For two months after moving into my house, I lived with all my stuff, still in boxes, piled in the center of the living room. I painted the walls and ripped up carpet…and unleashed a demon. Not only were the floors a mess in the bedrooms, but pulling up the carpet activated a dormant smoker’s smell. A previous owner was obviously a heavy smoker. Whatever the flippers or next owner did, it pushed the smell deep into the house – so deep that I could not detect it when I looked at the place. I’m super sensitive to smells – especially smoke – but I did not notice it until I started remodeling. Now that the demon has been set free, I’ve got to do a whole lot of deep cleaning to exorcise that thing.
But, before I could start the deep clean, I got the floors refinished. Because my house is small (849 square feet) I really didn’t have any room to live in if I avoided the rooms getting worked on, so I moved out. For two weeks, my dogs and I stayed with various friends and family members. We floated from sofa to guest room, and we spent time with some of our favorite people in ways we wouldn’t if we’d just moved in to our house and started our private routine. My little dog met my friend’s cat, and my dog’s obsession with the cat was hilarious. He followed the cat around the house, but never got closer than a foot from it. During our stay with another old friend, I discovered a new favorite activity: dueling laptops. My friend and I sat next to one another at his breakfast bar, and we each had our MacBooks in front of us. We searched for clips and videos of old songs and shared our finds with each other – never more than a foot away from another. It was fun.
I also spent some time at my parents’ house – a two hour drive from my house. My mother and I went into my hometown to shop the antique stores on my favorite street. When I pulled up in front of one particular shop, the proprietor was outside. When he saw me, he lit up. My mom laughed and said, “I can’t believe he always recognizes you.” I said, “Would you recognize your best customer?” He followed me into his store and I said, “I got to see what I’ve missed!” He always has great vintage stuff for a steal. I was looking at a cake stand with a lid, and made the comment, “What am I going to do with it right now? I’m homeless for a while.” And what did the shop owner say?
He said, “Again?!”
That is a testament to how long he’s known me. I’ve moved a lot, and there are sometimes gaps between those moves when I land at my parents’ house. When I’m at my parent’s house, I go to his shop. It’s almost a routine. It’s comforting. I feel at home in it.
By the time I got back to my house and all my stuff, I felt…pretty much nothing. I wasn’t even relieved to get back in. I mean, I’m glad, and the dogs are happy to have the yard back, but I see it with new eyes. I like the neighborhood. I like the size. I love the look and feel of the refinished floors. But, it’s not a home. Or, more precisely, it IS a home, BUT…IT IS SIMPLY ONE COMPONENT OF HOME. And, a replaceable one at that.
While I was at my parents’ house, I kept thinking about my plan for financial independence. I know that rental properties could be a great investment, but I’m only a few years out of bankruptcy, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do when it comes to filling up my investment accounts. In the meantime, I’m living in a house. I’m paying down the mortgage. A home is not an investment. But, a house can be…
See where I’m going with this?
I mean, when I first bought the house, I had crazy ideas: add a basement, add an addition and only a basement under the added rooms, build a storm shelter. It bothers me that I don’t have a basement. Otherwise, I love the little house. It suits me. For now. I don’t think I could run a dog rescue on the property. I’ll definitely needs something different for that.
But that doesn’t mean that I have to let go of this one. It would actually make a terrific rental. It’s in an excellent school district. The neighborhood is sought after, and doesn’t experience a lot of calamity from the real estate market. There are rentals in the area, but not a lot. It would bring in a pretty penny.
What I realized from my time away from the house is this: It is just a house. It’s not the central item that makes a home in my life. It’s the friends, the people and places I know and love, that creates a sense of home. I like having a private space, but it’s not the end all be all when it comes to cultivating a home.
We obsess over owning a “home” in America. We have a whole economy centered around it. We have channels dedicated to it. I love architecture, but I have to admit that in the end, it’s just a structure. It’s the lives we live inside those structures that matter most.
So, there it is: a shift in focus. I have a house. I live in it. It holds my stuff (much of which I did not miss at all.) It’s close to several of the people who make my city feel like home. It’s shelter for my dogs, which are an essential element in my life. It’s an investment, because one day, I’ll move on to a different property, one that already has the amenities I’ll need for the next phase of my life. I don’t have to force those amenities on this structure.
It’s just a house. My home is larger than the structure I own.
Do you think of your house as a home or an investment?