values in housing

Today, the rhetoric in the midst of the housing crisis is that there are no choices. That with rising interest rates, first time homebuyers have limited choices. Media is overrun with options for buying a home—sharing a house, moving out of the city, renting.

All of these options are choices, yes. But they focus on fixing a problem, rather than getting down to how you truly want to feel.

What is it about owning a house? Being in the right neighbourhood? Getting into a ‘sound’ investment strategy? There is nothing wrong with any of that. My experience has taught me that you need to be clear on what it is you are doing, as well as the why. And finally, assessing whether or not it aligns with your values.

When I was 27, I was in a wild cyclone of life. I was working full time, wrapping up an aggressive caseload for my Masters degree in Science, and was recently engaged. My partner and I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment where we were tremendously happy. That apartment supported the ebb and flow of our lives, and allowed us to experience the city all around us.

With our upcoming wedding, a number of societal expectations started to surface. There were those around registries, gifts, whether or not I would take my partner’s name. I started to feel like I had to get my shit together, which, oddly enough, required getting far more shit than would ever fit in our tiny one-bedroom apartment. I felt a need to climb the ladder one more rung, getting on to the next stage of life.

So, we bought a condo. A smart investment, in a vibrant neighbourhood with far more space for all the well-meaning gifts for this next stage in life. I allowed that ladder to pre-define what my next move in life would be, and for a few months, worked to settle into that stage.

However, when I get clear on what was going on at that time, it was amazing how incongruent this new phase was with my values. I wanted to feel free, but I felt crushed by a mortgage. I wanted to feel in control, but I couldn’t keep up to the demands, the bills, the reality. I wanted to be all in in my life right now, rather than wait for permission (and my RRSP payout) later.

It became clear to us, the newly married, that we had moved quickly into the housing market, into the ascribed step that we “felt” we should take. The neighbourhood was sorely un-vibrant, the investment squeezed everything out of us, and we had traded a life of experiences for a place to store things.

We began the process of disentangling our selves from it all. The house, the mortgage, the debts. We gave away a lot, we admitted our faults, we found a rental that served as a calm haven in the middle of it. We cleared our debts and invested in experiences that make us happy, allowing gratitude for this day, not lust for someday.

Will we buy again? Perhaps- it is uncertain for a number of reasons. Whatever move we make now is based on values, on how we feel, what the greater implications are. I can only hope that our story serves as a cautionary tale—there is a lot of external pressure and propagated worry around the housing market. Start closer to home with your decision making- how does it feel, how does it align with your values?