On June 12, 2003 my wife and I closed on our first home. As we walked away from the title office the realization sunk in that we owned a house — and the bank owned us.
1119 Seminary Avenue became our new residence, though we didn’t move in until the end of the June. There was much work to be done, a baptism of sweat and toil. It began as all revivals do with repainting. We painted every room in the house, with the exception of the kitchen and closet. Then we ripped up the carpet and had the hardwood floors finished. A lot of work to do in two weeks, but necessary and well-timed work.
In the midst of this, time was also spent cleaning out the basement, the garage, the kitchen, and anything else you could think of redoing. It was during this time that I had a number of thoughts about home ownership, which I have decided to collect here for the simple pleasure of sharing them.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend my excess time trying to make grass green. Who in their right mind would put hours of their day into fertilizing, weed killing, and pruning their lawn? It needs to be cut so you don’t lose small children when they go out to play, but otherwise it’s just grass. Nobody cares if there’s a weed or two. Nobody cares if it dies in July because it’s 102 degrees for three weeks straight. That’s supposed to happen.
The suburban lawn is the most non-diverse ecosystem on the planet. A lack of diversity requires greater input of energy to ensure sustainability. That energy comes from you, weekend warrior, so choose wisely before deciding you want to have the greenest lawn on the block. That glowing green is not only unnatural, it will cost you your once-lazy afternoons for the rest of your life. While you’re sweating under the sun, I’ll find something better to do, thank you very much.
Home ownership suddenly connects you to a great sense of history — assuming you’ve bought a pre-owned house. Someone, in many cases several someones, has called this dwelling home before you have. In the case of our new home, those someones go all the way back to 1910. At some point in time one of those someones had the audacity to paint the bedroom seafoam green. Of course they couldn’t just leave it at the walls, they had to paint the radiator, too. One of those someones also painted the stairs, carpeted over the hardwood floors, and decided that floor-to-ceiling shelving in the basement should be built from the ceiling down. One of these people decided every door needed at least three locks, that one closet was enough for the entire house, and that boards don’t need to be nailed together.
But aside from the oddity of dealing with someone else’s version of upkeep, there’s the simple history. I’m suddenly intrigued about my neighborhood. My home was built in 1910, which would have been relatively early in St. Paul’s history. I can imagine the blocks and blocks of city housing being sparse and not fully populated as they are now. I can imagine the trees along Lexington Avenue as saplings — or maybe the city is on a second generation of trees already, and they don’t appear that much different.
I wonder when the school across the street was built, how long my neighbors have been my neighbors, and what existed here before my house. Was it simple prairie, grasses stretching between rivers and lakes and forests? I slow down while passing the regional section of the bookstore, and I find myself gazing at old maps, wondering what Seminary Avenue used to look like almost one hundred years ago.
Home ownership also comes with a sense of community that I never felt in an apartment. Renting is such a temporary arrangement that you really don’t put down deep roots in your community. I certainly put down some roots, but I frequented the gas station more than the hip coffee shop on the corner.
Owning a home has made me much more aware of the local economy and it’s effect on my house. If the businesses close to my home fold, that reflects poorly on my neighborhood, and ultimately, the value of my home. It’s in my best interest to support local businesses, lest they close down and seedy shops replace them, or worse, they remain abandoned and become the dens of thieves, druggies, and transients.
Never in my life did I imagine I’d see economics this way. I realized this while browsing through Hamline Hardware and realizing they had everything Home Depot had, and I could make the quick trip here, rather than the longer trip by freeway to the merchandising mecca of home repair folk. The shop is family owned and has been serving the community longer than I’ve been alive. Why buy my nails at Home Depot when I can support my neighbors?