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Dream Home—3 lessons learned while searching for a new home

September 19, 2019

My husband Alan and I recently purchased a new home, moving from a very large house in a very small Iowa town to a fairly small home in Iowa’s largest city. (I say that like it’s no big deal, but leaving our home of 27 years—where we raised our four kids—took a giant leap of faith. I love when those work out, don’t you?) 

I was determined that the process of finding our new digs would yield a home I’d love taking good care of, and it did. Here are a few things I learned along the way.

Lesson 1: Lists aren’t just for realtors

To help us—and our realtor—in the house hunt, we came up with a list of items our dream home would offer. Pretty standard procedure. But I’ve since realized that generating a tangible list of what you want in a house is handy even if you’re not looking to buy. (The one floating around in your head doesn’t count!)  In fact, I refer back to the list—which clarified what’s important in a home for us—as I tackle household projects now that we’re settled in. 

Our previous home

You can be as picky as you want when coming up with your list (it’s for you, after all!), but don’t limit yourself to specifics. Go ahead and write “broom closet,” if that’s important to you, but also include things like “warm and cozy.” I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Feng Shui, but I know I want to live in a space that feels good the minute you walk in. If something like that’s on your list, make it a priority in your search or think about ways to warm up your current space—you might introduce more natural materials, throws, and warm colors, for example.

When referring to the list, it’s important to be willing to compromise—whether looking for a new home or embracing your current one. For example, “real materials” was on our list. That meant no vinyl, no fake flooring, no pretend stones or faux brick. So we bought a house with vinyl siding. (That’s what I mean by compromise. Big time.)  But it also had vinyl shutters, which we’ve since replaced with wood ones, and a vinyl hand railing, which we’ve replaced with a wood railing (much to the consternation of the contractor). So compromise, but do what you can, too.

Is good light on your list? (I crave natural light.) Maybe a new window (or skylight!) in the kitchen will bring much needed brightness to the space. If the budget doesn’t allow that, maybe trading the blue curtains for bright white ones—or removing curtains entirely—will help. The list is great for brainstorming!

Lesson 2: Size matters

It’s easy to get caught up in the “space for everything” mentality when house hunting. Because, yes, it would be lovely to have a spot for the four sets of dishes and hundreds of napkins and dozens of planting pots I’ve acquired. On the other hand, maybe I should use a smaller space to help me whittle down my possessions a bit. I’m in the process! 

At the same time, if there’s something you absolutely want space for, acknowledge that. While we wanted a small home, we also wanted a huge dining room. (I don’t ask for much, do I?) Our new (otherwise small) home would need a very large dining space to accommodate our weekly family dinners and many celebrations.

Our new home

Another, crucial reason for my wanting a smaller house is that it’s important for me to be able to maintain it well on a modest budget.  As we learned in our last home, a new roof, new paint, and myriad repairs are much more costly (and exhausting) on a home with endless square footage than on a modestly sized home. (I once paid painters by the hour to paint the outside of our large home—starting at the top. When we ran out of money, we took over the painting. Luckily, they were down to the main floor by then!) In fact, having a smaller home has meant that we can do more of the upkeep ourselves. Having a smaller home also keeps the maintenance and repair list from becoming too overwhelming.

Lesson 3: Fantasy can be fun

Fantasy is near the bottom rung of my fiction preferences, but, when it comes to daydreaming about my home, I find it fun and productive. Keep in mind that fantasizing about the perfect house isn’t the same as fault-finding or complaining about your current home, which feels negative and, well, unappreciative. But thinking about the ideal—as long as you’re not expecting instant gratification—can be a great way to problem solve today and plan for the future. 

Do you dream of a pretty cottage garden along your front walk? Go for it! Do you dream of a space you no longer need to mow? If you’re more interested in gardening than mowing, maybe you can convert your yard to edibles. (Remember, I said no instant gratification!) 

Just because you can’t design the perfect home from scratch and make it happen doesn’t mean you can’t dream—and that those dreams can’t manifest in other ways. 

What does all this have to do with taking good care? Well, it’s infinitely more enjoyable to take good care of your home when it’s a reflection of you, when it suits your needs and tastes—or is your dream work-in-progress!

Have some fun coming up with a list for your dream home! Please share what’s on it!

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