My parents have a big, beautiful house. It is filled with gorgeous things arranged in pleasing color schemes. It’s really nice being there. I like that house. A lot.
We have a pretty nice house. It’s nothing fancy–in fact, parts of it are kind of gross (*cough* our garage *cough*)–but it gets the job done. It’s old and it wasn’t build very well, so the overall quality isn’t great. The cabinets in the kitchen are thin and flimsy and look like they belong in a (cheap) cabin in the woods. The middle cabinets don’t even match the ones around them. The fridge is old and dirty (no matter how many times I clean it), but the dishwasher and stove are new. The bathroom tile is cool but the sink is the kind you buy at Home Depot (I’ve seen my exact sink there many times) and the layout is strange and it makes the already small space even more cramped than it needs to be.
It has two bedrooms and we sleep in the living room so it’s almost like it has three. Each of us has our own space to retreat to and the living room is central, providing us a space to share. The hallway is wide and the skylight keeps it bright. The floors are shiny and ceilings are high. The windows are new. The doors are hollow and thin and usher sound through them with a kind of urgency. Most of them can be opened without turning the knobs.
There is an ample entry way which helps keep the mess at bay, but the ceiling is so low in that space that I hit my hands when I take off my sweatshirt.
It really is a nice enough house and the fact that we own it in this insane city is more than I can believe most days. We are so lucky to have the security of a home we own in a place where rents skyrocket and tenants are pushed out of their homes with no where to go.
Yes, it’s a nice enough house, but it’s not beautiful. It’s not filled with beautiful things. All our furniture is from IKEA or was handed down to us from our parents. There is no expensive artwork on our walls, only photographs that I’ve taken. We don’t have any nice dishes to bring out when we entertain, and we don’t have anywhere people could hang out if we wanted to entertain them.
In St. Louis we had dinner at my aunt’s house. She put an addition on at some point in the last two years that almost doubled her downstairs. At one point I remarked that my entire house could probably fit in her first floor and she said, yeah, that is how I was living when I was your age.
What I didn’t say was that I expect to be living the same way when I’m her age.
This house, our first house, is no starter home for us. We plan to live here for the rest of our days. There will be no trading it in for something nicer down the road. This is our home, hopefully forever. If we leave here it will most likely be because one of us lost our job and we can’t afford our mortgage.
I notice it a lot, my dueling perspectives. There is the envy of those who have bigger, newer, nicer homes than our own fighting with the firm assurance that we have more than we need. Most days I sit in my living room and think, it’s so big, the ceilings are so high, there is so much space and light and I’m so happy here. This house is a million times better than the apartment we lived in for almost a decade. Other times, I run my hands over the granite or marble countertops of homes much nicer than mine and lament the fact that I’ll never have anything like that to call my own.
It’s hard, not to compare. It’s hard not to see people write about their third bedroom, or fourth, or even fifth and think, imagine what I could do with all that space! Their home must be three or four times bigger than mine! And yet most of the time I recognize that we don’t even need the extra 400 square feet I dream of some day calling my own. That I can live even without that second bathroom I so intensely covet.
We are so fortunate to make enough to afford this house, in this city where real estate is so insane. I know this. I embrace that gratitude every single day. But somehow that gratitude leaves room for me to sometimes want more.
My husband works for the city and I work at a public school. We’ll only ever make about $10,000 more a month (before taxes) than we’re making right now and part of that won’t be for another 10 years. We’re budgeting to add some inside stairs to the back of the house so we can maybe move downstairs some day, but there will never be money to renovate our kitchen or bathroom. This is it. And the reality is, by the time we can afford to make even the modest changes we dream about, our daughter will already be 15 and set to leave home a short three years after. Is it even worth making our living space bigger when our family will soon be smaller?
I don’t know what the point of this post is. I guess I just wanted to get it down so maybe I’d stop thinking about it. I tire of these thoughts that circle, relentlessly, in my mind. I watched my dad’s envy of other’s financial good fortune blind him to the amazing house he already had and I’d never forgive myself if I did the same. I remind myself it’s okay to feel envy, that eventually it will pass. And it does. And then it pops up again.
I just asked my husband if he ever feels envious of other people’s homes or jobs or accomplishments and after thinking about it for a while he said that no, he does not. This surprised me. I thought that we all felt envy at some times. Maybe I was wrong about that.
I used to try to squelch these feelings but now I try to accept them without dwelling or berating myself for them. They have less of a hold of me when I do that, so I guess is something.
What sparks your envy? How easily does it coexist with gratitude?