Tuesday, October 3, 2006

choices

The three of us stepped out Sunday morning to watch Steve's brother run the Twin Cities Marathon. (Way to go, Bruce!) Here's Daniel, taking in the cheering crowds from the safety of his carseat-stroller. On our way home, we meandered through the side streets of St. Paul's Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, and somewhere along Goodrich Street, we came upon one of the most perfect, gorgeous houses I have ever seen. For sale. And having an open house. So of course we went in.

The white-stucco house had been meticulously restored in the Arts and Crafts style, all the woodwork refinished, an original china hutch in the dining room. Two sunrooms — one on each floor, the upstairs one off the master bedroom. Two outdoor decks, also on each floor. A spacious backyard. A working fireplace. A huge upstairs bathroom with cool tile flooring. Bedrooms painted just the shades of green I love the most. Bigger-than-average closets for Mac-Groveland houses. By the time we walked out of that house, I swear, I was in love — the way I fall in love with every beautiful house we visit. (Every time it happens, we call a moratorium on open houses until we're actually ready to move, but we always weaken!) I envisioned lazy mornings sipping my coffee in a sunroom or on the deck overlooking the garden. Cozy winter evenings in front of the fireplace. Bustling afternoons preparing dinner or baking cookies in the big kitchen.

And it could be ours. That was the thing. The listed cost was over the top end of our price range, but not by that much. Close enough that I could taste the possibility that we might be able to afford it. All the way home, we talked about it as if it might actually be doable ... as if we were contemplating buying a new TV. Steve got online and found a mortgage calculator and concluded that we could probably afford to buy this house — but only if I go back to work full-time.

But that's the problem. I'm not sure that's something I want to commit to right now. In our current house, with its reasonable mortgage, we have a certain amount of freedom. Sure, it might not have the sunroom I crave, but it affords us the opportunity to make choices. Financial freedom enables me to stay home with Daniel for six months while we live on one salary, or to go back to work part time instead of full time if I want. Financial freedom doesn't have the glamourous ring of Arts and Crafts woodwork or big closets, but it feels amazing when we decide to go on a trip and not feel guilty about it because we can afford it. I'm not saying I wouldn't give that up for an amazing house ... someday. A wonderful home where we can settle back and know we'll spend the rest of our lives there ... that's important to me, too. I do want that dream home. But I feel like I'm poised on the balance of a teeter-totter, not ready to give up the good things that our modest home affords us right now. Would I be as happy in the white-stucco house if I had to leave it every morning to take Daniel to daycare and not see him (or the house) again until after 5 p.m.? Would I be as happy if it meant giving up another trip to Ireland or San Francisco or New York?

Back at home, I started looking around at our little rambler. We've done quite a few things with it already that make me love it dearly, fondly. We've painted the walls in four of the rooms and gotten rid of horrendous wallpaper borders and ugly bedroom curtains. And of course, we've had central air installed, as well as a new furnace, hot water heater, dishwasher and refrigerator. There's so much more I'd like to do — like paint the living room and hallway and replace the living room drapes. Change some of the light fixtures. Redo the terracotta bathroom in better colors. Replace those yellow kitchen counters. Add a second bathroom in the basement. All these things cost money — but not as much as it would cost to buy a whole new house.

We can't stay in this house forever. There's a reason it's called a starter home. It's perfectly comfortable and big enough for us right now. But sometime soon, probably in the next couple of years, we're going to have to bite the bullet and revisit our priorities: financial freedom or dream house. It suddenly reminds me of the choice Meredith has to make on Grey's Anatomy: McDreamy or Finn. The heart choice or the head choice. I know men and relationships fall under a different set of parameters, but when it comes to lifestyles, I'm usually in favor of head choices. There's something clear and rational and secure about holding financial freedom above messy, emotion-driven spending splurges. But ... oh, my, there's something wonderful and fantastical about stepping into a beautiful house and imagining your future there. Maybe it is more like men than I thought. Maybe the longer I pine for the house of my dreams, the more wonderful it will feel when we finally find it.

2 comments:

Ellen said...

Em, I am the same way about houses, I dream and want and imagine when I happen to stumble on one that just takes my breath away like this one you were talking about did.
About the sunroom...could you add one on to your current, if there's a place where sun hits? And make those home repairs that would freshen up the place and appreciate the value of your home? If so, it would give you a lot more bagaining power when you do sell, and that would mean more for a down payment on your dream home.
Your downstairs could easily convert to a cozy family room or another bedroom, or both.
This one thing is for sure...like men, there will always be great homes appearing on the market. Don't settle for something that would mean compromising those things that are closest to your heart. In this case, it's Daniel. You are young still and you have years to save up for the dream home. Believe, set a goal (when I'm 45 I will....) and work on what you have now. So you are right, it's a lot like relationships!

Megan T said...

It is fun to dream... I go to open houses all the time... and we just bought our "dream home" last year! I covet the mud rooms... wouldn't it be great not to have to pile muddy boots and soggy snow pants on the tile floor next to my kitchen door? Sigh...

You know how we all develop these little mantras to live by... one that has worked for me is the notion of not making two major life-altering decisions back-to-back. Let the first decision/happening sink in for at least 6 months - and then see if you still want to do it. Like for me, I tried not to make any major decisions for 1-year after my divorce... although I guess I got married and sold my house and bought a new house last year... but maybe even if I don't follow my own advice, it can help someone else! :) And you can always keep looking!