Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Being and Doing, rather than Having

The American Dream isn't always straightforward.  The idea of owning a big house with a picket fence, a huge green lawn, and two cars in the garage has never been particularly attractive to Damon and I.  And since Damon's little incident, we've become even less enamored with owning the American Dream and all the stuff that comes along with it.  

It was a nice house, wasn't it?
Our disinterest in home ownership turned into action last year, as we sat in an Italian restaurant staring at each other over our pasta.  I'd just run a marathon (literally; the sweat wasn't even dry).  We'd also just found the perfect boat, at a very reasonable price.  But we couldn't pull the trigger on buying it, try as we might to convince ourselves as we slurped up our noodles (well, Damon was done eating well before I was, so I slurped and he watched).  That was both a terrible day, and a terrific day.  A turning point.

I keep a folder on my browser at work with boats we might want to look at.  Sailboats; all between 35 and 40 feet, in our price range, capable of blue water cruising.  Some are pipe dreams, but most are boats we can afford when we feel like it's time.  I click on this folder once a day and choose "open all tabs"; checking to see if any have dropped in price to the point where they should be moved up the list to the top.

Last May, the Friday before I was to run my third marathon, I was getting antsy as I waited for Damon to finish his work so we could load up the car and get down to Providence for the pre-race activities.  I waited and waited.  I cleaned my lab.  I graded a few papers.  And I opened that folder one more time.

A boat we'd been considering, a Pacific Seacraft 37, had dropped drastically in price just that afternoon, and suddenly it wasn't just a good deal -- it seemed to be a great deal.  I was out of my office and at Damon's desk in a minute.  He tore himself away from the all-important email he was composing, checked out the listing, we looked at each other with stupid grins on our faces, and he called the broker right away.  Was there something wrong with the boat making the price drop so much?  No, it was an estate sale and the family just needed to get rid of the boat.  Was he available to show it this weekend?  Sure, Sunday would be great.  In the afternoon.  Right after I ran 26.2 miles.

I crossed the finish line at around noon; tired and cramped after a particularly difficult morning (I had to walk about 2 miles of the race; disappointing but not devastating).  I found Damon, cried on his shoulder for a minute, and told him to stop me if I ever suggested I wanted to run another marathon.  He laughed; I say this every time.  He pushed a turkey sandwich into my right hand and a candy bar into the other, and we set off towards Boston and this interesting boat.  Along the way I stripped out of my sopping clothes and into something more acceptable (not so easy in the front seat of the mighty Kia as we sped along I-95).

The boat was indeed a good boat.  It was in relatively good condition; it needed one major repair, but otherwise seemed a perfect fit for our needs.  It was a great size; it had a nice layout; it was well outfitted.  We poked around all the lockers and made small talk with the broker.  Another couple stormed around the boat finding (unfounded) fault with everything in an attempt to make the broker think a lowball offer was reasonable.  One of our rules is to NEVER say bad things about a boat in front of its owner or broker.  Ever.  Your job is to make them like you; to sell yourself; especially if multiple bids will be coming on the boat.  This is the guy (or gal) who has the power to make your dreams come true; don't piss him off.  The broker rolled his eyes at these jerks, and basically told us if we made an offer anywhere near asking price, the boat was ours.

Whoa.  We'd talked about buying our "forever boat" for, well, ever.  We'd saved our pennies.  We'd sold our little boat.  We'd looked into where we were going to put it and where we were going to go in it.  And here it was, knocking on our door.

But there was a catch.  We weren't as ready as we thought we were, now that the moment had arrived.  As we sat eating pasta, we realized what a stretch it would be to own both a big house and a big boat.  We were already struggling to take care of the house, given our summer schedule.  Each year, we get back from Kent Island in late July and realize we have to replace that trim, paint that siding, rebuild that deck rail; you name it, it has to be done in August, because as they say in Westeros, Winter is Coming.  And if we bought a boat, that simply wouldn't get done.  Either the boat would go unused, or the house would fall into disrepair.  And so we stared at each other, struggling with the idea of letting this perfect boat pass us by.

That was a painful moment, but also a wonderful moment.  That was the very moment we decided to get off our cans and sell the house.  That house was nice, but it was keeping us from doing what we love, and besides, it was clownishly large.  Four bedrooms?  For two people?  What?  It was intimidating thinking about all the work that had to be done.  The fixing, the painting, the decluttering.  But we did it.  We fixed the banister that'd been loose for over a year.  We painted the dining room. We installed a new counter, sink, and fancypants faucet in the kitchen (and painted the walls and cabinets for good measure).  We spent spring break cleaning out the basement.  Had yard sales and went to Goodwill and made not a few trips to the dump.  We shampooed the rug and cleaned the windows and bought new bedding.  We trimmed the bushes and raked and generally made the place look awesome.

And then we called a realtor.

And a week later, sold the house.

Of course, we need a place to live.  But we wanted to make sure our next place wasn't going own us -- we wanted something small and easy to maintain.  For us, the solution was a tiny, funky condo, just over a mile from work.  It's in an old farmhouse; it's just two bedrooms, and it's small.  Really small.  This has several benefits.  Not only do we not need to take care of the outside of it, the inside is so small it will be easy to maintain.  And of course, it's a lot cheaper than a big house to have.

The old farmhouse our condo is in.  We're the bottom floor, right side of the blue door.
 There are downsides, but all of this is helping us to BE and DO, not HAVE.  Like so many Americans right now, we're realizing that you don't own a house -- a house owns you.  This is our attempt to free ourselves from being owned by our stuff.  This place is so small, there's not a lot of stuff around to own us anyways.  And for an Ocean Lover, this is a good thing.  We'll have more time to explore the ocean and more time to write about it.  Maybe even more time (and money!) to buy that perfect boat next time it falls into our lap.

The kitchen.

The living room.

The view from my walk to work.


  1. wife and I have talked about the doing the same but it hasn't gotten past the talking stage..How are things going with your new digs? And the boat search?

    1. We're loving the place. It's taking a while to move in, but we're getting there. It doesn't help that we've been distracted by a boat . . . but I don't want to jinx it . . . .