How renovating a toilet taught me what truly matters!

flushing water in white toilet bowl

We fought hard not to. Until we couldn’t.

This is the story of our toilet renovations that started three days ago. But in case you’re wondering, this isn’t a soiled and sordid tale about bowel movements and stinky water closets.

This is a story about what truly matters in life.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s rewind to mid-2022.

“At first, we said no”

interior design of a bathroom
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As part of the Singapore government’s efforts to help aging public housing estates spruce up, a national Home Improvement Programme (HIP) was launched in 2007.

The HIP helped repair wear and tear issues like spalling concrete or entrance doors that aren’t certified fire-resistant. Oh, and toilets that leaked to neighbors living below.

For the last three months, many residences in our estate, and particularly our apartment block, had taken up the HIP proposed to us in mid-2022 to fix doors and renovate toilets. As the estate was over three decades old, most households jumped at the offer. Especially when the cost was at least seven or more times cheaper than if we were to hire private contractors ourselves!

However, when my wife and I were asked if we wanted to opt-in for it, we demurred.

Firstly, my 88-year-old mom with Alzheimer’s and restricted movement lives with us. There was no way she could easily use the small, temporary mobile toilets the renovators would set up while they tore up ours. And definitely not for the estimated ten days slated for completing the work.

Secondly, our apartment was fully renovated in 2014 and the condition is still pretty good now; even our toilets. No leaks or any major defects. In fact, my sons often say our toilets reminded them of those in hotels we stayed in over the last decade whenever our family vacationed.

Finally, we knew it would be no mean feat to renovate toilets. The mess and dust generated were already reasons enough to avoid this at all costs, not to mention the inconvenience and hassle.

So we said no, and thought the matter closed.

“Sorry, but your toilet is leaking to the unit below!”

crop person cleaning toilet with brush
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Well, it seems Murphy’s Law is alive and well. Almost as soon as we decided to opt-out, something happened.

The unit below us had earlier signed up for the toilet renovations and the job had just ended. Unfortunately, that’s when they started noticing a leak in their new master bedroom toilet, specifically coming from the ceiling. Which of course meant it was coming from our master bedroom toilet down to them

Talk about timing and coincidence!

At first, it was barely noticeable. But after a week or so, it was clear that something was happening and needed permanent fixing.

The HIP contractors discovered the leak, alerted my wife and me, and immediately proposed we opt in to renovate our toilet.

We were hesitant, though we understood the imperative to get this issue resolved. So we did what any reasonable person would do. We scouted elsewhere, hoping to find other independent and reliable plumbers to ‘plug the leak’.

Long story short, we tried a couple of plumbers but none of them succeeded.

Meanwhile, time was running out and our neighbor downstairs was understandably turning increasingly skittish. The HIP crew in the estate was about to pull out, having renovated all the opt-in units in our estate. We had to decide fast or be left high and dry, while our neighbor downstairs, low and wet!

Hobson’s choice really if you think about it.

So just before the crew packed up, we opted in.

With barely a week to spare to get our household ready for the renovation!

What a mess a toilet makes!

brown wooden door frame
Photo by Laurie Shaw on

There were lots to plan and execute.

We had to find a place to relocate our family for about two weeks. This meant deciding where to go and what to pack for a fortnight.

The house had to be cleared and a majority of the rooms locked and shielded from the inevitable dust and mess that comes with the reno.

We had to ensure that the kids got their books and school materials with them since it was the mid-year exam season.

And we had to arrange regular times to check on the reno progress.

The worse was packing up the house and putting up plastic wraps to ensure dust doesn’t travel beyond the toilet. This was no small task by any means!

We had to buy plastic covers that came with adhesive tapes that are kind to our decade-old wall paint, for fear they would tear off and leave blotches. Also, we had to make sure the covers were tightly woven together to minimize the possibility of dust finding its way to other parts of my house. It took nearly an entire day to do that, despite the fact that we live in a humble 107-square-meter apartment!

We were flat-out exhausted by the end of that day — which ironically was also May 1st, Labour Day!

It’s the “little things” that count

red toilet paper on white ceramic toilet
Photo by Elle Hughes on

It’s been three days now since the reno began, and almost a week since we moved out to stay with my parents-in-law.

While I will spare you the mind-numbing details and logistics involved, suffice it to say it’s been a whirlwind! So even though the memory should be fresh still, I think my subconscious mind has automatically blocked out all the unpleasant parts and is instead making me hold on to the hope for a “rejuvenated abode” a week from now.

But this I will say, which is what I promised at the start. My toilet story is really about what truly matters in life.

Think about it. All we’re doing is renovating two small little rooms in our house called toilets. One in the master bedroom, and one adjacent to the kitchen (because why fix just one right?).

Together they add up to barely half the size of my master bedroom.

Yet, in order to renovate them, my family had to literally overhaul our entire existence just to make way for the repairs to be done. All for the sake of spaces we typically visit only a few times a day for what would add up to a total of barely 15 to 20 minutes. Spaces where we “do our business” and exit as quickly as we can, sometimes with our noses firmly pinched. Spaces we crack endless jokes about.

In short, spaces we take for granted.

But with each day that passes as we ignore a growing problem, these seemingly inconsequential spaces begin to assert themselves into our precious waking moments.

Until they start to, literally, leak.

Until we can no longer ignore them.

And until what could have taken us a month or more to better prepare for, ended up taking barely a week to scramble together. Helter-skelter. Which was exactly how this past week felt like.

If only we had opted for the HIP from the beginning, we might have spared ourselves a lot of sleepless nights since the leak came to light.

So the moral of this story is simple:

It’s the little things — like toilets — that truly matter in life. Never disrespect their power.

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