Welcome Back to the Wonderful World of Home Ownership

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank September 15, 2014 21:27


I’m doing exactly what I said I wouldn’t do. Two years ago, I disposed of most of my worldly goods and sold my house. It felt great, the way taking off a 40-pound backpack feels great after a tough hike.

With my young’uns launched into the world, I felt I had entered the post-stuff stage of life. I was ready to travel light, free of the burdens of ownership.

For the next year, while on sabbatical from teaching, I became a vagabond, house-sitting for friends in Pennsylvania in the summer, renting a one-room apartment in Ukraine in the fall, shacking up with my bride-to-be in California in the winter, then renting a house with her in Pennsylvania when it was time to return to work.

It occurred to us that in the college town where we live, we could surf from sabbatical rental to sabbatical rental from one year to the next without ever settling down. It sounded kind of fun, kind of interesting: every year, a new house to enjoy, a new neighborhood to explore.

But would it get old, both the moving and the impermanence? We’d see how we felt in a year.

After half a year, though, we started looking for the next place to hang our hats. One thing gave us pause: Sabbatical houses were renting for hundreds more than a typical monthly mortgage payment. Maybe, in this real estate market at least, renting didn’t make sense. So we began to consider becoming homeowners again.

It was not an all-out search, at first. We’d be on a bike ride or a walk, and if we saw an open house sign, we’d take a peek. The first time we did this was almost the last: I descended to the basement, saw the furnace and thought, with sinking heart: “If we buy this house, this furnace will be my furnace.”

There didn’t appear to be anything wrong with this most essential of household fixtures for those of us living in the long-underwear zone. The problem was with the potential furnace owner: If I owned it, I would have to keep an eye on it, and arrange to have it repaired or replaced if it malfunctioned. This was exactly the sort of thing I didn’t want to deal with anymore.

But then a house pretty much fell into our laps. It belonged to a colleague who was about to retire and move away. I had been to a party there once and liked both it and its location.

“You selling your house?” I asked her.

“Yep,” she said. “You wanna buy it?”

“Yep,” I said.

It was almost that simple. On moving day we felt we had made the right decision. We knew we did not want to pack and unpack again next year, not to mention the year after that.

I was also happy to stop paying $130 per month to store the tools, furniture, art, books and music that I couldn’t bring myself to liquidate when I sold my old house.

The storage unit was the latest evidence of what crapshoots most of my decisions turn out to be. Again and again, I gather relevant information, weigh pros and cons, and choose what seems to be a sensible course of action, only to be baffled by that course later on.

At the time I thought I ought to hang on to the things I loved, belongings that were of good quality and the essentials I would surely need if I ever bought another house. But when I raised the door on my storage unit, the first things I saw were two shabby old mattresses that I promptly dragged to the nearest trash bin. I had also saved CDs I never listened to, linens that we quickly demoted to the ragbag, and skis and boots that my kids outgrew long ago.

I was even sorry I’d kept the keepsakes: How could my wife and I start fresh amid all these remnants of my former life?

Worst of all, the new house became instantly cluttered. And we still needed a bed, chairs, silverware and a toaster. After two years of divesting, we were acquiring again. True, if I hadn’t had the storage unit we would be acquiring even more, but we found ourselves simultaneously wishing that we were starting from scratch and that we weren’t starting at all.

We may ask in a year or two what in the world we were thinking: complicating our lives when we should have been simplifying, re-rooting ourselves in Pennsylvania when we eventually want to move back to California, taking on a 30-year mortgage at age 60.

For now, though, we really like our new house. It’s small enough to be manageable, but big enough to accommodate our prodigal sons and daughters. It has the tiniest of lawns to mow. Nothing needs to be replaced, refurbished or repainted. Even the furnace gleams.

Russell Frank owned a house in Sonora from 1988-1995. He now lives in State College, Pa. You can reach him at rfrank@psu.edu.

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Russell Frank
By Russell Frank September 15, 2014 21:27
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