In reality, though, it was more of a deep dive for two people who knew nothing about any of it — real estate, home ownership, being landlords, etc.
We bought an old Victorian triplex built in 1864. It was beautiful, and in a good location — walking distance to the downtown of the small town we now live in.
When we first saw the house, I knew this was the one. I had that feeling that it was exactly right for us. It was like everything Aaron had been describing to me about his ideal purchase had been dropped out of the sky, and plunked right in front of us.
The place had character and charm — and also needed a lot of work. The outer shell was strong, and everyone who looked at it said the place “had good bones.”
The inside, however, was a different story.
It looked as though nothing had been done to any of the three floors in years — maybe decades. Upgrades would need to be made in each of the apartments, and some of the rooms (or parts of them) would need to be completely renovated and re-done.
It certainly felt like more than we could handle, being green to the whole industry. But something told us to keep going after it. Every hurdle we came up against (and there were many) made us wonder if maybe this wasn’t the right place for us — but still, we pushed on.
Through the whole experience, including the wild and sudden ups and downs, there was still a sense of calm underneath, like I knew that no matter what happened, or what challenge came up next, it was still going to work out. We were going to get that house.
I didn’t know how, or why I felt like this, given that at times it almost seemed impossible; but there it was.
When the offer was finally accepted and the closing date was upon us, a new wave of terror set in.
What had we done?
Neither of us knew the first thing about owning a home, let alone being responsible for other people in the building!
And then there were the countless hours of renovations to do, along with the money needed to do them! This part especially concerned me, as I have zero experience in renovations or construction, and even less knowledge about how houses are built.
What good was I going to be in all this!?
From the very beginning, I struggled with feeling useless when it came to the renos. Here was this huge task that needed to be completed as quickly as possible in order to get it rented out again, and I had no idea what I was doing.
Sure, I could paint, or hold tools, or help pull wires for Aaron when we were rewiring. I could clean, or change light bulbs, or pick up supplies when he needed something. I could buy those supplies, and even surprise him with a coffee to give him a boost upon my return.
But I still couldn’t shake the guilty feeling that came every time we had some improvement to make around the house.
I saw how hard he was working, doing double-time as he made progress on the renos for hours almost every night, after getting home from an already long workday. I compared myself to him, and it was obvious that I didn’t measure up.
It felt like my fault that it wasn’t getting done faster. If only I was more help, I kept telling myself, which of course only made me feel worse, and even less helpful.
Over and over again, I would shame myself for not knowing how to do what he did.
And over and over again, I would feel worse and worse about myself, making me even less motivated to engage in the project at all. Instead, I wanted to run away and call the whole thing quits.
Last night, Aaron and I were walking downtown. He was telling me about the time he’ll have off from school over Christmas, and I was telling him about the article I’d published earlier in the day.
“Now I want to start renovations on our floor,” he said. “Maybe I can get the washroom done, and we can finally put in proper laundry! Wouldn’t that be nice!?”
I agreed that yes, it would be wonderful.
“Or maybe I can finally build us a better closet!”
Listening to him talk about his plans with a twinkle in his eye, I realized something:
This was his thing; writing was mine.
They’re completely different, just as we are different. We’re each good at our own thing, but don’t know squat about the other’s thing.
Give Aaron a blank Word document, and he’ll stare right back at it just as blankly. Give me a Word document, and more often than not, words come fairly quickly. They just pour out.
By the same token, if you were to put me on a job site and leave me there, I’d be more likely to hurt myself or cause more damage than I’d be of use. Put Aaron on a job site (or in an apartment in dire need of a facelift, as that’s where I’ve got to see him in action), and he takes control.
He just naturally moves about the place, doing what needs to be done next; cutting the next piece of flooring, installing the next piece of tile, or hanging the next light fixture. He knows what to do, and how to do it. Using the tools is like brushing his teeth.
For me, using a tool I’ve never used before could be a life-threatening experience for anybody in my vicinity! (Okay, maybe it’s not that bad). But you get the picture. It doesn’t come naturally.
And it’s all okay!
Two years later, we’ve been through more than I initially imagined we’d ever have to go through.
Our adventures have included going to court, evicting a tenant, going into the biggest debt of our lives, and even losing heat for a week in the dead of winter (the coldest week of the year, with steady temperatures of -35°C, of course).
Through it all, though, I’ve finally started to learn where I fit into the picture.
I may not be of much help when it comes to renovating or using tools — but that’s not where my power lies. I don’t need to be good at those things, because he is.
The only thing I need to be good at is what I’m already good at — and that’s writing, doing paperwork, being organized, and communicating with people.
I’m good at research, at finding out what I need to know, and being on top of things. I’m good at handling what needs to be handled. I’m good at coordinating things that need to be taken care of. I’m good at making calls when something goes wrong, enlisting the help of professionals who know better, and looking after house matters diligently.
Perhaps most of all, I’m good at learning — and that’s really all I need to be good at.
As long as I’m willing to keep learning, and to keep helping in whatever way I can, then I’m doing my part. All I need to do is keep showing up, willing to take direction, or just be there for support and encouragement, or to keep him company.
We don’t need to be good at the same things. In fact, we’re a better team for the simple reason that we’re not the same.
Aaron and I have completely different skill sets, and that’s what makes us so good for each other. That’s why we fit so well together, and why we work.
And I also believe that that’s a good part of why we’ve made it through all the challenges and climbed all the walls we’ve had to climb in the past two years. There’s a good chance that without the knowledge and support of the other, we never would have made it this far.
So, what has home ownership taught me?
More than I ever thought possible.