For nearly the last five years, I lived in rental houses that were in varying states of repair. The first house we moved to in New Jersey was bigger than our Maryland house which was enough to ignore every other problem, and man were there problems with that place. We quickly found the oil heat barely heated and the plaster walls, though full of character, were full of chipping mess. Yet, I invited people over and entertained as often as someone who is new to a town with three small children can. I adored the ramshackle front porch because it was screened in so when the world felt like it was spinning out of control I could take a cup of tea out to my favorite chair (that didn’t fit INSIDE the house) and just take some deep breaths, the kind of satisfying breaths that can only come on a screened in porch.
The owner of that house went into foreclosure so within a year we moved on to a tiny little duplex that was barely big enough to contain us. In that house, we had a big, sunny kitchen where everyone gathered. I baked my heart out, learned how to eat healthy and just filled all those tiny rooms with such love that they were bursting even more than we thought they could. In both of these houses, we had no money. There were no choices to be made. The houses were way less than ideal but our life was what it was and we had better make the best of it.
Then, one day on a run I spotted this house, the house we’re in. I ran past it for months watching the for sale sign for any kind of new activity. I dreamed of this house. I pictured us in it, throwing parties in the backyard, cooking in the kitchen and filling the rooms with love. Through a million strokes of luck, and some strategic work on our part, we ended up in this house. First, we were renters and now we are set to be buyers, putting down roots for the very first time. Happy ending right?
For some reason, the closer we get to making this house permanent, all I seem to do is focus on all that I hate. The kitchen is laid out wrong. The floors are a mess. The lighting is terrible and the paint colors are wrong in every room. Let’s not even get into the thousand-year old roof and windows, the heat that makes a horrific sound when it kicks on and the attic bedroom that is either freezing cold or desert hot, never anything comfortably in between.
Why am I just now seeing these things? Why am I suddenly embarrassed to entertain? Why can’t I seem to find anything I love about the place that filled my dreams for months?
I have a theory. I know, you’re shocked right? My theory goes back to money. Before, when we were living in the less than desirable houses, we had no money. We were up to our necks paying off debt so we couldn’t even entertain thoughts of home improvement. We lived in the moment and the only time we looked ahead was to imagine ourselves out from under the cloud of owing the world our lives. I didn’t look at a single catalog. I didn’t pin a “Home” board on pinterest. I saw what I had and I found a way to love it.
Now, we’re almost finished owing anything. We’ve paid off massive debt and just have a few more loose ends to tie up which will happen in the very immediate future. All that is left is a life full of choices that we haven’t had in the last few years. We have to decide how to spend our money, or not. Suddenly the way our house looks makes me feel like it’s a reflection of how our life looks. All that work I did over the last few years to get comfortable with who I am, not what I had, seems to be falling away. The stress of these decisions can be paralyzing. I thought I was happy with exactly what I had and now that I have options I’m suddenly not happy anymore.
It’s funny really. All I wanted when we were paying off our debt was to have more choices. Now that I have them, all I’m wishing for is that dilapidated screened in porch.