03/09/2010 By Shawn Burns

At the end of February Emily and I completed a journey begun just after we found out Erin was moving in: we finished the remodel of our house and moved in.

Now, some people might think three years is a long time to be remodeling a house that was perfectly livable to begin with. And those people are right. And they can stop talking now because they are not making me feel good about this at all.

There is a very long story behind the gap in time between our purchase of the house and finally moving in. The story is so long, in fact, that it resulted in our “temporary” apartment being the place I’ve lived the longest in my entire life.

But because the apartment was temporary (it was temporary from the day we moved in four and a half years ago) we had a strange sort of attitude toward it:

“Ah, no sense in hanging those pictures. We’ll be getting a house soon.”

“No, no sense in buying a mattress for that frame. We’ll be getting a house soon.”

“No, no sense in buying a crib for Erin. We’ll be moving into our house soon; we want to decorate her room first.”

“No, no sense in buying a crib for Adrian. We’ll be moving into our house soon; who wants to assemble then disassemble a crib that closely together?”

The apartment was always temporary, and we treated it as such. We had temporary solutions and workarounds to problems (tacking up a blanket on the window in the bedroom to make the room darker for the baby instead of installing a blackout shade) and we saw no point whatsoever in organizing our lives, especially after the kids were born: why organize what they are going to thrash and that you are going to be moving in a few months swear to God it’s only going to be a few months now please.

It was temporary, and impersonal, and weirdly home, and weirdly alien. We lived in that complex for four and a half years and it took two of those years to meet our downstairs neighbours. We never really met anyone else, either. Why bother, when you are only going to be there for another few months.

It was always just another few months.

But now, we’re in the house. We hadn’t even moved into the house and we already knew the people who would be living on one side of us; we met the other couple the day after we moved.

Pictures are being hung, postcards are being tacked to walls, mirrors are going up, books are being organized, rules are being instituted for the preservation of the order and maintenance of the house.

Being in the house is also saving the environment. While in the apartment, see, I’d separate out the recycling into a different trash can, but it’s not like we had a bunch of room for receptacles: it was trash, and recycling (vaguely), and that was it. I had some naive idea about sorting the recycling every week down at the dumpster where the paper/can/cardboard containers were. But it never happened. Since most of our recycling was in the form of plastic bottles and aluminum cans I used to just haul that load downstairs and toss it in the “cans/bottles” container and pat myself on the back for being such a good environmentalist.


One day I received a passive-aggressive note on my door from the trash company (how they knew it was me still eludes me) telling me that I was recycling badly and to start doing it right or else. They thought they were helping the environment, I suppose. But they didn’t reckon with The Most Stubborn Man In The World.

See, The Most Stubborn Man In The World sees a note like that and says “Oh yeah? Well you and you’re damned environment can go to Hell, trash man.” And then instead of one can for trash and the other for recycling, all of a sudden The Most Stubborn Man In The World has two trash cans. Bonus.

At the house, though, I have my own recycling sorter, with one side for paper and the other for cans/bottles. It’s right outside my kitchen door. And the trash can is so small that I have to recycle or I’ll get charged extra for not being able to fit all my trash in the rollaway can.

See? And now The Most Stubborn Man In The World (who was also the Worst Member Of The Green Party In The World) has no excuse. World saved.

Thanks, house.

Erin has her own room now. Adrian has his own room now. The cat has his own room now. We have a garage and it’s surprisingly already full of crap we need to get rid of (and I have no idea how we fit it all into a two-bedroom apartment in the first place). I now understand garage sales.

I’ve been taking power tools to things, and getting propane for the grill (why bother refilling the propane tank when we’ll be in the house soon?) and finding out the dryer doesn’t work and figuring out that having laminate and tile floors throughout the place is much harder (and colder) on my toesy-woesies than carpet. I had to buy slippers to place by the front door.

I’ve also been a little stunned at how quickly dirt shows up on hard floor surfaces like laminate and tile. And then I realized that it’s not that they get dirty any faster than carpet, but that carpet just hides it all deep down to jump out at you when you are rolling around on it. And then…ew. Hard floors forever, mommy-huggers. I like to see my enemy.

The house is warm, because it’s insulated and doesn’t have a big gap under the front door to let all the hot air out (or the hot air in, if it’s summer), and why would we go to the trouble of sealing windows and doors in the apartment when we won’t be here for another winter/summer, right?

There’s an apricot tree in my backyard. And my neighbour has lemons dropping into my yard for me to steal. There’s a shed out back that’s full of spiders and an old washing machine. Do you want an old washing machine? I also have a gas dryer that may or may not work (and an electric one that definitely doesn’t).

My lawn is gone to Hell. The weeds took over long ago. Three years ago we said “Why do landscaping when they’re just going to be tearing the house up and ruining the yard anyway during the remodel? We’ll be done in a few months, so it can wait.” And then, every spring since we’ve had to do some serious weeding at a house we didn’t live in because the city would leave a little note saying “You aren’t allowed to grow your own rainforest in your front yard. Especially one that only has dandelion trees. Get on it.”

There are many projects left in this “finished” house, because it’s not so much “finished” as it is “as done as it needs to be for us to sleep there”. We’ll be working on it until we move again. We’ll never get out of it, financially, what we’ll have put in. There are a lot of reasons for that, in the long story, and only part of it is because of the housing market crash.

But Erin and Adrian finally have a neighbourhood, one that we envisioned three years ago.

It will take a while for this new place to feel like home, especially with all of the strange feelings I have about it. During the past three years I’ve hated that house. I’ve fantasized about burning it, about accidents making it unlivable, about natural disasters and acts of God. It’s been the most draining experience. The house is the cause of “if only” thoughts and wishes to go back in time and stop ourselves from buying in the first place. Sometimes it felt like standing at the edge of a cliff with a badly made parachute on your back being given the option to jump to my possible death, or to have the parachute taken away and be pushed to my certain death.

As I hang things on walls that sat in storage for three or four years in our “temporary” apartment I can forget about those old, dark thoughts for a while. The house starts to feel like home.

Soon it will feel more like home than even the place I barely lived, though for four and a half years.

I need to get my lawn in order. Anybody know a guy?

(Not pictured, above, House.)