Home Improvement

Real estate has been something I’ve been obsessing about for about 10-15 years. It started in the 1990s in Vancouver. It was tough. Housing prices were outpacing my savings and income at a very fast rate.

When we moved to Victoria in 2006, owning a home suddenly seemed more achievable, and in February, 2008, the two of us (not yet even a 3 of us) bought our first home. It felt great to finally have my own walls. After chasing the market for so long, I could finally kick back, rest on my laurels and watch my asset appreciate. Soon after that, though, in September, 2008, with our fresh new mortgage 6 payments in, Lehman brothers was bankrupt and the financial crisis was well underway.


It’s turned out we’ve done okay though. Our home hasn’t decreased in value substantially. Doing all of the math, I figure our housing costs haven’t been much more than if we were renting for the past few years. Financially wise, the purchase has pretty much been a wash, at least for the past few years.

So, the 2 of us lived in our 2 bedroom 847 square foot condo until it was the 3 of us. Then, with the good news that another on the way, I worried it wouldn’t be enough space for the 4 of us. The first half of 2011, I tried my best to make a new house purchase happen, but we just couldn’t quite do it. Business wasn’t as good in the second half of that year as in the first, and with the pregnancy underway, a move started to look less and less likely.

Double piffle!

My obsession with real estate started to turn into a neurosis. My mind was constantly trying to fenangle new ways to swing getting a bigger place. As I compulsively checked MLS listings and my bank account balances, I became more and more dissatisfied with our little apartment. There didn’t seem to be a place for anything. Nobody vacuumed. I started to hate the place I lived in. It sounds awful, but it’s true. I felt myself becoming a very bitter man.

I’ve got a pal whose motto is “if at first you don’t succeed, change your definition of success”. I’m not sure if hearing that phrase helped me realize I should do the same, but somewhere around that time, I did.

After some navel gazing, I realized that there is a cumulative and negative effect for the guy who has spent the better part of two decades always hoping to move somewhere else. I’ve termed this self diagnosis “hope fatigue”. It’s good in this free enterprise, dog eat dog world to stay hungry, I suppose, but only to a point.

So, I decided I had to stop it. It started with a cold turkey cessation of my MLS browsing habit. Later, I embraced the fact we’d be living in our condo for at least 6 months. Then I figured on a year, then maybe two, and now it’s indefinite.

I realized I needed to come to terms with what I didn’t like about my house. It’s messy a lot of the time, and it’s packed to the gills with stuff. So, I’m trying to declutter and live tidier.

I’ve received some wonderful support from my brother. (I use the word wonderful for two reasons. First is that it’s an apt word to describe the support, and the brother. Second, he just loves the word, wonderful.)

He flew in to help me put in hard surface flooring in July, 2011. Two whole days of his time, spent on his knees on the concrete firewall subfloor. He says he loves doing it, but I’m in awe anyway. The gift of one’s time is the most generous gift one can give.

In December, 2011, when I was freaking out, thinking about where our new baby would sleep, I was chatting with him online. I needed help, so I asked for it.

Here’s how it went:

me: how about you come out and help me build something like this: http://www.robertogil.com/kids-furniture-beds/new-design-a-crib-under-the-bunk-bed/

Paul: yes.

Paul: when is good for you? perhaps jan or feb

When I asked for help, he replied within seconds. There was absolutely no hesitation at all. Support like that is incredibly meaningful in those moments. That was when I really realized I could do this; I could give myself a break from the hope fatigue; our baby would find a place to sleep on our house and everything would turn out fine.

As it turned out, Julie and I decided a bunk bed wasn’t a great idea right away. It’s probably best for Coop to maintain his bed as his own on the turbulence of change coming his way, and every bunk bed at Ikea has a big sign saying it’s not recommended for kids under 6.

Instead, I used my brother’s help to focus on stuff management issues. Again, in January 2012, my brother flew in and stayed for 2 days, helping me install cabinets from Ikea in our dining room. Here are some photos of the finished result and the process:

See, here’s the thing: I was born and bred with some upper middle class privilege and expectations for the single detached house I’d live in. The fact is we can be comfortable here in our little condo, and on the global scale, we’re in the very lucky 1%.

And now that I’ve come to peace with this being my house, I find myself motivated to keep it clean and tidy. I enjoy improving it, and as I do, instead of looking at it with disdain and dissatisfaction, I instead feel a sense of pride, and can really enjoy living in it.

There is another realization I’ve made through this process. This might seem obvious to some, but it wasn’t to me. If the problem is that my house is too messy and I have to much stuff, the solution probably isn’t to get a more space. Decluttering is an arduous and continuous discipline, and there is never a point when you are done. I now know that if we bought a place with more space to fill, we’d just wind up with a bigger problem when we inevitably filled it.

I used to spend a lot of my time feeling dissatisfied with my house and trying to figure out how and when to move. These days when I see something dissatisfying about my house, instead I make up a new home improvement project to fix it, or start a new bag of stuff to donate to thrift. I still know I’d love to have a bigger place someday. Who wouldn’t? Even though that’s true, I’m feeling much better about my place now, and I know I’m developing better habits that (I hope) will serve me for the remainder of my days.

10 thoughts on “Home Improvement

  1. Mike – I do really enjoy hanging out with you and building things. I love how much we can get done in a couple days and it’s great to catch up with you and the rest of your fine family.

  2. I’m so happy for you! As a family, we recently made the shift from running away from all we thought we didn’t have to running toward all we do. It’s made all the difference in the world. Huge love to youses from all of us.

    • Hearing about the work you did in that regard was a pretty big inspiration for me through all this. Strong work in that regard, all while simultaneously completing the strong work of creating a new small human, to boot!

  3. I know exactly how you feel Mike. It is a hard transition to go through but so liberating. We’ve finally got our little apartment to a point of living not waiting.


    • So true! As soon as I started to focus on living where I was, it suddenly didn’t seem so bad anymore. I have felt like slapping myself of the forehead for waiting so long to figure this out, but for the last few weeks, I’ve been too busy getting out the toolbox or the vacuum cleaner to have a hand free.

  4. Wow – your ‘dining room reno’ looks amazing! Having a little one in a condo does have it’s space challenges. On the flip side, Topaz, Beckwith and Beacon Hill Parks are our backyards and the Pacific Ocean is our front yard…you are truely a lucky man.

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