Where to begin.
To say the past 12 months have been a rollercoaster would be a severe understatement. A little over a year ago, my dad died suddenly. Earlier this summer, my mom died after a long battle with a rare blood disorder. If you recall, I suffered major injuries in a car crash in the spring. And then, to cap off our year of insanity, my sibling got a cancer diagnosis just a few weeks ago. (The cancer is treatable and the prognosis is good, but that doesn’t make it any easier when you’ve just been through a year of hell and apparently there’s more fresh hell waiting for you around the corner.)
I’ve spent more time in hospitals in the last seven months than in the previous thirty some-odd years of my life. I’ve taken more time off from work this year than any time since graduating from high school. Many days have felt like weeks, and the weeks have felt like years. To think that my car crash was just six months ago seems insane – in my mind, it feels like a decade has passed. I’m exhausted – emotionally and physically – and feeling very unmoored.
And so, it seemed like a great time to buy a house.
It’s true – in the middle of our personal maelstrom, we decided to buy a house, and we closed on the property last week. The past year has been completely bereft of routine or ability to plan for the future, and also full of HUGE decisions in the realms of personal finance, estate planning, major purchases and healthcare. By the time closing rolled around, the house-buying process actually seemed pretty chill compared to everything else. (I have also spent more time with attorneys and bankers in the past couple of months than any other time in my life!)
Due to my injury and my mom’s illness, I quit almost everything this spring. I quit my civic engagements, I quit volunteering, I quit my hobbies, I quit my side hustles. I did maintain one appointed position with fairly light responsibilities, and also my job, but that’s about it. I didn’t see my friends for long stretches, although they were always helping me out behind the scenes. Being in my hometown and helping my mom while she was at the end of her life was incredibly difficult, but it was also kind of freeing. I was singularly focused on helping her and helping to care for the extended family that came to visit her before she passed. Reading Twitter was emotionally taxing (it was when the family separations at the border first came to light, and it was very difficult to process given the ongoing trauma in my personal life), so I was spending a lot less time on social media. Instead, I read books, ran errands, worked remotely, or prepared meals when mom was resting. After mom passed, and after the funeral service was over, it dawned on me how much I had given up in the past few months. That separation from my old life gave me the opportunity to gain a little perspective on everything that happened and what was coming next.
Housebuying continued to be a big question mark in my mind throughout the spring, even during my mom’s time in home hospice. Mr. G and I have considered buying or building a new house in our same city for a long time. The problem was I didn’t really know what I wanted, and I’d had a hard time envisioning our future once I started considering the possibilities surrounding financial independence and retiring early. My brain was firmly wedged between “buying a bigger house is stupid and expensive and you’re a terrible minimalist” and “old houses are expensive to maintain and wouldn’t it be nice to have a real garage.” We’d been seriously looking at houses for a few years, and nothing had screamed “this is the one.” However, the last year brought our house (and life) priorities into a sharper focus. Neither Mr. G nor myself have living parents, so we wanted a house big enough to host our extended family for the holidays, and a space where my niblings could hang out for a few weeks if their parents were traveling. We each wanted a dedicated office/hobby space and a master bedroom big enough for a king-sized bed. We wanted a second bathroom and a bedroom that could be a real guest room instead of a storage room with a bed in it. There were a few pieces of furniture from my parents that I wanted to have in my home (and a lot of boxes of personal effects I didn’t want, but knew they needed to be stored until they could be sorted through), and I knew we wouldn’t have room for those in our current house. Minimizing and decluttering are ongoing efforts in my life, but I also recognize I’m not going to move to a tiny house or RV any time soon. And I’m finally ok with that.
While I was still in my hometown after mom’s funeral, I saw a house on Zillow that piqued my interest. When they dropped the price after about a week on the market, it really piqued my interest. And so, a few days after I returned home, we went to look at the house. We asked a handyman friend to tour the house with us, and I immediately got a good feeling when he pointed out the raspberry bushes in the side yard. (My dad’s favorite.) It was the first house we’d toured where I thought the kitchen looked better in person than in the listing. It was the first house with a backyard that rivaled our current house. It was probably a little bigger than we needed, but it was big enough to accommodate almost everything we wanted. It was a teensy bit further to my office (increasing my bicycle commute from 7 minutes to 10 minutes, ha) and also super convenient for Mr. G’s commute. Several friends were within walking distance, and we wouldn’t even have to change grocery stores. It ticked almost all of our boxes, was in really good condition, and didn’t need gob tons of renovations out of the gate. Was this the one?
Well, we bought the house!
Of course, buying the house is not the end of the story. If this past year was a movie, this is where the credits would roll – with a tidy happy ending that includes us starting a new chapter of our lives in our new house. However, my sibling is still going through cancer treatments. We have a long road ahead of us in cleaning out our parents house, having an estate sale, and the closing of the estate. I dream of redoing a bathroom at the new house next summer, but we also have to fix up and sell our old house and my parents’ house. I dream of planting a thousand hostas in our shaded backyard, but I also know the landscaping at our old house could also use a few dozen hours of my time. I dream of returning to my hobbies, advocacy, traveling, and this blog, but I’m also happy to have a flexible job that allows me to spend time in my hometown cleaning out my parents’ house and helping my sibling through a difficult recovery.
In many ways, this summer is a new start, as we face a future without our parents. It is an awful reason to have a new start, but it is a new start nonetheless. We have an opportunity to build a new routine in a new neighborhood, and to build new traditions in our rearranged family. We have a lot of life ahead of us, and I would really like to start living it instead of always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Life has changed immeasurably in the past year, but we have hope and strength and we are resilient. And we have each other.
p.s. you can hear how my family dynamic influenced my attitudes as a “financial feminist” on the latest episode of the Fairer Cents podcast.