Home, home on the range of expectations and feelings

I know I missed yesterday. Sorry. My brain is just ALLLLLLL over the place these days, particularly with choir and CVG heating up and now this house-condo thing. I’m DREAMING about condos now. It’s pretty weird.

There’s a big mental shift that I’m working on making that has to do with space and ownership and identity. The American Dream (™) is really about the 2 cars, 2.5 kids, dog, picket fence, perfect yard with the hand-painted shutters thing, and it’s not just an ideal state; it’s kind of the default assumption of success and adulthood. Living in your apartment in your 30s? Oh, you must not be grown up yet or fully ready for the responsibility? Prefer to live in a high rise in an urban center? Oh, you’ve chosen your career over a family environment.

The judgement isn’t from people close to me, but it’s certainly there in society. This idea that “a man is king of his own castle” and therefore no man is complete without a domain that can be measured in acres and a flawless green lawn. In my case, I’m no man, but I feel a similar pull. There’s something deeply embedded in the sinews of my chest that says “Claim territory! Own a piece of land! Four walls shared with none!” And it’s hard to ignore.

I have absolutely no idea how much of this is some kind of innate instinct left over from our days in the caves and how much has been programmed into me by the society in which I live. Given the sheer numbers of people who live very happily in apartments and such all over the world, I’m kinda thinking it’s the latter.

I get caught up thinking about the tree out front of the house. It’s a river birch with 3 forks, which is just so very appropriate for me spiritually. It’s MY tree. How will I feel when it’s no longer my tree, when it is someone else’s tree? When someone else might cut it down? How will I feel when there is no tree which is MINE?

But then I stop and I wonder — why do I need a MY tree at all? Why can’t I make friends with any tree I pass? I’ve certainly had trees that weren’t mine in the past, trees at summer camp, at college, at homestays abroad, that I loved and leaned on and let go. Why do I need MY tree and MY yard and MY little patch of earth?

And what I’ve learned about myself is that I think it’s a security thing. I think the idea of “this is my land and I own it and no one else can tell me what to do on it” eventually translates to “here I can be safe and nothing can threaten me that I don’t control and I could live off the land if I had to” — which is a total lie because one third of an acre can’t support any human being, let alone two, and half our yard is rocks. But it’s a feeling, almost primal, this sense that the boundaries of the territory mean security and safety, and to give those up and live in the sky with neighbors a wall away is to invite danger.

When, really, the opposite is kind of the truth.

Sure, there won’t be land to grow our own food, but we don’t do much of that anyway (and Sarah will grow tomatoes and kale on any balcony for me because she is the BEST). Sure, I’m sharing a wall with others, but I’m not sharing my LIFE with them. The wall is cement and not going anywhere. And the truth is that home invasions are a much greater risk in a detached property, no matter how nice the neighborhood, than they ever will be in a secure building with finite tenants.

And, yes, a condo means a Homeowners’ Association, which means HOA dues and the HOA being allowed to decide things like what color the front door is or if we’re having all the windows washed today. But they can’t decide to take my home away from me. They can’t decide to tell me what kind of furniture I can have or prevent me if I want to put my bedroom in the middle of the kitchen. The building is shared, the amenities are shared, the decisions about upkeep are shared, but the space within is still mine. It’s just not the whole castle anymore — simply one room in the keep.

It’s still a loss in some ways. I’m going to miss MY trees. I’m going to miss the family of ravens that hangs out, and the murder of crows that regularly fills up every tree on the block. I’m going to miss the generations of mixed gray and red squirrels that have lived in our backyard — we’re up to the 5th, I think — and their antics. I’m going to miss having certain dedicated spaces which I never had to share. I’m going to miss having space to spread out when I really need it.

But there are other things to gain. A condo means a pool and a workout room. It means a green space maintained by others. It means a view of the river, and that heals my heart just by itself.

And what I have to keep telling myself is that the space really isn’t any more or less mine in the first place — it was always mine and Sarah’s. And if she let me take this corner for my space, or gave me that area to meditate, it was always shared and agreed upon. And that won’t change. We’re probably going to steal a tiny bit of money off of our down payment to buy a wall bed (the kind of bed frame where you can fold the whole mattress up into a cupboard and get back all your floor space) not for guests, but for ourselves. Because then the bedroom can still double as that space of mine — I just need to fold up the bed and it’s big and open once more. It won’t be as simple as just going downstairs, but it also means I’ll sleep surrounded by the things that make me really feel safe.

Similarly, Sarah is giving up her dedicated space, kind of her version of a man-cave with her comfy but ugly chair and her Nintendo. But the Nintendo can go out in the open and the chair can live in the den with my office and ALL THE BOOKS and that’s okay, too. Because she needed a place she could isolate herself when there were too many people, but she’ll still have that. And she’ll also be able to hide in it when I’m actually working, or writing, and not be 3 floors away. She might actually use it more often because of that.

And we’re also gaining more of an open layout than we have. We’ll be able to cook dinner while watching hockey, or lounge on the couch while others are playing games at the table. Right now the split between our kitchen/dining room and our living room is a constant source of wanting one thing in the other place. This will fix that.

But maybe the biggest thing we’re going to gain is time and freedom. We won’t have to think about shoveling and snowblowing a driveway. We won’t have to remember to plant flowers so our yard is appropriate, or mow the lawn when it’s long, or check the siding for storm damage, or watch the trees to see if they need to be trimmed. The stuff that makes homeowners’ insurance so expensive is the stuff we really don’t like about having a house in the first place. I won’t have to wonder if our basement is going to flood, or if the ice on the sidewalk is too thick to break up. I won’t have to plan time for breaking up fallen branches to put them on the curb.

Bad stuff can and does still happen in a condo — the neighbor leaves a bathtub running and it floods the unit below — but the building deals with it collectively, which takes the onus off the owner. And bad stuff can happen anywhere; it actually feels better to me to be in a place where the community as a whole is responsible for it rather than just Sarah and I.

The downsizing of stuff, eliminating furniture we don’t want or need in smaller space, is hard in a different way. I’m a HUGELY sentimental person. If you give me something, no matter how stupid it is, I kind of assign all the meaning YOU have in my life to the plastic cheap thing that was just meant to be a joke. It makes it hard for me to let go of things, because it feels like betraying the person who gave it to me. But I’m going to have to.

In another way, this is a relief. Stuff is a weight, a worry, too. Sarah and I both do better when we live by the rule of “you can’t bring it home if you don’t know where it’s going to fit.” We’re not hoarders, but we’re generally only semi-tidy and we like our level of lived-in clutter. Our space will never be in any magazine, good or bad, but you can tell from any angle exactly who lives here when you look around. Paring that down, first to sell the house, then to fit into the condo, is a stretch for us both. But I think it’s healthy.

No, we’re not watching that show on Netflix. But the concept applies.

In the end, the things we truly treasure aren’t going anywhere. Gifts from beloved friends and family will still be displayed just as prominently — if maybe more strategically. The bookshelf my great grandfather hand-made for my grandmother because he was so proud of her interest in reading will be with me until I die or it falls to pieces. We’ll lose some excess end tables and shelves and sweaters and books (maybe) and little fuzzy silly things and knickknacks, but we’re not going to lose anything important.

And we’re not losing anything important when we leave this house behind, either. I won’t have MY tree, but there will be trees on the property or down the street or in a friend’s yard that I love, too. I won’t have MY yard, but I also don’t spend any time in my yard, so I’m not going to lose much even if I miss it on a conceptual level. I won’t have yards of open air between my walls and the next person, but I’m not sure those yards of open air ever made me feel safer.

There will be a loss. There will be grief. I will absolutely, certainly, without a doubt cry when we drive away from the house for the last time. But I also know myself. I know how I adapt. I know that my heart can ache for a loss and just as quickly rejoice at something newly gained. And I know it won’t be long before I’m looking out at that river from my window and feel nothing but wonder and security and peace in my new home.

It isn’t living the American Dream (™), but I’ve never intentionally aspired to it. What I’ve aspired to is finding a home where Sarah and I felt safe, could live with relative comfort and ease, and involved minimal stress for us both. The house we love, for all its good points, doesn’t necessarily answer that need. So that means we have to make the leap and try something new. It will have its own drawbacks and uncomfortable surprises, but at least I won’t have to dodge wasps while trying to help Sarah weed a rock garden.

George Bernard Shaw wrote something I have almost always found to be true: “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.”

Of the somethings I stand to lose, none of them are myself, and I am interested to learn which ones I never really needed in the first place. This house has been my home, has given others a home at times, and I’m going to miss it. But home doesn’t lie in the bricks and walls. It lies in the heart.

And my heart is very much ready to build a home high in the sky, overlooking the river.

(And the pool isn’t a bad addition, either.)


3 thoughts on “Home, home on the range of expectations and feelings

  1. I was ready to rec That Show on Netflix, haha. But I think at the very least, taking a moment to thank the items you will be getting rid of for their service to you might be helpful.

    My parents had a tree when I was growing up — my mom, specifically. A potted ficus. It started out as a tiny little potted plant she brought home from Florida, and it stayed in the apartment she shared with her roommate. She had that tree before she met my dad, and it stuck with her through marriage and 2 kids.

    The thing about a ficus benjamina is that if you give it room, it will grow. We eventually moved into a MUCH larger home with a grand 2-story entryway, and placed that Ficus in the curve where the stairway is. Every morning, it got tons of sunlight and over the course of 20 years it grew to be 2 stories high, the perfect size for that grand entryway. It was a gorgeous thing to look at right when you walked in. But eventually my parents downsized to a 1 story ranch in another city, and, well… you can’t bring a 2 story tree inside a 1 story ranch, and that tree wouldn’t survive a midwestern winter outside.

    It didn’t devastate my mom by any means, but she was definitely upset knowing she’d have to leave the tree behind when she and my dad moved. So… I researched how to take cuttings of it. By this time I had an apartment of my own, with its own big picture window and balcony, so I was able to do it privately. She knew I was doing it, but I don’t think she realized it was working, When I presented her with a healthy sprout that had grown from one if my cuttings she was absolutely over the moon that she could still take her tree with her to her retirement. :) I have cuttings of that tree in my house, too. It’s GREAT at cleaning the air in my home.

    I don’t know how well River Birch does in a pot, but maybe you can take a cutting of it yourself and bring it with you? Even if it doesn’t last forever in the pot, but the tree can be there with you to ease the transition. :)

  2. You can come to my house anytime and hang out with the red maple in my backyard. You know, now that pretty soon you can hop on a single bus and be there in 10 minutes. (c:

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