Bigger isn’t always better: Remembering to appreciate what I already have

Walking home from work today, I decided to take the long way. Most of the time, I choose the easy quarter-mile stroll downhill from the office to our happy half acre (or happy .62 acre, if you'd like to be precise). But to celebrate the first day of summer, I took the river-forest loop.

The river-forest loop is exactly what it sounds like: a series of quiet streets that wend along the east bank of the Willamette River, easing their way beneath stands of tall oak, fir, and pine. It's three miles from our house down the river-forest road and back again. I choose this route when I need exercise or want to think. And, on days like today, I choose it to soak up the scenery.

As I walked, I looked at the trees and the river and the lake. I listened to the birds. I watched the squirrels go about their squirrely business. I nodded to the neighbors, and (strangely enough) I encountered three different loose dogs traipsing around unleashed, each of which was pleased to spend some time walking with me a ways.

After a while, I stopped looking at nature and started looking at the homes. The river-forest loop has some great houses. In fact, the side of the street next to the river is lined with what can only be described as mansions. The homes are stately and ornate, with beautiful, manicured lawns. (Rumor has it that one of these homes belongs to Will Vinton, of California Raisins fame.)

True story: I once found a bowling ball for sale at a garage sale at this house. It fit me perfectly and was just the right weight. I didn't buy it. To this day, I regret not buying that bowling ball.
Dream house? Or an example of potential lifestyle inflation?

I've looked at these homes before — and even have my favorite (which I'm dying to buy if it ever goes on the market) — but usually in just a cursory fashion. Today, I really looked at them. And as I looked, I began to covet.

“I want a house like that,” I thought as I passed the new house built from river rock and brick. “Or maybe one like that,” I mused while considering the next lot, which includes a tennis court.

I imagined what it would be like to live in homes like these, homes with arched double-door entries, vaulted ceilings, and wrap-around porches. How much would it cost? (And where would I get the money?) What would this new, wealthier J.D. be like? What would I do? How great would my life be?

But my imagination really took flight when I saw that one of the homes was for sale. I stopped at the top of the driveway to admire all of the gables, the fountain, and the three-car garage. I pictured the other side, which must sit right at the river's edge. (The above cell-phone photo is of this house. It's listed for $2.3 million, or almost ten times what we paid for our house.)

“Wow,” I thought. “If only I could afford a place like that!”

Yes, J.D. If only. And then what? Would that make you satisfied?

As I resumed my walk, my route led me back through normal neighborhoods: ranch houses and minivans and small city lots. Several folks were out working in their yards, just as I've been doing for the past few weeks. Like me, they're trying to make their homes look as pretty as possible.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I didn't need some fancy dream house. I already have one. I recalled the excitement that Kris and I felt when we first found our current place back in 2004. We thought it was perfect. Our hearts broke when we thought we'd lost the home by $500. And our spirits soared when the prospective buyers backed out. When we moved in, we were overwhelmed, but mostly in a good way. We thought this was our dream house.


Our home, which we call Rosings Park.

You know what? It is our dream house. And I have a great life already, even without a fountain or a riverfront view. Here it was, three in the afternoon on the first day of summer, and I was walking home from work. And here I was again, half an hour later, plopped on a park bench writing a blog post in a notebook while all around me kids played tennis and basketball. At home I'd grill some steaks and pet my cats and read a couple of comic books. What more could I ask for? (Well, besides for Kris not to be on the road for work, that is.)

I'm always urging others to appreciate what they have. When you feel that aching urge to keep up with the Joneses, when you wake up and realize you've begun to succumb to lifestyle inflation, it's time to pause and take stock of what you have. When you slow down and really appreciate what you already own, you can often slake the thirst for something bigger and better. Maybe it's time to take my own advice.

In my case, I reminded myself that although our house has been a little rough around the edges lately, that's mostly because I haven't had time to take care of the property like I ought to. After I'm through with my big yardwork push, and now that we've repaired the sewer line, and after we purge a little more Stuff, I'll feel much better about our place again. We'll have people over. We'll laze in the afternoon sun. We'll pick peas and berries from the garden.

I'm smart enough to realize that a $2.3 million dream home won't make me any happier than where we live now. I think I'll stay put.

More about...Psychology, Home & Garden

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Kate
Kate
10 years ago

Its always funny how lifestyle inflation can creep up. When I lived with my family, I thought a co-op would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. In the co-op, I just *had* to have a house with a yard. Now, the house with a yard is one of the nicer in my neighborhood, but is on the edge of a couple areas with fantastically huge houses with two story foyers and panoramic mountain views. It certainly has nothing to do with personal finance, but when I feel the lifestyle inflation creeping in, I remind myself of how much housework… Read more »

caroline
caroline
10 years ago

About two years ago I had my dream house picked out in my neighborhood and quietly obsessed about it. This was when I was really into nice big houses. But I think I started to really think about reality and how I probably will never be comfortably afford these houses I were obsessed with & since then I’m more into nice, cute charming houses (Portland has a lot!). But ok if I was to win the lottery, I would jump right back into the big house obsession.

Meghan
Meghan
10 years ago

J.D. to me, your house is HUGE! In Toronto a house that sized with a yard could easily be worth a million dollars. In fact, for what you paid for your house, here you might have been able to afford a tiny 500 sq. ft. condo. It’s all about perspective.

alex jordan
alex jordan
10 years ago

A good rule of thumb is. Always buy houses according to your current necessities and not your ideal image. Which basically translates to: bu according to your needs, and not your ego.

Dotty dot dot
Dotty dot dot
10 years ago

Um, if I was walking down your street and I saw your house, I’d think it was a mansion!

It’s all perspective, I guess.

Meghan
Meghan
10 years ago

Your house is beautiful! I’ve read all about your gardening adventures and home maintenance, but hadn’t seen a photo. You don’t want the mansion. I spent a couple of summers during HS doing deep cleaning, painting, etc. for a kind of “handy-man” company. The work mostly involved the few local mansions (regular folk did their own work). Those houses require so much upkeep to keep them looking so nice. At one point, a family bought one of the mansions (becoming “house poor”), and tried to do it themselves. Every spare minute was spent maintaining the place; they realized they couldn’t… Read more »

Earin
Earin
10 years ago

In all seriousness JD – but your house is already huge.
Where I live a house like, that with that much yard, would be worth between 1-1,5M€.
It’s easy to feel good and satisfied with such a house (even without the price tag).
Imagine living with your family in a 80 square meter appartment. Thats more about how alot of people live.

JasonK
JasonK
10 years ago

Have to agree….you have a wonderful house JD. It looks well-loved in the photo and based on what I’ve read here it is. I get the point of your post…and I agree completely…but I would bet good money someone has driven past your place and wished they had a house like that. Keep up the good work!

Single Mom Rich Mom
Single Mom Rich Mom
10 years ago

You have a BEAUTIFUL house! Much nicer than my own, but I don’t envy you the house – I do covet the .62 acres a teeny bit though (loud neighbors).

Just think – one of those people that live in the mansions could have been home sick from work, watching you strolling around in the afternoon and envying your ability to do that in the middle of the day.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

While I concede that we have a large yard (which is the primary reason we bought this house), I don’t feel like the house itself is huge. It’s too big for just Kris and me, yes, but it’s only 1800 square feet, which seems rather average, especially by modern measures. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing. In any event, the fact that it’s too big for just the two of us should be yet another clue that I don’t need anything bigger, right? But I should remember that when I first saw the house (which is shown too its best advantage… Read more »

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
10 years ago

Your house is my dream house. It is the style I absolutely love.

However, I do know what you mean. Every Christmas we drive through this exclusive subdivision to look at the Christmas lights. The house there back up to a golf course and they are enormous. Like 15,000 – 20,000 square feet enormous. I know I am out of my league when the mailboxes in front of the house resemble mini-versions of the house.

But, like you, I always come home and realize I have more than I already need already. This house is where my memories are.

Ariella
Ariella
10 years ago

You know the story of the man who caught the fish that granted wishes? His wife first told him to wish for a cottage, then a row house, then a mansion, then a palace. Desire always escalates if you look outward rather than inward.

Alexandra
Alexandra
10 years ago

@Meghan # 3

I thought the exact same thing! I own a house (not a townhouse, but a real house) in King West in Toronto, and when I tell people they think I am so lucky to own a house in that area. It looks about half the size of JD’s! And I am pretty sure I paid double what he paid.

It truly is all about perspective. I am usually pretty happy with what I have until I see that others have better. If we were just blind to everything around us, we would all be perfectly content.

Kenney
Kenney
10 years ago

I agree with others, your house is a dream house. It has two features I would murder for. A porch and a balcony.

SF_UK
SF_UK
10 years ago

JD: You’re comparing to US houses when you think your house isn’t huge. In a global comparison, your house is enormous! The average new house in the US may be larger than yours, at 2200 sq ft, but the average new home in the UK is only 815 sq ft.
Not that I’m really complaining – I hate housework and currently live reasonably comfortably in a single student room which is under 150 sq ft (not including the shared kitchen and bathroom).

Karla
Karla
10 years ago

We recently adopted a new puppy. The woman we bought the puppy from lives in a very depressed neighborhood–the kind that gets at least one visit the police every day, and this day was no exception. (They were 2 houses down.) The house was very small, looked like it hadn’t had any upkeep in decades, the screen door was falling off its hinges and had no screen, the carpet was filthy, the furniture was mismatched and missing some seat cushions, there was a window AC unit about to fall out of the window, all the trim had paint peeling off… Read more »

Lily (capital L)
Lily (capital L)
10 years ago

Average here is 80 square meters, the size of my house (which I find cozy enough) and half of yours. Perspective… 🙂

Rebecca
Rebecca
10 years ago

This is one of many reasons it is so dangerous to compare oneself to others.

As others have said, your house looks huge to me! My husband and I currently live in a one bedroom apartment with two cats…cozy to put it mildly. I am currently in grad school and renting an apartment works for our situation right now. When our situation changes, we’ll probably change our housing.

Sandy L
Sandy L
10 years ago

You know, as I’ve gotten older, my perception of great houses has really changed. I used to look at big houses and dream of being in them. I especially wanted a big lot of land. Now that I’m a homeowner and we do just about everything to our house ourselves, I now look at those homes and say “wow..that’s a lot of lawn to mow”, “a lot of house to paint”, “a lot of beds to weed” “a lot of mulch to buy” “a lot of bushes to trim and fertilize” and that’s just the outside. Painting porches, by the… Read more »

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
10 years ago

I think you have a very lovely house, J.D. But our own house is older (1925, brick Craftsman style) and so I can relate to the creeping frustration. We’ve been here for 7 years, and it seems that we’ve hit the most expensive point in the house’s life cycle: tuckpointing, removing K&T wiring, adding insulation. We have twin toddlers, which severely skews the time vs. money calculation, so we hired out most of this work. I’ve told my husband that the house feels like a third child. I love the character and many of the features of our home, which… Read more »

Chris Gammell
Chris Gammell
10 years ago

I was viewing large houses myself the other day and had a thought: Sometimes I get creeped out in my own tiny house at night. I cannot imagine how creepy it is being in a big house (such as the one you show in the first picture) alone at night. Oof, I’ll take tiny and cozy any day.

Susan L.
Susan L.
10 years ago

J.D. Your house is indeed lovely. I love the idea that you have named your house. Are you a fan of “Pride and Prejudice?” If I remember correctly, Darcy’s aunt’s estate was called Rosings. I spent much of our early years of marriage wishing for my own home. Due to my husband’s career choice, we live in a very nice home provided by the employer, but it doesn’t BELONG to us. I may never get to actually choose the house in which I live. I have had to learn to be content with my situation and not spend emotional energy… Read more »

David C.
David C.
10 years ago

J.D., Your house is fantastic looking, just the sort of thing my wife would love. I can understand the big house desires from time to time. We live in an older neighborhood with a nice little park behind us. On the other side of this park, a golf course and an upscale housing development has sprung up. I drive through there on the way home from work and there are a few that I could see us living in. Then I round the corner to our place, I usually get the contentment with what we have feeling again. We have… Read more »

objectiveGeek
objectiveGeek
10 years ago

Instead of talking about how to get from point A to financial point B, this blog has turned into an apologetic how-not-to-want-to-do-any-better-than-I-am-now commentary on altruistic morality.

I want the best possible life for myself and my family. Maybe that means a dream house, or maybe that means the freedom to travel any and everywhere, but maybe that means both. I’d be proud of my dream home if I had earned the means to own it.

I don’t think contentment is much of a virtue — it’s more of a guise for mediocrity.

Amanda S.
Amanda S.
10 years ago

Your house is gorgeous, and so different from many of the houses I have seen in Oregon.

Speaking of Oregon, my parents live there (not very far from you, I think); I have pointed them at your gardening project postings. My dad just joined a bicycling club called the ‘Polk Peddlers’ which is just now forming. If you are interested (as part of your get fit), drop me a note!

Chipmunk
Chipmunk
10 years ago

Your home is HUGE by the standards of most of the world’s people. I live alone in a cramped 590 square foot apartment with no garden, only a tiny balcony, and yet I regard myself as living in the lap of luxury, which I suppose I am for this part of the world (a major city in Asia). Normally an apartment of this size would be shared by a family of four or five, or even a three-generation family. A home and property such as yours can only be dreamed about by the majority of the people in this world.… Read more »

Jen @ The Short Years
Jen @ The Short Years
10 years ago

Holy cow! Your house is beautiful! A gorgeous house like that on .62 acre–that’s my dream house. We can trade any time you feel the need to “simplify” into a smaller place.

Jenn Sutherland
Jenn Sutherland
10 years ago

You’re right JD – you’ve got your dream house, and I’m glad you can come back around after your stroll to realize that. We all have different standards about what the right amount of space and amenities are for our families, and it’s always fascinating to read about different perspectives here. We’re living in our dream home too…we bought a 900sq ft condo in Chicago 8 years ago. It was affordable for us then, even more so now, and for 2 people it’s a fine amount of space. More importantly, Lake Michigan is our front yard, and that’s what makes… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

Funny, I did a double take as I thought the pic of your house was also of a “mansion.” 230k will buy you a 1br apartment around here. Right now I live in the most amazing apartment I’ve ever had, it’s a stand alone coach house with great neighbors in the main building and a shared yard where I have a huge vegetable garden and a big front porch. It’s 2 blocks from the El train and every one who comes over is amazed that such a place even exists. I still find myself searching on Zillow every now and… Read more »

Kate
Kate
10 years ago

Your house is so much more appealing to me than your dream home. It looks lived in and loved versus the other which seem to me a bit sterile. Your home is pretty much my dream house! Today’s post really resonated with me. I recently visited friends who are a few years younger and seem to have everything that I don’t – they own an adorable house, just had a baby, and still seem to be making landscaping and structural improvements. I left feeling very envious and anxious about our own situation. But then I found out that they’ve got… Read more »

Tina
Tina
10 years ago

When I see homes that size, all I can think of are the property taxes, the utility bills, the yardwork and the housework. Ugh. Let somebody else deal with that; I’m happy in my 840 square foot rental!

U. Romilion
U. Romilion
10 years ago

Great story, J.D., and a real nice house too! Seems to me that the experience you described is a combination of two things: dreaming up new things to aspire for, and learning (more about) what you really want and need in life. It’s only healthy — or even vital — that we develop new dreams and goals every so often. The nice thing is that it’s totally OK not to pursue every dream. Even better, the thought process following these dreams that can really help you grow. When you try to figure out how to make any given dream a… Read more »

PMT
PMT
10 years ago

There are some gorgeous houses around where I live in Michigan. Often I’ve thought that is a nice home…and then think about the maintenance. Shudder to think about the time and money on upkeep on these huge homes. I have a hard enough time on my own.

Currently we live in a home much much too large for us which is almost 2,100 SqFt not including the full basement (previously we had ~1,200SqFt). Only myself, my wife and my 19 month old son live here…I wrote about why we moved in case anyone is interested.

April
April
10 years ago

I love your house, J.D. I often look at gorgeous houses in older neighborhoods, but I honestly don’t sleep well in large houses, strange as it sounds, so I remind myself of that and let it pass!

Adam
Adam
10 years ago

JD, your house is huge (and very pretty). I live in Toronto as another poster above and that house is outside of my ability to buy in the area I would like to live (6 figure earner here).

1800 square feet is tons of room! Don’t succumb to McMansion syndrome. Your house has so much character and a gorgeous lot.

ETA the one bedroom 720 square foot condo I live in now sells for $400k, and has condo fees about $800/month on top of that, as well as very high property taxes.

Mike Crosby
Mike Crosby
10 years ago

When you mentioned the $2.3 million house, I scanned down and looked at the picture of the house. I thought, “Wow, that’s a nice house for $2.3”. (You have to understand I’m from SoCal.) Then you wrote that it was your house. It’s all in perception, isn’t it? One of my favorite joys is driving and looking at houses. When I saw your house it looked like heaven to me. PS. My wife just came in the office and I showed her the picture of your house. I told her it was for sale for $2.3. She said, “Wow, that’s… Read more »

Shari
Shari
10 years ago

I have the opposite problem–I want to move into a smaller house! My husband thinks I’m insane. I just love cottages and cabins, and the cozy feel of them. Right now, with 3 kids in the house, it’s not really possible to downsize (I think our house is about 1200 sq. ft.) but once they’re grown and gone my dream is to move into a smaller place….easy to clean! And you can’t accumulate as much stuff if you have to be conscious of space.

U. Romilion
U. Romilion
10 years ago

Great story, J.D., and a real nice house too! Seems to me that your experience is a combination of two things: dreaming up new things to aspire for, and learning (more about) what you really want and need in life. It’s only healthy — or even vital — that we develop new dreams and goals every so often. The nice thing is that it’s totally OK not to pursue every dream. Even better, the thought process following these dreams that can really help you grow. When you try to figure out how to make any given dream a reality, you… Read more »

Shalom
Shalom
10 years ago

House prices in our current town are much lower than in many other places in the US. When we moved here we discovered we could have afforded a McMansion here, as so many of the other folks who moved here from big cities chose to do. We don’t need all that house, but I sometimes feel defensive about choosing differently than so many others I work with. We bought a 1930s-era home about the size of JD’s, in a very quaint neighborhood with sidewalks and old trees, and we really like it. It’s spacious for our family of 3 plus… Read more »

ami | 40daystochange
ami | 40daystochange
10 years ago

Like the other commenters, I love your house JD.

But as I sit here in my nice house in my nice suburban neighborhood, I think every extra 100 sq. ft = more time on cleaning, upkeep, decorating and organizing, not to mention furnishing, painting, etc. Every extra $1000 property value = extra property taxes, insurance, utilities. What would we do with the extra time? Are our lives about cleaning, decorating and maintaining a nice house (and the yard and garden) – or something else? I want a smaller house – and a bigger life!

The Crunchy Conscience
The Crunchy Conscience
10 years ago

I couldn’t agree more. We traded in our 2600 sq ft, 5 br colonial for a 625 sq ft bungalow in our hometown 6 months ago. It was the best move we ever made.

bon
bon
10 years ago

I was raised house-obsessed. My mother used to take us to tour open houses in the fancy neighborhoods as a Saturday activity (a little embarrassing to think of now, but way fun when I was a kid).

That said, I have (anecdotally) observed that the closeness of a family correlates pretty well with with the closeness of their quarters. So when I settle down I want a small house.

Shane
Shane
10 years ago

I recently bought a 1200 sqft house for my girlfriend and me to live in. Even that seems like a lot of space to me, as I lived in a 1000 sqft house throughout my youth in a family of five. I shared a room with my brother the whole time, with the size being about 60 sqft.

I will say that sometimes the house now seems rather crowded because my girlfriend has so much Stuff. Trying to persuade her to purge some of it.

HollyP
HollyP
10 years ago

OMG, I have never lived in a house with 1800 sf, not when I was one of six children and assorted pets, and not with my own family earning more than my dad could have imagined. Eight years ago this month, MrP and I bought our dream home… an old farmhouse on a large lot in a secluded neighborhood of an upscale town. Fabulous sunny yard, tons of room for the kids to play, incredibly fertile land for my flower garden. Five years ago we moved out of it. The home required far too much upkeep – half a day… Read more »

Raghu Bilhana
Raghu Bilhana
10 years ago

JD

You have a beautiful and huge house. You have a beautiful garden with lots of trees. To be frank for a moment I felt jealous.

You have a better and luxurious living place than 99% of the world’s population. So of all the people living on this planet, you might be in the top 1%.

So it is all about contentment my friend.

R.L.
R.L.
10 years ago

I love your house J.D. and I’d rather have it than the big mansion. I’m sure you feel satisfaction, as do I, when a home improvement project is done. I bought a house with problems for the acre of land attached and for it being outside of one of those crowded neighborhoods. Every improvement, inside or out, makes me feel good. I think savoring those feelings keeps me out of the ego-driven hunt for bigger and better.

Sara
Sara
10 years ago

I live in a townhouse, and I often find myself coveting a real house with an actual yard. I think I mainly want it because it would make me feel successful to have a nice, big house. I have to keep reminding myself that my 1800 square foot townhouse is more than enough space for me (I live alone), and I hate having to water what little yard I have. I am in a much better financial position because I bought a house that is well within my means than I would be if I bought a bigger house just… Read more »

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

Your yard is beautiful. I would hate to maintain it. I sometimes daydream and project forward to where we’d be in 20 years if we both keep working. DH is waiting on final work from his adviser then he will have an MSEE (Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering). He wants a PhD. I keep toying with the idea of an MSEE as well. All that is to say in 20 years we could have a LOT of earning potential. He talks about living in the nicest neighborhoods in town and I have the same thought as many here: I… Read more »

Emily
Emily
10 years ago

I just wanted to say that your house is beautiful. That’s all.

Malisa
Malisa
10 years ago

As nearly everyone else has said, I love your house JD. My house is about the same size on about the same size lot, except half the lot is a very steep slope. I too love gardening. My house isn’t quite as old, but it’s 60+. I don’t want a bigger house with more land. I really want the means to do anything to my house that it needs (new windows, a new roof sometime soon, a new sewer line). And I would really LIKE to be able to do what I want to it (new floors, new kitchen, etc.)… Read more »

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