My husband and I purchased our first (and current) home almost 8 years ago. The decision came out of a steep hike in rental costs, need for more space (e.g. not an apartment) to accommodate the birth of our first baby, and was financially possible due to a fortuitous event in my husband’s career.
We were over the moon when we bought it. My parents purchased their first home in this country when I was 14 years old. My in-laws lived in a humble house (side note: I have known my husband for 15 years and have still never been to his house because his mother-in-law is embarrassed to show it to me) and still owed mortgage until we paid it off for them before purchasing our house.
It was a blessing and felt like a huge lift. It was the most money we had ever spent on something. We felt like adults. For context, when we moved to our current location four years before the purchase, we had a negative net worth due to my hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical school debt, very little savings and zero investments. We had received no financial education from our families (this is not a complaint – we received everything we needed in terms of love and encouragement from them, and they also didn’t have the financial education to pass down to us) and they were not in a position to lend us money for a down payment. Buying this house was a big deal for us. I remember sitting out on the deck after we closed and received the keys for the first time. We sat under our fig tree and thought about the years to come.
I don’t recall what our dreams looked like then, but I can tell you that we have been so fortunate these past 8 years. After struggling with sub-fertility (my doctor’s term) due to secondary hypothalamic amenorrhea caused by excessive exercise and caloric restriction, we were blessed with 4 amazing children. I have had an incredibly successful, stable and fulfilling career with the same employer and supportive colleagues who feel like family. My husband has been able to take career risks and has taken on a variety of roles with a concrete financial upside. The equity in our home has grown significantly these past 8 years.
But there’s a catch that others have made us feel self-conscious about and it’s this: our house is a bit over 1700 square feet. It has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. It sits on a small plot of land. This has apparently caused some concern for our friends and acquaintances. I say this facetiously, but it has been quite surprising to me how many people see it as fair game to comment on. Starting when I was pregnant with my second child, people began asking us when we were planning to move. Many people have said “I don’t know how you do it with all of your kids!”. In truth, some of those questions have been inspired by our own ambivalence through the years. What is enough space? Is there a certain amount of square footage that is appropriate to have per family member? Do we need a two-car garage? A guest room that is always open to accommodate visitors? A larger yard?
Here are the amazing things about our house:
-it is incredibly affordable, allowing us to commit a much larger chunk of our income to investments, savings, travel, helping our families, childcare and private education for our children
-it is mostly updated, with us having poured money into new bathrooms, a new garage, a new detached office, landscaping and aesthetic odds and ends
-our neighbors are normal and kind; we are used to them and they are used to us; they don’t complain about our kids making noise and we reciprocate by being the best neighbors we can possibly be
-it is very close to my job, which has allowed me to be very involved in my kids’ lives, despite having a full-time career
Some of the ways in which we have made due with the space:
-we have 3 kids in one room currently, and our youngest in a separate room
-I have an “in home” office in our new garage; when the kids are at school/camp, I work from the desk in our bedroom, but I have a place to do video visits when needed that is quiet and private. One of my friends, upon seeing this, commented that I have a knack for using small spaces, and this comment warmed my heart
-when visitors come, we give them our bedroom and sleep in the playroom, on an air mattress
And yet I sometimes hear a gnawing voice in my ear that says this home is not enough. Through the years, friends who lived in our neighbor when we moved in have left. Many have moved out of state, to lower cost of living areas where they could afford larger homes. Some have moved into larger homes in our area, having taken advantage of their home equity plus financial gains. Now that we are at a private school, many of our friends live in homes that cost many times more than ours. It is hard sometimes to come back from visiting these homes and not feel like our space is “less than”. Despite the comforts of our space, despite the nooks and crannies we are so accustomed to, there is still that feeling of “wouldn’t it be nice?”.
And just this week, my son’s friend came to our house. On the drive over my son asked him “How would you compare my house to yours?” and he responded with “I like mine better, also – it is much bigger.” Like most aspects of parenting, our children’s heartbreak hurts more than our own. I don’t want my children to feel like their house in “less than” and maybe I am just projecting here, because my son moved on to another question without comment or a second thought.
But despite these thoughts and mild annoyances, I stick to my belief that our home is perfect and just enough. It is the doorway through which we carried all four children home after their births and hospital stays. The playroom evolved from the place we held them to sleep while watching TV to stay awake to where they crawled, walked, tumbled and now play video games. I see them hug and snuggle together before bed or run around the backyard collapsing into giggles, and I know we are not doing them a disservice. They are learning to be close, to be together, to be compassionate siblings. We have great kids and I think this home has played a role.
The day might come when the kids needs more space – when they are teenagers and want to blast music and lock themselves in their rooms and hang out with their friends alone. When they’ll have real homework and need a quiet place to work. When my husband and I will need privacy for conversations. But today is not that day.
Have friends or families commented on your living arrangements? How do you respond?