It’s been nearly two years since I purchased my house, and it’s increasingly resembling a home.
Houses are funny things. We spend most of our lives inside them, but the subject is almost solely discussed in connection with their financial value or their accoutrements. Comparatively few discuss their larger importance, or the psychological effect they have upon us.
This is not altogether surprising. Residing in some murky territory between asset and liability, our houses are fickle things, inspiring us with feelings of comfort and security, only to rob us blind and make us feel vulnerable. If houses were people, they would be shunned or imprisoned.
So how did I get ensnared by their siren song?
For me, it was about two things: Realizing potential and attaining some measure of security.
The potential I sought to realize wasn’t my own. It’s trivial to obtain a substantial mortgage if you have a steady job, and while there are certainly piles of forms to complete, any trained monkey can complete the process. There are even people who are paid solely to assist you in this, so while some might say that home ownership is a milestone in personal achievement, I didn’t particularly believe it. Not entirely anyway.
Rather, the potential I hoped to realize was that of the house. It was just sitting there, wasting away, in a neighborhood and in a city that I love. It was perhaps months away from being purchased by some fiend who would see in it only the potential for a quick buck. Alternatively, a more sensible person than I would purchase it, live in it, and let it remain in its current state. Maybe they’d sell it a few years later, and let someone else inherit the problem.
This sensible person would look at it, conclude that it was a lost cause, and lie there in wait until they got married or were ready to do something productive. Yes, it allowed entry into a desirable neighborhood at an attractive price, but this was to be expected. Just look at the thing: It was built almost 150 years ago, and hundreds of soulless alterations had accumulated over just as many. The exterior made it look like a sardine can, and the kitchen ceiling drooped to the floor. The carpet provided refuge to countless arachnids, and the basement — well, the basement contained a bathroom wholly entombed in walls built when Eisenhower was in office. Someone really should have burned the whole thing down.
They didn’t, and so I bought it.
In my short time here thus far, I’ve refinished, removed, and painted. Adjusted, patched, and painted. Refurbished, painted, and sanded. I even mowed the lawn a couple times.
Over the past few days, workers have unpacked the sardine can to reveal the original clapboard. It’s in remarkable condition, especially considering its long neglect, and it reminds me why I took on this project. As the ghosts of handcarved trimming were revealed, the house was exorcized, and I resolved to make it live up to its history. Because we’re all surrounded by history, and mostly let it turn to garbage, and I think it’s a crime.
The second reason I purchased a house was to obtain some measure of security. This security turned out to be hardly financial, one realizes after raiding their savings into oblivion. The very affordable mortgage that you were almost pleased to pay, you come to understand, would be utterly miniscule in comparison to the stupendous expense of compounding little things that you will incur. No, the security is primarily psychological, but it’s nevertheless real.
For the first time in my life, my walls do not resemble those of an asylum. Not moving any time soon means you can hang things on them, and even feel pretty good about this decision. It means that you can purchase interesting furniture, and maybe even a rug. Do you have a thousand books? You can take these out of storage, and actually read them again!
In buying a house, your precarious existence becomes marginally less precarious. You might even find yourself showering more often, and cleaning up your mess every once in a while. It’s outstanding.
As your house attains its potential, gradually becoming a home, and as you ponder its importance, you may find yourself coming to resemble a person. You sought to help the house, and you came to help yourself.