I recently finished a book called ‘The Sparrow’. By and large I loved it and simultaneously found it very difficult to get through – the book is well written, the premise fascinating, but sometimes it moved frustratingly slowly. I finally finished it, after picking it up and putting it down for a few months, on a plane ride last week. And yet I can’t get one of the final pages out of my head, in which a conversation takes place between a Jesuit Priest, broken in spirit and body, and a fellow priest.
“What were you before? A nurse? A therapist?”
“Not even close. I was a stockbroker. I specialized in undervalued companies.”
“It involved recognizing the worth of things that other people discounted”.
I am not always a patient person, and I tend to want things done, done correctly, and done right now.
So the fact that I ended up in a house built in 1850 that needed so much immense care is kind of amusing. I like old houses, I like land, but the list of things I could and will spend money on here seems near-endless, and what feels like almost perpetual stuff happening that impedes progress can be daunting. Yesterday I started yard cleanup again, and after making some headway I had to look around, sigh, and go back inside. Tired from a long road trip in the car for a road race, then spending multiple days onsite with a client, and not nearly enough sleep had exhausted me, and instead of seeing progress all I saw was work. I know it will get done, but yesterday wasn’t that day.
I’ve been working on a wish list of all the things the house wants and needs, and that I want and need for it. It would be lovely to endure a few months of renovation and have it all done at once, but that’s not how it is going to roll – I want to do all the renovations in cash, which means a slower cadence.
My house sat on the market for a long time – the previous owner was reluctant to make the kind of updates that make houses appeal to most buyers, like adding a third bathroom or updating the kitchen. I saw plenty of houses that were fully renovated and likely much easier to manage than this one – for a working single mom, it seemed almost nuts to sign up for this kind of effort.
But as I’ve said, this house is also special, the bones of it are perfect, and I know we belong here. There’s only the 3 of us, so extra bathrooms aren’t important right now, and 2 of the 3 are reasonably small, which makes any space constraints more manageable. Sure, more closets would be wonderful, but so is less stuff,
The upside of a slower cadence of remodels is I get time to think about what I really want at any given time. I’m not just pointing out a pretty picture in a magazine and saying “Give me that.” I have to think, really think, about what time and resources and available help can gain me, and as a result, I’m determining the true value of each item to me and to the house.
Sometimes those things get supplanted by what’s needed – a roof was on the critical path list after a tree fell on the house, and even with insurance there was out of pocket cost to me. The house needed a new roof anyway, and now a big item is crossed off my list. Same thing last summer when I realized that without a massive chimney repair there was a good chance a windstorm could take the chimney off the house. Those are the kinds of things that make non-essential renovations even further down the list. Yeah, I want to renovate the bathrooms, but this year I choose to invest in basic infrastructure and the garden.
I reaped the benefit of other buyers undervaluing this place and walking away. I have vision for it, and I know what it will become. But what it already is was enough – underneath chipped paint, old sinks and tangles of weeds is something inestimably beautiful. I lose sight of that at my own peril. I remind myself I don’t want to buy the magazine picture. I want my hands in each and every change and improvement, not because I am especially perfect at it, but because I want the craft of turning this place into what I see in my mind, and the gift of seeing the value that is already there.
My house is a metaphor for my life – 5 years ago I was where I had always wanted to be in life materially and financially, but I was also very unhappy. Today my life is infinitely messier and more complex, and far more full of those moments where I sigh and go sit down because it’s all so much work, but I am so much happier. Every day it gets better, not because it’s all perfect, but because I am in exactly the right place at the right time, recognizing the worth in what other people discounted.