Buying my first home: Guilt, frustration, acceptance, and flamingos

February 5 2015 | Guest post by Sherry Miller

AlmostWonderlandIn March of 1999, almost a year after graduating high school, my kiddo (nine months old at the time) and I moved out of my parents' house and into our first apartment. In the next 13 years we moved 13 times (adding another kiddo along the way). We were a happy family of apartment dwellers.

It was never my plan to buy a house. I liked moving into a new place, making it my own, then moving on when it was time. There was a challenge to making furniture fit, decorating without being able to change major things, making a place that wasn’t ours, ours. I learned to only keep what I needed — if a box wasn’t opened since the last move, it didn’t make it to the next move. I was able to update art and furniture to fit each new place without (mostly) feeling guilty over purchases. None of the moves were big as in across country, but all of the moves were big in that no two homes are the same.

Growing up my dad had always said, “I just wish I could buy you a house and take care of you forever.” Well, he did, but in a very non-conventional way. After his death, and the settling of life insurance, home insurance, retirement, investment accounts… you get the idea, my brother and I were each left with an inheritance and memories.

I didn’t know what to do with a full bank account, so I started looking at houses because it’s what you “should” do when you have money and a memory of a dad that always wanted to get you a house.

At the age of 30, I purchased my first home. Purchased, as in wrote out possibly the biggest check of my life and took full and complete ownership of an entire, full, big, warts and all, 100-year-old house.

If ever there was a house that came exactly out of my childhood dreams, it’s "Almost Wonderland" (so named for the surreal purchasing process and dream fulfilling features). It has old Victorian charm, a full covered front porch, big (after remodeling) back deck, enough bedrooms so the kids didn’t have to share, a big garage, original Douglas fir floors, even a turret in the master bedroom. It has grandiose ceilings, unique architectural features, even updated electrical (thanks to whomever remodeled it before it became mine).

Professional photos by Andrea Parrish-Geyer
Professional photos by Andrea Parrish-Geyer
BUT. It also has lath and plaster walls, minimum insulation, old (and I mean OLD) pipes, minimal closet/storage space, original Douglas fir floors THAT ARE SPLINTERING and all the normal problems that any house has.

The last three years have been an intense love/hate relationship with Almost Wonderland, including two (unsuccessful) attempts to list and sell it because I was fed up with projects and repairs and horrible contractors.

Buying something because you “should” is not an ideal start, especially when that price tag on the item is, well, house-sized. It’s taken three full, painful, long years to settle into my home and make it MINE, but at the end of the day it’s exactly that: MINE.

Once I shed the guilt from how I was able to purchase the house, and came to terms with settling in one place for more than a few years, it’s been an amazing experience making the house MINE.

kitchen with chalkboard cabinets and angled handles

When I decided to paint the kitchen cabinets with chalkboard, and install the handles at an angle, there was no one else to "clear" it with, or tell me it was a ridiculous idea.

shower curtain as window covering

nautical window covering

An adorable nautical shower curtain from ModCloth as a living room curtain? Why not? Oops, hair dye on the bathroom walls… no landlord to complain.

wine racks

I can hang up a wine rack whenever and wherever I want (pro tip: save the wine drinking for AFTER the hanging is done). I can paint, move furniture, knock out walls, install shelves, take off doors, whatever projects my mind can come up with (and that list is LONG). I can have a flock of flamingos in my dining room as a tribute to my step-mother and my dad without anyone telling me it’s weird.

flamingos in the dining room

Buying a home was never on my list of things to do — it wasn’t a lifelong dream or goal. Buying one out of guilt and grief was a rocky start to a long term commitment. Now that I have it, now that I’ve shed the layers of guilt and anger (well, most of them), now that I’ve settled in, I’m glad it’s mine. Flamingos and all.

  1. You've done some really cute things and even though I don't know you, I feel like your house looks like "you". I've been in my house a little less than 2 years and I'm finally feeling like it's starting to look like my personality. I just ordered handles for the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen and have been doing some decorating of things recently. You've definitely inspired me to do some painting in the near future… the bold accent a colored wall can make is pretty awesome! 😀

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    • Decoration inspiration is awesome! The accent walls were one of the first things I did- after too many years of plain white apartments it was fun to liven things up a bit. The living room has the red accent wall (as well as one bedroom upstairs), the office is "firecracker orange", kitchen is a deep purple (as well as my bedroom), entry is "chilled lemonade", and the other upstairs bedroom is sapphire blue. I let the kids pick the colors for their rooms to make it theirs- it was a BIG part of making it "mine". Happy decorating! Etsy has a wealth of fun things that will be specific to your home instead of the mass produced pottery barn or target items if that's what you like (the Friends episode where Rachel tried to convince Phoebe that all the Pottery Barn items were thrift items is one of my favorites).

      4 agree
  2. My fiance and I are on the market to buy a house right now. We actually found one we liked a lot, but we were barely out-bid by another buyer (today actually). 🙁 So it's back to square one in a market that seems to have very little that we like in the location we want to live in. *sigh* Even houses that are a lot more expensive than we can afford are mostly unappealing in terms of layout, and are often not in awesome condition.

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    • We made (and lost) two offers on two previous homes before our house found us. Don't give up! We looked for a year and I was drained. Called my realtor to tell her we were taking a break and found my dream home the next day. Hang in there!!!

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    • The buying part can be VERY frustrating. I had a price cap and was adamant about sticking to it- unfortunately that meant a long list of homes in really bad shape, a few in decent shape, and none that I wanted. My realtor convinced me to look at this house even though it was $40k out of my price range. Turns out it was part of a VA repo and they wanted to unload it as fast as possible. I was able to make an offensively low offer that they accepted because it was cash. Look at everything, throw a few things to the wall and see what sticks. It's a long process and I didn't used to be able to say it's worth it in the end, but now I can!

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  3. Your house looks lovely, and has definitely given me an idea of how I can make my incredibly boring kitchen cabinets much more interesting 🙂

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    • Hooray! Update away! Secret tip: the cabinets have two layers of magnetic paint under the chalkboard paint so I can stick things to them (the collection of magnets you see on a few of the cupboards). The chalkboard is especially great for deep cabinets so you can write what's in them like bulk food items you don't want to end up duplicate buying every trip to the grocery store.
      I've covered mine with different meal ideas because I got tired of asking the kids what they want to eat and always hearing the "I don't know." Now when we're meal planning for the week, we pick a few things off the cabinets to make sure we have the groceries needed.

      3 agree
  4. I love your home! I really feel like so many people try to decorate based on what anyone would like, that none of it's actually appealing. Give me color! Give me mermaids! A home is where you should feel safe and happy, not worrying about market value.

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  5. Congrats on the home. It looks great, I love the curtains. To be able to paint and replace cupboard handles and such would be wonderful, you can't do that when you rent in Australia, you can't even hang a picture without permission. The Australian house market is pretty prohibitive when purchasing, even on old places that need work. We were finally about to start making offers when health problems happened so we have to start from scratch. Oh well. I shall continue to dream.

    1 agrees
    • Hang in there! Before you know it you'll be worrying about hot water heaters and roofs and what colors you want on the walls with the rest of the home owner club!

      1 agrees
  6. Awesome job! I love the colors and fully recommend it. We're in a rental, but luckily we can change most things as we please (as long as it's "returned" in original condition) so after we just lived with the really cheap, crappy white paint in our last place, the first thing we did here was paint colors almost everywhere! I had a short *oh crap, what have I done* moment, and it didn't all turn out exactly as I imagined, but I still love it so much!

    Expert tip: consider the furniture you're planning on using in a room when choosing the color. (It turns out our black bookshelves looked really crappy on a pale yellow wall – good thing my husband was able to paint them white!)

    4 agree
  7. Congrats on the house, making it your own is the fun part for sure and the settling in part can take longer than we think.
    I still felt nervous about making changes to our house after we bought it, I kept feeling like someone was going to show up at our door and tell us that we weren't allowed to paint the dining room turquoise or our bedroom tangerine orange. It has take three years for me to really feel settled in our home also.
    One thing I am always grateful I insisted on was having an emergency fund bank account when we moved in here, our house is older and things can wrong so there was no way I was going to sink every penny we had into the house, I needed to have a buffer for the unexpected. We needed it by the way, the washing machine died within the first six months, six months after that we found mould in our bedroom and had to rip that apart, and at the same time we were ripping the bedroom apart, we discovered ants in the walls and had to have the whole house treated, I am so grateful we had the emergency fund.
    Here is an interesting bit of info, we don't even know for sure how old our house is, the part of the city we live in did not become a part of the city until the 1970's and there were no permits needed until then, the nearest guess on our house is the late 1940's or very early 1950's. Thankfully our house seems to be well built it just has some old age issues that pop occasionally that need to be addressed.

    3 agree

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