Have you ever seen the show "Love It or Leave It" on HGTV? I know from the response on this post a couple weeks ago that many of you are fellow HGTV watchers, but for those of you unfamiliar with the show concept: it's pretty simple. A family is faced with a real estate dilemma, and usually the couple doesn't agree on how to address the situation. Should they stay in their current home or find a new one? As for our family, we don't disagree. We both agree that we just have no idea which is best.
In 2007, I didn't know much about owning a home, but I knew that I loved Eric and he loved me and we needed a place to live. We'd been crashing in my parents' living room for more than a year, and now we were newlyweds without a place to call our own. We didn't even have a bed to sleep on: instead, we folded up blankets to make a pallet on the floor. My mom offered to hang curtains over the entrance to the living room. That was nice of her, but we needed a different kind of change.
I searched high and low for a perfect house, fully expecting that we'd have to get a fixer-upper and make do. I felt like we could pull it off somehow. We could take a low-cost house and turn it around, and in a few years we'd start a family and move on to bigger and better.
It didn't take long to realize our ideal neighborhoods were going to be out of the question. I toured home after home with a price tag we could swing (I'm just going to be transparent here and reveal that our budget was $60-$90,000) and each one needed upwards of $30-50,000 worth of work just to be livable. I saw houses with rotted out floors, mold problems, gutted kitchens, and busted up bathrooms.
We needed to shift our geographical preferences if we were going to buy a house! One day, we were driving to visit Eric's parents and we were passing through a quiet little neighborhood on the way. We'd normally have passed right by this area, but that day we'd been at his company picnic and took a shortcut on the way back to the main highway. That's when I saw her.
Eric turned around in a parking lot up the road to circle back down the street and jot down the realtor's number listed on the "For Sale" sign. That evening, we looked up the MLS listing on the internet and we were sold before we even called to schedule a tour. We'd found our starter home!
We closed on the house a few weeks later, and I took a second job to help make ends meet. We had a detached garage apartment out back that was available for rent: I listed it on Craigslist and rounded up a tenant within the first few weeks. Between my part-time gig and the rent money, we were able to get by (just by the seat of our pants). Our house payment was lower than rent for even a modest apartment, and we were grateful. My parents helped us stock up on essentials at the local Walmart- towels and pot holders, baking pans and curtains. We were home at last!
Ugh, how I hesitated to share all this. The advice I've read everywhere is rattling in my head, "Don't post images that aren't Pinterest-worthy." Well, my friends, I have to tell you. Real life isn't Pinterest-worthy. Obviously, I've committed to be honest, and this week has already been all about rejecting pretense. So, here goes. These are iPhone photos and they're not styled in the slightest. I did clean up- you can thank me later, haha!
If you came to visit me today, this is what you'd see:
Yes, you even got to see my toilet and the laundry pile! Pin that! Ha!
I have a laundry list of things I love about this house. I love that the main living area is wide open and full of great natural light. I love that we have a separate living room and family area, and that the kids can play in the same area where I cook all our meals. I love my kitchen window. She only has two bedrooms, but I love that they are spacious. There's not much closet space, so I've learned how to part with non-essential items easily and buy only what we need, when we need it.
Since we started preparing for Seth to start preschool, though, Eric and I have been talking a lot about our changing needs. The schools we're zoned for are terrible. I always thought I'd homeschool, but I've been a stay-at-home mom now for two years and I learned quickly after quitting work that I don't have the temperament (patience, long-suffering, selflessness) for a homeschool lifestyle. There's a good private school nearby, but it only goes to sixth grade, and when you consider the money we'll be paying for tuition once both kids are in school- well, we could just move to a nicer neighborhood for that!
Eric's been working so much so I can stay home, he hates to spend the time he has off mowing the lawn or taking care of other chores. When we discussed finding a new home, we quickly agreed that less maintenance would certainly = better. No yard at all? That would be a plus. I found some listings for condos in a section of town known for having "the smartest schools in Alabama" with a perfect price tag! But would moving be really feasible?
I called in the advice of a professional, meeting with a real estate agent Tuesday morning to discuss our options. We crunched some numbers and talked about the ideas I've had running through my head for the past few months. I've been praying for wisdom and direction and feeling so frustrated with the silence I've received in return.
Love it or leave it?
Now I'm convinced the silence is God's answer: for now, we must remain still. We are being called to love this house and love this neighborhood, for I don't know how much longer.
We exist in this frustrating limbo right now: loving our house but knowing she has "deferred maintenance" issues that we can't address on our own strength. That's a fancy way of saying there's too much work that needs to be done before we can sell this house, and none for which we can get a return on our money. There are thousands of dollars that we don't have yet needed for our attic and around our windows, under the house and in our walls.
We can rent the house out but wouldn't see a profit unless we rent the apartment, too. The apartment needs work before it can be livable again: our last set of tenants messed up a lot of stuff and we said we'd never be landlords again after that. Without a profit, we can't fix the issues that need to be addressed in the main house before we sell.
All around us, it seems our friends are "moving up": the American dream. They get the subdivision house and the brand new furniture while we live with hand-me-downs. I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm a little embarrassed. I'm always conscious of the differences between "them" and "us"- the haves and the have-nots. We're a working-class family with a single income: only barely qualified to be called "middle class". Compared to the rest of the people I know, I don't feel like a "have".
But I am. We are so stinkin' rich, it's disgusting.
These are the thoughts that are heavy on my mind today. I'm so grateful: really, just laden with blessing and privilege, trying to exist well in a culture that tells me I'm not good enough.
It didn't take much discussion last night for Eric and I agree that we will stay here and continue to fix things as we go. I have to trust God will be there with the provision when the roof finally falls in and He will be there when another appliance breaks and He will be there when the plumbing backs up again.
The subject matter I've broached this week isn't the kind everyone really wants to read, but I think the blogging community needs more honest conversation about our intentions as influencers. What are we expecting of ourselves and others? Is it OK to edit out the rough patches from our social media posts when what our audience might need is a healthy sense of reality?
I was encouraged to know yesterday's post resonated with so many of you. I was hesitant to press "publish" on that reality check, but your comments have assured me it was the right decision. I want to keep inspiring, and I will. Even if the really good stuff only comes once in a while, I want to share it all! Thanks for being patient while I sort through the rest of it.