Homeownership. It’s part of the American Dream.
Buy a house. Have the freedom to do whatever you want with it.
I’ll admit I like the idea. I even fell for it back when we were first married.
Our first purchase was a townhome. It was back in the 90s foreclosure era and we got one hell of a deal. It had sat on the market for months; we got it for a steal. So we moved in … and things started going wrong. Appliances broke. We discovered a family of mice had moved in before us. I sat on the table (no way was I sitting on the floor with THAT many mice) and bawled one night, convinced we’d purchased the money pit.
But eventually, it all came together. We remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms. A coat of paint cheered things up. We planted a few things in our very tiny garden off the back patio. It was home for several years.
Like every good American, we kept our eye on the prize. Bigger is better. So we upgraded. And again. Until eventually we owned a new-to-us 3300 square foot home that sat on a one-quarter acre. The trees were gorgeous. The landscaping … needed work. And the inside? Trust me – this was more of a money pit than our tiny townhome ever was.
It’s not that anything fell apart. It’s that everything was HUGE!
We gutted a bathroom and remodeled.
We took on the kitchen with gusto.
The basement was nothing more than a do-it-yourself nightmare. Who uses particle board for walls?
Then there were the appliances. A new water heater and furnace? Yes please.
How about a new roof too?
And have I mentioned the landscaping?
When The Costs Outweigh The Pleasures
I loved my forever home. Sort of.
Every weekend we’d tinker around with some home maintenance project. And in some cases, we got creative.
Our family got caught up in the Extreme Home Makeover series when it first came out. The first couple of years of the show was all about the project – I loved watching what they could do with old spaces. Now, of course, there are dozens of shows like it. But back then, this was a new concept. Rip apart a house and put it back together in one week – how cool! So we decided to stage our own Extreme Home Makeover and redo one of our bathrooms.
Our daughter was a tween, and she became our camera person. We’d rip out vanities, a toilet, a mirror. She’d direct and get in for the close-in shots. We scoured the home stores for cool lights, and the ideal fixtures. Then in the course of a weekend, our bathroom was transformed. It looked pretty good! And we had fun with it.
Over the years, our lives changed. We got busier. We wanted to do and explore new things.
One year we decided to go to California for two weeks in August. If you’re from Colorado and own one-quarter acre, you know how difficult this decision was. Would our lawn be alive when we returned? Would all of our plants and hard work survive? Colorado is DRY. Until it rains – then you can get inches in a matter of minutes. Or hail. But the thing is, you just never know. We could have experienced two weeks of nothing but sunshine and 90 degree weather. Or two weeks of nothing but non-stop rain every afternoon. So we left our sprinkler system on and left. And came back to an overgrown lawn – but it was alive! A week of extensive care and repair had it back to looking like new.
And as fall blew in that year, and we once again spent hours in our gardens getting ready for the winter, we looked at each other one day and asked: Is this worth it? Is this really what we want to do?
The answer was no. We loved our two week trip to California. And we wanted more.
We envisioned a summer in Europe before our daughter graduated and left us to discover her own life. But our house said: NO WAY!
After a lot of deliberation, we sold our forever home and moved into an apartment. We cooked up an idea to slow travel the world after our daughter left for college. But first, our summer in Europe.
I recently talked about all this and more … on MarketWatch!
Is Housing Your Best Investment?
I recently read an article by Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Poor Dad fame.
To sum up the housing numbers in the years surrounding the 2008 crisis:
- Almost $6 trillion in housing wealth was lost between 2005 and 2010
- Home values dropped 30%
- Existing home sales dropped 27%
- Housing inventories stood at 12.5 months, over twice what’s considered healthy
Think it can’t happen again?
Just look at today’s real estate numbers. Housing across many different cities is overinflated and way out of reach. This infographic shows the numbers in the most popular cities across America. But don’t think this is just an American thing. It’s not.
The American Dream touts homeownership is the cornerstone of getting rich. It’s most people’s greatest investment.
It’s also their greatest burden.
When we looked at our home and weighed our options, we looked at two things:
- How long can we leave?
- How quickly can we make a move?
With our forever home, we knew two weeks was maximum for how long we could head out on a vacation. In the summer, our landscaping would never survive longer than two weeks without us. And we weren’t in a position for hiring a full time groundskeeper.
We’d also watched home prices around us crash from 2008. We couldn’t sell if we owed more than we could make. Well, we could. But who wants a loss? And the more we looked at the economy, the more we knew housing wasn’t going to be as sure of a thing as it had for our parents.
By renting, I never have to worry about a downturn again. And I believe it’s coming …
What’s Your Dream?
For a lot of people, they love owning a home. They like the idea of being able knocking down a wall or painting a room.
Been there. Done that.
A home also gave me lots of space for accumulating stuff. LOTS of stuff.
As we moved from our 3300 square foot home into a 1200 square foot apartment, selling and giving stuff away moved from a necessity to an obsession. It was freeing to get rid of the crap.
You know what I mean. The old toys stacked in the basement. The boxes that had gone unopened move after move.
Even the furniture we kept in our living room, barely used. Why?
When I tell people now about what we did, they often wonder how I could get rid of things that held meaning.
How could I not?
There are always stories of people who lose everything in a fire. They cry over “stuff.”
I could walk away from my home today and not look back.
All of my paperwork is digitized and on my Google Drive. Every photograph and home video has been scanned and is on the cloud. My daughter’s artwork has been photographed and … yep, it’s online!
My kitchen appliances, home furnishings, even my clothes – they can all be replaced.
I’m not saying I don’t have a few things I’d miss. I have one of my father’s baby blankets. I have my daughter’s first baby doll.
But I could literally grab my valuables in five minutes and be gone.
I’m no longer tied to things. Any of it.
Instead, I cherish every moment of every day with the people that mean the most to me.
- I take long walks with friends.
- I have lunch or tea with people I love.
- I have dinner every night with my husband.
- I use technology to chat with my daughter on a regular basis. We had lunch together just the other day.
- I make travel plans with those closest to me – to experience all there is to see in this great big world.
A house is just a house.
I’m done with maintenance.
I’m done with stuff.
Reinvention Only Happens When You Let Go
Reinvention comes from replacing an old thought with a new one. Something that used to be important dies, and a new wish or desire takes its place.
You can’t have one without the other.
You can’t reinvent your life without giving up time and space with something you already have.
If I wanted a lifestyle filled with travel, I knew I couldn’t be held back by home maintenance and “stuff” that requires my attention. I have to be free and ready to go, without worrying about how something is impacted without me nearby.
Letting go is tough.
It was difficult selling heirlooms, getting rid of some of my daughter’s things, or selling what I’d planned on being my forever home.
What changed is my desire for growing and becoming someone new.
And for me, that means without the ties of a house. For now.
Will my opinions change in the future? Who knows?
I’m only fifty-three. I have another fifty-three years left to explore.