Sunday, May 17, 2009

Home sweet home

My sister and I could not be more different. She's a born-again Christian Republican. Really, need I say more? I relish periods of solitude: long walks or drives, sitting by myself in my house with a book, going to a movie alone; she wants to cry if she's alone for more than half an hour. She likes to plan everything far in advance: what she's going to wear the next day, what she's going to order when she goes out to dinner in 3 days, what she will name her dog; I like to wait until the moment and see how I feel. I couldn't name my dog until I met her, but my sister had her dog's name picked out months in advance. I'm a pretty independent person who doesn't really like talking about her feelings; my sister is, well to put it as nicely as I can, she's emotionally clingy and frequently mad at me for my unwillingness to share.

The differences between us are clear when you look at how we have lived. I couldn't wait to have an apartment to myself and only caved into the need for a roommate for two years in law school for financial reasons. She had roommates for years after she was done with graduate school and could have easily afforded living on her own. Her last rental was an apartment in a gated community; mine was a renovated carriage house. So when it came time for us both to buy our first houses, it was no surprise that she chose a newer townhouse in a suburban community while I chose a 100 year-old house near the heart of downtown.

I know why she chose a townhouse. She chose it because what was important to her in a home was security and ease. She didn't want to be responsible for a yard or for any exterior maintenance. Any yard work or painting or repairs that need to be done are covered by those handy HOA dues she pays every month. She doesn't mind not being able to do her own landscaping or choose her own paint color because those things don't matter to her. She doesn't care that her house looks just like all the other units in the complex. She also doesn't mind the shared walls, complete with their reminders that she isn't completely alone. Her home is her safe haven, but her idea of a safe haven is very different from mine.

I wanted the privacy that one can only get through having 4 walls that belong to no one but me. I wanted to know that I was beholden to no one about the things I do to my yard (which is not much). I wanted to be able to paint my house any damn fool color I choose. And I wanted a house that had its own personality, on a street where no two houses look alike. My safe haven is my own little plot of earth where no one can tell me what to do and where I rule all.

So she's got a beige townhouse and I've got a bright blue colonial with gingerbread. (Side question: who puts gingerbread on a colonial?) All her walls are still the standard complex off-white while mine are green and red and purple. I think she just thinks painting is a hassle; I think painting is kind of fun.

It goes so much deeper for both of us, though. She believes that as a good Christian woman, her highest purpose in life is to be someone's wife and someone's mother. So she was probably a little crushed at the realization that she would have to buy a house on her own if she didn't want to keep renting. She doesn't want to be in charge of things like yard work and repairs because it's a reminder to her that she hasn't found her perfect man to be responsible for those things in her life. So perhaps part of my drive to have a creaky, old house that needs so much TLC is to show her that I don't share her view on gender roles.

This past week, I was faced with the realization that her approach to home-ownership has its advantages. My house has not fared well over the winter and is now in desperate need of siding repair and repainting. As I nervously waited for estimates of just how much the full job would cost me, I couldn't help but wish, just this once, that I had gone the way my sister did and bought a blander, but much lower-maintenance, townhouse where exterior repair work wouldn't be my headache. The estimates came in at much higher than I would have liked. It would be really nice to be able to turn the bills over to an HOA. It would be delightful not to have to worry about keeping the contractor on schedule and on budget. Maybe I wouldn't even mind having some nice husband, a benevolent dictator of sorts, who could do it all for me.

But the bottom line is this: I can paint my own house whatever damn fool color I choose. So in about 3 weeks, I will have a fully-repaired house. And it will be red. Carmine, to be exact. With a green door and green shutters. Cream trim. The gingerbread is staying, too, because I don't care that a colonial house isn't supposed to have gingerbread.

I think my sister made the right housing choice for herself. I am positive I made the right choice for me. I can only hope that my sister loves her little townhouse as much as I love my creaky old house. I'm gonna love it even more once it's red.


Dan said...

(Side answer: German witches living in deep, dark forests hoping to lure lost children into her oven. Just don't turn your back on those crumb-dropping hooligans.)

S said...

So my house used to belong to a witch. That's awesome! And it explains the black cat that hangs around.

BellsforStacy said...

Benveloent dictator? Come now ... surely you know husbands aren't as bad as all that?

Condo fees and condo associations suck on far larger scales than HOAs (in my experience). Condo fees may take care of the work, but they do it on their time and with who they see fit. So it may not be the best repair work and it may take FOREVER. And condos - at least in this part of their world - hold none of their value. They are like buying new cars, as soon as you sign on the dotted line it loses $20,000.

HOAs are the real dictators who you have to beg permission to plant trees or paint fences or do anything thing really to the outside of your house that affects the over all value of the other houses around you.

Which serves a purpose, mind you, because some people totally don't take care of their homes.

Yeah for new paint though! Sorry about the maintenance costs!

Unknown said...

Holy moley! Fancy new blog. Show me how to jazz mine up.

lu said...

wait, what is gingerbread?!

perhaps living in western canada with a stark absence of colonial houses that are 100 years old has something to do with my sheer ignorance on this matter.

S said...

Lu, gingerbread is all that intricate trim-work on ornate Victorian houses. It does not belong on a colonial house, but for some reason, my little house has rows of scalloped wood trim under the front eave.

And, no, Stacy, I don't really think husbands aren't that bad. ;) But sometimes, it might not be so bad to have a benevolent dictator take care of everything because such a dictator would get everything done right, quickly, and with my best interests in mind (that's where the benevolence comes in).

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