Saturday, June 11, 2011

Home ownership

Five years ago this week, we moved into our flat. Before then, we had lived in rented flats, for periods of between one and six years in each place. Here are some thoughts about what owning a home means to me.

First of all, it gives me a sense of permanence. Before, we never knew how long we would be able to stay in each flat. Knowing that I might be forced to leave at the end of the contract, with the stress and upheaval of finding another place, packing, moving, unpacking, and informing everyone of the change of address, was a constant threat somewhere in the back of my mind. Now I know that I can live here as long as I want, and only move if or when I choose to do so, this background anxiety has been lifted.

Secondly, we were able to design our home to meet our requirements. The rented flats were designed for the owner's needs, and contained some furniture that was not ours. Our own home is designed to suit our tastes and preferences, and all the furniture and fixtures here are our own. This does give us the responsibility for any repairs required, but it also means no potential conflicts with landlords.

Financially, some experts say it is preferable to rent rather than buy. They are considering the interest paid on mortgages as compared with the interest you might get on savings in the bank. When we were renting, we could often afford a larger flat than we have now. I am also acutely aware that we were only able to buy a flat when we inherited enough money for the down payment (from relatives on both sides). So I think it is a complicated decision, and not all the factors are purely rational.

Thinking about why I enjoy owning my home, it seems that the reasons are both emotional and practical. When I was young and idealistic, I sneered at the idea of needing to have "a job, a house, and a car" for security. I thought happiness was purely internal, and as such, could be achieved independently of external conditions. Having lived a life with little security for the future for many years, I now think that while these externals are not something to aspire to in themselves, their absence does make life a bit more difficult. There is less anxiety in the life of a person who has a regular income, a home, and perhaps a means of transportation.

Some people thrive on variety, change, new challenges, and new environments. There are many young people now who are living a minimalist lifestyle, partly enabled by the growing importance of the digital over the physical. When people report that they can pack all their belongings into one case and one backpack, and be ready to move or travel whenever the opportunity arises, I can admire this, but I know it's not for me. I like having physical books, though I am reading more in digital form. I like having my own kitchen and cooking my meals. Also, I have cats in my life and they do not appreciate moving home.

To me, home means security, stability, comfort, and permanence.

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