Of all of my favourite pastimes, perusing Apartment Therapy is probably in the top ten. It’s my go-to when I’m very bored because it makes me feel less stressed out that I’ve wasted my time than if I fell into a mindless YouTube hole for 45 minutes. I feel like there’s some way I can convince myself that I’m learning about DIY and interior design which will be useful in the future, whereas a video (and the subsequent four response videos) about why that one blogger is no longer vegan just makes me feel like I’ve utterly lost 45 minutes that I will never get back.
But it’s that *this will be useful in the future* feeling that sometimes really gets me. I’m terrible at this mystical and unattainable millennial sensibility that is ‘living in the moment.’ I have this subconscious need to be thinking about the next thing all the time. And I do mean subconsciously. I’m not one of those people constantly planning my career and sketching out a five-year plan. Maybe I should be; maybe it would help me organise my thoughts. But I do feel like once I’ve accomplished one goal, I can be excited about it and truly sit with that happiness for about twelve minutes before I start counting up all the things that I have yet to do. And recently on my ‘yet to-do list’ is buying a fucking house.
From the outset, let me just say that I recognize that this sounds both insane and like a really privileged fucking problem (and it is both!) But it also seems like something that’s started popping up more and more in my life and it’s set off this internal panic because buying a house just wasn’t really something I’d considered before now. And, of course, now that I’m gainfully employed and have solid legal status to stay in the UK for the next little while, I obviously have to find something else to stress out about. And it’s not even all people who are ‘settling down,’ although there are some of those. It’s people more or less my age in London who just are because I guess that’s what you do? I don’t know? I guess I don’t really talk to my friends back in the States about it because it’s not really the first thing that comes up in our twice-yearly Skype calls.
But both my partner’s older brothers and their girlfriends have bought/are looking to buy. One couple just finishing re-plastering the home they bought a few months ago, and they sanded down their floors and they’re the floors that I want in my non-existent house, and the other just moved in to a rental for the short-term while they hunt for their perfect house. But the rental is two-bedroom, two-bathroom, newly renovated, for less than £600 a month! My sister’s friends are moving out of D.C. to Charlotte, NC where they can buy a nice house for $300,000. I live in my roommate’s gorgeous flat that she bought last summer. My sister is looking at mortgages in her area and trying to figure out a plan to buy in the next two years. And here I am, wasting my money on well-branded skincare products and train tickets from London to Oxford every two weeks and generally just waltzing around like an idiot. (Which, of course, isn’t true and I know that, but guyzzz it’s just how I’m feeling right nowwwwwww).
The anxiety with this, I think, is threefold. The first is straightforward: I don’t want to be doing the wrong thing. If everyone else is buying a house, it must be the right thing to do to buy a house. I don’t want to financially fuck myself because I didn’t buy property and just flushed all my money down the toilet renting. How am I supposed to improve my overall financial health if I’m not putting my monthly living expenses towards an asset that will bolster my net worth??? RIGHT??? GUYS???
But more than that, I want the things that are intrinsically attached to my concept of having a house. I want that certainty, I want stability, I want to live in the same place as my partner finally. I want to have worked for the house and have built a home. It’s an amazing thing that I achieved my pre-teen dream of living in London. It’s amazing that I got to meet someone the second time I came here and build a strange cross-Atlantic life together. I love my life here most of the time. None of those things become less true by the fact that sometimes it can be challenging for me to feel so rootless, to not know if I’m staying here, or for how long, or where we’ll go if we go back to the States, or how long we would stay there, or where we might settle down in a more permanent way. This is especially true for me because I like feeling rooted and it’s been kind of exhausting the past three years or going year to year to year, not knowing where I’ll be beyond a 12-month window. I have a foot in two places and it’s difficult for me to accept that I can’t have two things at once, and that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t figure out a way to balance my life that serves my desire to do both in some way.
And, stupidly but honestly, I want people to look at me and nod their heads knowingly when I say I’ve bought a home: ‘she’s got herself figured out,’ they’d think. And it wouldn’t be true, although I feel that it would be at this moment, looking at my other self on the threshold of her terraced home, light from the stained-glass door panes spilling across the curated hall-floor tiles that I’ve ordered bespoke from Morocco (this is actually a thing I’ve heard).
I think, really, it’s the fact that a house proves something. I mean, it doesn’t really, and I know that. It doesn’t intrinsically make me a kinder or more valuable person, but it relates to an ever-present desire in me – not unconscious because I know it’s there, and I actively try and beat it out – to prove that I’ve done things right. Look, a house would say, look how well she’s done. She did, after all, do things the right way.
I recognize that the only person who can make me feel validated is me. To be honest, I’ve gotten a lot better at doing this over the years, and I think part of that is getting a better foundational understanding of my personal morals which has helped me to feel actually fulfilled with the work I do in the field of climate change. But I think it’s also really important to talk about the ugly feelings I sometimes have and acknowledge the fact that they’re not ugly at all, really, they’re just part of being a person. Sometimes I just feel bad about myself or scared that I’m not living my life right, and it can be overwhelming. Most people I know, myself included, hold ourselves to a really high emotional standard – feelings like envy or anger or shame or regret are things we’re not supposed to have. We feel like we’re less evolved or less confident or just aren’t doing something right when we feel those things. I’m not suddenly going to stop having feelings like this just because I don’t want to have them.
What I’ve tried to do in response is to help them to spur me to action. And that action doesn’t have to be ‘save more money to buy a house’ or ‘get a raise next week’ or ‘cure cancer.’ It’s action to be kinder to myself. Action like going outside, or listening to my ‘Sunset Songs’ playlist that just makes me really grateful to get to be a person on the earth. Or it’s writing a postcard to someone (this is actually something I haven’t done recently, but should do more of, so putting it down here to get it out there). Sometimes it’s actually forcing myself to sit down and write instead of feeling bad about myself for not writing even when I said I’d do it weekly. I guess that’s what I hope to leave you with here, Reader, to make sure you know that whatever you’re feeling is okay, even if it’s about something as seemingly inane as wanting to buy a house and not knowing when or how you’ll do it. Now, I’m going to go put on some sunset music and have myself a bath.