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May 24, 2011 / allyo

Losing the dream

I’ve always loved watching HGTV’s House Hunters. MD HATES the show, HATES it, and I can’t watch it while he’s in the room because he can’t keep his snarky comments to himself. He especially hates the international holiday homes episodes because he thinks the expats (from whatever country) are too picky and expect everything to be their way. Generally, they don’t bug me because I’ve lived, to a smaller extent, that culture shock through my summer abroad in Italy umpteen years ago. But the one thing that drives me nuts is when a couple deliberately goes to a warm climate to enjoy the “outdoor living lifestyle” and then bitches about the lack of INDOOR square footage.  Ayiyi. But it’s a shift in one’s paradigm and it takes a little time to adjust your expectations.

I don’t know how old this report is, but it says that every three months, 250,000 families enter into foreclosure. Here it says 1.8 mil. foreclosure homes – in what time period I don’t know. The point is, a lot of people are having to shift their way of thinking, and do it in a way that keeps some of their dignity intact. You can’t go through this process and emerge sane without realizing that home ownership doesn’t matter as much as we think (thought) it does. I don’t mean on a personal level or an economic one. I mean on a societal level. The American dream – the house, the picket fence, it doesn’t define who we are as people. Sure, it can make life easier. It can bring happiness. But that’s because we’ve decided it should be that way, not because of some universal truth.


Our search for a rental is particularly frustrating because we want to stay in our big urban school district. Not only did Jamie lottery into the school of my dreams last year, but it’s K-8, meaning we get to skip the whole middle school issue. There are a lot of great rentals in the areas where our city and the suburbs overlap and lots of properties that boast “prestigious XYZ (suburban) schools!” and I sigh, and keep clicking.

I remember when apartment complexes with playgrounds were in nice parts of town. Those same areas are now NOT where we’re willing to live, and they’re where we grew up. We’ve talked about what sacrifices we might need to make to stay in this city. We might not be able to take the swing set. MD may have to give up some of his more exotic pets for lack of space. (He even said Maggie could live with his sister for awhile, to which my only response was a horrified face and a squeak, but he’s right.) If we did have to give up the swing set then I would want to live closer in to the city where there are some great parks and walk-ability is high and the population density is higher than we’re used to. I’d want to completely shift our lifestyle. I think this could be a great experience for Jamie but I don’t know. I don’t know HOW important the yard really is, I just know it’s what we’re used to and what the majority of families here have. I don’t know if moving to another neighborhood with no kids plus no yard would end up being a mistake. I think about going back to the days of a little patio for a backyard and it just feels like going backward and I get frustrated because there’s NO REASON why there can’t be a great apartment complex right where we want to live that has a playground and allows dogs. No reason other than we’ve decided, as a community, that that’s not what we want there. We’ve decided as a city that we are about HOUSES, dammit. Affordable housing means HOUSES, not rentals. That’s why we bought our house to begin with! It was cheaper to buy a house than to rent somewhere that allowed a dog.

Dog, kid, damn nuisances, I tell you. Tuck them away in your backyards! (Ok, I’m getting a little punchy.)


Back to HGTV. There’s one show that I can think of that touches upon what’s happening to the “rest of us” in this country. The reverse home buyers – the home losers. This new reality that is shaping us as surely as the post WWII housing boom. Our paradigm is shifting, and what I don’t see is any conversation about the long-lasting impact of this collective experience. Will we continue to live on the edge, the current consumer unwillingness to open our wallets so wide forgotten as soon as gas prices drop again and jobs start to come back (if they come back)? Will we have more compassion for each other, or will bitterness prevail? Will our children grow up assuming that home ownership is the great American dream?  I don’t know the answers. All I know is, you can’t have this kind of personal loss on the scale we’re seeing without a shift. I know we’ll never look at the world in quite the same way again. Multiply that by almost 2 million families and who can say what comes next?



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  1. MystikMomma / May 24 2011 11:55 pm

    This was an interesting look at what has happened. I don’t know what the answer is, but I agree a shift seems likely. On another note… priorities are important in your personal search. At one point it seemed that we could have what we wanted because we earned it, we were working hard and that was what everyone else had. I remember wanting to do this and that because that is what one does with a house… then we were forced out of our house, lived “temporarily” in a rental, not even putting up pictures with half of our belongings in boxes packed away. Then we moved to live in 1200 sq feet squished in a 2 bedroom apartment with a closed in concrete patio on the 2nd floor. We have one allotted parking spot to our name that wasn’t under cover. We had to share a washer and dryer with the entire floor, even though I had both in storage. We unpacked all our belongings and put them up even though it was overload on the senses, but these were out things. We sold extra sets of dishes, a bed, lawn furniture, gave away other large items and let family use the things we weren’t ready to give up. We even sold our second vehicle and became a one car family. The boys gave up their train table, they still ask for it now, 3 years later.

    We gave up a lot to make that move even 20K in salary! But our priorities shifted and what we thought was important changed. It was a huge change for us from awesome brick stable home with woodwork, built ins, leaded glass, fenced yard you know all those things that made us a bonafide homeowner… However it was necessary to get us to where we needed to be. Now we are back to being homeowners… and we get the idea that all things change and what we have today, will not be what we have tomorrow. We are okay with it. We know what is important and we make the changes necessary for each new challenge.

    I say this to mean, that I understand this process you are going through and yes changed need to happen. Your lives are taking a turn and you need to find what is most critical to your family. If that means, being pet free, or swing set free… then so be it. If it means taking public transport and downsizing a vehicle, then so be it. In the end you have each other and that is most critical. You are learning to connect and find family within. You realize that your home is where your heart is. You will figure this out, I know. But be gentle on yourself and just define the needs, not the wants. It will help illuminate a path.

    This isn’t easy, as I know that too. We suffered much in the transition, but found such beauty in it all as well. The boys were fine in the end, because they would look in our eyes to see our love and that made their world complete. Even when they slept on a mattress on the floor, because we had to sell their beds, as they wouldn’t fit and they waited for their new bunk beds.

    Trust that you will find the beauty in all of this and learn to be flexible. I think that is a lesson we all must learn. I try to keep it in mind all the time…. because just when I think I figured it out… change happens again. Trust again and again!

  2. Jody / May 25 2011 5:51 am

    The uncertainty of where we go next scares a lot of people, me included. Sometimes I feel like the home-ownership dream was part of our national aspiration to have a large middle class, and as home-ownership falls, the gap between rich and poor widens, too. Other times, I wonder if all those houses weren’t a trap, pushing people into poverty when renting could have freed them.

    But regardless, the past thirty years of building make it really hard for you to find the place of your dreams now. Which sucks. I hope the right place makes an appearance very soon.

  3. Dawn / May 26 2011 7:02 am

    I’m sorry this is so hard and I wish I could snap my fingers and point you to the perfect place. Having said that, there have been many days I have envied your yard, it is a great yard, but I’ve lived with half the size for 8 years now and it totally can be done, especialy when you can walk to the park. 10 years ago, apartment buildings were booming businesses, being built quickly…I saw them at my old job, tons of them being built in cornfields. But the city doesn’t have cornfields, and there’s the rub. And the ones that aren’t in cornfields are probably no longer options (I think back to where Rob and I lived before getting married). I admire your wanting to stay in the City Schools, for many, this would be an opportunity to finally get out of them. But I want to tell you that Your American Dream needn’t The American Dream. It is harder to do what we want the way we want when we have children. There is pressure from all sides to live here, go to these schools, drive this car, have this stuff. In all of this, I hope you find a place that has space to move and a park nearby an that will take Maggie. But I know that change is hard and second-guessing everything is natural. Hang tough and call me if you need someone to hear you.

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