An uncertain future

On February 17th — in the middle of nine days without power due to an ice storm — we had the foundation contractor out to re-inspect our house. We experienced some settling last fall, and I was worried that might indicate deeper problems.

For thirty minutes, the contractor explored the crawlspace while I sat in the living room, fretting. When he finished, he came up to tell me what he'd found.

“Look,” he said, “my assessment is the same as when you had me out here three years ago. Your foundation is fine. It's not failing. The house isn't falling down.”

I felt a wave of relief wash over me.

“That said,” he continued, “I do think you'd feel better if you were to reinforce one section of the foundation. It looks to me as if you're seeing some minor expansion and contraction of the soil, which is what's causing your settling issues. It'd cost about $9000 to remedy that.”

Plan for reinforcing foundation

That evening as Kim and I huddled in our powerless living room, bundled in coats and jackets and using flashlights to read, I made a confession.

“I want to move,” I said. “I know we both love this house and this yard, but it's taking a toll on my mental health.”

“I know,” Kim said. “I know you've been struggling. Ever since we moved in, I've seen how you've grown increasingly depressed and anxious. I'll do whatever it takes to make you happy, but I think maybe you should give up on your dream of owning an old house.”

She's right. I love old houses but my personality isn't suited for them. They stress me out. (My ex-wife and I owned an old house too — she still lives there — and it caused me endless stress, as well.)

For the next couple of weeks, Kim and I spent many hours discussing our best course of action. Then, one month ago today, we made a decision: We would sell the house as soon as possible (to take advantage of the crazy Portland real-estate market), then rent a place for a while as we made a careful, calculated decision about where to live next.

Springing into Action

March was a crazy flurry of activity. From the moment we decided to sell, Kim and I have been working almost non-stop to get the house ready for market.

  • We've performed nearly all of the repairs that we know need to be done. We have a couple more scheduled. (And we're deferring the foundation reinforcement. We'll disclose that inspection and estimate to the buyers and let them make the decision.)
  • We rented a storage unit and have been methodically packing our unnecessary stuff and moving it over. Plus, I moved out of my rented office space, putting all of those things into storage too.
  • As we pack, we're trying to do a deep clean on every corner of the house: scrubbing walls, washing windows, wiping out cupboards, and so on.
  • We're also cleaning the yard. During our four years at this country cottage, we've collected a variety of stuff — spare lumber, old fenceboards, unearthed stones — that we've stacked in various piles. We're clearing out those piles.

Honestly, the house looks better now than at any point during which we've owned it.

While we prep, we're torn. We do love this house and yard. The yard, especially, is almost perfect for us. But there's absolutely no doubt that this home, for whatever reason, causes me mental anguish. I can't live here.

In fact, I spent the entire first half of March in a deep, dark place. I was filled with anxiety as I ruminated over the house. Whenever it was possible to catastrophize, I catastrophized: “What if the house doesn't sell? What if the contractors we call in find more things wrong? What if we can't sell it for what we've put into it?”

I was a mess. And it was taking a toll on my relationship with Kim.

Finding Myself Again

Fortunately, the past two weeks have been better, and for a variety of reasons.

First, the contractors who've come out have not found more trouble with the house. In fact, they each say similar things: “Yes, this thing I'm fixing is a problem, but it's not as bad as you think it is, and I don't see anything else wrong.”

Second, I've been trying to practice mindfulness. As new fears surface, I acknowledge them and move on. “Oh yep, there I am stressing about the gutters again. But we've fixed the problem out front and the contractor said there's nothing else wrong, so I'm just stressing over nothing.”

Related to this, I've been asking myself, “What's the worst that could happen?” We bought this place for $442,000. We spent another $150,000 or so on repairs and remodeling. (I'll have a precise number by the end of today.) Our cost basis for this place is thus about $600,000.

“The land itself is worth $300,000 easy,” I tell myself as I browse Zillow to see what other homes are selling for. “With the house, we should have no problem getting $442,000. And with all of the upgrades we've made, it should fetch $500,000. Maybe even $550,000. So, even if I do lose money on the house, I probably won't lose much.” Basically, I do my best to talk myself out of the catastrophizing.

Finally — and perhaps most importantly — just over two weeks ago I began taking my ADHD meds.

When I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2012, my therapist and doctor prescribed Vyvanse, a mild stimulant. I took the stuff briefly, but stopped after a few days because I hated how it made me feel. While there's no question that it settles my mind, the Vyvanse makes me physically tense. My mind calms, but my body coils like a spring for eight hours. So, I've only ever used the stuff occasionally, when I know I have to get stuff done.

Then, Kim and I read this article about ADHD from our friend, David Cain. “David's article could be about you,” Kim said. She was right. Everything he wrote was as if it were coming from my own mind and my own experience.

At the same time, I read an article that described the connection between ADHD and depression/anxiety. Suddenly everything clicked. “Holy shit,” I thought. “What if my depression and anxiety are exacerbated – or even caused — by the ADHD?”

So, at Kim's urging (and the urging of my business partner, Tom), I started taking my ADHD meds every day. I've been taking them every day for nearly three weeks now. And you know what? The depression and anxiety are (mostly) gone. I'm serious. No, I don't like the side effects from the Vyvanse, but those side effects may be worth it when I consider the benefits.

I still notice various flaws with the house, but they no longer send me into a mental tailspin. Everything about my mind seems somehow calmer, more organized. My short-term memory has improved markedly. (Both Kim and Kris have long told me that I have a terrible short-term memory. I'm now seeing that this could be tied to the ADHD.)

Plus, as one might expect, the Vyvanse keeps me focused. I'm able to do work like a normal person! I wake in the morning, take my pill, drink my coffee, then I tackle my to-do list, one task at a time. I don't jump all over the place, moving from one chore to another. I just pick one job and work on it until it's finished.

As an example, I sat down to write this article about 45 minutes ago. I've written continuously without distraction for that entire period of time. More exciting (to me), I've written this piece linearly instead of bouncing all over the place from beginning to end to middle to end to beginning to middle to end. I started at the beginning, am now in the middle, and am approaching the end. Writing like this is revelatory!

An Uncertain Future

Our future is murky.

Right now, Kim and I have no idea where we'll be living a month from now, let alone a year. But we're okay with that.

If all goes according to plan, our home will be ready to list in about ten days. Like many other parts of the country, Portland has low housing inventory right now and homes are selling quickly — even quirky homes like ours. It's very possible that the place will sell the first weekend that it's on the market.

Once we've accepted an offer and the home has passed inspection, we'll look for a place to rent. (This is the one thing that's causing Kim stress, by the way. She's worried we won't find a place that will take all of our beasts: three cats and a dog.) While we rent, we'll take our time looking for another place to live.

It's possible we'll stick around the Portland area, probably in a small town further away from the city. But it's also possible that we'll find ourselves settled on the southern Oregon coast. Or maybe somewhere in Washington. Or perhaps in Omaha. (I spend far too much browsing homes on Zillow. You can get smoking deals on nice homes in Omaha. Wouldn't it be fun to live just a few blocks from Warren Buffett?)

An inexpensive house in Omaha

Yesterday, my friend Castle came out with her husband to haul away old fenceboards. (Castle and Jim are artists. They turn old fenceboards into cool crafts that they sell at Portland's Saturday Market.) They told us about the place they bought a few years ago.

“We live about an hour north of Portland on the Washington side of the river,” Castle told us. “We have a few acres, which gives us a buffer between us and our neighbors. Plus, it gives us room for farming and gardening. We bought a manufactured home, but it's awesome. It's so nice and so much cheaper.”

Kim's eyes lit up. “I love that idea. I could live in a manufactured home,” she said. Then she looked at me. “I don't know if J.D. could do it, though. He grew up in one. He doesn't have fond memories of it.”

I shrugged. At this point, I'm not ruling out anything. I grew up in a beat-up mobile home, it's true, and I've long felt like it was a stamp of just how poor we were.

Since then, though, I've lived in a standard ranch house. Twice, I've lived in quirky old homes with large yards. I spent fifteen months on the road in a motorhome. And for four years, I owned a penthouse condo overlooking the river. I've come to realize that a house is just a house. Right now, I feel like I could live almost anywhere — just not here.

This article highlights some of the psychological and emotional reasons for moving. I'm working to prep another article that explores the financial side of the decision.

More about...Home & Garden

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Steveark
Steveark
5 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I feel for you brother. But you aren’t just letting life happen to you, you are being intentional. That’s brave and smart. I know your vulnerability is helping others too. I don’t know a person who has interacted with you who doesn’t admire you. I hope to meet you some day, you feel like a friend to me though we’ve not met. My wife and I had some good times in our very old trailer when we first got married. As an engineer I admired the efficiency of having everything close at hand. And the vibrating black naughahyde recliner, I… Read more »

Debra
Debra
5 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I have been reading you for a long time and love your work. It’s always easier to see the solution for someone else’s problem. (I wish I could see mine as clearly.) It was so obvious to me that buying your house was a mistake based on much of what you’ve written. Also, you drive yourself so hard: fixing up a house, setting up an office and forcing yourself to produce. For what? If the endless activity hasn’t made you happy, why not try going in the opposite direction? You’re lucky you have so many interests. Why not just enjoy… Read more »

Debra
Debra
5 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

You made my day!

Annie
Annie
4 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I feel this way too ! Despite having “everything” – a home, a loving spouse, a healthy child, a job, money, etc – I’m unhappy. Maybe not unhappy but searching. I’m still searching for contentment or happiness or a feeling like something isn’t missing. I’m with you JD. I’ve read you for a long time and I admire your honest focus on discovery. All the best in this next step. If you find your nirvana, tell me about it.

Budget Life List
Budget Life List
5 months ago

Sounds like this year is bringing in a fresh perspective. As an annoying optimist, at least you know the problem and how to fix it! ?
May the odds of housing happiness be in your favor!

Janette
Janette
5 months ago

I think that you do not have to disclose anything about the foundation because he said the foundation was fine. I think this is the second time you have heard that. He gave you his honest opinion. The house will stand solidly without the extras that are suggested. We put our house up and it was gone in 24 hours. We asked to stay in the house for three months. “No problem”. The deal was cash and they did not ask for inspections. We close in two weeks. Pinch me. We are moving to Idaho (husband’s hometown) to a new… Read more »

Slkc
Slkc
5 months ago
Reply to  Janette

Realtor here: you most certainly need to disclose any known issues, regardless of severity or you are setting yourself up for legal issues should something happen. Especially since it is posted on a public forum.

Janette
Janette
5 months ago
Reply to  Slkc

“Look,” he said, “my assessment is the same as when you had me out here three years ago. Your foundation is fine. It’s not failing. The house isn’t falling down.”… the contractor said it was NOT an issue. To me the rest is “make you feel better”. I would offer the suggestion, but the assessment is the house if fine.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
5 months ago
Reply to  Janette

I hope I never buy a house from you.

Caren
Caren
5 months ago

i recently learned that I have adhd as well, so I can relate to everything you shared. Glad you found a way out of your anxiety. Not sure if you’re open to it, but yoga is so helpful for managing adhd, and it would probably help your physical tension as well.
good luck with the sale and move!

Gordo
Gordo
5 months ago

Thank you for being so open about your ADHD medication. This has been an really interesting learning point for me. I have suspected for years that I have ADHD but as an active duty military officer, I was always worried about the stigma.I recently starting taking some treatment and it had a very similar effect as to what you described.

Ditte
Ditte
5 months ago

In Denmark we have a saying ” Nissen flytter med” roughly translates to ” the gnome moves house with you” it reminds us that most situations remain the same regardless of the surroundings.
If you worry and fret about everything and nothing in this house. Chances are good you will take that with you to the next place too.
If it is a J.D. problem, no house can ever fix it. Maybe thats what Duane ment?

Girt
Girt
5 months ago
Reply to  Ditte

For what its worth, I think there can be important and subtle factors in a house which heavily influence how good it is for you. I am a big proponent of Feng Shui (the flying star method), and also looking at Electromagnetic Radiation and other pollution sources. It would not surprise me at all if there are important factors which are actually harmful to JD’s wellbeing … they just may not be easy to observe.

Fred
Fred
5 months ago

I commend you for planning to discuss the foundation inspection results to the buyer. It’s always a pleasure to do business with an honest person. Indeed, one’s home can have a huge impact on your quality of life. I understand the charm of an old home, but never could deal with the headaches. You’ve moved out of the rented office. Is there a lesson there that you didn’t really need that office/expense? My situation is different than yours, but I will be looking to sell in a few months. I have been stressing on what the real estate market will… Read more »

Adam
Adam
5 months ago

Old houses are the best/worst! The bungalow we bought in 2010 turns 100 this year; we had grand plans to landscape the backyard, finish painting the porch, and throw it a big birthday party on June 19 (our tenth anniversary). COVID-19 blew that up, unfortunately. We expect to live here until either I convince my wife to go nomadic or they wheel us out on our backs — the ‘hood and size and layout are that wonderful — but it certainly doesn’t lack for a century of commensurate headaches. It’s really impressive that you’ve gotten back on the ADHD treatment… Read more »

Eileen
Eileen
5 months ago

Good Luck JD (and Kim). I can attest to finding a home that you love. We’ve only owned 3 homes, but until this home, we used to drive around looking at other homes (or to open houses, this was pre-Zillow) and we have NEVER done that once in this house. It’s very peaceful.
I think Duane has a point, but I also think that when you bought your current home, many felt you might have been moving too quickly. I think you will find your perfect abode, but you have to be a little more patient.

Alice
Alice
5 months ago

Geez oh Pete! Everyone needs a Kim. What a supportive partner you have.

rh
rh
5 months ago

We did exactly what you did. We spent a lot of time fixing up our 1920’s bungalow in Portland. Then we saw how Portland was changing compared to 10 years ago and how the quirks of the older house will never be fixed (small closets, no insulation, weird steep stairs, etc..). We got the house ready, rented a 1 bed apartment (Deveraux Glen in Portland/Beaverton – very pet friendly, can do month to month too) and then listed our house in Portland and it sold quick. We then drove up and down the Oregon Coast, Central Oregon, etc.. looking for… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by rh
headedwest
headedwest
5 months ago

Thanks for the comment about Vyvanse. I stopped taking it after a few days for the exact same reason you did. There’s no way I can put up with that feeling while I’m working, but maybe when I quit for good it’ll be worth revisiting.

I think renting would be great! We live in a house built in 1957 and I hate being responsible for fixing and updating stuff. Its so much more liberating to pay a monthly check for someone else who worries about those things (and probably more profitable to invest the equity elsewhere)

Alicia Cameron
Alicia Cameron
5 months ago

I’ve also thought will he be happy if he moves again but then i took a look at myself and I realized I moved about 3 going on 4 years ago as well and probably moves just as much maybe if not more than you JD. Just make sure you have a walkable place. Also have you thought about building your own place? Maybe it might cost more but might be the perfect balance of what you’re trying to find. I think you’re last statement of i spend to much time putting myself out there and not enough time focusing… Read more »

zzzzzz
zzzzzz
5 months ago

Have you talked to your provider about possible other ADHD medications? Perhaps there’s one that doesn’t cause you unpleasant side effects.

David @ Filled With Money
David @ Filled With Money
5 months ago

I used to think mindfulness was just this buzzword of the decade that just gets spewed on around. I couldn’t be more wrong.
Meditation has done wonders for my mental health. I just let thoughts come and go even during stressful situations and it’s allowed me to move forward and continue doing what I need to do. It’s a great skill.

Philip Pogson
Philip Pogson
5 months ago

Your link to David Cain’s blog article left me totally stunned after reading it.
Thanking you sincerely for this link. A light has just switched on for me (albeit 50 years too late perhaps).

Joe
Joe
5 months ago

Good luck with the home sale! We live in an old home too. It was built in 1850. However, it’s in relatively good shape. I have a ton of work to do every year, but at least there is no structural issue. My conclusion is the same as yours. I don’t want to live in an old home anymore. It’s just too much work. At this point, I’d rather live in a home that needs minimal maintenance. I want my weekends back. Also, good luck find a new place. I think across the Willamette is a great option. You can… Read more »

Andy
Andy
5 months ago

10 Reasons Why You Should NEVER Move to Portland, Oregon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI9wAV29pVU

Watch this JD. It’s time to get out of that place while you still can.

David James
David James
5 months ago

You are such a depressing person to like. Why don’t you just blog about video games and hanging out with Kim. Even beer. Try new beers and blog about that. Anything but this carrot of happiness you keep dangling before your face that somehow motivates you to make yet another change.

David James
David James
5 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Thanks! That’s what free advice gets you these days. I wish you well.

Morgan
Morgan
5 months ago

I was diagnosed with ADHD after I started my masters program 3 years ago. Getting medication and educating myself about every way being neurodivergent is both a strength and a weakness, something to be managed, has helped me reach so much peace. May I make a few suggestions? -ADHD and PTSD are often dual diagnoses. It may be worth exploring with a licensed professional if trauma has affected your neural pathways; somatic work like EMDR can help heal it and ease symptoms of ADHD like anxiety-induced cyclical thinking. -ADHD is linked to dopamine deficiency. You can Google various holistic ways… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
5 months ago

Good for you in so many ways — retrying the ADHD meds, moving on from a situation that’s not working for you (avoiding sunk cost fallacy), and sharing your journey yet again. I’m sure you’ll make enough on the house for it not to hurt too badly. Take your time with the next one and listen to what you and Kim really need to work better. Experience is good for having a better list of needs and wants this time!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 months ago

Rooting for you, friend. Have you looked at modular houses? My brother got one of those after his home burned down. You honestly cannot tell that it came to the site in two pieces. And it was very affordable. Bonus: Because it was set on a foundation, he has a huge amount of “downstairs” living space, where kids can play and he can watch the Philadelphia Eagles without driving his wife crazy. They’ve added a deck and a porch and the place looks amazing. Again: very affordable and very handsome, and much more spacious (without being overwhelming). It kind of… Read more »

Charlotte
Charlotte
3 months ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Which company made the modular home? I’ve been curious about his for a long time.

John
John
4 months ago

When you find your mind racing into the future or delving into the past, ask yourself this question: “What will my next thought be?”

Debra
Debra
4 months ago

Interesting story! Can’t wait for an update (hint, hint).

Maura
Maura
4 months ago

I hope all is well with you and the possible move. As a long time reader, I’m hoping you are doing ok.

Adam
Adam
4 months ago

I just came back to this post and re-read it. Man, does it tick some boxes in my own life. I’ve found ways to positively channel my ADHD (diagnosed at 13, almost thirty years ago); it took time, effort, a supportive spouse, and more than a little luck. For what it’s worth, you’ve got a lot of internet strangers in your corner.
What would you tell the you of seven weeks ago?

Charlotte
Charlotte
3 months ago

Have you considered just renting long-term? It’s a challenge with animals but we made it work with our big dog. We sold our house many years ago and we’ve been renting houses since then. Renting a house vs an apt was a game changer. We have all the benefits without the headaches. Our house now we have lived in for 4 years. I also noticed we tend to accumulate less stuff when renting. Best of all, the price difference is going into our retirement savings instead. It’s not perfect but we like the flexibility and low maintenance.