Apr 26 2017
When Martin and I bought our first house, almost 20 years ago, it was love at first sight.
The realtor unlocked the door and I sprinted up the stairs, shouting with joy — extinguishing any chance of price negotiation.
And I brainwashed Martin to accept this 1890s white elephant, despite faulty wiring, water damage, cracked plaster, and (as we learned at home inspection) a roof without flashing, and a furnace that — if used — might burn down the house.
That first morning, however, Martin and I weren’t merely stunned by the repairs, but by the general state of the house. It was a mess: dishes piled in the sink and mounds of dirty clothes in every bedroom. A catcher’s mask, chest protector and leg guards scattered in a bathroom suggested a player urgently needed the toilet. But the discarded gear looked days old.
As we wandered around and absorbed it all, the family dog — plagued by a nervous bladder — trailed us, pausing to squat in each room.
“How do people live like this?” I asked Martin.
“No idea,” he replied. Not only had the owners failed to tidy up for potential buyers, they obviously resided in a perpetual state of clutter.
“Well, they do have five kids,” the realtor remarked blandly.
“Even so,” Martin said, as he waded through knee-deep oak leaves, which had killed the lawn after years of neglect.
We couldn’t conceive that capable, able-bodied adults would abandon all semblance of order. Why didn’t they patch the ceiling? Or fix the leaky pipes?
And what kind of useless, heathen children were they raising?
Clearly, they weren’t right in the head.
We renovated the house, enlisting family and friends to assist with the demo and prep work. Outdoors, we restored order and reclaimed the yard, filling a full-sized dumpster with twigs and tree limbs.
Within a few months, the house was habitable and we lived there for three, fun-filled, party-fueled years. But eventually we moved on.
Over the years, I’ve thought about the former owners of that house, and wondered about their neglect and lackluster care.
Fast forward 20 years and I no longer wonder. All of my questions have been answered.
Recently, Martin and I stood ankle-deep in toys, gazing at the yard which resembled a graveyard for garden tools. We were knocking around the topic of home repairs. This discussion always starts and ends the same: We need new siding, and should buy new windows, which would necessitate more insulation (and God knows what else), and if we’re ripping out walls, we should install central AC, and don’t forget the ancient kitchen, not to mention our master bathroom… but we can’t afford all that, so why are we having this conversation anyway?
“You know… that we’ve become them,” I said. “Those people with the kids, who owned our first house and let the place fall apart and become a pigsty. We couldn’t figure them out. But now we ARE them!”
Martin looked resigned, admitting that he’d already reached that conclusion.
A month ago, my mom stumbled on a listing of our first home. It has changed hands a few times, and undergone progressive upgrades and renovations. Presently, it is picture-perfect.
We scrolled through the photos, marveling at improvements that others would miss — heating where there hadn’t been any, using vintage radiators that matched the rest.
The kitchen layout was the same, but it looked divine. I’m sure that the owners would cringe with revulsion if they saw the state of their home 20 years ago.
Here’s a photo of a sitting room, when we closed on the house.
We removed the grim paneling, and ripped out the carpeting throughout the house. When I snapped the photo below, we had moved in, but were still renovating — hence the missing window moldings.
(Side note: I mentioned this particular floor-to-ceiling window in a February post, in reference to Corrie, who’d deliver her Border Collie stare when we watched TV and feigned fatigue.)
Our renovation was a vast improvement.
But another owner took a cataclysmic leap in the quality of upgrades and decor. Here’s that same room today.
“You know, we could do this!” Martin said, scrolling through pictures of our old house transformed. “If we’re tearing out the siding and walls, I think we should move the kitchen to the other side of the house, and build out a new mudroom, and then put a living room where the kitchen was before…”
Move the kitchen? Sure, that sounds realistic and affordable.
Personally, I’d take a kitchen and bathroom upgrade, and new siding. Some day.
In the short term, I’d settle for less clutter…
…And fewer rug-dwelling potato chips and cookie crumbs, stuck to the bottom of my socks.