Josie Leavitt

It started simply enough. Two little things made me think I could renovate the downstairs bathroom by myself. The first was a piece of linoleum that was curling up, practically begging to be lifted up and removed. Of course, I naively thought, with that one curl of the floor the whole thing would just come off in one glorious sheet. The second thing was the easy, far too easy, removal of the wallpaper border that went around the half-wall of wallpaper window.

I had been starting to really hate the bathroom. This happens slowly in a house, but once you realize you can no longer live with a room the way it’s been, a slight, rage-fueled home fix-it idea takes hold, and you’re committed. Thirty-year-old blue flowered wallpaper with an accented border and a blue pattern linoleum floor was starting to come up and was enraging me by its mere existence. The sink had broken months ago. and I’d never gotten around to calling a plumber about it. One day I was sitting there (the toilet works just fine) and I started peeling the border with my thumb. It was easy. So I got up and started peeling the entire border off.

Emboldened by the ease of the border removal, I set about to remove the wallpaper. Here’s the thing with me, I think everything is actually doable. Yes, I had the help of YouTube and I learned that, no, I didn’t have to rent a big ol’ scary steamer. All I needed was a spray bottle with a mix of fabric softener and hot water. That went easily enough for the first hour. Small parts of paper were coming off, but the fabric softener smell was starting to get to me. (I only had scented Downy and it was -15° so the windows stayed closed.) Then it occurred to me, why not use sand paper to rough up the paper then spray it just with hot water?

This was miraculous. The paper came off in wonderfully long sheets. I was obsessed and stayed up far too late removing all of it. Yes, I hurt my arm, but I could see change and it was amazing. I painted the ceiling and the walls and now the bathroom is bright white.

Anticipating similar ease with the floor I started using my wonder bar to remove it. In a cruel twist of fate, it turns out that 30-year-old linoleum glue adheres more strongly with each passing year. But I had started and I was not about to call a floor person to finish. This took weeks (I did still have to go to my day job) of peeling a section at a time until I was down to the sub floor.

Then I decided to replace the bulky blue-topped vanity. I was at a dinner party telling folks about this and describing my worry about plumbing when a friend chimed in arrogantly, “Call me when you get stuck.” Quite frankly, little motivates me more than someone saying I can’t do something.

Was it hard? Actually, not really. Fueled by the need to show up the rude doubter, I carefully removed the vanity and the sink and carried them to the garage. Is the bathroom finished? Not so much. Turns out floors are a multi-step project, but by the time my tulips are up, the bathroom will be done. And I’m okay with that.

Josie Leavitt retired from the Flying Pig Bookstore in 2016, after 20 amazing years. Periodically, you can still find her there, taking a shift or two, but her real day job is as the Development Director at the Pride Center. At night, Josie performs stand up comedy throughout New England. She is thrilled to be writing Leavitty again.