Where to live?

Recently I gave myself permission to look at some homes online, and then I gave myself permission to actually start looking at them. Synchronistically, my realtor appeared who sold me the house I’m currently living in, and is used to my picky house-buying ways. The goal this time is to downsize, use less space and energy, and save money. After giving it a lot of thought, I am deciding to wait on living in another country for a few years. I have just started a business and am still at the peak of my earning power, and it would be a good idea to give that a few more years to run yet before making a total break.

Of course, downsizing and still finding a decent place to live isn’t all that easy. After looking around in five counties online, I came to the conclusion that for the money I was willing to spend, I could have a very cool cabin way out in the woods somewhere, or a small craftsman bungalow in Olympia or Tacoma, WA – one that was nicely renovated and in town. What part of town was the question. I ruled out Tacoma as I much prefer Olympia. Today I went out looking at the two types of choices, and found a surprising third option that I am really working on making a decision about.

It turns out that I can indeed afford a nice house in the woods, one with a nice view of a lake even. It would be at the upper end of my price range, and I would be highly tempted toward further renovations that would cost even more. But the major downside would really be the commute. It would be so far out that it would be at least an hour to anywhere, two hours to many places I would go. The more I think about this, the more I feel about it as I did another country – maybe someday, but not now. Not while I’m forced to drive to meetings in various cities all over the place at early hours of the morning. I have traffic where I live now that drives me crazy and makes me very tired – and these places would have the added disadvantage of being out where logging trucks, cattle, floods, snow, or just plain country drivers could really slow down traffic or require long detours.

Then we went into Olympia and looked at the bungalows on my list. Nicely renovated, definitely – cute houses. But the neighborhoods were not great, and the properties had serious flaws not mentioned in the listings. Then there is the fact that for the same size space, older houses don’t necessarily have it arranged the way you need it. Add a lack of modern wiring and cabling and there would be a few issues to deal with. So that was discouraging. They were definitely in convenient locations, but all in all, not really right. I’m not good at fixing things that aren’t in good shape, nor keeping up with a lot of yardwork, nor dealing with loud barking dogs, noisy neighbors, and lack of privacy. Nothing nice to look at out the windows, either. Chain link fences, dog pens, weeds, junk in back yards… you get the picture.

Which brings me to the last, most surprising option. On a whim, we went out to see a new development, a green-built community, because I was curious about it. There aren’t that many of those around. Developments are not really my thing, but the more we looked at it, the better I liked it. You can see the houses here: Summerwalk Village. Here’s a sense of the general look and landscaping:


Weirdly enough, I’m actually considering one of the townhomes. They only connect at the garage so there is not really a noise issue. It has a nice vaulted ceiling, two-story with loft arrangement that is very spacious and open, with lots of skylights and high windows. For just over $200,000 I can have two large bedrooms, plus an office loft area, and a kitchen to die for. Not to mention really beautiful floors, countertops, gas fireplace, energy-efficient appliances, and separate dining and living rooms spaces, connected as one large great room on the first floor. It’s the perfect amount of space and arrangement for me.

Other advantages – there are cool little wetland swales all around, and the whole place is landscaped with native vegetation and rock. The houses are all really nice looking and all different. There are something like 250 different facades, plus color schemes and elevations, so that it doesn’t look all boxy and repetitious. It is really enjoyable to walk down the street – much nicer than my current neighborhood. The houses are all in earth-tone shades that I like. Small parks are already in, larger ones with training and exercise circuits are planned. It’s within walking distance of the grocery store and restaurants.

It’s about 5 minutes away from the Dept. of Ecology in Lacey, one of my biggest clients. It’s only 15 minutes to downtown Olympia, and if I need to go to Seattle or Portland, the train station is just a few minutes away – I could skip the drive! There are lots of state parks and recreational areas nearby. And, broadband internet, of course. Add to all this the advantages of working with a builder. I’d have time to sell my current home, which in this market is no small thing (the unit I want will be ready this summer). If for some reason it didn’t sell in time, I could just wait for a later area to open up.

So, what’s not to like? A very small back yard, no forest behind my home, no view except of the general neighborhood, streets, commercial areas. I’m angling for a lot with some large evergreens behind it that are part of an apartment area next door, but that’s the best I can do. That’s it. That’s all that’s wrong with this place. Yet, these requirements have been so central to what I’ve chosen over the years that it’s hard to imagine giving them up.

I’m giving this a lot of thought at the moment. Part of what I’m thinking is that the really beautiful surroundings I’ve chosen for my homes over the years are part of what’s kept me so isolated in them. It’s not as if this community isn’t attractive – it would be a very nice place to walk around in. I need to give up the selfish need to have MY forest, and get out of my house more into the world. There are plenty of forests, parks, walking trails, and other countries to visit. I’ve been lazy and I don’t get enough exercise. Maybe this would be a way to make sure I do that – have my home be my home and my office, and have the outdoors be more where it belongs – and go visit it more. Just looking at it out your window is nice, but it’s not like getting out into it.

And of course, this is the new design that we’ve asked people to live in, to benefit the environment – more communal homes and communities, less private space, green and energy-efficient designs. While driving the backroads I’ve seen what most people do with THEIR forests, and it ain’t pretty. Maybe I’d actually come to know some of my neighbors – what a concept. Not to mention I’d be saving nearly $10,000 a year in mortgage and utilities, and a lot more of my mortgage payment would be principal. I could do a lot of traveling (and a lot less work) on that much money.

With my little back yard I could still have a nice, small, manageable garden, maybe grow some vegetables and have a place to sit out by the roses. I’ve sort of been depending on the kindness of those who love me to get my yardwork done anyway, and I can’t do that forever. I have to admit that I can’t easily manage the house and yard maintenance by myself. There, a lot of it would be taken care of and I’d have just my own little bit to do.

HmmmMMMMmmmmm…… Thoughts???


5 thoughts on “Where to live?

  1. Maureen says:

    Hi Teresa,

    I can almost hear the wheels turning as you look at all the factors and think all this through.

    Several things jump out at me, from all you’ve said so far, and from looking at the properties you’ve posted websites for.

    And too I have the advantage of knowing you and knowing first hand what your current space offers you. Having been to your oasis and knowing how important the outside is and the view, the peace of having outside space that reflects your need for peace. You are like an architect who designs the positioning of natural features in the exterior with as much care as he does the dwelling structures.

    The first thing that jumps out at me is the decline of the housing market right now. And that it is perhaps a tough time to be selling. Of course, this is bound to get worse before it gets better.

    The second thing that jumps out is that I worry you might go too fast on this, knowing how you long to follow through immediately on decisions you make. This is a positive trait of course, but in this case under these conditions, am not so sure it would be good to go too fast in this process.

    The property on the canal was lovely, though the cabin itself was in need of a lot of work. The price was certainly reasonable for all that land too, but that it was being sold “as is” is always a red flag for me. Made me wonder if the roof leaked, or if there was a plumbing problem…the kinds of things I know you would need to have fixed at a huge expense. I could tell it had a deficit in storage, but also that it would lend itself quite nicely to a much simpler, scaled down way of living. I thought as you did, though– in terms of you being really too isolated out there, and that it the time was just not right. That you would soon realize how much you were really cut off from everything.

    The second thing that jumped out at me was your sensory overload factor. I know where you live now there are neighbors who are inconsiderate, but there are these neighbors invariably in every community. Where you are now, it is really quiet and peaceful compared to a lot of city neighborhoods. Your green belt and your yard with your wonderful stream, waterfall and pool are so soothing. Something that’s so important to you.

    So I thought about how important I know this is to you. From a different perspective and imho, I must say that I don’t think there is a connection to what you are calling laziness and being surrounded by what is so important to you in your living environment.

    In the Green Community in Lacey (which I like better than the Olympia A frame) you would have no control over the increased closeness of your neighbors, the noise factor, and no soothing exterior to work it’s magic on your Spirit when you were spending time in your home. But as you say, if you are planning to be out and about more and not home as much, then I suppose you could deal with what you’d be giving up. Still, I wonder if you would regret not having more of what you have now, for the time that you are there at home.

    I understand how you might think your love of the serenity of your current spaces might contribute to what you are calling laziness. But I wonder if you are just in a time when spending time alone is key at home has been needed. Also, consider that to some of us, laziness would never ever cross our minds when thinking of you!!!

    Do you think not having the peace surrounding your place would be more incentive to go out into the forests of the world, or do you think you might regret giving up these important factors? I know you have thoroughly gone over all this probably many many times.

    The big question I have would be this: Would you be willing to trust that something with “more” of what you are looking for (with more % of all the factors you require) will appear if you let yourself take more time in this process?

    Much Love,

  2. coppermoon says:

    Never ever lazy – I think that is the one thing you know nothing about. :-)

    But Mo has a point – once you are used to having your space, it becomes very difficult to not have it. Thinking you will garden and use the public areas sounds good but will you really?

    On the other hand, when we started looking, we were certain we wanted a huge Victorian out in the country. Now that we are settled in our smaller Cape Cod close to the city, we are glad we never found that Victorian. When it is right, you will know and there won’t really be any tough decisions.

  3. Ha! There’s a difference between mental laziness and physical laziness :) Mo’s question is a good one. I do know my tendency to make quick decisions under these circumstances. However, I just found out, I can put only $1500 down to hold the place if I decide I want to – and it won’t be ready until May. That gives me plenty of time to see if I can find something better, and a place to move to if I can’t.

    I’m not sure at this lower price, that I could find something more of what I want. I had to pay a lot more to get this house, and I’m not really that happy here, in spite of the wonderful back yard. More on that as I analyze it in another post. :)

  4. judithornot says:

    The green community seems to have a lot going for it. And am guessing that if you did decide in a year that you wanted something else, you’d have an easier time selling it than some of the other places you’ve looked at. Being closer to things is a plus. Yet, as I’ve written before, it’s all a matter of trade-offs — what are you willing to do without to get what you want? You have to make your own choices. :-) Have you done a tarot reading about it? Perhaps that would suggest items to consider that you haven’t already.

  5. Brad says:

    Frankly the green community makes more sense with what you’re trying to do than most of the other ideas you’ve floated in the past year or so for downsizing.

    You are still working on closing out your old demanding business, starting a new demanding business while doing a couple of other online businesses and maybe writing. These businesses require you to be able to physically get to where people are and meet with them face to face.

    I speak from personal experience when I say it is liberating to be able to walk or take public tranist when the traffic is too nasty, or you don’t feel well, or the car needs work. It also does make it easier to exercise when it is possible to run errands or go places without getting into the car.

    I suspect that making driving an optional thing instead of a required thing is going to free up a lot of energy, both for exercise and to find a way to keep your mental equilibrium.

    As to the noise and privacy issues….I know that you’ve had a preference in recent years for isolated locations. However you have lived in crowded and noisy locations before (every house you lived in when we grew up, the first house you owned, caltech etc). How bad was it really? How much of your stress in the current location is really neighbors and environment and how much is the fact that you’re isolated and have to fight traffic to do something as simple as getting a loaf of bread?

    There’s always a tradeoff between convenience and privacy. It seems also if you’re building your own home there might be options to seriously soundproof your bedroom, for example. I don’t know what elements disturb you the most, but in our home, we sleep in the room that gets the least noise from our tenants upstairs, the least noise from the nearby busy street and is also the most private, while leaving the rest of our windows open to the sun (and yes, neighbors). Gretchen did have trouble sleeping at first but eventually got used to the sounds. White noise generated from the air purifier we have in the room to help with the dust also is useful.

    Anyway good luck with it. If it was me, one thing I’d have to work on is not getting too attached to the work you already did on the current house. You did the work, it is lovely but it isn’t making the house work for you. Staying is in the poker metaphor “throwing good money after bad”. The next person to own the house will probably love all the work you did.

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