Reading an old piece by Nora Ephron on her love affair with her Upper West Side rent-controlled (and later not so rent-controlled apartment) reminded me about how important a sense of home is to us. Not just any home but a home that we feel we would never leave. At a certain point, we stop calling our parent’s home “home” and realize that we are of the age to plant our own roots somewhere. But with all the moving that happens these days with changing jobs, continuing education, relationships, family needs, and other life circumstances, it seems impossible to stay put.
But, if we think of ourselves as ready and willing to commit, the dominant narrative (in my circle) seems to be that renting only contributes to our sense of transience. So instead, we long to buy a place of our own. Somehow, we believe that unless we commit ourselves financially (and on paper), we can’t really call this place home. It’s almost like we have to marry our apartment.
This is certainly how I felt as a newly married woman. Our first place was a great 650 sq. feet of space in the Financial District (truly a fine size for a couple in Manhattan), but we had so much stuff that I could not unpack the last 10 boxes. What an eyesore. My brother-in-law called it a storage unit, and sadly, it was. The apartment was oddly shaped with not as much usable space as we would have liked. But still, it was in a luxury building, had great light, and somewhat of a view. The space wasn’t really the issue, the stuff was.
It was just so… sad. I sat in a “storage unit” for a year, trying to work on my research and instead lost myself in a new life with neither structure nor support system. I remember realizing at one point that the unpacked boxes felt like a great analogy to the state of my heart. So much needed to be dealt with and yet there the boxes stood, just not being addressed, but noticed every day. They were inescapable and now an invisible weight on me. A weight that just made it harder and harder for me to move forward in life.
And so, I longed for a home for the security that I thought it would bring. I thought that if I could at least physically be in a neater space, maybe my life would become neater too. Questions would get answered. I’d know where I belonged. I’d gain some clarity. Direction. Purpose.
It was our choice to rent a place that would allow us to save some money to buy. We just didn’t believe in renting expensive places. We wanted our monthly housing expense to go towards equity in a home. I was just patient enough and found ways to cope with the clutter. The little nook of a kitchen in the back of the apartment felt like the only space that I could neatly call my own. So I relished my time in that space, making just about anything I saw on the Food Network. Over the months, we bought some pieces from Ikea to hold us over, and I looked for used furniture on Craigslist. I framed photos and hung a mirror. It started to look better. We agreed that we would get nicer things once we bought a more permanent place.
It has now been about 2.5 years since we moved out of that apartment and into the one we now own. I must say that ownership is completely different experience from renting. It is a difference in attitude about how we value our neighbors, our staff, our community. We’re all here for the long haul (or so we like to think). Despite living in what felt like a “dream home” when I moved in, I still dangerously pine for the idea of Ephron’s “Apthorp apartment” – the imperfectly perfect place that I never want to leave. If I have married my apartment, I have certainly not been a good wife. I’m still reluctant to surrender all of my love to this place.
I guess I just don’t know how to love a home. Now that I am actually owning, it really doesn’t feel so permanent after all. So ownership hasn’t really equalled marriage but more of a dating relationship (where renting would be a one night stand). It’s complicated.
But this is my home. Here, I have had the space to process my feelings, grow my family, and unpack the boxes (the literal and figurative ones). I’m moving on. It’s not at a pace that I would like, and believe me, it’s certainly frustrating at times. Maybe this great dating relationship is teaching me more about me. And what it really means to love. I know it’s just a home but as you can see, home can mean so much more to us than we might think.