Remove to Improve

They say a can of paint is the cheapest way to make a big impact on a room, and they may be right, but I think removing things can be even more dramatic.

You knew the brick arches were coming down, right?

In addition to being in the way, they blocked all the light in the back part of the room.

When we agreed to buy this house, I made Doug swear to these two conditions:

1. We would keep the original double oven.
2. The brick arches were coming down.

The brick arches came down on the very first day. The wet bar in the background with the black cushioned vinyl counter came down on the second day. An amazing difference!

When you declutter a room, always remove the biggest, bulkiest item that needs to go first: the old TV that no longer works, the ugly couch, unused exercise equipment…it’s astounding how the brand new open space will make the room feel.

Even though most home improvements and decor will focus on adding things to your home (which can cost a lot of money), taking stuff out of your home will give you as much thrill as bringing in something new, with more impact, FOR FREE.

It’s usually better to remove something bad than try to decorate around it. The only hold up is making a few phone calls to find out how to get rid of something.

• For the arches we needed a wrecking bar and a phone call to the city for bulk trash pickup at a reasonable cost.

• You can donate old computer equipment at participating Goodwill drop off locations.

• Many charities will come pick up furniture and appliances.

• Toys and clothes can be dropped off at almost any charity.

• You know what else is on my list to open up? Windows. When we were looking at houses, every house had heavy drapes that were begging to be taken down. Natural light is one of a home’s best assets! Why cover up windows with heavy drapes inside and overgrown shrubs outside?

• Also be sure to clear off the horizontal surfaces.

My second motto for home makeovers is, “Remove to improve.”

Note about the brick arches: some people might have wondered if it was a load-bearing wall, but I’ve seen many houses with this common floor plan (including my parents’ house) that didn’t have a wall there. We took off the trim above the brick and saw a space between the brick arches and the ceiling. They weren’t holding up anything! It was just facade. In the worst-case scenario, we would have put in a couple of supporting columns if needed. We just had to take a look and see that the wall could come down instead of trying to live with it.

What is the biggest thing you’ve gotten rid of?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I have to be honest, there was something charming about the arches. But the blocking the lights and cutting the room in half weren’t so charming. You’ve got one hard worker on your hands. Lucky girl! Looks great so far!
    Ordinary Sarah´s last post…Completely Unplugged

  2. What a difference! I kind of liked the before-photo, but the after is so much brighter! Very nice :-)
    Eliz. K´s last post…[sandwishes]

  3. I cannot wait to see more pictures as you continue to work your magic! Taking down the columns made such a big difference.

  4. The arches were o.k., but without them the space will be terrific! Getting rid of the old paneling will help lighten and brighten the room too.
    You are blessed to have such a hard working husband. He is blessed to have a wife with so much vision and style.
    Thanks for sharing the before and after pictures! I look forward to the next installment!

  5. What sie advice – unclutter & remove. Love the light now pouring through your room.

  6. How beautiful! I was a fan of the arches before, but without them the room just seems filled with light. Can’t wait to see what you done with the fireplace!

    The biggest things I’ve gotten rid of: an enormous television set (too heavy for me to lift solo) and a massive-footprint leather Stickley sofa. My living room is so much more pleasant with tall bookshelves as room dividers and large-framed prints on the walls instead of a big ugly box taking up space (and valuable brain cells)!
    Lissa´s last post…WIP Wednesday: On Knitting Groups and Ravissant Socks

    • We “inherited” the hugest hideous television set you’ve ever seen from my husband’s grandad. We were lucky to have a closet with french doors in the den, so that’s where it lived. When we moved, the TV did not come with us. I felt about three hundred pounds lighter!
      Michelle´s last post…This Week

      • Good on you!

        My favorite thing about ditching the television is that now I don’t waste any time on “shows”. Life is so much more pleasant without false drama added in. Did you switch to a smaller model, or lose the TV altogether?
        Lissa´s last post…WIP Wednesday #5

        • We actually cut the cable even before we got rid of the TV. I agree, life is definitely more pleasant! We watch occasional movies on the computer after the kids go to bed, but there isn’t that “addicted” feeling or the constant background noise (or advertising). I think getting rid of television takes simplifying to a new level, for sure.
          Michelle´s last post…First Day of School

          • Ditto! I’ve been without cable since early 2007, and the only thing I miss being able to watch is an occasional Yankees-Red Sox game. :)

            The lack of television really forced me to seek out non-bombastic news, too, so I watch the video podcast of Rachel Maddow’s news show about once a week, and listen to NPR’s morning edition each morning. I feel so much calmer about the world when I’m not being shouted at by politicians and harassed by advertisers.

            At some point I need to write about what it’s like to live without T.V. Thanks for the reminder!
            Lissa´s last post…A parcel of yarn FOR ME!

  7. I am so excited for you!! I can’t wait to see the rest of the renovation!!!

  8. I’m blown away that they weren’t holding anything up. It just begs the question…WHY?!?! SO GLAD you took them down and I know you are too.

    The hubby and I tore off an entire back room of the fixer-upper that we purchased almost 11 years ago. People thought we were nuts – there were times even WE thought we might be nuts. In the end, we added on a large addition – just the two of us – and we couldn’t be happier. :-)
    Carrie´s last post…Countdown to Pumpkin Launch :: 7

    • …..or a brick walkway or patio?

      • Wow the room looks so open! I love it, and I agree with Carrie – Why on earth were the arches there if they weren’t holding anything up. Hilarious I am sure they were “the thing” at some point in time!

  9. Biking chick says:

    LOVE the after photo!!! Did you consider reusing the bricks for an outdoor kitchen? If it matches the exterior brick, that would be an excellent reuse!

  10. Thank goodness you knocked down those arches. I was wondering about those. We knocked out a wall in out 900sq ft condo and it made a huge difference. It made huge differance. Converted hallway to living area.
    Jessica´s last post…Free admission to the Fair

  11. I love removing to improve! Our house is in a new subdivision and is very cookie-cutter and all of the landscaping plants were the exact same that everyone else had. I had nearly all the plants removed and am now replacing them with natives that not only looker better and more unique (I think) but are adapted for the desert climate and will attract birds and bees.

  12. Wow, what a huge difference!

    Is the double oven like a bread oven? Can you do thin crust pizzas in there? You’ll make new friends in the neighborhood in no time!

    I’d take out windows in our house and put in French doors.

  13. HUGE improvement! Way to go!!!

  14. Nice!

    Biggest thing for us: the puddling, dark-colored, swirling paisley drapes and matching chintz that went on for miles after I got it down. How anyone got it up there in the first place was beyond me.

    Our son-in-law, very talented, started investigating a wall on one side of their living room with the stairway behind it and found it was not attached to the stairs–and down it came. He tore out the old carpet and put in stained steps, stained banister, with white spindles and a white decorative newel post he did himself. Lovely and open.

  15. Wow, so many arch fans. My first thought was, “what were they thinking when they built those?” Not as dramatic, but the thing we tore out on move-in day was the glass shower doors.

  16. So…at first glance I totally thought this was an “after the earthquake” post. Then I remembered you don’t live on the East Coast. And then I remembered you had mentioned tearing down those arches in an earlier post. And then I felt kind of dumb. :)

    heidikins´s last post…Graduation: December 2011

  17. Wow…love it. I showed my husband the before pictures a few days ago and he said he didn’t care for the arches and he will be pleased to hear you took them down. My husband as yours is…very handy. We did a lot of things to our house ourselves, including roofing, adding a beautiful bathroom to our basement and very nice fencing around our back yard.
    Take care, enjoy the work and keep us updated…I love your blog. I hope you read my comment on your broth receipe I added not too long ago.

  18. Our house was built in 1969 and when we bought it in 2001, it still featured a brick flower planter in the foyer. Not sure why. The previous/original owners kept plastic plants in it which they so kindly left for us. But my husband promptly took a sledge hammer to the planter not long after we moved in and we replaced it with a bench.
    Kristia´s last post…Vertical Gardening Update: SUCCESS

  19. We took out a big wood stove, tile underlay, and brick on the wall behind because it completely disrupted the furniture placement in the living room. If we had used it, we could have worked around it, but it just was not planned well and looked so much better without it. In your house, I like the arches gone, but not as much as I’ll like the wet bar gone!

  20. That’s AWESOME! What an improvement!!! We had some wood columns in our first house that I always wanted to get rid of, but sadly they were weight bearing! Great motto too!!!

  21. PREACH it, sister! You definitely DON’T need to buy anything new to make your home feel rejuvenated and less cluttered! It’s almost always more rewarding to “remove to improve” (love that, btw)! I preach that gospel on my blog too (

    And Kristia, I would love to see pics of a brick flower planter filled with plastic plants in the middle of a foyer. I can’t imagine a home decor element more deliciously horrible!
    MaryJo @ reSPACEd´s last post…A year ago in review: Getting organized for back-to-school, organizing your camping trip

    • We also had 1969 house with a huge planter in the entry. I never tore it down but it was filled with plastic plants too -scarey! The entry was slate and on the other side of the LONG planter was a 15’x30′ living room with WHITE carpet. I had 3 little ones. Under the carpet was a beautiful oak floor!. My kids constantly dug in the dirt in the planter. I was waiting for them to ruin the carpet so I could tear it all out and redo the whole thing. But, we moved before that happened.

      I did a spring real flower arrangement in the planter just before we sold the house. It was vey lovely.

  22. This makes a stunning improvement – so nice!

    Our first home was a split entry with upper and lower apartments . We took down the walls where the upper and lower entrances were, in order to open up the stairway, since we would be using both levels ourselves. It made a huge difference.

  23. Love the light

  24. I can’t believe the difference this made! I’m so excited to see your redos…

    We got rid of a storage room in the basement and made it useable space, i.e. a movie room. What a difference taking down a wall makes!

    I’ve been decluttering quite a bit, and there is nothing more refreshing that wide open clear spaces! :)!
    Sharon´s last post…To "monetize" or not to "monetize". That is the question and I have the answer.

  25. I am learning appreciation of many retro details, but the arches and wet bar didn’t turn me on. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your projects!

  26. Believe it or not, I had a dream about those arches. I just couldn’t believe you bought a house with such a feature. In my dream, I wondered if that was a load-bearing wall and how you would handle that challenge if(when!) you removed the arches. Guess you lucked out!

  27. Your post brought back memories of my first home purchase. It needed exterior improvement. The front yard was overgrown and enclosed by a chain-link fence. First thing we did was head outside and start yanking it up. The neighbors came from all up & down the street to help. Seems they’d been hating that fence for years!
    jane´s last post…Design Wall Monday!

  28. That really is so true. You have to get down to a blank canvas before you can paint the picture you want. If you keep trying to paint over the mistakes, it just looks like a big mess.
    jennie´s last post…The Savoring of Life

  29. Sigh – I WANT to remove some awful cabinets that divide our kitchen from our dining room but hang down so low that you have to bend over to talk to someone underneath them, but nope, our landlord (in-laws who own the place) say no. One day . . .

    • We did that, and I think I got the idea from a note on your Pinterest. Maybe if they will see our before & after…

  30. Yep! Those arches were definitely taking up unnecessary space. What were they thinking with a wet bar and all? I can imagine someone getting kind of tipsy after being served up at the wet bar and running into those things face first. I’ve never seen anything like that before inside. Good for you guys they weren’t propping up the roof. It’s like a different room. Two thumbs up!

  31. “Let there be light!” and there was. :-)

  32. Great reduction! My father renovated every home we lived in (4) and I learned at his knee how to do electrical, power tools, plumbing, the works. Being married to another DIYer is wonderful. The biggest project we did was the 14×60 single wide mobile I bought in 1996 after my divorce. I met my new guy in 1998 and now we are married. We tore out the stupid breakfast built in that you had to circle around to get in the door, put in a pantry, and then added kitchen cabinets that he got when he worked at Lowe’s. He got a corner unit, top and bottom, new counter tops, and a new straight top and bottom unit, all for $25. They were a kitchen model that was discontinued and removed, and was going in the dumpster. My guy rescued and we used them! DIY is the best!

  33. My sorry first husband.

  34. Oh, I just love old house remodel stories! We just purchased a rambling 1978 house. There are large things coming down in that house! Sad thing is my hubby was in charge of the before pictures. Well, the first day my friends and I just couldn’t stand it and started ripping wall paper off the walls! :)

    It would be super fun to see you host a “remove to improve” party on your blog. We could all send one before and one after photo of our biggest or best remove to improve.

    Love your blog. I love how much light is now in your room. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Wow, what a difference it makes knocking those down! So glad to hear it wasn’t a load bearing wall and they could go!

  36. seashoreknits says:

    Bravo! Undeniable improvement. The arches looked kind of cool at first glance (from the comfortable distance of our computer screens) but it was apparent one would be sick of them before the first day was out. And anything that impedes the natural light? Got to go. So looking forward to seeing what happens next!!
    When my husband and I bought our farm many many years ago (and as we prepared to move in to the old original farmhouse that came with it), the first thing we removed was the dark green and gold flocked wallpaper in the living room and hallway. I’m sure those mere words paint the picture sufficiently for how hideous it was. I cannot tell you what a relief it was.

  37. Had the arches been at a heritage site or an archaeological dig then they would have been fine… in a house… err not so much.

    Was it theraputic knocking them down? Bet it was a good stress reliever :)
    Chippy´s last post…Random Quote #45

  38. I agree about the drapes and unnecessary window coverings. I need light in my home! I learned a great lesson living in an old rented house that had beautiful old glass windows and *no* blinds, shutters, or curtains. We put up necessary curtains in our bedroom but otherwise, I adored having all the natural light pouring in.

    We now live in a fairly new apartment, and I quickly pulled most of the mini blinds up and enjoy filling our home with natural light and often don’t even need to turn the lights on. :-)

    • I agree, too, Jen. We have a lot of natural light pouring through the house because we live on a hill. In our big main windows on the main floor I use only sheers, no drapes, to provide a bit of privacy but let in all the light. Heavy drapes are for the birds.

  39. My husband likes to collect CARS! We have had as many as 9 in our yard. Thanks goodness I finally got him to see that we needed to reduce his collection!
    Living the Balanced Life´s last post…When life throws you off balance

    • Bernice, I know what you mean. My hubby has four and with my Jeep we have five cars on the property. It is annoying just looking at them all. I have told hubby that if he goes first, inside his coffin will be two of his cars. Reduced to blocks of metal and fiberglass (Corvette). One for his head to rest on, one to prop up his feet. ;)
      don_mae´s last post…Back-To-School Quilt Is Finished

  40. Goodbye Catacombs!

    We got rid of chimney breasts that had no chimney on top anymore, load-bearing walls that blocked the view of the garden, all sorts. With the help of a builder of course. I only regret that we didn’t take out the other chimney breasts too while we were at it. One day…

  41. I have to agree about heavy curtains/drapes. I can’t stand them (nothing like living in a cave), and unfortunately we HAVE to have them in our home. All of our windows face either east or west, so without heavy curtains our home gets HOT. Did I mention that we live in the TX Hill Country, and we haven’t had a high lower than 103 in the shade in about a month? I’m so ready for fall :)

    The change looks fantastic. It was a good thing for y’all that those arches weren’t a load-bearing wall :)
    Jennifer@A Blog of My Very Own!´s last post…Seeing the Lord in everything…

  42. The biggest thing I got rid of was a boyfriend, then a large console TV.

  43. WOW what a difference! The biggest thing we got rid of was an oversized chair, ottoman and sofa and replaced it with a mod sofa…its takes about a quarter of the space!
    Kait Palmer´s last post…Tatum’s Third Week

  44. Goodness me, what a magnificent beginning. That is some change indeed. I am really looking forward to seeing the progression. Inspiring !
    Tasmanian Minimalist´s last post…Oops- That’s Very Wabi-Sabi

  45. We removed four walls in our living room/dining room/kitchen area. Wow, what a difference, especially the light!
    Fortunately, my husband knew what he was doing with load bearing walls.
    Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith´s last post…Tackle It Tuesday # 9: The Guest Room

  46. Today, I removed a big bag of store bags from my linen closet and freed up some space. I didn’t even haved anything I need to put there . . . so have an empty shelf.

    Glenda Childers´s last post…Holly Becker comes to Chicago’s Anthropologie and a mother/daughter adventure

  47. Wow! I wondered about those when I saw them. I assumed they were structurally important. What a big room without them!
    Megan@declutterdaily´s last post…Days 196 and 197 -Wordless Wednesday and Thursday ‘Cause Summer’s Not Over Yet

  48. When we first moved into our house, we took down the cabinets that separated the kitchen from the eating area. What a difference! Of course, now my kitchen can never be messy. :) We also took out the closet in the back entry and made it into a mudroom. It’s messy all the time, but you couldn’t even turn around and I had infant carseats I was carrying in and out all the time. I still love how open it is, even if there’s coats and shoes out all the time (we have hooks and bins, but somehow the kids never put their stuff there!)

    Your room looks so much better! And I love “remove to improve!”

  49. so satisfying to see those arches go!! SO glad you’re keeping the double ovens :)

    When we bought our house, there was a lot of JUNK in the basement. For years, we would take a load to the dump or list stuff on craigslist. I think we’re finally down to our own junk only. Whew.
    Margo´s last post…Our Very Own Ice Cream

  50. This house has such awesome potential! I can’t wait to see what you guys do with it!

  51. I saw your double-avocado ovens in the film “Omega Man” tonight (hubby’s choice dvd night). Can’t say I would recommend the movie, but the clothes and furnishings were “classic” mid-70’s. I was so busy checking out the decor, I didn’t get too creeped out.
    Stephanie´s last post…Strawberry Pots Forever

  52. I am so excited for you!
    All those years of having to conform to your landlord…and now you get to SMASH DOWN WALLS! Bravo.

  53. I have to say a sigh of relief came when I saw this post. Those arches had to go. I cannot wait to see what unfolds in this new/old house.

  54. I am a bit sad about the bar. Will it find a home elsewhere in the house?
    Slackerjo´s last post…Inside Voice! Say It Loud, Say it Proud!

  55. It wasn’t physically “big” but we got rid of a cheesy stained glass cupboard door that was the focal point of the 1980s kitchen in our first house. It covered a nice corner cupboard, so we removed it and just left the door off. We now display our pretty Fiesta dishes, which we also use everyday. Soooo much nicer to look at than that hunter green and burgundy glass door. And, easier to access too!

  56. Heh, I did not like the arches at all when you showed them in the earlier post. But I thought you liked them so I didn’t dare say anything, people are allowed to have their own taste. But I’m sure glad those are down.

    The bigest thing I’ve got rid of is the second sofa in the livingroom. It was not needed in a household of two.
    Leena´s last post…Don’t like it? Paint it!

  57. Awesome improvement! It looks so much better. I’ve been a lurker for a while, but seeing your photos reminded me of our home improvement. About six years ago, we knocked out an 80s-era bar that was probably 12 feet long. It had crackled bar glass behind it and shelves enough for more liquor than I probably ever purchase. Now there’s a panty in that space. I love home improvement (especially the demolition part)!
    Stephanie´s last post…Alka-seltzer + film canisters = a trip around town

  58. I’m another one who loved the arches but I agree–they are better gone!
    As someone else whose house is partly built from (as Bossy calls it) “dirty denture colored brick” I am looking forward to watching how someone with vision and a good eye works with it!

  59. Like many of the others, I was a fan of the arches too. But I understand that you wanted more natural light. I have mixed emotions about natural light…especially here in Texas when it can be just so strong to practically blind you! LOL! I know it goes against the grain but sometimes I enjoy darker rooms and like to play up the darkness with drapes, winged back chairs, dark woods, plaids, and jewel toned colors….sort of the british hunt style. But when you are going for light and airy, you did the right thing to take down the arches. (but oh no!…not the wet bar too…I did love that!)

    Over the course of my life, I have given so much away…small stuff and really big stuff. Yes, garish TVs rank high in my give away column!!! But one of the worst items was a HUGE avacado green velour couch that my husband brought into the marriage. It had belonged to his parents and was very early 70’s. But with no retro charm. Just plain ugly. LOL!

    Having Salvation Army on speed dial has been a godsend. I love how they come to your home and pick-up practically everything. 1-800-got-junk is also great. They do charge a fee but it is very affordable and well worth it for the things no one else will take.

    For smaller items, a little trick I love to employ is to keep a large trash bag hanging on the back of my laundry room door. As I go through my day finding things we don’t need or have outgrown, I dump it in the bag. Once the bag is full, I tie it up, and plop it into the trunk of my car. The next time I go out, I make a quick stop at our local Goodwill and drop it off. This really cuts back on clutter.

    And yes…keeping flat surfaces clutter free is key. As I have shared with you in the past, I love my cozy clutter but not on flat surfaces. Clutter on flat surfaces clouds the mind. I like how Fly Lady has a video showing how great life would be if our flat surfaces were tilted and no one could lay anything on them! LOL!

    Continued success with your re-model. You have such a great eye for decorating. I know it is going to be gorgeous when your done!


    Mary´s last post…Ouick Tip – Little Bags of Bacon

  60. Wow – I can’t believe how many people actually liked the arches. It looks SO much better with them gone!

    In our last house we removed a wall that blocked off the dining room from the family room. It turned a dark, closed in space into an open and airy one. So much better!
    Brenda´s last post…Motivated Moms

  61. We bought a ranch style home built in the 70s and thank goodness my hubby is in construction. The original owners had enclosed the back patio as part of the house – but left the brick planter boxes in the foyer and stucco on the walls…out it all came. Next was the hideous yellow “bottle glass” windows on either side of the front door. We’ve replaced every window and have white wood shutters or blinds on all of them instead of drapes. We also replaced a window in 1 room and a door in another with sliding doors – yay for natural light! All the horrible oatmeal colored berber carpet is gone and we have slate tiles or pecan hardwood floors – so much more open an cool looking :)
    Outside we got rid of lots – in the front it was the brick planter boxes and the overgrown juniper bushes and replaced it with a curved path and a planter area full of trees, shrubs, a running creek and waterfall and the birds and dragonflies just love it!
    Most of the ugly is gone after 14 years – but what a lot of hard work!

  62. To date (we’ve lived here 8 years), we’ve gotten rid of a (plywood!) built-in shelf, a coal closet, and a cistern (our house is from 1923). And a windowshade with ducks on it. Not that that was hard, but it just felt so good to have it gone.

    Your “new” living room is amazingly spacious with the arches gone! Great work!

  63. Just FYI (someone may have already commented on this) – for anyone remodeling: consider donating to Habitat for Humanity or doing “Deconstruction”. Instead of demolishing cabinets or bricks and tossing in the dump, you can take them apart carefully and sell or donate. There are actual deconstruction companies that do this for you if you are not DIY-ers. It saves space in the landfills and also helps others save money in their construction projects!

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  64. This post actually brought a happy giggle to my throat! Demo work is so much work but so worth it. As a teenager I helped (with much coercing) my parents remodel our 100 year old house. I remember tearing down a wall and rebuilding it just a few feet to the side so that we could add another bathroom upstairs. So much work, but when the bathroom was done we were so happy with it!
    Megan´s last post…I am Not a Supermom

  65. Yes on removing that wall!!!! Look at all the lovely light that will come through now. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do. There are sooooo many possibilities! Yay for possibilities.


  66. I have a wall w/ various cut outs (opening) between my kitchen and family room. I can not get a contractor to touch it. they won’t even think about if its load bearing or not. i’ve removed walls before but after 4 back surgeries not a good chioce of DIY projects for me.