Two summer agos, my husband and I bought our first house.
Technically, we already owned a home.
In 2009 we purchased our first condo, a two-bedroom, 750 square-foot unit overlooking a busy, four-lane street at the distant edge of downtown.
There was so much I loved about our condo. Foremost, and what attracted us to it in the first place, is that it didn’t need a single upgrade. The previous owners had updated the entire unit, including having replaced the 90s lino with tile and laminate flooring, painted the walls in tones we automatically adored and even installed high-end fixtures (something we didn’t realize until we had to replace a broken toilet-paper holder and learned with great dismay that bathroom hardware is no small investment).
We were fortunate to never have any major repairs during our time as condo-dwellers. My dad once helped us replace the kitchen faucet, and one time I didn’t realize I’d clogged the toilet before swiftly leaving the house, causing a small measure of damage to the neighbour’s until below (and, for us, a $1,000 deductible, oops).
We were also ridiculously fortunate to never be subject to any special levies during our eight-year run as condo-owners, which is probably a rare occurrence. Our biggest expense was having to, one year after moving in, replace the 90s-original washer/dryer combo that suddenly called it quits.
Because here’s a fun fact: apartment-size appliances cost astronomically more than their regular-size counterparts and you get one choice when it comes to choosing said appliances, which is the singular model designed to fit in a condo. So we loaded up the trusty ol’ credit card with our new Samsung stacking washer and dryer and, in an effort to not have to spend a penny more, decided we were capable of installing the units ourselves. (That in and of itself was a traumatizing ordeal that put our relationship to the ultimate test. Trusting your significant other not to drop a 100-pound-or-so dryer on your head as you shimmy it into a capsule-size closet is no minor feat.)
Beyond the fact we escaped relatively unscathed in our time as condo-owners, the other thing we loved about our unit was the fact we could get anywhere we needed to be with minimal fuss. Going downtown to a show or event was as simple as queuing up at the bus stop just outside our door, while the cost of a taxi was equivalent to a specialty coffee. On several occasions we even opted to simply walk home from downtown, a 35-minute trek that only ever felt tiring midway up the final hill of our journey.
Both having worked downtown, our morning departure for work typically left a ten-minute buffer to get into the office, a challenging but not impossible triumph. My chiropractor worked in the adjacent building, my dentist was a quick six-minute drive away and buying groceries was literally as easy as crossing the street (“We’re out of cream, can you run over and grab some?”).
We were likewise surrounded by an array of city parks and walking trails, so that I could take the dog for a walk every day of the week and not be forced to follow the same route.
But condo-living had its faults, that much is certain. Our building’s main floor, for one, was a designated commercial space, meaning we had no supplementary storage. Our closets were brimming with all the miscellaneous contents of our lives: board games to paint cans, camping gear to Christmas ornaments, each one strategically stacked to the very brink of capacity.
We spent our summers enduring the oppressive heat that filled our unit, making cooking or cleaning or any kind of general movement a gruelling effort. Our horizontal blinds were perpetually coated in a film of road dust, the act of cleaning them a brutal several-day affair.
And always there was the lack of privacy that coincides with communal living. While you can, for the most part, get away with minimal neighbour-to-neighbour contact, there will always be the inevitable shared elevator rides, dumpster-drop exchanges and parking lot pleasantries.
It was this lack of privacy, in fact, that ultimately escalated our decision to buy a house.
We shared a wall with the same neighbour for the majority of our nine years in the condo and, for the bulk of those years, never had any issues with noise. And then, suddenly, it was like a barrage.
The aforementioned shared wall happened to be that of our bedroom. One evening the music from his neighbouring unit blared so loudly, the picture frames on our wall buzzed with the reverberation. We’d be brushing our teeth for bed some nights, and suddenly there a gun fight roaring through our bedroom. There were days his television would click on at eight in the morning and continue blaring its horrible cacophony until the wee hours of the morning.
Not that we sat back and tolerated the assault, mind you. We tried countless strategies with our neighbour, who, we understood, had rearranged his bedroom with his TV (and surround sound) nestled snug against our bedroom wall, and who, frustratingly, staunchly refused to move it.
We began by politely knocking on his door, which evolved to pounding on his wall, which segued into a nightly noise complaint sent to strata, which resulted in face-to-face mediation, none of which ever served to resolve the matter.
Our neighbour was a Capital-A Asshole, and the only thing preventing us from waging all-out war with him was the knowledge that we would soon be free of his douchebaggery in just a couple short months. (Not without reaching the point, mind you, where we were forced to haul our mattress to the living room in order to gain just a few hours of precious sleep. This was after R. had civilly knocked on his door requesting he turn down the volume, enraging Master Douchebag so much that he, upon reflection, decided to drunkenly hammer on our own door and holler at us about how unreasonable we were being. R. and I are pretty tolerant people, preferring not to engage in conflict if it can be helped, so this whole situation was wreaking terrible havoc on our well-being. Bedtime for me in particular became a heavily-fraught affair, the anxiety of whether it would be “another bad night” increasing as the clock ticked forward.)
On the stiflingly hot day of July 31, 2017, our closest friends helped us stack the entirety of our belongings into a 15' foot uHaul, and we bid farewell to our condo forever.
It was bittersweet. While we indeed loved much of our time as condo-dwellers, it had ended on a potently sour note. We were ready for the freedom of our very own house. And that meant moving 45 minutes out of town to achieve it.
If housing prices in the city weren’t as they were, we may have considered remaining in town. As it were, both of us had a desire to live quieter, more rural, closer to nature. The house we landed on — after an emotionally demanding search that involved me crying in front of our realtor on more than one occasion — was perfect in every single way.
But wholly-fucking-hell, it sure didn’t feel like it at the time.
Granted, we’d had very little sleep in the months leading up to the move, coupled with the fact that the process of moving itself is an exhausting endeavour. Add to that the fact that we were undergoing a tremendous change in our environment, so that even in spite of our eagerness to finally be in our new home, there was still the emotional processing that accompanies any great change.
We had also naively decided we were going to paint the whole entire house before we even considered unpacking our belongings. How long can a whole house take?, we stupidly thought.
The previous owners had painted one of the bedrooms a bold, bright purple which, even on its own, was a challenge to surmount, but they’d also “kindly” left 50 or so polka-dot decals for us to peel off the walls, one of the many “surprises” that awaited us. The second of the two spare bedrooms had been painted a garish sea-foam green, a little too technicolour for my liking, but it was the upstairs bathroom that took the cake as worst design decision possibly ever made.
It was our second or third night after having moved in, and I couldn’t sleep by virtue of sheer overwhelm. There was just so much painting to do. I tiptoed from the purple-polka-dotted hell so as not to wake R., venturing to the adjacent bathroom for a 3 a.m. pee.
I sat on the toilet surveying the four lime-coloured walls that surrounded me. The particular shade that had been chosen, paired with the bright glare of the vanity lights, literally hurt my eyes. My eyes were literally in pain trying to absorb the hideousness that lay before me.
I was fixated in particular on what looked to be a small blister next to the light switch, and so, after washing my hands, I tentatively picked at the bubble with my fingernail. To my utter horror, the paint stretched off the wall in a small, rubbery sheet.
What have I discovered?, I thought, as I continued to pull at the lime green layer.
It appeared that not only had the previous owners selected the brightest shade of green imaginable, they had haphazardly coated the oil-based walls with latex paint.
Now, I’m no home improvement expert, but I’ve seen enough HGTV to know that latex paint will not properly adhere to an oil-based surface without careful preparation (cleaning, sanding, priming). Not a single one of these steps had apparently been taken.
This discovery, as it were, turned out to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and it only took a few minutes before I woke R. up with my sobs of despair.
Under normal circumstances, R. — being ever the rational half of our partnership — would have succeeded at comforting my anxieties, I’d fall back asleep, hysteria put to rest, and we’d welcome the brand new day with guns blazing.
As it were, we’d still had minimal sleep since the move and remained exhausted by the unthinkable amount of painting we’d been doing and still had left remaining. So, when I revealed to him the source of my misery — the blistering lime paint peeling off the wall like rubbery chewing gum — my suffering was quickly passed on to him, as well.
The two of us spent the next hour pacing across the upstairs landing sick with grief, debating in existential-crisis style whether we could manage the enormous responsibility we’d agreed to in deciding to become homeowners.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” R. pronounced. “We’ll live here for a year, and then we’ll sell it. Yeah, we’ll sell it, and hopefully the market doesn’t crash and we don’t lose any of our money, and we buy something we can handle. A year. We can manage a year, yeah?”
It was enough of a “plan” that we were able to push aside our stress, at least for the moment, and try to get some much-needed sleep.
Of course, the panic that had plagued us the night before followed us well into the next day, and we determined we absolutely had to get the hell out of the house; we were desperate to put some distance between us and it. So even though neither of us had an appetite, we went to the pub for lunch and wallowed in our mutual misery. We ended our meal by resolving to just do what needed doing, deciding the first step was to get our bedroom painted so that at the very least, if the rest of the house remained in shambles, we had somewhere to hide away from it all.
A couple days later, R.’s dad showed up to lend us his help and, with any luck, make it so we could experience some semblance of progress. He helped us finish painting the bedroom firstly, giving us the privilege of somewhere proper to sleep, but his primary focus was addressing the lime latex paint of our nightmares.
No matter how hard we pulled, scraped and sanded, the paint refused to obey. In some spots it peeled away from the wall in satisfying sheets, in others, it refused to budge even a fraction.
Determined to see his efforts through, R.’s dad brought home a container of foul-smelling white chemical designed to be slopped on the wall and left to, in essence, eat through the offending layer. It achieved its purpose for the most part, in spite of leaving behind a trail of lime green gunk that bound permanently to whatever surface it came into contact with (there are still lime green spots decorating the window trim and lino floor we eventually plan to pull up).
The fluorescent paint had been conquered, thank-fucking-god, but there was still the work of spackling, sanding, priming and painting that lay beyond its stubborn demise.
We learned very quickly those first couple weeks as homeowners that every job we’d imagined would be a quick and painless process turned out, in fact, to be a long and arduous undertaking. We mistakenly (ha!) believe we’d be painted, unpacked and settled within a couple-week window when, in fact, we still, these nearly two years later, have yet to tackle some of the original items on our list.
That aside, I can sincerely say we have truly grown to love our home.
For the first several months, after crawling into bed, we’d ask one another, “Hear that? Hear it? Nothing!” before drifting off into a gloriously satisfying sleep.
The house projects are ongoing, for sure but the process is strangely rewarding. Suddenly we’re turned on by things like new kitchen faucets and LED light bulbs and irrigation timers, while our evenings are spent revelling in the accomplishment of a lawn well-mowed and a garden well-weeded.
We live in the boonies now, which means we sometimes miss the ease of catching a concert or seeing a movie. It takes an extra level of coordination to connect with friends and loved ones, and we miss the luxury of being able to order in any type of food on demand (though our finances — and waistlines — have benefited from the change).
And the best part of all is how close we live now to nature. This afternoon we laced up our hikers and stepped out our front door and into the woods. We hiked the empty trails to the local swimming hole, dipped our toes in the water and trekked back home, all without having to start the car.
And nearly two years later, we can finally look back and laugh at that night of spiralling anxiety, the uncertainty of whether we’d ever be able to pull it off.
Just look at us now.
We’ve come a long way, baby.