The home of my dreams
I've always loved old buildings, whether it be a European cathedral, an Exchange District warehouse, the legislature, or a turn-of-the-century farmhouse. The first home I bought was in a newer condo building without any historical charm, but it felt like home. I'd never expected to live in a historical building, I just enjoyed admiring them.
One of my brothers lived in rural Jamaica for a number of years. I went down to visit him a few times, and would always be struck by the housing. It was common to see sprawling villas next to tiny brick houses of less than 150 square feet. Upon returning from my first visit, I remember waking up the next morning and realizing that my bedroom was larger than many Jamaican homes. This bothered me for a short time, but I quickly got over it as I re-immersed myself in our Canadian way of life, where we've gotten used to a higher standard of living.
My condo apartment was well located, only a block away from the school where I taught. As I walked to work every day, I would admire two older homes which had a historical feel to them. I had the opportunity to chat with one of the owners a few times, and was given a tour of her family's home. It had been built in 1907, and although it had been modified a number of times, it still had much historical character, with its wide moldings and the one-of-a-kind hand-carved bannister. I fell in love.
When I learned that the owners would be upsizing in order to accommodate their growing family, I decided that I had to buy this house. I could afford it, as the value of my condo had gone up. I had it inspected, and was assured that it was in very good shape for its age. Many people around me warned me that owning a house, especially an older one, was a lot of work. It had three bedrooms and was much larger than what I needed. But I was young, full of dreams, and in love. I could handle it, I assured them. I knew what I was getting into-- or so I thought. I made an offer and I got it. I'd never even dreamed of living in a historical home, yet here I was, moving into one. It was so exciting.
I quickly got to work, first removing the wall-to-wall carpeting and having it replaced with hardwood floors. My next project was the upstairs bathroom, which was in a sad state: the clawfoot tub had been modified to look built-in, the shower didn't work, and there was carpeting, ugly burgundy wainscotting, and a too-large modern pedestal sink. I found a contractor who specialized in character homes, and he promised me the bathroom of my dreams. I got it, but at a quite a price. I'll just say that he was less than honest, and that our last conversation happened in a lawyer's office. Those three months were some of the most stressful I can remember. I'm thankful I didn't burn out.
There were a few other sagas, like when my kitchen roof started leaking in the late fall. Fearful after my bathroom experience, I managed to find a handyman who did a somewhat decent job. Unfortunately, one thing led to another, and he discovered mold in the kitchen walls. Suffice it to say that this was another long three months. Sigh.
A lovely Senegalese family of six moved into a three-bedroom unit in the multiplex next door a few years later. When they asked me how many people lived in my large house, I had the same feeling I'd that morning after my return from Jamaica, but this time it was mixed with embarrassment at my overly opulent lifestyle. I've never forgotten this.
For years, I've been called as a tree-hugger and had people roll their eyes at my insistence on recycling and composting in order to reduce waste. A few years ago, I started exploring the world of permaculture. I remember listening to Paul Wheaton, who spoke of what made one a true environmentalist. "It's not about whether you recycle or compost," he said. "It's about your use of the earth's resources. An environmentalist minimizes his or her footprint." This was a new concept for me, but I recognized the truth in his statement. This got me re-examining my lifestyle. I thought about the size of my (poorly insulated) house and of all the energy which went into heating it every winter. It could easily shelter four people. Yet it was home only to me and all my stuff.
I finally accepted that this house was too much for me, in so many ways. It was way too large, cost too much to heat and maintain, and was taking up too much of my time. I wasn't just a homebody without much of a social life-- I felt like I was married to this house. But it was an unhappy marriage: I was putting a lot into it, but getting very little back. It was time for a divorce. I would sell it and buy a smaller home-- I wasn't ready to move back into an apartment and give up my garden. But did I really want to take on the responsibility of yet another house? Ugh.
Around the same time, I decided that I needed to do something I enjoyed, so I joined Margaret's Choir. I've always loved singing, and this non-audition community choir was just the place for me. This is where I met Frances, who told me about Prairie Rivers and her cohousing dream. A caring community where residents would share work and resources and live lighter on the planet? I knew immediately that this was what I needed: I could have a right-sized, energy-efficient home, community-minded neighbours, and a garden. I quickly got on board and started working with a group of lovely people to make this new home of my dreams a reality.
If you want more community in your life and would like to live a more sustainable lifestyle, look into Prairie Rivers Cohousing. It might well be the home of your dreams, too!