Creating a sense of ownership in a home I don’t like

January 24 | Guest post by Liora K

There are many many people who enjoy living in developments and gated communities. They really love the neat and tidy look, where everything yells "clean!", "fresh!", and "friendly neighbors who take care of their lawns and or sand yards!."

I am not a gated-community lover. Where some people see neat, tidy, clean, and fresh, I see suffocating sameness. Where some people see safe community outside the reaches of city life, I see bizarre planned suburbia far far away from everyone else (ideal in zombie apocalypse, not so much for everyday life). Some people like rules; I like being able to park on the street overnight.

Despite all of this, I live in one with my boyfriend (slash landlord), our roommate and good friend, our new betta fish (Billy!), and the frequent weekend guest. I love the people I live with, but driving into our neighborhood is a soul-suck. I get jealously weepy over our friends' homes in neighborhoods filled with character and smaller two-bedroom retro houses close to "everything."

While it's obviously very difficult to complain about anything when faced with reality (internal voice yelling: you have a loving boyfriend, great friends, two fantastic jobs, and you have a nice place to live! What is WRONG with you?!) it's still been an adjustment to find yourself living a lifestyle you never PLANNED to buy into.

Photo by azmeen, used under Creative Commons license.
So instead of just TELLING myself I HAVE to like it or I'm a crazy selfish person, I've tried to figure out a way I can feel more like I belong here instead of feeling like a bright red gecko on a lime green sheet of paper.

The previous owners left their mark all over the house in the form of paint jobs, and billions of nails. They had real ownership over the place and it's obvious! From moving so much I don't have a lot of personal things that I can put up, and most of what's around are my boyfriend's things and a lot of wall space. Even though I've been living there for almost seven months, the house still seems to belong more to the gated community and the previous owners than it does to me.

Which brings me to my plan of attack: A paint job in the bedroom. Things put up on the walls. His comforter swapped for my old one. And PRESTO. It's a room I want to live in, that I belong in, that has nothing to do with the previous owners or the gated community. Taking ownership over this house, pushing to change little things and big things, make them our own, is going to be an important step in settling in. It's not a forever solution for me (I can't paint my door bright yellow? Why not!?), but it only needs to last for a few years until we can choose a new place together that lets both of us be us, and happy inside the house and out. Cars on the street and all.

  1. My husband and I live in a home we love, but we've been trying to create a sense of ownership all the same. We started by painting a couple rooms and hanging some pictures in the kitchen. We're slowly getting there, but more and more the home is feeling like ours and not the previous owners'

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    • It's definitely a process…since I wrote this i've converted a bedroom to an office/studio, and the boyfriend and i have a trip to ikea coming up. i think it will help :)

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  2. Huh. I never realized this is what I was doing when I moved into my boyfriend's (now husband's) house. He thought I just went nuts for a few months when I insisted on painting the bedroom, buying new towels, and hanging up curtains. Thanks for writing this, because it all just clicked: I was making it my home, too.

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    • initially i wrote this as almost a therapy piece, to help me come to grips with the changes in my life. I think what we're doing/did is/was nesting. My boyfriend thinks i'm a little crazy too, but he's really happy that it's making me happy, even if he doesn't completely understand why it's necessary. :)

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      • I totally get this feeling – I have a similar situation (although I'm living in a flat with my partner on in-laws' gated property far further than I would like from my friends and the city centre!) I've also managed to put my stamp on the place but I still itch to get out of there as soon as we can put aside enough money! Great piece.

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    • It's my first instinct when I move in with someone or when someone moves in with me… it's time for changes! I feel the need to make sure everyone feels like they belong there. I've lived in places where I felt like a long-term guest and I hate that feeling. So I make sure to carve out the appearance of ME in a space. In turn, I try to do what I can to let the people who live with me do the same.
      When a place doesn't really allow for much of that on the outside, I do as much as possible inside.
      Also, gardening. :)

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      • great advice, gardening. I have very poor gardening skills, but the labor of doing it is probably very helpful indeed!

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        • Further advice: limit yourself to easy stuff until you get it down. And indoors is SO MUCH HARDER. I can't grow a thing inside.

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  3. Thank you for writing this. I'm going through something similar in the apartment we moved into six months ago. My fella feels perfectly comfortable there but I've been struggling with feeling like it's "home." Like your house it is in a gated community where everything looks the same and I've been trying to find ways to express US within our space. Good luck with your home!

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  4. I have a question…what exactly happens when you live in a gated community or somewhere with a Homeowners Association and you BREAK one of their rules? Like what would they do to you if you just painted your front door yellow anyway? I've always wondered if there's an actual way to enforce those rules or if its mostly through dirty looks and intimidation from your neighbors.

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    • from what i can understand they can impose a fine on you that you'll have to pay before you can sell the house. Seeing as you already have to pay them dues, an added fee is… undesirable, as is fielding all those looks. I think it's part of a legal agreement you have to sign when you buy the property.

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      • Yes it's part of the agreement when you buy a house in that neighborhood. If you break the rule, and they choose to enforce it, they can take you to COURT because you broke your contract with the HOA.
        What's even worse, is that a lot of cities are starting to let HOAs make all the rules, and the cities have stopped trying to make ordinances to control certain kinds of developments; thus making HOAs even more prevalent and lame.

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    • If you violate a term of the HOA agreement or don't pay the dues, the association can put a lien on your house, and sometimes can do a forced foreclosure on your home. Our HOA doesn't enforce much at all, but the amenities that the dues pay for are nice.

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    • Our HOA is bat shit crazy. They fine you for the TINIEST things and if you don't pay it or miss a monthly payment (which has tripled since we bought the house for no apparent reason) then they sue you for it. And everyone talks and kind of black-lists you. :/

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  5. I struggle with this same thing in our apartment. Our previous place was this gorgeous apartment in a turn-of-the-century house with wide, gouged, gorgeous hardwoods and fireplaces in every room. We now live in a traditional 90s roommate-split floor plan where everything is BEIGE. After living here for a year I'm starting to buy pieces I like to make this feel like home and put my beloved art and gold mirrors (gallery wall) up on the wall. Now that my mirror gallery is starting to shape up, I smile every time I look at the wall.

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    • Ahhhhh I know what you mean. My boyfriend and I just moved halfway across the country. We had the most adorable apartment on the top floor of an old farmhouse that had tons of character. In the new place, everything is off-white and blah. At least we're allowed to paint!

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  6. Wow, thank you! This couldn't have come at a better time for me. I'm currently having to move out of my funky inner city condo and into suburbia (buying a house so I can take in my Dad who is on the verge of losing his home). The idea of cookie cutter living has had me seeing spots for months, so this was a nice reminder that even though all the houses may look the same on the outside, I can still claim my space inside. Thanks!!!

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  7. Yay for Tucson!!! I thought that photo looked Tucson-ey. I lived in Tucson my entire life until recently moving up to Phoenix and we're down at least twice a month to see family/friends. I always said I never wanted to live in a planned community (a neighborhood of clones?!), but making that space feel like your own could be a fun challenge! Every time we move, the first thing we do is put stuff on the walls. It automatically makes me feel like I'm in my own space, no matter where we've lived.

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  8. This is pretty close to what I've been going through. We just moved out of the in laws house, a quirky neighborhood built in the fifties and close to everything, into a suburban apartment in the sterile suburbs. We wanted to move down to the artsy district but as of right now we are just lucky to have our own place. So I'm going to make the best of it and hang some art.

    Just because you aren't where you want to be now, doesn't mean you have to stay there forever. Make it yours for now and choose to move later if you want to :)

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