A whole house to myself

Herbert Storey Cottage, Westfield War Memorial...
Herbert Storey Cottage, Westfield War Memorial Village, Lancaster (after 1924) (Photo credit: pellethepoet)

I haven’t lived in a house since 1988.

Even then it wasn’t a whole house, just our ground-floor apartment in a house at 42 Green Street in Lebanon, NH. I grew up in a few houses (interspersed with apartments) in Toronto and Montreal, but have never owned or rented one myself.

In NH, I loved the 1930s-era pull-out wooden cutting board in the kitchen. I liked having a lawn and a lot of room between us and the neighbors. I liked that our dog, a small terrier named Petra, could safely roam the quiet street for hours.

For the month of June, first at my Dad’s, then house-sitting, I’ve been living in a whole house. I’m now at a hotel for three nights — then back home to 1,000 square feet, no stairs, one door to enter and one to the balcony.

Houses are complicated!

Multiple doors, and stairs and a back yard and a front yard and a garden and garage and a driveway. (My Dad, typically, turned his garage into a painting studio and most of his gravel driveway into a garden. Kellys are like that.)

I’ve lived in the same one-bedroom apartment, (with such crappy closet space that I need a garage and storage lockers for things like skis, luggage, old paint, out-of-season clothing), since 1989 when I bought it, thinking, up and out to a house within a few years.

As if.

The doctor husband bailed just as he stopped being broke — and I started to. I’ve been there ever since. My second husband, then beau, moved in with me in the fall of 2001. His official moving day — seriously — was 9/11. He told the movers to come back in a week; his quick thinking on that day of terror helped The New York Times win their Pulitzer prize for news photography.

Our home isn’t large, and I also work there. But we have a great river view from the top floor, a balcony, pool, tennis court and a garage. It’s light and quiet and our monthly costs still low enough we save decently for retirement and travel. There are times I feel trapped and claustrophobic, but I value the freedom if offers me to write for a living without panicking over the monthly mortgage.

A house anywhere nearby, (in the northern suburbs of New York City), would cost $300,000+ (plus at least $12,000 a year in property taxes) — usually for an un-renovated 1,200 square foot 1950s box with a postage stamp lot. No thanks!

We could afford something battered 90 to 120 minutes’ train or car ride further north, in a much more rural area, or the decades-long burden of a huge mortgage payment. I prefer quick and easy access to Manhattan — I can be parked near the Metropolitan Museum within 40 minutes.

For the past month, I’ve enjoyed the temporary luxury of multiple bathrooms on every floor, a kitchen big enough to swing a cat in, (good thing there’s only a dog here), not to mention a walk-in closet bigger than my only (5 by 7 foot) bathroom at home. Room to keep an ironing board permanently set up.

But the responsibility!

The one I house-sat has huge gardens that needed a lot of watering in a heat wave, and a pool requiring daily attention — which paid staff do at our apartment building.

I prefer sitting very still, with a frosty G & T and a glossy magazine.

Do you live in a house?

Do you enjoy it?

18 thoughts on “A whole house to myself

  1. I grew up in a house with a large yard that required a lot of maintenance. I learned from that experience and now live in a condo community that has lawn care guys come in, and I have my weekends free.

  2. I didn’t realize quite how lazy I have become….but even when I did live in a house, I don’t remember (?) doing any of that stuff. I did rent an apartment in a house and had to shovel snow off the walk. Gross.

  3. Marlo Heresco

    I DO live in a house and it IS a lot of work. During my 30s I always lived in a non-house (condo/apt/townhouse – you’re also Canadian, you should know townhouse). I worked in the city centre, traveled a lot and enjoyed the lock-and-go lifestyle. My only responsibility was fetching a neighbour to water the plants while I was away. Now, I live in a house….and I have two large dogs.

    I LOVE having a house. Multiple bathrooms, large bedrooms, a front AND back yard, gardens…yes, more than one. I also have outdoor space to sit in pubilc (front yard) or in private (back yard). The penalty. Days away from writing now consist of house repair.

    I live in the tropics, House leaks are as common as sunny days. I now mow, hoe and shovel as well as clean all this ‘enjoyable’ space. *sigh*. Living in a house gives a whole new meaning to ‘day off’. Forget the G&T and glossy mag. It’s time to mow the lawn or walk the dogs, again…and don’t forget to caulk that space under the door where the crickets keep getting in!

    Making the change from an apartment to a house is somewhat like creating a new life. Everything about your daily routine / home habits are now different and require serious adjustment – or money if you hire others to adjust for you.

    I’m adjusted now but admit at times, I do REALLY miss the simple lock-and-go life. Aside from my complains, I do prefer living in a house. Oddly enough, I feel more grown-up living in a house. Hmmmm. I love the ceiling to floor windows, extra bathrooms, TWO doors and generous-sized spare room for guests…as well as the feel of grass between my toes!

    1. Oooh, can I visit? 🙂

      I dream of having a house, but also enough money to hire people to help me care for it. I know I don’t want to be a slave to constant repairs and maintenance. The challenge is that I really prefer old(er) houses, 1860 and earlier. If we are able to retire to France, even part-time, which has been my dream, buying something really old may bring all sorts of its own issues. But by then, I won’t be a slave to the computer, at least.

  4. ‘Houses are complicated.’ How true! Yes, I live in a house, an 1890s worker’s cottage in a regional town in New South Wales, Australia. Even though it’s got issues (who hasn’t) I completed adore it. It’s almost as if all those years ago it was made for me.

  5. My home is a house in a neighborhood with great schools. We chose the area because we wanted our children to go to school with peers whose parents all expected best effort and the likelihood of secondary education. Sadly- I’m in the burbs. I fantasize about an urban lifestyle. Ideally a flat in downtown Edmonton, with the farmers market closing two city blocks on a Saturday. A 4 block walk to the Art Gallery, library, shopping, hockey and of course the river valley (an oasis in the middle of the urban center that is larger than central park). Now that high school is nearing completion for my children, i have begun the search. A few more years and I will be firmly ensconced in my new location. Meanwhile, my home and backyard have brought years of lovely memories for our family.

  6. I live in a lovely light filled house in a village in Cornwall, England. Although its not the picture postcard cottage one might think of when imagining a house in rural England near the sea, it has quickly become my favorite of all the places I’ve lived. One of the best things about living in a house built only 15 years ago is that it doesn’t have the damp problems that many of the older ones seem to suffer from here.

    I’ve owned homes in the city, suburbia, and even a condo at the beach during a brief foray into vacation home craziness, a mistake I’ll never repeat. Additionally, I’ve lived many types of rentals to include, condos, apartments, duplexes, old factory loft conversions, new loft builds, military barracks in different countries (one said to have housed Hitler’s troops), and a room I rented for $25 dollars a week in my first year at a University while living in New York.

    Although I was responsible for all repairs and upkeep in my previous homes, my husband takes care of it all now. He just finished a big kitchen renovation last week (I’m working on a post for Monday with pictures to show off his work) and is already excited about his next project. My favorite of his household projects was extension to the house that gave me a room of my own for writing and a bathroom just for me as well.

    I always considered myself a city girl and never would have thought I could be so happy in a rural setting, but I don’t think I could ever go back to the urban stress of my old life in Atlanta.

      1. You’re going to laugh when I tell you that I was saving the yurt for my old age. Seriously, I’ve already done the research.

        Moving has been easy most of the time … I had a lot of practice as a child. We moved so much that I attended four schools in one year and ten or eleven by the time I was in the ninth grade. I don’t think it bothered me that much except for missing a lot of what others were learning in the classroom. With an often interrupted formal education, it was a good thing I was observant and read a lot of books. Curiosity was my best teacher.

      2. Why am I not surprised? I have the coolest readers!

        That is a LOT of moving around. Between 1981 and 1989, I moved from Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-NH-NY. That was enough for me. I discovered that re-making and breaking that many social and professional ties was wearing me out. And re-starting my career at 30 in NYC in a recession…ugh. It’s taken me 20 years of slogging to get what I thought was achievable within maybe 5 or 10. So any thought of moving and giving all that up to start again? No way.

  7. We are perennial house buyers. At the moment I am sat in the house in France, that after 5 years work is finished inside, we do the work ourselves, otherwise we couldn’t afford it. This is the second one we have done here, sold the first last year. Next year we will probably sell this one. We head back to England next week for 6 months, and to start renovating the house there, that we have had for years and just never done. We have flats that we rent to give us an income. It sounds ideal but the stresses of looking after them is big, especially if we get a phone call while we are not local to a particular problem. I think the real thing is, if you enjoy the place and enjoy renovating, and finishing as we do. It works, we get to have the spaces we create as long as we want. The money is tight but it is ours. Which is also very satisfying. We may sell the house in England when it’s done, to downsize or move into a more rural location. At the moment while it is shabby, we have the space for family, friends and random visitors to stay whenever we want. Which is the other important thing for us.


    1. Fascinating! I know of people like you and my father,for decades, has urged me to buy a country house and fix it up…but I don’t really have the income, skills or passion for that and nor does my husband. I’m impressed that you’ve been able to make this work so well for you.

      I also really hate moving (witness 24 yrs in one apartment, which also shocks me) if and when we do, it has to be for something really amazing. The place we’re in this weekend is very appealing — a medium size city on a lake, with lots of gorgeous countryside — and 90 mins. north to Canada. I’ve realized that the area in which I live is every bit as important as what sort of dwelling. I know I really value economic freedom and mobility. I hope that doesn’t mean never being able to also enjoy owning a house!

  8. Like many Australians, living in a house is the norm for me…it’s a cultural icon, owning your own home. Living in units/apartments etc is a more recent focus for those who want an inner city lifestyle with minimal travel issues to work etc.

    For the past 15 years we’ve been living in townhouses which I think is a great compromise. Ours is a large one with big rooms so it doesn’t feel squashy and we have a decent sized garden which is fairly maintenance free (but I can always jam in another plant :-). I’d miss not being able to sit outdoors as I’m doing now with a coffee and the laptop, looking at my garden. It’s still lock-up and go (apart from the cat!) but gives us the best of both worlds. Mind you I prefer more modern buildings so they tend to come with fewer repairs.

    On holidays we usually stay in apartments and we like the lifestyle then but not sure I’d want it full-time. In retirement we’re going back to a full-sized house near the beach.

    1. Owning one’s own home is very much the “American dream” as well. Sounds like yours has given you much of what you enjoy. I’m writing this sitting on our balcony at sunset (awaiting the start of July 4th fireworks) and love having this extra room for 3-4 months of the year. It makes a big difference to our quality of life and I would never want to live anywhere for long that did not offer me private outdoor space.

  9. I’ve lived in houses with generous space and back/front yards, the works, and apartments which are cramped and force you to throw stuff away just so you can walk. I’ll take the apartment anyday. I hate owning all the gear that comes with home ownership. Furniture, to fill rooms you don’t live in, the junk that goes into closets just because you have the space, the gear that builds up because by the time you notice it, it’s too much to tackle offhand… yeesh. Just moved into a one bedroom place and I’m still throwing stuff away, streamlining, simplifying. It’s great!

    1. I am so on board with you! When I came home again to our 1-bdrm I thought I’d feel resentful but I felt relief. It is so much less work to clean, maintain, furnish and repair. I read a lot of shelter books (i.e. interior design magazines) and so many of the top designers live in a small-but-elegant space. I’d rather have a great quality few rooms than — which I have seen — cheap ugly furniture in a big(ger) or poorly reno’ed house because all the dough goes to the mortgage and taxes.

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