Compulsive Renovation Syndrome

Compulsive Renovation Syndrome

As a leading international authority on home improvement disorders and founder of the Greatest Handyman Ever Hall of Fame, I have, of course, long been aware of the devastating condition known as Compulsive Renovation Syndrome. After some early dismissals of the disorder as “too many dollars and not enough sense” and various attempts to blame it on Minecraft and The Sims, CRS is now a generally accepted diagnosis. Today, it is a rare home show that does not feature a panel on CRS, many of which I have sat on myself.

CRS was first identified in 1986 by Gerald “Gary” Hoffelsen, a seasoned customer service professional at Harry's wHolesale Hardware in Katonah, New York. In a New England Journal of Medicine cover story at the time, he wrote, "I started noticing how a lot of longtime customers -- folks who you'd usually sell just a box of wood screws or a couple cans of paint -- would start asking about imported, handmade Italian tile or certified virgin Alabama boar bristle brushes.”

Although Hoffelsen would attempt to treat these customers with a dose of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he took seriously the Harry’s wHolesale motto, painted prominently on the store’s cinder block walls: “The customer is always right.” (Even if, he privately mused, some of them couldn’t tell a socket wrench from a reciprocating saw.) So he always tried to get them what they wanted, leading to many special orders and a search for local translators to assist with international sourcing.

“Soon I'd find them waiting by the doors at opening time,” Hoffelsen wrote, “trying their best to look composed as they begged me to find them a high-carbon, double-crescent router bit. It was great for business and Harry was able to spruce up the place a bit, but I hated to watch what it did to them. One Saturday they're puttering through a slow weekend's minor chores, and the next they can't sleep until they finish a built-in ebony hutch for their wide-screen projection TV and surround sound stereo system."

In the years that followed, CRS was to spread with unspeakable rapidity. As is so often the case, the traditional and, eventually, social media only exacerbated the problem. Blatantly pro-renovation shows moved from the fringes of local public television to 24/7 home improvement channels. Independently produced DIY channels began to dominate YouTube rankings.

At the same time, opportunistic "home stores" cropped up across the nation, enabling the CRS sufferers' compulsions, no matter how extravagant, no matter what hour of the day or night.

The social costs have been incalculable: Conversations interrupted by the scream of a circular saw. Green spaces paved over to make room for more home store parking lots. The decimation of weekend softball leagues for lack of available players. A community-corroding black market for sequoia timbers. Not to mention the many lost fingertips and long-term exposure to exotic volatiles.

There is, however, hope. Recent intervention protocols have proven effective in multiple double-blind studies. But early detection is crucial.

So in the interest of public health, I offer this five-point quiz that will help you determine whether you are at risk for CRS. Try to answer each question as honestly as you can, then total up your score. Remember: treatment can mean the difference between a healthy home life with genuine human connection and a horror house ankle-deep in sawdust and gypsum.

CRS Self Diagnosis Questionnaire

1) How many renovation projects have you started this year? (2 points for each project. Larger jobs -- such as "build a new wing" -- should be broken down into component tasks for the purpose of calculation.)
2) How many projects have you completed this year? (Subtract 1 point for each. Calling in a pro does not count as a completion. Neither does "carting the whole mess off to the landfill.")
3) How many projects are you actively working on now? (1 point for each. Wandering around a home store all afternoon, looking for inspiration, does not count as "working on".)
4) Go to your garage, attic, workshop, storage area, laundry room, and that guest room that no guests can stay in because the bed is currently serving as a platform for bins of semi-sorted hardware. Count up the number of "renovation limbo" objects you have laying around. These are tools, equipment and materials that you bought more than one month ago, with the intention of doing a particular project that you somehow never got around to. (Add 1 point for each.)
5) Which of the following most closely approximates your likely thought process upon entering an old cottage near the beach, lent to you by a family friend?
A) "This is so quaint! I'll do nothing but read and swim in the ocean all week long!"
B) "This is very nice. It would be perfect if the owners would just screen in the porch and lay some new tile in the bathroom. I wonder if it would be rude to suggest that to them?"
C) "Well, it has good bones, but they really ought to tear out the carpet, open up the floor plan and install triple-pane windows while they're at it. I wonder if they would let me stay here a month and do it for them."
(Score 0 points for A, 5 for B, 10 for C, and 15 for D.)

Okay, total up your score. Here's what the numbers mean:

1-5 No current danger of CRS. (Though somewhat greater risk of owning a home with lime green shag carpet.)
6-10 Healthy renovator…for now.
11-15 Not currently suffering from CRS, but show signs of excessive renovation. Take precautionary measures now.
16 & up Likely CRS sufferer. Seek treatment immediately.

Remember, fair readers: do-it-yourself renovation can be a wonderful way to enhance your living environment. But renovation without moderation is counterproductive and can transform your home into a source of endless anxiety and displeasure. Temperance is the key. I suggest this daily affirmation for all my fellow do-it-yourselfers:

"A house is never 'done.' It changes constantly, from its initial construction to its inevitable destruction. No amount of effort on my part will make it complete, not even for a moment. I accept my house as it is right now and choose to enjoy it -- even the room with the peeling floral print wallpaper and the contrasting floral print border -- as I participate in its ongoing evolution."

If that doesn't work, you can always sell the blasted behemoth. Maybe move into an apartment with a good maintenance program and strict rules against any alterations.

Until next time, I wish you all a happy, healthy renovation.

For more information on CRS, contact the Renovation Disorders Foundation through the Greatest Handyman Ever Hall of Fame at

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