Dan and I recently started the search for our first house (YIKES). We’ve been living in an awesome apartment for the last two years, and to be honest, I really don’t want to let go of apartment living. I love being able to put in a maintenance request when the dishwasher breaks down and the exactly zero amount of landscaping work I have to do. Our apartment is cozy and perfect. It’s small enough that we use our space wisely and don’t accumulate too much stuff. But we do want to own, and the time is exactly right with pricing, interest rates, and our incomes and budgets. So here we go.
It seems to me that, generally, people tend to fall into one of two camps when purchasing a house. On any given day, sometimes within the same hour, you can find me in either of these camps. I swing back and forth quite precariously. I’m doing my best to find a spot right in the middle.
Camp 1: The American Dreamers
Buying a house is a natural step in the process toward achieving the American Dream (what does that even mean?). Do well in school, graduate from college, get a great job, enjoy exactly two years of the single life, get married, buy a house, rehab said house and fill it with new furniture immediately, then (almost as immediately) fill it with 2.5 kids. Make sure you buy the biggest, most expensive house you’re approved for. Even if it doesn’t fit your budget, stretch. You deserve it.
Camp 2: The Extreme Free Spirits
Buying a house ties you down and holds you back from everything that life has to offer. Keep renting or wandering or couchsurfing. Do only what you want to do at any given moment, and don’t commit to anything long enough or deeply enough that you can’t get out of it whenever you change your mind. Consume, consume, consume, but don’t invest. Buying a house is like selling your soul for a solid 30 years.
Clearly, these are caricatures. But even so, I find myself swinging from extreme to extreme at times, and it’s the swinging that feels so dangerous. I don’t want to swing so hard to one side that I lose my grip and land there forever. Here’s the middle ground where I’m trying to root myself.
Camp 3: The Simplists
Purchasing a house can be a wise investment. It’s a complex combination of several factors that all have to be just right (and that’s the scariest part!):
- Market conditions: Home prices and interest rates
- Personal financial conditions: Debt-to-income ratio, actual flexibility in your budget, savings for a down payment
- Personal time commitment: Time you’re actually able to commit to doing necessary repairs, maintenance, and general labor (i.e. shoveling the driveway) that’s required of a home owner
- Other factors: How long you’re planning to live where you would buy (it can take up to 5 years to recoup closing costs!), your job stability, etc.
Since homes generally appreciate in value, if you’re planning to remain in a specific area for a long period of time, a home is an excellent investment. Especially if you purchase a home that is under budget for what you’re approved for and results in monthly payments that are less than what you’re comfortable paying. I know, it’s very un-American of me to say that.
Though it’s easy to say that Dan and I are shopping for our “first” home, we also hope that it could be our last home. We’re struggling to decide which mindset is better for buying our first house. On one hand, we love the idea of never needing to move again. We’d be willing to spend more money (though still under our budget) to get a house with “the whole package”: good schools, two bathrooms, enough space for three or four kids, possibly an unfinished basement that could become an office. In this case, we wouldn’t ever feel the need to move, and we could pay off our house faster, saving us money in the long run.
The other possibility is to spend significantly less on a house, but perhaps without all the features we may want in the future. Maybe 1.5 bathrooms, no additional unfinished space, a layout we’re not crazy about (that we also couldn’t fix someday). With this option, we would likely want to move in 5 to 10 years, but we’d save a ton of money right now. We’re leaning toward this latter option.
But, whichever way we decide to go, I’m thankful that we’re in a position to buy a house—especially given the local cost of living—and I want to keep minimalism as a top priority. Wherever we end up living, I don’t want to accumulate so much stuff that I feel like I need more space just to hold all of it.
It’s like the ever-expanding-purse phenomenon. You start out carrying a small purse and then fill it up with stuff, so then you buy a bigger purse, which you fill with all your old stuff plus, somehow, accumulate all kinds of new stuff. So you keep buying bigger and bigger purses, unconsciously and unintentionally filling them up, adding things here and there just because they fit.
I don’t want that to happen to my home. I don’t want to fall into the trap of buying stuff just because it fits.
I don’t want to have unused space in my house, space that I feel the need to furnish just because it’s there.
I want each space in my house to be special or to serve a purpose.
I want each object in my house to be useful or carry meaning.
I don’t want a basement so full of stuff that I can’t even remember what’s down there.
If I have the space, I will fill it. So I don’t want the space.
I also don’t want fancy. Okay, I kind of want fancy in that I wouldn’t turn it down if the house was under our budget. I just won’t bust my budget to get it. I mostly just want a place that’s clean, has a decent-enough layout, and has a door that opens to my friends and family.