Watching friends buy houses used to make me sick. Not sick as in I disapprove of your life choices, but sick as in nauseous, anxious and a bit fuzzy in the head. As perpetual renters, I would wonder what we did wrong, why we could never get our act together for a down payment or a pre-approved mortgage. I used to cry in each one of my sisters' living rooms, making us all feel miserable about that amazing thing that had just happened to them, stripping away a bit of their joy and digging myself a deeper psychological hole. Renting, it seems, filled me with shame.
Admittedly, I have a complicated relationship with the notion of home, particularly in house-buying, especially in how it can all go wrong in the blink of an eye (or in the eye of a storm). I've spent a fair portion of my life in homes not exactly belonging to me or my family, sometimes in the attics of friends or in the spare rooms of family, borrowing a bit of their security while we tread the water of transitioning overseas.
It used to be incredibly painful, making me incredibly miserable. But not anymore. Now it's just that fleeting thought, that reminder of what we do have and why, the choices we made (maybe a few that were not so wise, but many more that were good and right), and the now-whimsical notion that maybe one day we might buy a house of our own. I would love to knock down a wall or two, plant a garden I get to enjoy beyond two summers, see the penciled height markings of my children and grandchildren along the same door jamb.
But for now, we continue to rent. Happily. We've been renters all our marriage, never having signed on the two dozen or so dotted lines. It means we have to coordinate with a landlord over paint colours and broken power showers, but it doesn't detract from the things that really matter.
Here are just a few of the benefits we've discovered from renting:
Our kids don't care that we rent.
Two-thirds of them don't even realise it. Their home is their home. They have beds in their own rooms and they still tag our walls like Banksy. Our rented homes don't make them any less secure, or any less happy.
We choose to live overseas and raise support to work in ministry.
Christian service and home-ownership are not mutually exclusive, but for us, at this stage in our life and career, it is. Owning a house in Ireland is utterly unrealistic and I don't envision us buying one in the US anytime in the next decade or so. Though there are times of self-pity and frustration - and, ok, the occasional "homelessness" - we are generally grateful for the choices that led us to rent.
Not owning means we are not a slave to our home improvements (or a victim to home disasters).
We rent our house as-is, and though we enjoy painting and personalizing this semi-detached space (I can't lie and say we don't currently have four holes in our kitchen wall waiting for floating shelves), we have freedom to pursue things besides reno and rehab. Ironically, we also have the desire - and the energy - to help our friends with their homes, which we love. And when our washing machine leaks through the floors, we ring our landlord, not our bank.
Renting means we are flexible and mobile.
When the job description changes, when the economy tanks or when God calls us to the next place, there is no need to put anything on the market or rent out what we cannot sell. When the time is right, we finish our lease and move on, knowing we aren't at the mercy of a housing bubble.
Maybe we made a mistake all those years ago, when we were expecting Jackson and setting up house viewings. I wanted to be an adult, to be like my friends. I wanted a home for our kids and the knowledge we were all in, for the long haul. Instead, as we sat around a table in our realtor's office, Matt whispered to me, "I think we need to remain mobile." Those words were a knife to the heart at the time, but a prophetic word when I needed it most. It changed the future of our marriage, of our family and of our work, and I don't think it was a mistake at all.
We may never set foot on the real estate ladder, but I think we're walking a better course, for our family, for now. And the woman who used to cry in her sister's living room? Now she rejoices. There's really no difference between owning and renting, she tells herself. In the end, we have a roof over our heads, one way or the other.
Any other perpetual renters out there?