Would the cheerleading squad please report to the House in Progress? Any fellow Old House people in the house?
'Cause we have an old house motivation emergency!
I am a frequent poster and reader of your site and I am in serious need of motivation lately. I was looking on the internet and the forums, newsgroups etc. about WHAT exactly motivates us Old House people?
I could (and did) have the Big NEW house in the suburbs. The main reason we left was the people that buy houses like that lived all around us! (we were the only ones who ever got out on a ladder). But we still could have bought another NEW house on more land (also with mature trees, like old house neighborhoods) to fix the neighbor problem. WHY OLD?
Have you posted a post about this? Why Old for you? Will you make it a topic upcoming? Can you help me remember what my rationale was? Help me figure out what to tell my (new house) brother when he comes to see the place and asks "you paid HOW much for this place? are you NUTS?"
Please help me- help us all in your eloquent way. WHY did I do this? WHY all this work for such a small house? -- Carol from NC
JM: Okay, everyone here at Old Houses Anonymous (OHA!) say hi to Carol...
Everyone more or less in unison: ...HI CAROL!
JM: Carol, you aren't the only one to ever ask this. I'm sure that back in the first tent made of fur, one couple asked another couple, "A CAVE?! Why would you buy a cave when you could have a nice new moosehide tent in the 'burbs?!"
Moments of doubt pulse through me like, um, great BIG pulse-y things at least 5 or more times a day on the average. Sometimes it sinks to one, sometimes it's WAY up...it all averages out.
I have this goofy, deep love for things that are built solidly and with integrity. When we got this house, there were holes in the walls so you could see into a lot of places that you usually don't get to see. I would be amazed and touched by the craftmanship where a rafter met a wall. Or how a window was placed "just so". A team of builders really cared about what they were doing when they made these parts of the house you aren't supposed to see.
Some choices depend on where you live and the price of things. A new house that has this level of construction (rafter tails, old hard wood, fabulous wood doors and floors, trim, gorgeous wood windows, this style) would cost a fortune here in Chicago. Million dollar range. Plus, we would have had architects and contractors too. So there wouldn't have been any way around that. We would have needed to live somewhere in the meantime.
We couldn't have afforded it. Especially not anywhere near the city, near family and friends, where we can walk everywhere and neighbors have lived here forever and take care of each other.
It's hard to find craftspeople these days who really care about building fine NEW homes. They do exist and are infinitely more rare. We're lucky...we've found GREAT craftspeople after a LOT of looking. Owners of new homes forget this level of quality because everything is new and clean. Those first few years don't seem like much maintenance is needed because it's a new home, right? Until the gutters clog up and water is in the basement and it has been discovered that the contractor forgot that oh-so-important piece of the plumbing...and you are 48 mortgage payments in. Owners of old houses get surprises too, but we also get to chant to ourselves, "She's lasted 90 years. She's lasted 90 years." Although a small thing, it means a lot.
Demo and construction can be rotten and no fun. My husband was talking to friends the other day, "Well, when we build our retirement house..." I did a double take and then gave him "The Look." He said, "What? What?" And I told him. "You will be building a retirement house after I've died in this one, because I'm not doing this again." Everyone laughed, including me, but on another level I was kind of serious. (Aren't I awful? I think I am. I don't usually jump all over someone's dreams this way. First sign of burnout.)
Then there comes this softening...this life...these little "a-ha's." The day I realized that location and design can matter much more than big. That there is such a thing as "big enough." Just like hearts, old houses find interesting ways to expand and cram people in without needing a transplant.
And solid architecture...like a good friendship or marriage. I'm know there are a few flaws here and there in the corners and on the edges, but my love of the whole is so much more than than the sum of those flaws. Then, occasionally, those flaws can look so beautiful in the right light and circumstances.
It's the real KNOWING. Having seen inside of the walls, I can trace the line of each pipe and wire when that wall goes back up. There's everything I've been learning...not just about the house, but about myself and my priorities and limits. I've never been one for process and patience. I'm all about closure and big dashes of getting things done and perfection. It has been hard to let go of some things in the quest to balance myself out.
I despised those darn weeds in the back garden until I realized that my dog was getting old and there was no place that she would rather snooze than in the grass next to me as I pulled and swore under my breath. I love her and I enjoy her pleasure. So I will pull weeds for her and pray that she lasts as long as there are weeds in my garden.
The constant recleaning tires me as does the stripping of wood. I've tried to use that time to reacquaint myself with my older CD's. We're going to send out a few doors to be dipped because I will be in tears if I have to do them all. I've been trying to keep as much packed away as possible and get rid of much more. All the rugs have been rolled up and stored away and I use slipcovers that I can throw in the washer. Good pieces of advice that I got from the Brickmans of Brickman house. I make the Sisyphus joke and attack the house and it rarely feels good to be constantly cleaning.
Then I allow myself to really examine what I'm working on. How's it doing? Everything okay? Any patching needed? Or repairs? Look at how the notch here on the rafter tails lines up so perfectly with its neighbor...how did they do that? I am in second grade all over again and Mrs. Hangen of West Elementary is encouraging me to examine a butterfly cocoon or a shell. Time slows down and I lose myself in the pleasure of being absorbed in something sensory. The "to do" list, general overseer of my hours, falls off the edge of the roof and I do not miss her.
There is working alongside of this man I married and who I admire as we figure out that he is better at the framing and I am better at the maintenance of the appliances and we barter and teach each other how to do things and drop into bed exhausted.
Some visitors come through and some see our vision. Others do not and are "truly horrified for us" and say so. I smile and nod and when they leave, I crawl onto the sofa with a cup of tea or something stronger and sob until Aaron comforts me. I pledge to develop a thicker skin and wonder out loud if I can avoid showing the naysayers future pictures of our children...I just don't think I could take the critique. Aaron says something funny and I laugh in little hiccup-like sobs.
I guess what I am saying is...ALL houses are maintenance and layers of memory and much luck. (All marriages and friendships and family relationships are like that too, I suppose.) I like to take my chances with the tried and true. After 90 years, if that old girl is still standing, I think she'll be here for awhile more.