By Mordechai Schmutter
We’re in the market for a new house. It doesn’t actually have to be new, just new to us. Our current house isn’t tiny, but our kids keep getting bigger, and our house does not.
Right now, we have something called a “starter house.” No one dies in a starter house (baruch Hashem). A starter house is a small home with just enough bedrooms for all of the major genders, which a young couple buys when they need to get out of their one-bedroom apartment, so they can stop putting guests on the living-room floor. The couple plans to move out eventually, once they’re no longer young, so the next young couple can come in and wonder what on earth they were thinking with some of those home “improvements” they didn’t bother hiring contractors for.
Sure, there are a lot of good things about our house. For example, it’s so old that when the power goes off, the heat does not. Also, there’s an outlet in the fireplace, which means that if we ever have to plug in a vacuum cleaner or something, there’s always a free outlet, if we’re willing to crawl in. Also, we get nice cross ventilation, even with the doors closed. And several members of Hatzolah already know where it is.
On top of that, we’re also close with our neighbors. Really close. The very first night that we slept in the house, we had the windows open, and we were woken up early in the morning by the sounds of our next-door neighbor washing her dishes . . . only we didn’t know that’s who it was, and we were lying there in a panic, thinking, “Who’s in our kitchen?” Our contractor still had our house key, so we were wondering if it was him, and why he’d be doing dishes.
We changed our locks that afternoon.
So we’re looking for a house, the plan being that we’re going to sell our old house to pay for the new house, although Hashem only knows where we’re going to live in between. We hope it all goes down on the same day.
And here’s something we learned so far: It turns out that a bigger house is going to cost more money than we can get for our little house. And the ones that don’t are not houses that are safe to step into. Maybe we should have thought of this back when we bought such a little house in the first place. We were just happy to get it because it was bigger than our apartment, which was two rooms, only one of which was a bedroom. The other room was our kitchen / living room / dining room / foyer / pantry / basement / family room / study / library / playroom / home office / multi-purpose room / guest room. That room also had the one window, so in the bedroom, it was always night, which was not very helpful in waking up for Shacharis, although it was great for getting the kids to sleep. And yes, we had two kids in there. It was very cozy. And by cozy, I mean that you had to say “excuse me” a lot. The centerpiece of the apartment, left over from the previous tenants (and I’m pretty sure the people before them), was our sefarim shrank / bookshelf / toy closet / entertainment center / breakfront / supply cabinet, which had glass shelves that we broke on our very first day, when I put my Shas on them. By the time we moved out, the apartment was so densely packed that when we finished unpacking in our current house (this took about a year), we found that the house was full. The stuff from our two-room apartment had filled up the entire house.
We also kept the mentality of that apartment when we moved, which is why I put my home office in the living room. I also keep it that way so I can watch the kids while I work, which has worked out pretty well, at least in terms of watching the kids. The work doesn’t really happen. So it’s really so I can watch the kids while I ask them to keep it down so I can work.
So we’ve been looking for houses. We made a list of what we want, we got an agent, and occasionally my wife asks her to show us a specific house. My wife is in charge of this project, because she has more things that she’s looking for, and also I think she’s afraid that I’m purposely going to buy a house that has things wrong with it, just so I can write about them.
But now that we have a list, it’s harder to find something we like. For example, my wife doesn’t want a street with a lot of cars, but when we looked on a street that didn’t have a lot of cars, we found out that all the neighborhood kids hang out on it because there aren’t a lot of cars. We want a driveway where we can park between the houses and still get our doors open. And we don’t want too many steps going up to the front door, because apparently, we schlep a lot of stuff into our house.
Everyone makes a list. But in general, most people’s lists are really based on what they do and don’t have now. Our agent looked at it and said, “Who puts ‘coat closet’ on a list?”
We do. We’re sick of people seeing our coats. And we’d like to have somewhere to put a vacuum cleaner on the ground floor, considering that’s where our kids do most of their spilling. That we know of.
But the things that you have, you don’t think to ask for. We’re going to end up moving into a house without bathrooms, or with no indoor kitchen, and when we ask, our agent will say, “Well, you didn’t mention it.”
(If you think there are no houses like that, you don’t know Passaic.)
And then, the next time we’re in the market for a new house, our agent will ask, “Who writes ‘Must have indoor kitchen’?”
The things you don’t have are what you ask for. When we were moving out of our apartment, our list said things like, “Living room, dining room, kitchen, office, guest room, and playroom should not all be the same room,” and “Entrance in front,” and “More than one bedroom,” and “Don’t have to cut through bedroom to get to the bathroom,” and “Windows in bedroom,” and “No upstairs neighbor with twin infants who love playing with their twin Bumble Balls (which is a toy where you turn it on, and the people who live below you think the house is falling down).”
We’re taking our time. We know this house and its problems, and we don’t want to move into another house with a whole new set of problems right after we get out of this one. I’ve learned all the tricks of our current house, such as how to tell whether my kids’ bedroom light is on after their bedtimes based on the shadow arrangement at the top of the stairs, in case for some reason I’ve gone deaf and can’t tell because of the stomping and shrieking. I’ve learned that I can’t keep the bathmat flat and get the bathroom door open, and that it’s easier to slam a door when the windows are open. I know that the light for the upstairs stairs works when either switch is flipped, but the one for the basement stairs works only when both are flipped. And I almost never bump my head on the way down to the basement anymore, unless I’m carrying something big and heavy.
But we can say we’re looking. You can ask us, “Why do you want the next house to be perfect?” It doesn’t have to be, but it’s a house. We don’t want to move, spend a year unpacking our stuff, and then realize that the house is not really better than what we have. It’s not like buying a pair of pants, where you can return it.
“Yeah, all my stuff doesn’t fit in the pockets.”
“Oh. Well, what was wrong with your old pants?”
“Too many windows.” v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.