Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Price of Home Ownership

Last night, I drove to my old house to do the final clean-up and preparation for its sale. As per the thoughtful tradition started by the previous owners of my first house, I left a cheery pot of flowers and a note, welcoming the buyers to their new home.

While on the 60-mile drive back to my new residence, I couldn't help but feel that it was just taking forever. There was no traffic, I had my satellite radio to keep me company, but halfway home, I felt myself just wanting to get there. Enough with this dark, lonely freeway. I just wanted to go home, put my feet up, and rest my overtaxed mind and body.

While contemplating the remaining journey, I thought to myself, how the hell did I do this every day for 4 1/2 years ??

At that moment in time, I couldn't answer that question.

When I first bought the house with my then-husband, in a beautiful suburban town in the valley, I thought that 4 bedrooms and a 2-car garage were worth the sacrifice.

120 miles, round-trip, every day.

3 hours if I drove, 4 if I took the train. Even though 2 of those 4 train hours were spent in varying stages of blissful unconsciousness, it was still 4 full hours. Every single weekday.

Is having a spacious house really worth the time and expense of long-range commuting ? I used to think so. Now, I beg to differ.

Personal time is often sacrificed when obilgations and activities take over. For those 4 1/2 years, I was always running from one thing to the next, never resetting myself and decompressing. I didn't have time to read or to watch movies, and my only television exposure was listening with half an ear while I bustled around cooking or doing housework. My friendships suffered, as I have always been one to prefer face-to-face visits and outings to picking up the telephone.

After years of this, I finally broke down. I couldn't stand it anymore. The constant stress on my mind and body, the strain on my relationships with others, and the complete alienation of the quiet time I used to enjoy, finally caught up with me.

It was then that I realized that no dwelling, no matter how large, inexpensive or luxurious, is worth one's sanity or sense of well-being.

I now live in a 2-bedroom apartment instead of a 4-bedroom house. 11 miles from work instead of 60. When it comes time to buy again, a condo will be the only feasible choice. But, I have reclaimed 3-4 hours of every single day. What time was once spent on commuting, is now spent on rejuvenating my mind and building my relationships with others. I have reclaimed my personal time. I have reclaimed my sanity. I have reclaimed my life.

Now, I am able to weather the storms of high-profile crises at work without feeling overwhelmed like I have in the past. The delicate, but essential balance of a stressful yet rewarding job with my own personal time has left me refreshed, relaxed, and better able to handle the situations that face me.

That is worth much more to me than real estate.

The sunny pot of orange flowers now sits on the counter of my old house, waiting to be discovered. As I departed the place I used to call home last night, they smiled brightly on me, as if to wish me well. Undoubtedly, they will smile on the new owners too.


Blogger Dave said...

Congrats on your "reclaimed life"!!! I'm glad you are now able to stop and smell the sunny pot of orange flowers. Commuting can definitely take its toll if you're sitting in a car for 3 hours every day.

My situation (commuting from Tracy for the past 2+ years) is a little different in that I ride the train for 3 hours a day. It makes a world of difference to be able to actually relax to and from work instead of dealing with pissed off drivers who will seemingly do anything to get past you on the creeping freeway so they can get to work 20 seconds before you. On the train, I am able to read magazines, books, watch movies (which I review on my blog - Dave's Hooey) and visit with friends who I have met on the train. I think of it as 3 hours of forced relaxation.

When I lived closer to work, I worked longer hours, read a lot less, felt like I had less free time, didn't look forward to going home to my relatively cramped apartment and spent more time in the car (up to 1.5 hours round trip from Campbell to north San Jose) compared with 5 minutes round trip to the train station.

So, when I look back on the last 2+ years of commuting and wonder if it was worth buying a brand new 4 bedroom house in Tracy, I believe it was absolutely worth it and has resulted in an increased quality of life (not to mention a big increase in property value). I have a great house, nice neighbors, live in a friendly community and I'm only a hour drive from my family in the Bay Area. But, I always look forward to coming home to a slower pace and more space.

Another factor might be that I have no kids and commute with my wife, so family life isn't suffering while I'm on the train. While it's not for everybody, I just wanted to present another perspective on commuting and point out that in certain situations, a commute can actually be beneficial. Of course, retiring a young, rich man would have its benefits as well, but with the current stock price, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.

So, the commute goes on...

August 26, 2005 at 12:21:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bet On Me said...

Great story. Really. Good luck at new place.

August 27, 2005 at 5:00:00 AM PDT  

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