Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Coming Home

This time eight years ago, I was preparing to move into my first house. I was picking up plants and garden tools for my garden-to-be, thinking about lawn mowers and patio furniture, paint colours and d├ęcor. I was 30 years old, single and taking the leap (and a chunk of my RRSP savings) into home ownership – the ultimate sign of my independence.

This was what I’d been waiting for. Several of my friends, including a couple of single women, had bought houses. Finally I had the freedom to put my mark on a place of my own, to paint the walls whatever colour I wanted, to host barbecues on the patio, and to get a dog (which I did a few months later).

Along with the perks of home ownership came the realities. The lawn grew quickly (my desire to mow it struggled to keep up) and the weeds in the garden (overgrown when I bought the place) kept pace. Gardening is hard work, it turns out, and not my forte. At the start of each summer for the first few years, I vowed that this was the year I was going to overcome the daunting challenge. Each year I’d devote a day at the beginning of the summer toiling against the weeds for several hours, at the end of which, sweaty and exhausted, I’d throw up my hands in defeat (perhaps not the mark of a truly dedicated gardener). “Maybe next year,” I’d tell myself before seeking out a cold drink. After a few years this changed to looking despairingly at the garden, saying, “Maybe next year, I’ll hire a gardener.” Alas, even that was not to be.

Then there was the hedge. My neighbour (who has since moved – coincidence, I’m sure) counted that hedge in his list of top 10 life irritants. Like the lawn and the garden, it insisted on growing without restraint. I had grown to accept its unwieldy ways. My neighbour had not. There are many ways to say, “That hedge needs trimming,” I came to learn. And I would trim it each summer, eventually, although it never did look quite right.

Every winter, I cursed snowstorms, particularly those doling out just enough freezing rain to turn the once-light snow into a white lead blanket on my driveway. On rare occasions, I would pay neighbourhood kids to shovel, but the heavier the snow, the more difficult the kids were to find.

I enjoyed the inside of the house, although many of the things I vowed to do as soon as I got my hands on the place (paint the wood panelling in the room I use as an office, take down the hideous curtains in said office, remove the ugly border in the kitchen) took a few years to get to (I finally painted the office and took down the offending curtains a few months ago). Everything cost money, and having put almost all I had in the house, I had very little to play with.

Over time, I discovered some of the house’s eccentricities – the fact it had no heating ducts, for one. Instead, the heat from the oil furnace would be fed into the crawl space where it would remain until some remnants of its former hot glory would waft up through the floor registers. It was expensive – and cold – and did nothing to endear me to the genius who decided in the 1960s that heating ducts were optional in one-level houses (no doubt related to the genius who thought tarpaper sewer lines were a good idea).

I’ve had lots of good times in the house, hosting barbecues and potlucks, writers’ gatherings and family variety shows, and lounging on the back deck in the sun with my dog, Ruby (one of my favourite pastimes).

Yet a couple of years ago, I began questioning whether home ownership was for me (at least at this point in my life). It began to feel like a whole lot of time, energy, responsibility and money that I’d rather put somewhere else (travelling, for instance, or doing a thousand other things that I love).

When my dog Ruby died, I began to wonder if it was time to take the leap and put the house up for sale. I couldn’t do it, though. Not yet. There was still too much meaning tied to the house and at first, leaving the house felt like leaving Ruby behind, even though the rational part of me knew better (it’s worth noting that rational thought rarely wins the case against emotion, at least with me).

As anyone who knows me well can attest, I made and unmade the decision to sell several times. “I’m going to do it” was quickly followed by “sometime.” A few months ago, I was talking to a good friend about my decision (or lack thereof). She asked me what meaning I had associated with buying the house. I thought back to the feeling of independence, the feeling that I had achieved something big, something “grown up.” If I gave up the house, was I taking a step backwards? (Particularly if I decided to rent for a while, abandoning the almighty home equity)

She very wisely asked me if I could attach as much meaning to selling it as I had to buying it. Her question stayed with me, and I realized that selling the house was only a failure if I saw it as one. I wanted to sell for the freedom – from lawns and gardens and hedges and shovelling, from maintenance and unexpected expenses. I wanted to sell for the opportunity – to travel, to do whatever I wanted with my time. All of a sudden it was absolutely clear; I needed to let go and move on.

In late April, I put the For Sale sign up on the house. The feeling of lightness I experienced confirmed it was the right decision. Within two weeks, I had a buyer. She loved everything about the house - the colours, the layout, the deck, the lawn, even the garden (she and her kids saw beyond the weeds to the rhubarb, much to my delight).

In 12 days, I will pack up my things and move out, making room for a new family, who will make new memories in what was once my house. And I – eight years older and I like to think a little wiser – will step into a new chapter of my life. Sure, most things will stay the same – my work, my friends and family, many of my beloved routines, even my city of residence (yes, Haligonians, I’ve decided to stay on this side of the bridge for now, although within walking distance to the ferry).

Yet I’m excited by the possibility – of travelling, of getting to know new neighbours, even just having a new place to call home and a new route to work (one that allows me to take advantage of more sustainable transportation). In letting go of home ownership, I’m getting a fresh start and new opportunities. And the way I see it, that’s a pretty fair trade.


  1. I love this Marb! It is so clearly the right time and the right direction. Can't wait until some of those travels bring you back my way. :)

  2. Great post! Before buying this house, my "To Do" list wasn't nearly as long. I spent my time and money doing fun things (Hawaii!) rather than on glamorous items like shingles and insulation. Enjoy your freedom! :)

  3. I'm so excited for you!! It sounds like a whole new adventure that makes me want to list my house too!! hahahah!

  4. So inspiring Margaret...thank you for that! And let me know where your next trip is - maybe I'll come with!

  5. I love the way you tell a story Margaret! Whoever she/he is, you have one smart friend. Hope the move went smooth and I'll see you some day soon (I hope:)).