When my daughter was little we lived in a sweet little in-law apartment on my husband’s aunt and uncle’s property. It was surrounded by farmland where my daughter wandered around collecting sticks, finding bugs, climbing on rocks, and running until she finally tired out. We both had mid-level jobs with a good amount of responsibility, but our busyness was balanced with family time. We were relaxed and content.
Our daughter was around two and a half when we decided we wanted to add another child to our family. The place we lived in had a good amount of space, only two bedrooms, but it would have been manageable while the kids were little. Still, it felt like the next step we were supposed to take was buying a house, because of course. That’s what people do.
We started researching and decided on a comfortable budget and an area we wanted to live in. We couldn’t afford much, and the market was flooded with buyers and not many homes up for sale. House after house we went to see was either not a great fit or quickly scooped up by another house hunter.
One week my husband was two hours away for work and a house popped up. It was adorable and charming. I sent it to my husband and he agreed with my assessment. I quickly arranged a time to go see it with my realtor that night. It was a cute little Cape Cod/farmhouse hybrid that had been recently updated and surrounded by land. It was near the top of our price range, but I fell in love and instantly pictured our family living there. By 9 a.m. the next morning, I put an offer in on it with my husband’s blessing, even though he had never seen the place.
Life pro-tip: Don’t do that. My husband’s first time seeing it was during the inspection, and he was less in love with it seeing it in person than me. Where I saw charm, character, and comfort, he saw old house quirks, expensive projects, and money. And so the resentment began. I was upset that he was moving into a home he wasn’t fully in love with, and every time he made a negative comment about it, I took it personally.
We both received job promotions shortly after moving in, and our responsibilities skyrocketed. We tossed another kid into the mix. Our time was precious because we were putting in so many hours at work. It felt like every spare moment we had on evenings and weekends, we couldn’t have time as a family because it was taken up caring for the house. And I don’t mean day-to-day laundry and dishes. It was major repairs, exterior upkeep, and YouTube tutorials on well water maintenance.
When I first saw the house, I fell in love with the garden, and in-the-moment me pictured myself working in the garden and keeping it beautiful while my kids played next to me and didn’t try to run into the 55 mph road in front of us. Except I hate gardening and so does my husband. We love the outdoors, but we absolutely despise all of that stuff.
Truth be told, we really aren’t the type of people who obsess over a lot of the house stuff. Sure, I find a lot of cute ideas on Pinterest, but we all know how many of those people actually follow through. We like leaving the house to do fun things as a family on weekends — going to museums and hiking at parks and trying new restaurants. Then we crash wherever at the end of the night and use where we live as a place to watch a little TV, eat, and sleep in.
As time went on, it only got worse—the resentment, the money, the lack of time, the living in this life that wasn’t really us. We got to the point where we separated, and while there were many factors in that, the house certainly wasn’t exempt from blame.
When we reconciled, we realized that in order to repair our marriage, we needed to simplify. We also reflected on the last time we were happy. We agreed: it was when we had our little apartment with less responsibility. We announced that we were going to list our house and find a townhome to rent to fit our needs.
I think we got a bigger reaction to this than we did when we initially announced our plans to divorce. “What about the equity? You’re throwing away money on rent!” They aren’t wrong. From a long-term financial standpoint, we weren’t making the most cost-effective decision. But was throwing our marriage away living a lifestyle that just isn’t us worth that savings?
“You’re going to hate having neighbors right on top of you.” Nah. Truthfully, again, we don’t really care about that. In fact, I’m an avid runner but I feel safest running in a populated area with sidewalks and lower speed limits. I couldn’t do that at all in my old neighborhood. I had to drive to go to a place I felt comfortable to run, so most of the time I just didn’t do it. When my husband travels for work, I feel safer sleeping at night knowing I have neighbors around me.
“You’ll pay more to rent than a mortgage.” Not necessarily, and even so, our expenses would at least be pretty even month-to-month without having to worry about a roof leaking or a furnace breaking or a random mouse infestation in our basement (that really happened!).
Despite everyone’s objections, we sold our house and moved to a three bedroom townhome in a gorgeous neighborhood. When the moving truck dropped off our last load, the weight being lifted was palpable. Our kids live in a neighborhood filled with other kids, access to a pool and gym, sidewalks for me to run on. If something breaks we put in a work order for it. We have no lawn to mow. We don’t need an exterminator. We can spend family time as we please.
Do I think this is a solution for everyone? Hardly. But it does speak to a bigger lesson: do not feel pressured by society, family, friends and social norms when you decide what is best for you. Maybe it’s moving back to your hometown or skipping college for a different career path or taking a job in a new city. Maybe it’s deciding you don’t want children or that you want five children. Perhaps you and your long-term partner are perfectly happy and don’t want to get married. Do not succumb to the pressure or you might regret it later. We bought a house because it felt like the next logical step, but it wasn’t us, and it almost cost us. Be true to who you are. In our case, it’s renters.