About three years ago some friends finally convinced me that purchasing a house wasn’t the impossible proposition I’d always considered it. My sister pushed us further, taking us on driving tours of neighborhoods to look at houses to prove to us that we could find a house we liked for a price we could afford.
And that’s when we found The One.
It was built in the 50s, all mid-century awesome and largely untouched. Pink bathroom fixtures, flagstone dining room floor, built in niches and corner windows. It was a Sunday, so we couldn’t actually get inside the house to look, but the listing held our imagination for hours. It was far larger than anything we would have hoped to buy and seemed to be built entirely of charm. It was a short sale and well within what we imagined our budget might be. However, we’d never even whispered the word “mortgage” in the vicinity of our bank, so we didn’t really know for sure what we could or couldn’t afford.
It didn’t matter. By the next morning the house’s internet listing indicated it had sold, and we hadn’t even made contact with anyone from the bank yet.
We were sad, but we’d barely had time to fall in love with the idea. We set about getting finances in order and thinking about what, exactly, we wanted in a house.
About six weeks later, we found the house listed again. This time, it was a foreclosure and the price had dropped by a third. Ecstatic, we called a realtor and set up a viewing for the very next day.
And fall in love, we did.
The realtor warned us that if we wanted to move on it we’d have to do it fast because starting the next day investors would be able to submit offers. We scrambled.
But we weren’t fast enough.
An investor paid cash the very next day, and the house was out of our grasp forever.
I’d mentally invested in the dream by then. I knew in my mind where furniture would go and what colors of paint I would use. I imagined dinner parties in the formal dining room and barbecues on the deck. I could see the art studio set up in the third bedroom, the office and library in the fourth, and the fifth turned into a meditation space.
But all that was gone. I cried like I’d lost someone close to me, and I couldn’t seem to stop. I was upset for weeks. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I didn’t want to look at houses, I didn’t want to talk about bank loans, and I didn’t want to even think about furniture or paint.
People tried to get me to be logical. There would be even better houses out there. (But not for that price!!) That house probably needed way too much work. (But at that price, we could afford to do some work!) That neighborhood isn’t so great, anyway. (It’s so close to my running trail, though, and we know people who live there!!)
The thing is, though, that they were right. All those things were true. I wasn’t really mourning the house, anyway. I was mourning what I thought was the only good chance we’d ever get to have anything close to the life I dreamed of. It wasn’t really the house I was attached to, it was the life I imagined it would make possible. I was upset that our finances didn’t allow me to dream as big as I wanted. I was sad that we might have to settle for something I didn’t really like, knowing that I was so close to having what I really thought I would love.
My attachment to the idea of that house completely disabled my ability to be honest with myself. It allowed me to dream impossible dreams. It turned off the part of my brain that wanted to be reasonable about the true cost of repairs and maintenance. Holding onto the dream of that house let me escape from the reality of my actual life.
Our ambitions, our dreams of better lives, can drive us to do great things. But they can be an off switch for the functional parts of our brains. They can turn on our soul but switch off our spirit, leaving us unable to find the motivation to improve our reality because we’re too invested in a glittering illusion.
It took several months for me to come out of my funk, and I did so reluctantly. That place in my mind where I achieve some unreachable treasure which allows me to live a fairy tale version of life is one I’ve inhabited regularly since childhood. It’s comfortable. It makes me feel something a lot like optimism and motivation. But, in reality, as long as I live there I’m not living in the real world. As long as I’m imagining what could be “if only…”, I’m not putting any effort into what really, truly could be. As long as I’m dreaming, I’m not doing.
Eventually I started going to open houses again. We looked at random houses just for fun, just to see what was out there even far beyond our budget. We did it so I could get back in touch with reality. And in the end we found a home. We don’t have a library or a meditation room, there aren’t pink bathroom fixtures or flagstone floors, and it cost more than the other one would have. But it’s everything we needed and a lot of the things we wanted, and the life it has allowed us to build is a much better version of reality than where we used to be.