Monday, August 1, 2016

Understanding this Feeling of Loss

If you follow me on Twitter, or even from reading my last blog post, you might notice I've been very "complainy" and negative about my new place.  You might even be rolling your eyes and thinking "Caitlen, get over it, you have more than a lot of people, be grateful that you have a roof over your head and live in a safe area."  I get that.  And I'm trying to be thankful for what I have and make plans for getting my new place to feel like home.  But the issue here isn't that I'm not grateful for what I have, it's that I'm essentially grieving for the place I lost.  And when I say that, I'm not even talking about the physical things I left behind (while yes, I am upset that I didn't bring my nice fridge with us and that I had to leave behind the amazing stove I picked out when we moved in to that house, those material items only play a small role in this sense of loss I have going on).  For some reason, this move was the toughest move I have gone through to date, and I've been trying to figure out why.  While I don't know for 100% sure, I THINK I have it pinned down to the fact that, for the first time ever, I wasn't READY to move.  At least, that's a good portion of it.  The rest is the fact that the last place was the first that was truly mine - not a place I was renting from someone else.  I'll touch on both parts today.

I have always had a sense of wanderlust.  My mother was a flight attendant when I was a kid and that came with the perk of free travel.  During my childhood we would take day trips to NYC, weekend trips to Disney World, go to San Francisco on a whim (ok that happened once, but it was pretty fun), etc.  I learned to love travel from a very young age, and even though I grew up in the same city from birth until I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to experience life in other places.  When I went off to college, I started off at a place about three hours from home.  It was perfect, as it was far enough away that I wasn't expected to go home every weekend (and I didn't need to worry about my parents just dropping in on me - something I oddly worried about but, looking back, am pretty sure wouldn't have happened even if I'd gone to college in the same city), but it was close enough to where if I wanted a spontaneous weekend at home, it wasn't a big deal to load up my car after Friday classes and head home.  But my mind was still elsewhere and I wanted to expand my horizons, so after two years I transferred to a university in TX - a two day drive from home, or, as more often happened, a plane ride home.  That move was extremely exciting.  I lived in TX for almost four years before moving to Kansas to live with my husband (though we weren't quite married at the time - we got married later that year).  I loved TX, and there are many parts about TX that I really miss, but that move was an exciting move as well.  As were the moves after that until we ended up in Colorado.  Though I hated leaving my friends in those other places and there was nothing about the places that I really disliked, each move, whether I'd been there for 6 months or two years, came at a time that just seemed right.

But for some reason, Colorado was special.  From my very first visit there for house-hunting, I was in love with the place.  It wasn't even the people, either - you guys, people in Colorado Springs can be freaking rude.  To the point where if you're driving through the neighborhood and wave, or even if you pass them in a store and smile at them, they respond with a look of suspicion and confusion.  But the view is, obviously one of the best views around, the city had everything I could need (basics like Target, Costco, Barnes & Noble, ample restaurants, even a raw honey shop that I loved to frequent), and for some reason it felt like home very quickly.  I looked at many houses when I was house hunting, but from the moment I walked through the front door of ours, I knew it was the one.  Of course I viewed it twice before putting in an offer, but I fell in love with it before it was even ours.

The house was far from perfect.  The master bedroom was set up to where it was difficult to arrange the room more than one way (the closet was one of those with a sliding door that took up an entire wall, a window took up another entire wall, that sort of thing).  The master bath did not even have a door on it (though there was a door to the toilet closet), and, get this guys, it was CARPETED.  This seemed to be a trend in Colorado (both the door and the carpeting) but the whole time I always wondered who gets it in their head to put carpet in a bathroom.  The laundry was located in the guest bath, and though it had accordion doors for the laundry area, our washer and dryer wouldn't fit with the doors on so we had to take those off and just hang up a curtain.  It made it really difficult to keep the guest bath clean because we always had clothes and things in there, falling on the floor and whatnot.  Both of the guest bedrooms were very tiny.  In one, we had a trundle daybed, and when the trundle was pulled out, both beds side by side literally filled up the entire room.  The living room was also set up in a way that only really let us arrange it one way (at least, if we wanted the TV in there), but it always seemed a little off.  I'm sure an interior designer could have looked at it and figured out what to fix about it, but we set it up the way we liked and it was comfortable.  Overall though, despite these minor shortcomings, the house just felt like home.  I loved being in my house and I always felt a sense of peace whenever I was in the house.  It's just a feeling I can't describe, but when I think about the house I think of the early 4AM mornings we had before hiking trips or ski days.  I think about the time my grandad came out to Colorado to visit and how I was so excited to show him where I lived.  I think about the year or so I had an Etsy shop making soap, and the hours I spent in the basement actually making the soap and lining the individual bars up on shelves to cure.  I think of how much fun the dogs had running around our fenced in backyard.  But mostly, when I think about that house, I think of the sense of peace and joy I had living there.  And even though we had a very easy sale and even made some money off of it (money that we've put in a savings account so we can hold it for a down payment for the next house we buy), I kind of find myself wishing we had decided to rent it out instead.  But we decided against that because there are just too many horror stories we have heard with that.

From the moment I found out we were moving away from Colorado, I started feeling this sense of loss.  When we first moved there, we thought we'd be spending around four years there, but instead we would only be leaving after two and a half.  And while that is longer than we have lived in a lot of other places, it still felt too soon.  There were things I still wanted to do.  I wanted to get another season at Winter Park, for one (our first ski season was there, but then the last one was a Vail epic pass, but Winter Park was always our favorite).  I had also wanted to visit Wyoming and Utah while we lived out west - two states I've never seen.  I wanted to go to Yellowstone.  I wanted to road trip to Los Angeles and see the Big Bang Theory.  I wanted to tour the Vineyards on the western slope.  We didn't have time to do ANY of that.  It's kind of a lesson, in a way though.  Don't put things off, because if you keep procrastinating, you might never get to do them.  We always thought we had more time for that stuff, but before we knew it, we were planning our move.

The time leading up to putting the house on the market and selling was extremely stressful, as we obviously had to declutter and get rid of a bunch of stuff.  We used the same realtor we used when we initially bought the house, so we already had a good relationship with her.  I just wish that, when she asked me what appliances we had planned to exclude, I hadn't told her we planned on keeping all of them with the house.  We thought moving my fridge would just be too much of a hassle, but honestly it would have been worth it (and we were well under the weight limit allowed for the move anyway). We already had a place set up here in Michigan, but it was sight unseen - however, we'd gotten references for this landlord from another person my husband will be working with here who also uses this landlord and likes him, so we felt confident going with him.  The place we are renting is expensive - about $50 more than our mortgage in Colorado, but in an area where property values are extremely low.  So I guess we thought we were going to get what we pay for.  In the past when our friends have rented houses in this upper price range relative to property values in the area, they get very nice amenities such as stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors in many cases, upgraded cabinets and countertops, etc.  So when I told our realtor not to exclude our fridge, I was kind of expecting the same thing.

Boy was I wrong.

I think when we actually got here, saw that the place was a duplex instead of a stand alone house (though our neighbors are WONDERFUL, sweet, and very quiet, so we don't complain really about that), and had 20 year old appliances...well you can imagine how let down I feel.  And it's not like the high rent is going towards upgraded anything else, either.  The cabinets are cheap particle board like you might find in an RV or mobile home.  Countertops are basic formica.  No baseboard, no moulding of any kind, white textured walls that kind of make it seem "dorm-like," walls that we aren't even allowed to paint even if we offered to paint them back before move-out, no fixtures on cabinets, etc.  It's just very basic feeling, and it's the type of house I would expect if we were paying maybe $300-400 less than what we are.  I get why the rent is high - we are in a college town, and the landlord is looking for a demographic other than college kids to rent there.  However, I feel that in order to attract that demographic that he's looking for, he should be willing to update some things in the house.  We are not rich, by any means, but we also are not broke as college students, either.  We're just leaving our 20's, have a bit of savings, and are at that point where we start expecting our standard of living to reflect things besides bare-bones basic.  People in my age range who can afford the rent here are looking for more modern amenities, and while we're not looking for anything overly fancy, I do expect things to be a little more energy efficient (by contrast, our fridge runs all the time, we have a non-programmable thermostat that doesn't even show the current temperature, and well, ALL of the appliances are about as efficient as you would expect 20-year-old appliances to be).  Also, at this price range, I kind of expect a fridge with an ice maker.  That sort of thing.  I get that from a landlords point of view, he's renting out the house, not the appliances (even though the appliances come with the house).  But by that logic, for the price we pay we should have updated cabinets.  Preferably with fixtures that people in my generation tend to prefer.  Maybe even updated countertops.  Perhaps updating things like the thermostat would have been a nice gesture, too.  Little touches here and there that don't make it seem I'm renting a bare bones basic unit.  I have lived in enough places and rented enough to know what to expect at various price ranges (again, relative to area property values and rent), and based on past experience, we're getting ripped off.  But there's nothing we can do about it because we signed a two year lease, and I don't want to complain too much to the landlord because we're expected to be here for 3 years and so if he doesn't renew our lease at the end of two years, I don't want to deal with moving ourselves before we have to.

This kind of starts to tie into the fact that this place isn't MINE and we have so many restrictions that it's hard to get it to feel like mine.  At our last place, if we didn't like something, we did something about it.  Remember the carpet in the bathroom I mentioned?  We pulled the carpet up and put in tile. Had we been in the house longer, we would have finished the basement.  We would have put in granite countertops and tiled the kitchen (it had linoleum floors).  The appliances that came with the house were old, so we replaced them (and it was easy because Colorado Springs has an AMAZING factory outlet so we got all our appliances for less than half the price as if we'd gone to a place like Home Depot to buy them).  We painted our living room and guest rooms.  While there are downsides to owning a house - like when the motors of our furnace broke and we had to drop an unexpected $1000 to get them fixed - the fact that we could do what we wanted with the place without getting permission from a landlord totally made it worth it.  It's so strange now that we live here but the place isn't ours to do with as we please.  For example, I really want to replace our kitchen faucet with a two-in-one faucet/sprayer like we had at the last place (much easier to fill large pots with water, plus makes it easy to fill the dogs' water jug).  But, even though it's something we can easily reverse prior to moving out, we can't do it without first getting permission from our landlord.  And I kind of have a feeling he's going to say no.  I mean, if he won't even let us paint the walls, it's hard for me to believe he's going to let us change out a plumbing fixture.  And though it's not the end of the world getting used to this kind of sink again where I can't actually move the faucet (though I hope I don't accidentally break it before getting used to it again, because I keep grabbing it to try an fill things up with it lol), things like this just reinforce the fact that, though this is supposed to be our home, it's still not OURS.  Having been a renter way more than a homeowner in my adult life, I never would have dreamed that going back to renting would be this difficult a transition.  And I DO try to see it from his point of view.  What if we painted the walls and ended up getting paint all over the carpets and floors?  While WE know better and always put plastic down over the floors before painting and use painters tape and things like that, HE doesn't know that we know to do that, even if we say we do.  He doesn't know that, if I switch out the faucet, I'll install it correctly rather than causing a leak in the pipes under the sink resulting in water damage.   And I get that.  It would be a concern of mine, too, if we had decided to rent our own house out rather than sell it (though I think the difference is our house was made for people to live in and has been updated as such, whereas the place we are renting out now was built for renters and was never designed with comfort and amenities in mind).  But it's frustrating and discouraging and difficult for me to come to grips with.

And so, I think I just need time to grieve over my sense of loss.  I know it's not the end of the world, and while I'll always miss my old house, I'll move on.  I'll make this place feel like home.  Heck, we already took down the old nasty vertical blinds that were hung over the sliding glass door in the kitchen and replaced them with green curtains.  It is AMAZING how something as simple as curtains really transform a room.  We plan on putting fixtures on the cabinets, too - just not screwing them in.  Instead, we will saw off the screws of knobs and use command strips to attach them.  I'm also looking into removable wallpaper to help disguise the ugliness of the cabinets themselves, and if I like it enough, I may even do something to mask the ugliness of the appliances too.  There are tons of blogs I've been reading about how to make rental properties feel more like home.  So while it'll take a bit of work and probably more $$ than I'd like, we'll get it there.  On that same vein, I'm trying to keep in mind that this situation, though longer than other places we've lived before, is only temporary.  This is not our forever home.  And it's kind of good that we get to experience places we bot love and...well...have no love FOR, before we do settle down in our forever home.  Most people might only live in a few places before they buy that house that they'll be in for years and years, but by the time we get there, we will have lived in MANY places.  We will know exactly what we like and don't like about a house.  What works, and what just doesn't.  It will be easier for us to get that dream house when the time comes, and in the meantime, when we live in the less-than-desirable homes, we just gotta go with the flow.  And when we get discouraged or feel sad that we're living in housing worse than our college housing while our friends paying the same rent as us for their home get nice upgraded appliances, fenced in yards, etc...we just have to remember it isn't forever!  One day our turn will come again for the nicer house too.  And, though we don't have the amenities in our new town that Colorado Springs had, I think there's going to be a lot to like about Michigan.  Trips into Canada, for one thing.  Plus, we can still ski here - obviously they don't have the huge resorts here like Colorado had, but hey, we could have ended up in a place that doesn't even see snow, so I think I'll take what I can get.  Also, one of our friend's family has a cottage in northern Michigan that they have offered to us whenever we want to use it, so that'll be a fun little getaway.  And, probably my favorite part so far about Michigan is the fact that I am a 12 hour drive from my family. This is the first time since 2007 that it hasn't been a multiple-day drive or a plane ride to go visit them, and though 12 hours is still a long drive, I'll take it.