Most of us can recall something of our childhood home…whether it’s a special hiding place or the scary steps up to the attic. And those memories have likely influenced our decisions about where we presently live.
I remember the dark paneled basement where I listened to music and hung out with friends during the angst of my teenage years. It was a dim, cozy place to hide away from troubles and ignore the world.
Your experience may vary…perhaps you moved so many times that the places you lived all blur together, or you couldn’t wait to escape home to start living on your own. Thinking back, though, there’s probably something that sticks out about the house you grew up in:
Just as we often adopt values and philosophies from our parents, we can also inherit their ideas about how we, as adults, are supposed to live. Between our family of origin and society’s expectations, many of us never stop to imagine what our ideal home would look like.
This week, I’m inviting you to question your assumptions, so we can be clear about what we want in a living space and why. Since we spend so much of our time within these walls, it’s a good idea to know whether the homes we have are the best fit for the life we want.
Did you ever wonder where you developed your sense of what to look for in a house? Your first impressions were likely from your family home, shaped by the tastes and finances of your parents. As you ventured out in the world, though, friends’ houses and images in the media may have altered your expectations.
When you bought your first home (or dreamt about a future purchase), what assumptions steered your choices?
Do you have preconceived ideas about:
Our sense of what’s familiar tends to guide our preferences, and it’s only rarely that we seek out something different.
There’s an expectation that once you have a job and are making a steady income, the next step is to start thinking about your first home. But is that always the best idea?
Owning real estate brings with it lots of extra costs, maintenance, and responsibilities. It also ties you down to a location and makes it more challenging to relocate.
There are huge benefits to home ownership, however, including building capital, increased privacy, and a sense of independence. What matters is which choice serves your needs and path in life.
Questioning your expectations surrounding the home that’s right for you can save you a lot of time and money, whether you’re just starting out or ready to downsize.
We learned the hard way…after relocating for a new job, my husband and I built a home in beautiful, upstate New York. It was warm, inviting, and had gorgeous views of the sun setting behind the Catskills. However, it wasn’t long before we realized that the community wasn’t the right fit for us…and we lost a lot on our investment by moving again so soon.
For our second move, we researched everything we could find on where to live next. Our two biggest considerations were neighborhoods and schools, as we had two young girls to consider.
Are you satisfied with the location of your current home?
There’s a variety of settings which might speak to you…
Here are a few other questions to narrow down where your optimal location might be:
Last year, the average size of a new house was 2,641 square feet according to the U.S. Census Bureau. When you picture your ideal home, how much square footage does it have? How does that compare with where you live now?
Our assumptions for the amount of living space we’ll need often depends on what activities we expect to happen there.
Do you need…
These needs might be very real for your family. Yet it’s important to note how you use your current space…
As we get older, people often start looking for houses with less square footage, in order to minimize the amount of cleaning or maintenance that must be done.
When considering your desires for a new home, or whether your current residence fits your needs, remember to discuss who will be responsible for its upkeep.
One of the factors in determining your ideal size of house is your expectation of how often you’ll be home.
Perhaps you relish time spent at home…all your activities seem to have a focus here, where you’ve put down roots. You might love to garden, to entertain friends, or just hang out with family around a favorite book, movie, or board game.
Some of us live more like adventurers—viewing home as a base from which to regroup or rest as needed. You might want to eat, socialize, and be entertained somewhere else a majority of the time. So a house could be more of a place to shower and sleep—a comfortable spot but not necessarily someplace to stay put.
These aren’t black and white choices, but rather a spectrum which you can use to think about how you view your time at home. If your house is your castle, you might want more space to move around in, but if it’s only a resting spot on a journey of outward exploration, then owning less could feel like more.
This isn’t just a consideration for young people first getting started. How we furnish our homes reflects our values and desires…and it shifts with the stages (and changing financial resources) of our lives.
When you picture the rooms in your ideal house, what do you see?
The LA Times reports that the average American household has 300,000 items tucked away within its walls. Can you imagine how that would look if spread across lawns or sidewalks throughout our neighborhoods?
Once you’ve been living in your home a while—settled in with all the closets and cupboards filled—who takes the time to question the growing accumulation of their belongings?
Before you bring in one more purchase, though, I invite you to take a mental inventory of how full your house is:
There is no magic number for how many possessions we should have. Obviously hoarding isn’t healthy, but not many of us would be comfortable in a sterile, institutional setting either. The only way you’ll find the right balance is by evaluating and questioning what you have.
My recommendation is to download this week’s Home-Based Inventory. Find a few minutes where you can fill it out—preferably while in your home!
With pen in hand, work through some of your assumptions and desires for what a home should be.
Consider what matters to you right now, how much space you need, how much time you spend there, how much effort or expense you want to invest, and how much stuff you want to care for.
Recognizing how you developed your preconceptions for a house will allow you to question if those things reflect your current values. At some point, we all encounter an opportunity to move…with a new job, for access to better schools, or due to an empty nest. So the next home we choose should be something that truly fits us and our desired lifestyle, rather than merely reflects society’s expectations.
I admire houses with formal dining rooms, antique furnishings, and dark, heavy woodwork. Yet the places that I feel most comfortable and “at home” tend to be simple cottage-living spaces with a clean, airy feeling and tons of natural light. My mind defaults to the house I grew up in, but my heart longs for ample sunshine and views of the water.
If you’re having trouble making the connection between what your home is and what you’d like it to be, then I invite you to take a walk-through with the eyes of a visitor. Imagine you’re taking a tour of someplace you’ve never been.
From the edge of your property, walk up to your front door, and explore it room by room:
When I went through my own house, I found a growing divergence between what we have and where I’d like to be.
My girls are getting closer to leaving the nest, and I find myself increasingly drawn to small scale living. Secretly, I’d love to own a tiny house, or spend months exploring the country with a travel van as my home. But as a book lover, I recognize that I’m going to need a bit more space than that.
Taking a home inventory allowed my husband and I to start conversations about what we want our life to be once our kids have moved out. Instead of a separate family room, living room, and basement tv area, we can combine all the activities of these three rooms into one shared space.
Given that neither of us gardens or enjoys yard work, we’ve also talked about our next home having a smaller property… or even being a condo. After cataloging our closets, cupboards, and over-stuffed basement, I am convinced it’s time to start letting go of unneeded belongings now, so our kids don’t need to deal with them decades down the line.
Regardless of what you discover about the type of home you really want, take the Small Step of sharing your thoughts with the people you live with and care about. And listen attentively to their expectations and dreams too. Finding the right balance isn’t easy, but taking the time to initiate the conversation is a great first step towards living the life you long for.