Several years ago I purchased my first home. This week is the anniversary of that purchase coincidentally. While I was house hunting I remember a co-worker telling me, “renting is like throwing money out a window, when you own those are your windows”. Less than a year later I knew exactly what he meant. It’s like everything that worked perfectly fine for the home inspection was back to leaking or the tape had peeled off. It wasn’t until I sold that home that I developed a deeper sense of what it truly meant.
I assume what he meant by his statement is that I’ll still be throwing money out the window, but there’s a return on the investment. Financially speaking this is sort of true. In my 7 years of “ownership”, I shelled out about $200K in mortgage and property taxes, God knows how much in maintenance and basic upkeep. Upon selling the home, I was given about $70K back. Had I rented the entire 7 years I likely would have shelled out slightly more and received nothing in return. However, the larger lesson that I recognize in this is that I never really “owned” the place to begin with. Which brought me to some weird existential theory and landed me on, I have never “owned” anything. I’m not high, I promise.
Hold Up, That’s My S#!&
A few thousand years ago some people decided it would be great to honor themselves with Pyramids. At least that’s what history books tell us. These guys had people build massive structures filled with riches for the eternal comfort of their afterlife. Servants were killed to be eternal servants, pets, and so on. In their mind, they are forever in charge of something. Then in 1923, some lowly peasant came down to King Tut’s tomb and basically looted it laying claim to everything to include King Tut’s body. After all that hard work those laborers did to ensure Tut would be in charge forever, some foreign peasant comes in and starts making decision about what this King’s eternal fate would be from then on. Imagine that!
This is an example that nothing is ours forever, to include the flesh and blood that houses the essence of what makes us who we are. We are temporary owners at best of everything we think we own. We should behave as if we want our deposit back upon leaving this place. I don’t mean getting into heaven, that’s a selfish motivation, I mean for the good of those to come. Caring about the finite resources and your impact on the world around you lasts far longer than your desire to honor yourself.
Think of everything you own, clothes, shoes, cell phone, car, in 20 years how much of that will you still have? If you sell these items, how long will you have the proceeds from the sale? If you pass them on or simply trash them…you no longer own them. When you pass away, what are you taking with you? Even your thoughts are temporarily yours, once you say them, those around you are able to process them and re-imagine meaning and intent. That’s probably a heavy thought for some people, but it’s only doom and gloom if you have a strong sense of ownership when it comes to stuff.
In the metaphysical sense. Please, claim your kids regardless of tax season and don’t leave your shit around because you’re done with it. Just free your mind of the sense of attachment you have to things because your time with anything is brief. Buying a home is still a wise financial choice, buying an expensive tomb filled with jewelry and stuff, not so much. Actually, buying expensive jewelry and stuff isn’t really a wise choice for the living either, but I’m boring like that so don’t mind me.
“A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff”George Carlin
Many of us are in a perpetual state of maintenance. That could be keeping up with paying for our lifestyles, or paying for the appearance of keeping up. I’m not immune from this struggle, as humans, we want stuff. However, we must remember that just like the desire for that stuff, our time with it is fleeting. I know folks that treat their Jordan collection better than some family members. They wait hours to buy a pair of shoes that have been released, and re-released 4 times already, each time more expensive than the last. Most of the people going through these changes to get the shoes never saw him play during his career. There is artificial value placed on these shoes that cause very real pain and loss because of people’s attachment to them.
A Chair Is Not A House
I bought and sold my first home 7 years apart, down to the month actually. For me, the joy I felt was the same on both days. I was excited for a new beginning, an opportunity to develop fresh memories, embark on a new adventure and all of the flowery stuff that comes with moving. My wife and daughter were both a bit sad about selling the place. To them it was a piece of the family in that home. Those special moments and memories are connected to the house, so naturally there was a bit of pain that came with giving that up. For me, houses are like dishes at a restaurant, I recognize when it’s nice, but it’s just a vessel for everything that matters.
“Owning” that home put a few things in perspective for me. I found that it’s important to place the emphasis on the things that truly matter in life, and not material things that decorate our lives. Material stuff can be fun, but it can also be very stressful if you are incapable of recognizing the memories are made with loved ones. I believe it was the late great Luther Vandross that sang:
A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sittin’ there
a chair is not a house and a house is not a home
When there’s no one there to hold you tight
And no one there you can kiss goodnight
You gotta listen to it to get the full effect, but the point is, the stuff is just stuff without the people that fill it with greater purpose. Our attachment to these things aren’t what make the things special, it’s what we do with them that makes them special. I enjoyed my 7 years in that townhome, I’m enjoying my time in this single family home as well, still throwing money out the windows but with a greater appreciation this go round. There can be joy in a shack and misery in a mansion, so place your focus where it counts.