photograph by Marilyn Sadler
A dozen years ago when we set out to buy another house, I wandered through so many that just weren’t quite right. Sure, they had the basic criteria — spacious rooms, smaller yards, charm galore — but they each lacked something I couldn’t exactly name.
Then one afternoon I watched sunlight flooding the living room of the house we were leaving, and I realized that’s one element I couldn’t live without. Never mind that the light streamed through less than sparkling windows, or that it faded our oriental rug and jacked up our utility bill. My next house must face west and embrace the afternoon sun, or that house would never be home.
I still enjoy that light, dappled by the shade of old oaks, and the view in each direction is soothing to my soul. For some folks these natural assets are low (or not at all) on their priority list. The key is knowing just what makes you happy. And sometimes you stumble on happiness by accident.
As you shop for another house or make improvements to the one you’ve got, you might consider these thoughts as you navigate the waters:
Allow yourself to be surprised, and yes, even to change your mind. You may be focused on a huge kitchen with stainless steel appliances, but what may really strike your fancy is the cozy breakfast nook. Or, you’re dead-set on a den with an Isokern fireplace, but wind up blown away by a celestial mural in the bedroom. If you can have both features in one house, more power to you. But if you can’t, go with the one that lifts your heart every time you see it.
Have a little faith. Some 30 years ago my husband said we should convert our attic into a guest bedroom and bath. When his aghast wife declared we couldn’t possibly afford such a venture, the man rolled his eyes and set the project in motion. Over the next 20 years that room housed one of his grown sons, my visiting sisters and their husbands, playtime hide-and-seek with various children, and friends from far and near. Quiet, private, and overlooking our leafy backyard, the room was not only a memory-maker, it was one of the best investments we ever made. And I don’t remember even once worrying about the loan payment.
Be prepared to live with — or leave — disruption. That’s especially hard for me, a creature who craves order. That orderliness served a good purpose when our first house was on the market and our Realtor called with a potential buyer; we could whip things into tidy shape and be out in 20 minutes. But oh, those home improvement projects — they literally wreak disruption. A few years ago we had our kitchen floor refinished. Since it’s located smack in the middle of the house, we had to reroute every move we made, even to the bathroom. I should add that the floor was gorgeous and gleaming and worth every inconvenience. But next time? Hotel, here we come.
The key is knowing just what makes you happy. And sometimes you stumble on happiness by accident.
As we age and downsizing looms, clear away clutter while you can. I’m not bad about hoarding stuff, but I do have trouble parting with cards and notes. So many came from friends at special times in my life that it’s impossible to lump these in the category of “clutter.” One day soon I’ll sift through those bags of notes, cherish what they say, then put them in recycling and bid them farewell. When moving day comes — and I hope that’s a few years down the road — we’ll have a bit lighter burden to carry.
Try not to sweat the hassles and enjoy what you have. In the past year we had to get a new roof, replace yards of rotten wood, and call the plumber half a dozen times for clogged drains, a worn-out garbage disposal, and a backed-up toilet. This summer, during the worst drought in decades, I was forever dragging our sprinkler around to keep trees, flowers, and grass alive — and I refused to even look at our water bill. As I write this, we’ve got squirrels in our attic, traps baited with peanut butter, and a hole somewhere up there through which the critters wiggle in.
These are the hazards of home ownership. But the hazards help me savor the happiness: Watching that sun slant across the living room floor, seeing our neighbor’s cat make himself at home on our patio, rejoicing when our ancient Japanese maple leafs out again in the spring (shown above), hearing the laughter of friends and family as they settle in to visit. I’ll even tolerate the squirrels as they scamper in the attic. They know a good thing when they see it.
Marilyn Sadler is senior editor of Memphis magazine.