Big house, little house
I am constantly changing. While many people are much the same today as they were yesterday (or last week or twenty years ago), I'm always evolving. This isn't necessarily good or bad — it's just who I am. Some of my friends think I'm fickle. I get that. (Kris tells me that I go through “phases”.) I prefer to view this constant change as growth. I don't want to be the same person tomorrow as I am today. I enjoy the evolution.
But this continued growth creates complications. For one thing, it's difficult for the Present Me to predict what the Future Me will like. Sometimes I'm right — but sometimes I'm wrong. (It's not just me. Happiness expert Daniel Gilbert says that people are surprisingly bad at guessing what will bring them joy.)
Over the past couple of years, a variety of forces have been acting on my mind, subtly forcing me in new directions. (Mental glaciation!) I've been traveling. I've been reading. I've been talking to folks with unconventional lives. Pressure has been building. Then, earlier this month, the World Domination Summit burst things open. Now I find that I'm eager to shake up my current life and try something new.
I want to meet new people and see how they live. I want to see natural wonders — and man-made wonders, too. I want to try new food. I want jump out of airplanes and swim with the sharks, trek over mountains and get lost in the jungle. (But not too lost.) I want to taste the world.
And so, I came home one night last week and announced, “I don't want to live here anymore.”
Kris and I own an 1800-square-foot farmhouse set on two-thirds of an acre. Our land is park-like: We're surrounded by trees and shrubs, and we've spent the past eight years building a food-producing garden filled with herbs, vegetables, berry canes, and fruit trees. Despite the rural feel, our home is located in a typical suburban neighborhood about fifteen minutes from downtown Portland, which makes the place unique. (“I've never seen a property like this,” our real-estate agent told us when we first toured the house.)
When we bought this house in 2004, it was my dream home. I fell in love with it instantly. I'd always wanted to live in an old farmhouse, a place with charm and character. I was so emotionally invested in the house that I was willing to make a poor financial decision to buy it. (Thus setting into motion the course of events that would lead to my financial nadir and, eventually, the creation of Get Rich Slowly.)
Over the years, though, the house has become less of an oasis and more of a chore. Today, it seems like a burden. Yes, the yard is beautiful, but it requires constant maintenance. I'd rather be writing than pruning shrubs. And ninety minutes to mow the lawn? Ugh. Plus, the house itself seems too big for two people — even with all of our Stuff. We have whole rooms we rarely use. In short, this is no longer my dream house.
I've made oblique references to this problem for years now. (And sometimes, in the comments, the references have been decidedly non-oblique.) But until recently, my discontent has never taken any form other than mumbling. Now, though, I feel moved to action.
No Quick Fix
Unfortunately, it's not easy to simply say “I don't want to live here anymore” and move on to someplace new. Selling (or buying) a home is a huge undertaking. There are many things to consider.
For one, I'm not sure what I really want. I know what I don't want — which is this house — but I'm not sure where I'd rather live. An apartment? A smaller house? In the country? In the city? It's tough to choose something different when you don't actually know what you want.
Also, the Stuff is still an issue. Yes, I've been slowly purging things for the past four years, but I still have way too much. I still feel overwhelmed. (This is primarily because my definition of “needs” keeps shrinking. I mean, I can live out of a single carry-on suitcase for a month when I travel. Why do I need rooms filled with Stuff when I'm home?) If we're going to move, I don't want to take all of this with me.
And, of course, there are financial ramifications. Does it really make sense to sell in this market? I'm fortunate to be in a position that allows me to work from anywhere. Kris has a job that she loves, though, and it's tied to a specific location. How do we account for this? (Also, what about the costs of my proposed travel?)
But the biggest reason Kris and I don't just pick up and move to someplace smaller is that she still loves our home. This is her dream house. I've changed; she hasn't. I may be unhappy here, but she'd be unhappy moving elsewhere — especially when I don't even know what it is I want.
Thus, there's no quick fix to this situation. I remain discontented.
Stumbling Toward Happiness
I'm not sure what we'll do in the long-term. This isn't one of those posts where I describe a problem and then share a solution. We haven't found a solution. Instead, after a couple of talks, Kris and I have decided on some stop-gap measures:
- I will explore solo travel. It may be that I won't even like extended travel alone. It appeals to me right now, but what if I hate it? There's no way to know unless I try. So, for the rest of the year, I'm going to head out on a series of personal adventures. (Thanks to the many GRS readers who have written with advice and offers to host me, by the way. You're very kind.)
- I'll hire somebody to do the yardwork I'm neglecting. It pains me to pay for this, but I have to face reality: I hate doing yardwork. I'd rather be writing and/or traveling. (And besides, the writing makes me money.) I'll do what I can around the house, but hire somebody to do the rest. This will require giving up my comic-book habit, but I'm okay with that. I'd rather travel.
- I'll be more diligent about purging my Stuff. As Adam Baker can attest, my workshop is filled with books and magazines and games and outdated electronics. There's no need for me to keep all of this. Instead of just thinking about it, I need to actively shed this physical (and mental) baggage.
These are first steps. They'll buy us time while I'm trying to discover who I am and what I want to do. If I'm still feeling oppressed in the winter or the spring, Kris and I will explore other options. Though, to be honest, I have no idea what those options might be.
Recently, Tammy Strobel from Rowdy Kittens offered an hilarious solution. Tammy and her husband are building a tiny house. She suggested that I could build a tiny house and put it in the middle of our huge lawn. “Then you could have what you want and Kris could have what she wants,” Tammy said. Clever. We're not to that point yet, but who knows? Maybe next year at this time, I'll be living like a gypsy in the middle of our yard.