Life & Business

5 Life Lessons I Learned from HGTV’s Good Bones

by Grace Bonney

A few weeks ago I was feeling under the weather and spent the entire day in bed binge-watching TV shows. Typically I like my TV to be in a different realm than my work, so I don’t actually watch much design or home-oriented TV. I like to escape into shows like Claws, Glow, The Handmaid’s Tale and Harlots (I like a strong female lead). But then I discovered Good Bones and that changed.

If you haven’t seen it, Good Bones chronicles the home renovation projects of a Mina and Karen, mother-daughter team from Indianapolis, also known locally as “Two Chicks and a Hammer”. They focus primarily on houses that have been condemned or sold by the city for super low prices (think $30k for a 3 bedroom) and have the eye for trends that Fixer Upper is known for, with a lot more of the DIY can-do grit of Nicole Curtis. What I discovered about the show that I loved so so much was how many mistakes their team makes. Whether it’s pushing a fireplace onto a roof and crashing through to the top floor or almost dropping a house when it’s being jacked up for foundation work, they don’t shy away from sharing their “lessons learned” with the audience, and that is a truly refreshing thing to see.

After an entire season of episodes, I came away wanting to do more work around our own home and feeling like I picked up some life advice as well as home advice. Here is what I took away from a mega-intense dose of Mina and Karen wisdom….


1.Do it yourself: If I had to makeover a home, I’d sure as heck hire someone else to help me with most of it. But watching these two women pick up axes and huge power tools to get at demo day on their own feels so empowering to me. And it was a powerful reminder that sometimes the hardest work, at home and in life, has to be done on your own. Sometimes life is messy and dirty and that’s ok- these two do it with a smile and are a great example of how grit and determination can lead to great things.


2: Mistakes Happen: Too often home shows don’t show the major mistakes that happen on job sites. Just in the same way that social media doesn’t always give us a full idea of what someone’s life is actually like. No one owes anyone a peek at their toughest moments, but seeing a big glossy HGTV show make it clear that mistakes happen at every stage of a business reminds me to embrace the mistakes that I run into on a regular basis. We’re all learning and growing all the time.


3: Work with people you love. I love this show’s blended family and the genuine camaraderie they have with one another. Watching Tad and Karen try to rip up a sidewalk with a jack hammer and laugh until they basically fell over made my day. You can tell during some of the tapings they’re not in the best of moods and that just made the entire thing feel better and more real to me. Because if I had to suddenly be on camera 24/7 redoing 10x a many houses as I typically do in a year, I’d have a few grump days, too. So the fact that these women have chosen to stick to a team that they know and love makes me happy- and it’s a great reminder for anyone in any job.


4: Use what you have. I love Karen’s thriftiness on Good Bones. She always walks into long-abandoned homes and finds something she can fix up or sell to add to the project budget. She turned an old fireman’s ladder into a drying rack in her home and it’s nice to see a big-time TV show highlighting simpler projects like this that don’t involve a ton of skill or money to put together.


5: Life is rarely black and white: So many home renovation shows focus entirely on the shiny side of reno: new homes, bright colors and happy families moving in. But the discussion about what these new (more expensive) houses do long-time residents’ property values and taxes rarely happen on-air. But I’ve seen some frank and wonderful discussions on Mina and Karen’s social media pages about gentrification and the pros and cons that come with it. It’s a controversial topic that reminds me that life is about living in the grey area and being able to hold the good with the bad, not choosing a single side. I’d love to see more shows discuss the ways in which these area reno projects are involved in gentrification and ways they could work further to ensure that long-time locals aren’t pushed out in favor of young (usually wealthy, white) families that can afford the new rates.

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  • Thanks for the review, Grace. I stopped watching HGTV a few months ago. Heaven knows I can use the distraction from the news–I’m just disappointed in the direction in a lot of their shows, and hosts, were taking. But I do want to support the good ones out there, and will seek this out on your recommendation.

  • Thanks, Grace. I’ve been meaning to check out this show!
    A couple of other topics I would love to see addressed on home shows are the environmental impact of renovations and health and safety, especially lead contamination and safe renovation. After having dealt with high lead levels in my children’s blood, taken a lead-safe renovation course, and tackled the lead paint problems inside and outside my old house, I now watch home shows with a different perspective. I know plastic containment areas would make for horrible TV, but do wonder about any possible ramifications of unsafe work (i.e. dry scraping creating lead dust) for the workers, future inhabitants, pets and neighbors. Is there any way to combine awareness and education in an HGTV-friendly way?
    Also, thank you in advance to other commenters for not suggesting people should buy newer homes instead.

  • Hey Grace,
    Totally agree with the first tip. IF you want something to be done the right way, simply do it by yourself. No stress, no excuses. :) Simple as that. Cheers.

  • I love this show and find it to be a fun escape as well. While I don’t share their design aesthetic, I appreciate watching the process. Living in Indiana it is also fun to see the local community showcased.

    I totally agree with you about the tricky subject of gentrification. I have such mixed feelings about it. I love to see these run down or abandoned homes revived, but I am also concerned that it prices the lower income renters/owners out of the area. It would be a great topic to explore further. I’m interested in other points of view on that topic!

  • I love this show for many of the same reasons. They’re just real people with flaws, working hard. Sometimes the “perfect home” feel of hgtv leaves me feeling down rather than inspired. This show never makes me feel that way.

  • I totally agree. Nicole Curtis and Rehab Addict are my favorite for all of what you said above that makes Good Bones worth watching and I love how Good Bones is a slightly shinier version of it. I like the “cast” and I like their work.

  • I haven’t seen the show (I stopped watching HGTV a few months back), some of what you write is a bit alarming. I worked renovating houses in my early twenties. I’d done light carpentry and cabinetry in my teens, so I knew some about structure. On one job, the boss/investor obviously did not. It was an old house with a fireplace and plaster walls. I repaired and refinished all those old walls in several weeks on a rush job but they looked good. I’d begun painting them (painfully, we were using cheap paint: grrrr). As I came to the house one morning it seemed to have its own cloud, seeping out the windows and doors. Inside, all my walls were on the floor. Some of the other guys were there already, staring. Our boss/source of pay had decided to surprise us by leveling the floors. He somehow managed to get jacks in place and went to it! He jacked that house up 6 inches in less than an hour; normally, when in a hurry, you might lift an inch every few days and even that can be iffy. The sound of the chimney pulling away stopped him. If he had continued, the whole house probably would have been brought down on top of him as the chimney crashed through it. I quit, then went at 10:30 in the morning to drink lunch. Make sure you know structure and tools before taking on projects. A nail gun can be as lethal as a gun. A table saw binding wood can shoot a board into you like a spear. A jackhammer used improperly can lead to hairline fractures in your bones. If you don’t know some basics, you can die. When I read that above about the chimney, the jackhammer, I had to write.

  • Sounds like I need to give this show a try! This might sound weird, but seeing other peoples’ mistakes is really empowering to me. As someone who beats herself up for mistakes, it’s really comforting to see someone like Emily Henderson, a professional designer, talk about her mistakes, because that means a DIY’er like me is allowed to make them, too. I feel like we as a society need to see more of the struggle and process, and not just the slick “before and after,” to empower us all to take risks and be willing to screw up in order to get to where we want to go in the end.