months to make.

    Good luck!

  8. posted by Saskatchewan RTMs Home on

    Thanks for sharing all the necessary thing while building custom home. I am going to build my home in next month & hope your blog will help me so much. Thanks

  9. posted by Calgary show home on

    This is so helpful! most of the tips given were new information for me, and I appreciate all of the comments, you guys are really helpful

  10. posted by Verla on

    Great blog here! Additionally your web site loads up very fast!
    What host are you using? Can I am getting your affiliate link on your host?
    I desire my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

Comments are closed.