The never-ending search for the perfect home

People who struggle with clutter often buy new products/gadgets/clothing/doodads with the hope that these objects will bring happiness/perfection/success/joy. Then, hours or even minutes later, disappointment sets in when the person realizes that the object isn’t as amazing as he had hoped. The only time an object tends to bring any sort of real satisfaction is when there is a real need for it — your heater breaks down in the middle of winter, so you buy a new furnace and you’re glad you once again have heat.

The show Talk of the Nation on NPR covered this topic on a grand scale when it interviewed Meghan Daum, author of the book Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, on May 5 in a segment called “Searching For A Perfect Life ‘In That House’.” Through years of buying house after house, Daum found herself searching for the perfect house in hopes of achieving a perfect life:

You know, I think one of the things that we get into, especially in this country, is just this idea that the house is going to save our lives. You know, only a house can make you whole. That was really the idea that I had.

She continues:

You know, like I say, it’s not the biggest it’s more than just the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. It’s like, you know, it’s a repository for every ambition and anxiety and really, everything about yourself. It’s a container for all your goals and your tastes and what you want out of life.

From the interview, it’s clear that the houses she has owned have not brought her closer to the perfect life. The houses have brought difficulties, not bliss. She needed to be happy with who she was before she could find happiness in a home.

A bigger home won’t solve your clutter problems, and the “perfect” house won’t curb your desire to buy more, more, more or transform your life. The real solution is to fix your relationship with your possessions and get things under control in your current living situation.

17 Comments for “The never-ending search for the perfect home”

  1. posted by Cathy on

    Interesting angle on our search for happiness. A house, a spouse, a gadget, a car, cosmetic surgery, having children, whatever it is we desire, thinking it will bring us happiness will only bring us more of what we are until we decide to be happy with who we are and find happiness in what we already have. The search is always inside.

  2. posted by WilliamB on

    “The only time an object tends to bring any sort of real satisfaction is when there is a real need for it — your heater breaks down in the middle of winter, so you buy a new furnace and you’re glad you once again have heat.”

    I must need my KitchenAid mixer more than I need clean clothes then, because the KA makes me much happer than my new washing machine.

  3. posted by sarah lynne on

    i knew of a guy that built the same house plan THREE TIMES trying to get it perfect. and he still wasn’t happy with it.

  4. posted by ami | 40daystochange on

    I think most of us do this – tho’ not necessarily with a house. It could be a gadget, it could be clothes, it could be a new girlfriend or boyfriend.

    I think @Cathy has it right. Once we are content with who we are, the other stuff becomes just stuff.

  5. posted by Anita on

    “The only time an object tends to bring any sort of real satisfaction is when there is a real need for it — your heater breaks down in the middle of winter, so you buy a new furnace and you’re glad you once again have heat.”

    From my experience, I disagree. Things I buy out of pure need, especially when the previous version of it breaks down, tend to depress me. I think “here I am with so many exciting things I want to do, and I have to spend my money on a new iron/vacuum cleaner/doorknob.” It’s not that I don’t value these things, I just see them as necessities rather than things that help fulfill my life.

    On the other hand, things that help me further my dreams and hobbies — a new light stand to go towards building my photography studio, a new pair of dance shoes, my favourite colour from MAC’s latest collection — make me happy. None of these things are, strictly speaking, necessary for me to live comfortably, but the possibilities they bring — getting me one step closer to having my own studio, letting me dance through the night without my feet killing me etc — bring me joy because it’s these passions that add meaning to my life.

  6. posted by Dawn F on

    “The real solution is to fix your relationship with your possessions and get things under control in your current living situation.”

    So true! I have a few friends and family members that need this phrase tattooed on their body for a constant reminder! LOL!

    Great post today!

  7. Avatar of

    posted by Claycat on

    It would be nice to have my own place. It doesn’t even have to be perfect.

  8. posted by Shalin on

    hmmm…well, I’ll save my philosophical view on the concept of “perfection” for later. But it does seems like the author did get it, eventually. One thing I like to remind myself (and friends in the midst of frustration) is that “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful”. I think that applies to…anything – career, life, a car, a house, lunch, apples, flowers, a lawn, friends, neighbors, loved ones, shoes, a desk, that thing over there, etc., etc., etc. ;)

    Best,
    Shalin

  9. posted by wooddave on

    A favorite bit of wisdom I periodically need to be reminded of goes something like this – “Happiness comes from being thankful for what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have.”

    My wife recently ‘freecycled’ some lemon balm, dill, and other volunteer plants from our garden to clear out space for spring planting. The people who came and got the plants over the course of the last week were all very gracious and complimented various things they liked about our house, yard, and garden. Seeing things through these people’s eyes helped me appreciate the results of ‘projects past’ instead of being overwhelmed by all the ‘projects future’ that I tend to see when I look around at home.

    Thank you for another great post!
    Dave

  10. posted by Mike on

    It’s tough because when you go to find a home, you have no idea what sort of things will come up years down the road that might make a seemingly ideal house not work out.

    Do you have obnoxious neighbors? What if they’re great at first, but 4 years after you buy, a mentally ill person moves in across from you makes your life miserable, and there’s no way you can reason with them?

    Or what if the house next door has four teenagers living in it and they park their jalopies on the curb and always spill over into the area in front of YOUR place?

    What happens if there’s a sharp economic downturn (which I’m sure nobody ever worries about, right?) and the local shops and amenities go out of business or slide into filth and disarray?

    What if your child gets expelled from the only high school within miles in any direction? Ouch.

    And that beautiful grassy greenbelt you loved when you inked up that mortgage… what happens when they replace it with high-density subsidized apartments, and then there are drug dealers hanging around all the time?

    You just can’t know. All you can do is take educated guesses and hope they pan out.

    We bought in late 2008. I figured the market had gone down pretty far and if it was going to drop for another few years, I wouldn’t care, because I intended to stay awhile. Turns out the market bottomed in spring of 2009 so I didn’t miss by much. So by making an educated guess, the price turned out well. That’s all you can do, is go by the best info you have and make a move.

    We chose a home in an upper-middle-class suburb (Chandler, AZ) that was a little more expensive than we wanted, but would hopefully pay off in other ways. There are good schools nearby, good amenities, and the area is mostly built in, so hopefully there won’t be too many surprise strip malls full of tattoo parlors, topless bars, and check cashing stores appearing anytime soon.

    We made sure to get a house with some room — 2k sqft ranch-style, single-story, 4/3/2. (In Arizona, you don’t buy a two-story home unless you want to pay infinity dollars for air conditioning in the summertime). The floor plan was well-conceived and allows easy access to and from each room. It was the kind of place where, if we became shut-ins, we decided we would be happy staying.

    Now, it’s impossible to know whether this will pan out. Right now we have no intention of leaving… voluntarily. :) But anything can happen in the years ahead. We could get RIFfed from work, or conversely get a promotion that requires relocation. Our girls could end up needing to go to a different school than any of the ones nearby. One of the scenarios above could happen. But at least we made the play that, all other things being equal, looked like it would land us a house that could truly be our home, long-term.

    And that’s really all you can do.

  11. posted by Dawn F on

    I wonder if striving for the “perfect” house has a lot to do with the person’s childhood – rather than the stuff. Maybe someone who repeatedly goes through the cycle and battle of setting up a perfect home is trying to find a home/house/space that feels just like their childhood home “felt” (because it was wonderful) or that feels completely opposite of how their childhood home “felt” (because is was miserable, sad and/or abusive).

    Maybe that person thinks their goal of achieving a home full of perfection has less to do with the actual material things and more to do so with the feelings and emotions brought on by their childhood home(s).

    Maybe I’m nuts, but maybe…

  12. posted by Shalin on

    @Dawn F – I kinda understand. In the search for my house, I really looked forward to some house project that my family always had going on when I was a kid.

    After recalling endless hours going house hunting with my parents and sister when I was a kid, and watching hundreds of hours of HGTV, I had just a few requirements for the house I got. The biggest thing – I didn’t care for a turnkey house. I just wanted one with good bones needing some updating and related work that I could tackle in ~50 weekends over ~5yrs.
    One gal pal was surprised I found and purchased a place within 2-3months. I explain that I wasn’t looking for some place I wanted to fall in love with, but rather some place I would like to put some love into :)

    I got an older house with reasonable bones in a optional-HOA area (a preference for me) and plenty of fun opportunities to update and have fun with my power tools :)

    –S

  13. posted by Louise on

    I have found that, for me, once I was living the life I really wanted I no longer wanted new “stuff” at all. Stuff that I already had became less important, and I’m still giving it away.

    I also find that I have no tolerance for advertising now. That’s what really fuels the desire for more/newer/faster/bigger/hipper stuff. I stopped feeding myself a diet of ads through magazines, TV and the internet (thank you, Firefox AdBlock Plus!) Now when I pick up a magazine, I can see that it is just a glossy ad circular that they want ME to pay for. Outrageous! Yet, like eating too much processed food, I didn’t realize how much I had built up a tolerance for it. It’s poison to my self-esteem and happiness.

  14. posted by Jean/habithacker on

    I agree that, “A bigger home won’t solve your clutter problems, and the “perfect” house won’t curb your desire to buy more, more, more or transform your life…” however, a smaller home or moving more often is a rather good way to declutter in my experience. Living for ten years in a large home has turned me into much more of a saver of useless stuff than I was when I lived in tiny places and moved every year.

  15. posted by Rae on

    I am proof of this post’s message. I kept on moving from bigger home to bigger home, filling each with STUFF, until I sat down and had a good hard look at my life. Five years later, I live in a truly spacious and uncluttered 120 square foot RV. This is the best home I’ve ever had and is truly perfect for the life I want to lead. There is nothing I can’t do in this tiny house while I was always looking for space in my 1,000 square foot house.

  16. posted by Elaine on

    True of many things — the “perfect” job, or moving to a different city. I’ve done that bunches of times but it’s only the most recent move that’s made a difference. And that’s only because prior to that, I’d made some discoveries about myself that allowed a shift in thinking. Bringing the new attitude with me was what did it. In many ways, this new setting is inferior to what I left behind. Lower pay, a decrease in living standards, even new health problems. But I’ve developed some really meaningful friendships, something that was lacking before. I understand a lot more about “happiness” than I ever did previously. Basically, it has to come from inside of you.

  17. posted by mydivabydesign - The Diva's Home on

    Thank you for the reminder that ‘things’ won’t make you happy. It only lasts a moment and then you move on to the next thing. What are your real priorities?

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