By Jodi A. Shaw
It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday evening and I can’t find my toothbrush. Our new bathroom is chockablock with Rubbermaid tubs filled with miscellaneous items that you have to maneuver your way through to get to the toilet. The fridge is empty (with the exception of ketchup and a bottle of 7-Up), and I’ve spent the last hour searching for a clean pair of pants.
This is my 18th move in eight years, and my husband’s 16th in 12 years. One would think, with our combined experience, we’d have this down to an art, but this move was far from a masterpiece. We’d been in the last place for 18 months (the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I was 19), so a move was clearly overdue. Our strategy, though, consisted mostly of throwing belongings into boxes and hauling them out the door.
Adding to the delight is the fact that the house we’re renting is for sale and slated for demolition, to be followed by the erection of a newer, shinier, more expensive model. We’ll receive three months warning before the wrecking ball arrives, giving us time to do the whole moving thing again. To compensate for the looming “hurry up and move” notice, we’re getting a steal on rent and allowed to have a puppy.
I didn’t think I would be 27 and still renting. I don’t like doing the math — I have paid tens of thousands of dollars on other people’s mortgages. But our needs and wants are constantly growing, morphing, and shifting, and we like not being tied down. We haven’t found a city we want to call home, and although we toyed with the idea of buying a house here in Calgary — the downturn in the economy has made houses incredibly cheap (for Calgary) and we could potentially make a profit in a year or two — we are going to hold off a bit longer and keep on renting.
It’s a decision I’m increasingly fine with. Sure, I look forward to home ownership someday — building equity, paying our own mortgage, painting and personalizing, calling it home. But what if life changes? We need to downsize or upgrade? Then we’re at the mercy of the market.
As renters, we have the ability to give 30 days notice of intent to vacate when our circumstances change or we want a change of scenery. We can relocate if something better comes along, if we get a new job in a different city, or if we’ve added to our household and need more space. True, we can’t make any changes without first asking permission and we can’t get too comfortable, but we’re never stuck with a house that doesn’t fit us or won’t sell.
A co-worker of mine recently took a transfer to Lethbridge in hopes of reducing his stress in the slower-paced city, only to return to Calgary six months later because his Calgary home wouldn’t sell. I know of a five-member family living in a two bedroom, 900-square foot condo, unable to find a house in their price range that will accommodate three children. On top of that, they owe more on the condo than it is currently worth.
Cases like these make home ownership seem less than glorious. True, I could settle for less moving. I could give up the initial discomfort I experience when I first move into a new house: reluctant to take a bath because I can’t shake the image of all the strangers who previously bathed in it, the need to treat the toilet like a public one and hover over it until I have time to get to Home Depot to buy a never-used toilet seat, the test batches of cookies I burn because every oven is different . . .
But liberty is addictive. Actually, neither my husband nor I wanted to move to Calgary in the first place. We moved because our roots were loose enough in Victoria that we could escape an expensive city where work was becoming scarce. Here we’ve found stable work and have not been affected by the recession. These days, you’ve got to stay light on your feet.
So we rent. We move. And after a while, we move again. It’s not fun and the more times we go through it, the sloppier we pack and the more things stay in their boxes, prepped for the next move.
But it’s become familiar, all this chaos. Comfy, even. I know my toothbrush is in a box somewhere.