My apartment windows are wide open and I can hear the leaves kicking around the parking lot outside my window. I wish I could relax and enjoy it more, but today is not that kind of day. My apartment building sent notice to me on Monday night that they’d be sending an exterminator to our building today. It left me with less than 40 hours to clean out my closets, remove things from my cabinets and basically endure chaos to accommodate this order. I am wiped out and my back aches.
One of the things I miss about being a homeowner is the freedom to do almost anything I want whenever I want. I also miss not having to do a landlord’s bidding at a moment’s notice just because they said so. Yet I am mostly happy as a renter these days. With so many of friends on the brink of losing their houses or surrendering them to the bank, I feel like I’m sitting pretty, even if I have to put with an occasional inconvenience. Whatever happened to the so-called “American Dream” of being a homeowner?
A few months ago, a friend of mine confided to me that he’d been struggling under the weight of his mortgage. Newly-divorced, he had been forced to take on the debt of his ex-wife along with his own. After deciding to declare bankruptcy, he made the painful decision to let the bank reclaim his house. I am so happy not to be in his shoes.
When my ex-husband and I decided to divorce, I knew one thing for sure: he could keep our house. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the three-bedroom townhouse with three decks overlooking a pretty bay on a river; I loved that place beyond words. I just knew that keeping that roof over my head meant more than paying a mortgage every month on time. It also meant upkeep, manicuring and constant vigilance over disaster.
Not so long ago, much of our waterfront community suffered major damage during Hurricane Isabelle. Boats landed on streets, river waters converged in basements and first floors of many homes and many people were displaced. I remember watching in fear as the sliding windows on our home bowed in during the most vicious parts of the storm. It was 3 a.m. and I feared what I might lose. Relief came at dawn when the storm had finally subsided and our house remained mostly intact. I said a prayer of thanks. Others weren’t so lucky.
From the moment we came to the decision to divorce, my husband insisted on keeping the house. He believed himself to be more entitled to it because during much of our marriage he insisted I play housewife while he went to work. He’d put more money into it than me, he said, and he didn’t care what happened to me as long as he kept his “dream home.” Who was I to argue? With a much smaller income, I knew it would be a struggle to keep the place. Instead of feeling sad about what I was losing, I learned to let go and see things in a different light.
I don’t love the constant struggle of making rent. I am still unemployed and sometimes those bi-weekly benefit checks arrive a day or two after rent is due and I have hold my breath as I write a check I hope I’ll be able to cover before it reaches my account. I enjoy the freedom of calling my maintenance guys when something goes wrong. I have a locked parking garage. There are security cameras everywhere I turn. I don’t have to mow a lawn.
It may fly in the face of everything we’ve been taught as Americans, but I don’t mind being a renter. I don’t feel like I’m losing anything by renting. I feel more like I’ve gained a peace of mind.