The spring cleanup on my property looks daunting: a lawn that looks as though it was ravaged by storms (it was), a garage roof in need of repair, a retaining wall with crumbling stucco, etc., etc. I figure I should have it done by the time the leaves fall off the trees again. Having a home is worth the trouble of doing the chores, of course, but that doesn’t make them fun. I remember a time, however, when they were.
I always was lucky enough to have my own bedroom while growing up, but I really didn’t have a “this is mine” sense of territory with regard to it. It was in the house of my parents, and I was well aware (without thinking about it) that whatever exclusivity I had to the space was at their sufferance. I picked up after myself to the degree my mom insisted, and no more.
The first living space that felt truly my own was my dorm room at GWU: Room #517 in Mitchell Hall, located three blocks from the White House in downtown DC. It was the size of a walk-in closet (picture below) and the bathrooms for the floor were down the hall, but it was a single (no roommate) and no one cared what went on in it, so long as it wasn’t so loud as to annoy the other residents on the floor. It was the early 1970s. These were the waning days of hippiedom, which paradoxically also were the days of its fullest (so to speak) flower. Cultures are often at their most ornate when they are in decline – literally decadent. Just about the time I graduated, folks – suddenly, it seemed – traded in their headbands for disco shoes, but, for the four years prior, the music was psychedelic, the lighting was black (illuminating Peter Max posters), and the comics on students’ end tables were by Robert Crumb. It was a fine time to be 17-21 among like-age people in one’s own space in the downtown of a major city. There aren’t many chores that can be done in one small room, but I did them: I painted the walls a burnt orange, hung era-appropriate artwork (not visible in this shot), and kept the space in reasonable order – for a college student anyway – without considering any of that to be work.
I had similar diligence regarding the first real estate which I actually owned. My home was a 4-room cottage (5 if you count the bathroom as a room) but it was mine. (Picture below.) I repainted walls, replaced trim, dug post holes for two-rail fencing on the boundary, repaired the back deck, reroofed the cottage and garden shed, retiled the bathroom, planted spruce for additional privacy in the front, hacked a walking path through the overgrown wooded part of the parcel in the back, and much much else with no sense of chore. I’ve owned three other properties since then; while I’ve appreciated all of them (even the one on which I lost money), I never again had the same enthusiasm for maintenance or improvement. Thereafter, it was work—worth it, perhaps, but still a cost of ownership. For those who pay other people to do the labor (I don’t for anything I have the skills to do), it is literally a cost of ownership.
Not so very long ago in history, fewer people were footloose. Their first property (if any) was apt to be the last – improved and expanded as years passed, but not sold. I’m sure this engendered a greater sense of “home” and made the attendant labor more satisfying. I sometimes wonder if my zest for such tasks would have faded had I kept the cottage. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Like one’s first romance, one’s first home is special. Later ones may be nicer or more suitable, but…well…they’re not the first.