Real estate signs in fancy neighborhoods promise “luxury living,” but I know better. True luxury is actually owning a house rather than being owned by one.
My family used to live in a fancy neighborhood.
It was a planned subdivision as flawless as a movie set. A hundred houses sat on wide, curving streets featuring cul-de-sac islands filled with trees and flowers. Houses were big. Yards were weed-free.
The neighborhood association cost $550 a year. Membership was mandatory.
For that price, we got private garbage pickup and the streets were plowed in winter. And we got rules. Lots of rules. The association told us what color we could paint our house and mailbox. It inspected our sidewalks for cracks and our trees for low-hanging branches. It didn’t allow basketball hoops or boats-on-trailers or RVs in the driveway, even for one night.
When the streets got potholes and the township wouldn’t repave, the neighborhood association charged each household in our subdivision three thousand dollars and hired a contractor to completely resurface the roads.
How the neighborhood looked was the most important thing.
And our house? It was freaking gorgeous. It was 3200 square feet with three bathrooms and a two-story great room and one of those curving staircases made for a girl to flounce down in her prom dress. It had a kitchen with endless counter space and a cooktop island and a white tile floor. It had a walk-in closet ten feet by twenty feet and a bathtub so big we could never fill it properly because our hot water heater didn’t hold that much.
Our beautiful house was also a shoddily constructed money pit.
The siding was glorified particleboard and the roof shingles were the thinnest kind made. The furnace was a builder’s special, meant to last five years or so. Ditto the hot water heater and the kitchen appliances. There were carpenter ants in the walls and mice in the attic. When we weren’t fixing things, we were cleaning. (Actually, I was the one doing the cleaning. Constantly. Did I mention the white floor?)
In the end, I didn’t care how my house looked. I cared how it felt. And it felt very, very bad. Our family could sprawl all over our huge house, but we could never fit in it. When my husband left me, he said, “I’ve never felt at home here.” Gee, me neither, hon. And even though he hated that damned house as much as I did, he urged me to stay in it anyway. I don’t know why. Some kind of punishment, maybe.
But I was done being punished by that house. I sold it at a loss and got out.
Now my kids and I live in town, in a neighborhood of tiny ranches. My street is a little less showy, a little less uniform. I no longer live in the sanitized Hollywood version of a neighborhood. I live in an authentic place. We don’t need a neighborhood association to tell us what to do. We all take great care of our homes because we live here.
My new house is the classic 1950s style with three small bedrooms and one bathroom. They don’t build them like they used to, but thank goodness they once did. My house is brick outside with plaster walls inside and a real wood floor. Every part of it was built to last. The previous owners did renovations with integrity, using high-quality finishes while matching the period style. My house might not be new, but it has more strength and character than houses half its age.
I can clean the entire thing, top to bottom, in half an hour. I’ve got a sixty year old maple tree in the front yard that drops an infinite number of leaves and yet my kids and I can rake them all up during the halftime break of a single football game.
I have less than a third of the physical space I had in my old house but my mental and emotional and spiritual space has increased a hundredfold. My kids and I love our new house, and a part of me thinks it loves having us live in it, too.
I call my new house Darling. When I walk in the door I always say, “Darling, I’m home!”
Because I am.
For the first time ever, I am home.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. Sometimes her characters get bombed out of their houses.