Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Public Space, Private Space

"Home...Is Where You Can Scratch Where it Itches." -- saying I once saw on a coffee mug at a thrift store

If I had known in early 2008 exactly how my life would play out in 2009 and 2010, I would've bought a house instead of a condo.

But I realize that I didn't know that, and I know the condo was the right decision then, so regret is not the right word, at all. In fact, as someone who takes words and language seriously, I spare the use of 'regret' for the situations where I really mean it, which are very few and far between.

But anyway, back to the subject.

If someone were looking to buy real estate in a small city where there was a house-vs.-condo choice to be made, and asked me for an opinion, I would hope to be able to lay out the pros and cons as objectively as possible.

And yes, there are TONS of pros to condo living -- way less hassle w/maintenance, not having to worry (directly) about snow removal, leaf raking, other landscaping, etc. Although there's a fee, you get a lot for it, and from an energy perspective you make out much better in the winter in 1500 square foot condo than in a drafty old Victorian in the Highlands. Also, there's a the major security benefit. I know I don't live in an impregnable fortress, but the design of my building and height of my unit make for a much tougher job than would be a house with an easily-breakable first-floor window and quick access back to the street.

Now that I've said all THAT, as soon as I'm in a place where it makes financial sense to do so (and that might not be for several years, and if I decide to go back to school, several more) I am going to buy me a nice big house somewhere with a driveway, a lawn, and walls, floors, and ceilings that all belong to my family and me. Thankfully, Ratriey and I have similar taste in houses, so whenever we drive around certain parts of Lowell, we sort of keep in the back of our mind where we might make our next move.

Anyway, back to the pro and con thing. For all the pros that I mentioned regarding condos -- and there are many -- the rub is that your space isn't really *your* space.

If I have a long day at work, I'd like to drive home, park my car, and maybe unwind with my feet on the coffee table and a nice cold beverage in my hand. In a house, I'd be able to do that in a straight shot, all in private, with guard fully let down.

In a condo, that's not really always possible. And in the couple of years I've lived in one, I've collected up more than my share of strange -- albeit innocuous -- comments about my patterns, my comings and goings, choices of vestment or other items in hand, or whether I seem *happier these days* than at some other point in time, by someone who doesn't even know the first thing about me and definitely wasn't asked.

And those are the funny times.

There's also the long looks we got when my fiancee had a swollen eye (it was an allergic reaction).

There's the knowing "hmm-mmm" glances when I was still buttoning my shirt, putting on shoes and rubbing the sleep out of my eyes in the morning with a teenage girl in my company (I was taking my sister-in-law, who sometimes stays over with us, to school).

There's the annoyance of not being able to reciprocate after enjoying the company at other people's houses and wanting to entertain -- loudly and freely (and I certainly don't *blame* that on anyone, as I'll admit there are two sides to the coin...it's just a fact of condo life).

I guess the bottom line is that you learn things about yourself as you go along. Even though the Myers-Briggs test says I'm off-the-charts extroverted (19 of 20 'E' points for me), some part of me needs a private space to which I can retreat after a long day, and really just relax without having to put a game face on for any stranger's judgement.

In other words, I want to be able to separate the public spaces in my life (work, school, church, clubs, YMCA, etc.) from the private space (a home where I can scratch where it itches).

So back to that mythical person weighing the house vs. condo decision -- I would make sure to list out all the (many) pros, but then I'd also ask this question -- "Are you someone who really values/treasures having four walls, a floor and ceiling that are just yours and being to come home, grab your mail, plop yourself down, all in your own space and freedom?"

If so, give it some second thought.

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