1. Quirks Have Costs
Say you fall in love with the newly constructed condo with the huge-enormous windows. I know, you see yourself enjoying your morning coffee and newspaper bathed in streaming sunshine! Only on that first morning (the blazing light searing your eyeballs) do you realize that huge-enormous windows mean huge-enormous drapes. And only once you start to shop for huge-enormous drapes do you learn how shockingly expensive and hard-to-find large window coverings in unconventional dimensions can be. In other words, you must take the long view. If you adore the unique detail of fireplaces in every room, make sure you also adore stacking firewood and checking flues and befriending chimney sweeps. Know that romantic, crumbling cottages like something out of Wuthering Heights come with leaky windows and wispy insulation, so ask yourself if the fairytale aesthetic is worth it.
2. Being the Boss Means You're Supposed to Be Bossy
For many of us, hiring someone to do work around the house is the first time we manage an employee. When we bought our first home, my husband and I had a few little changes we wanted to make before moving in. (The very phrase "little change" is itself a new-homeowner fallacy, but we didn't know that yet.) The contractor we hired kept asking questions that I would turn back on him—"What kind of light fixture do you think would be good here? Do you think we need new spigots in the bathtub?" I wanted his opinion, but more than that I didn't feel comfortable bossing around someone who was old enough to be my father. I thought I was being polite by being deferential, but I eventually realized I was actually making his life more difficult by being wishy-washy. There is a way to tell someone what you want without being rude; and, if that person is working for you, they like you better for it.
3. Comparison Is the Thief of Joy
A woman could go crazy thinking about all the things she can't afford. But comparison shopping within your price range is another story.
4. If Something Can Be Fixed, You Should Fix It
A broken doorbell is one of those problems with which you think you can live. It doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's possible that you will change your tune once you've gone hungry because you missed the pizza man, Zappos-less because you didn't hear the UPS guy, lonely because your friend with a dead cell-phone battery stood there ringing the mute bell until she finally gave up and went home. There are many problems you are not going to fix today—global warming, race relations, twerking. But a doorbell? It only feels unsolvable. There is someone who knows how to do this. Figure out who to call. Feel so much better.
5. Everything Means Something Else
This Houzz survey revealing that 12 percent of couples consider divorce during renovations
seems like a joke all the way up until you are embroiled in your own remodeling. Then. Then you understand. Everything suddenly becomes symbolic. "What do you mean, let's expand the kitchen—so I can spend more time cooking for you?" a frazzled and totally-not-me wife might say. And a stressed and completely fictional husband might respond, "You realize that expanding your bedroom closet shrinks mine, right? Do I not get to wear clothes anymore?" Just remember to try to see things from his proverbial side of the closet. After all, this is not just your home or his home, it's your collective home, where you chose to live together.
6. She Who Owns a Grown-Up Couch Becomes a Grown Up
Now you get why your mother was always telling you to get your feet off the couch. Because, as you learn in the post-futon world of furnishing your first real, adult home, couches are really expensive! Feeling a sudden desire to vacuum the cushions daily and banish your cats from the living room forever? Don't worry, it's natural.
7. You Must Honor Your Life
By this point in your life surely you've noticed that, in the words of the poets (er, the Rolling Stones), "You can't always get what you want." The walled garden with reflecting pond does not fit in your price range. The airy, open loft for sophisticated dinner parties does not have bedrooms for your kids. The library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and built-in sliding ladder does not exist in your town. But, if you try sometimes, well, "you just might find, you get what you need." What is the one thing you really don't want to compromise on? The one thing you can have exactly how you want it? Maybe some glass shelves over the kitchen window can host a stunning arrangement of succulents. The right arrangement of furniture can make that living room feel open and airy and just perfect for mingling. A handyman can do wonders with budget bookshelves. Who are you? How do you live? Honor the life you have, the you
you are, with a space that accommodates that life and that person.
Amy Shearn is the author of The Mermaid of Brooklyn: A Novel
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