On owning a house (and my aspirational vs. actual self)

We bought a townhouse right before we got married, a year into grad school. Our place is in a great location and has been a fine first house. As we prepare to sell it, though, I am certain that in this case I let my aspirational self get in the way of who I actually am.

I first encountered the concept of an ideal or aspirational self on the 2000 Dollar Wedding blog and then more recently at Northwest Edible Life. The idea is that when we think about how we want our lives to look, we must strive to be authentic with ourselves. Sara might wish that she would be happy taking care of a farm, but her truth is that she’ll probably always be happier at her computer or sewing machine. In Erica’s parallel aspirational life, she weighs 150 pounds, but her husband reminds her that at age 30, when she actually did weigh 150 pounds, she was cranky, cold, and libido-less.

My parents bought a one owner fixer upper, unupdated since the 1960s, when I was twelve. As they exchanged dark pine kitchen cabinets painted with Bible verses and foil wallpaper for sleek, modern cabinetry and lightly textured, neutrally painted walls, I was proud of how great our house looked and how much of the work they did themselves. Enter the rise of HGTV and my hours skimming blogs like Young House Love, and I was pretty sure I was going to love owning and working on a house.

As Hubs and I stood on the brink of married life, with house down payment burning a hole in our bank account, I envisioned only our aspirational life. In this parallel universe, we happily visit Home Depot, paint rooms, and reglaze windows on the weekends. When something goes wrong, we gamely work together to find an immediate solution and are available to meet repair people at all hours of the day.

In real life, home ownership combined with the pressures of grad school has been overwhelming. On the weekends, we want to watch the entire first season of Homeland on DVD and brew beer, not reglaze windows. And I hate painting so much that I started painting a half bath (the tiniest room in the whole house) in November 2010 and my mom just finished it for me in January. One memorable Saturday included replacing old ceiling fans and me screaming f-bombs, while Hubs silently cursed the project (and me, probably). As far as repairs go, we paid an extra $10-20 on our water bill for months because of a leaky tub faucet. When we finally called the plumber, he replaced the fixture in less than three hours for half the price of the water that had just been going down the drain all that time.

I’ve learned so much about my authentic path through this first try at homeownership. While my parents now have a beautiful house, I’m not sure they would go the fixer upper route again, and I definitely will not. In fact, as we prepare to move to North Carolina this fall for Hubs’ postdoc, we are planning to rent. Maybe we can find a house with space for the garden I’ve been dreaming of, but we’re definitely going to think carefully about who we really are as we take this next step.

Where does your ideal self intersect with your real life? Where do they diverge?

4 thoughts on “On owning a house (and my aspirational vs. actual self)

  1. What a great post, Abby!! As C and I stand on the edge of home-ownership these very issues have been haunting me. My ideal self has all kinds of ideas of romantically updating the house, gardening, picking out paint, but I just know that those things are not real for me. We have decided to focus on “move in ready” places, which will cost us a little more, but that we hope will be worth it in the sanity savings.

    I’m finding another ideal self that I’ve had a harder time recognizing is in our relationship in general: you know, weekends full or sunlit picnics and walks on the beach and evening reading together over mugs of steaming cocoa. They look a lot more like us trying to catch an episode of Parks and Rec in between cleaning the kitchen and packing lunches for the next day. Which is fun, too, as long as I can let go of the illusion and stay in the moment we have.

  2. I have learned a lot about what I want in a future home since becoming a homeowner. Would’ve helped to know that before we signed on to a mortgage, wouldn’t it? Things I’ll remember for next time: (1) location is more important than anything else, especially when you have to rely on the bus with a newborn, (2) natural light in the main living areas is key to my happiness. I think we are “do-it-yourself” kind of folks, and we have done lots of projects (and get enjoyment from them), but I would not have taken on so much when we were moving right before having a child. There’s so much to do and it’s hard to get it done with HP around. Slowly, slowly…

  3. I can’t agree more about the idea of home ownership being crazy different than the reality and, as your loving sister, I’m so glad you will be renting in NC. Kudos!
    I have on more than one occasion been so ridiculously thankful that our house in Portland was move in ready and recently updated. One occasion recently involved Pat installing a new toilet for the better part of a day with lots of sweat and cursing. The old toilet still sits in the back yard. Thankfully we have lots of company coming in August ( wink wink) to motivate us to get it out of there. But let’s be reasonable, it probably won’t get carted off til early August.

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