It’s one thing to love old houses, but it’s another thing to live in them.
Late last year, my husband and I bought an 1826 colonial in the Hudson Valley. As a first-time home owner, the learning curve was steep—there was plenty to be grasped about things like mortgage rates and down payments, real estate trends, and property investments. Ever the students, my partner and I threw ourselves into mastering anything we thought could come our way after owning the home, too—how to spot water damage, the best method for heating an old house, how to reinforce a rickety stairwell—the list truly went on and on.
I thought my degree in home ownership would be tangible and actionable, a suitcase packed with knowledge about how to renovate and then care for something that we gleefully sunk our savings into. Little did I realize though, that buying an old home came with a slew of less tangible—and perhaps, more important—life lessons, too.
There is no such thing as just “living” in an old home. The property constantly asks of you—more time, more money, more energy. It’s a relationship where there’s never not work to be done. Your weekends are sacrificed at the altar of home improvement, with endless to-do lists and a symbiotic relationship of give and take that is, while not always equal, ever-alluring.
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Living in an old home with the intention of restoring it back to its original glory has a way of turning the mirror back towards you and reflecting back a whole bunch of preconceived notions you may have: the value of money (and time), the perception of perfection, and the importance you’ve put on things that are new and sparkly.
Six months in, and I’ve learned just as much about myself and life as I have about how to repair gaps in wood floorboards, unstick our old wood windows, and catch the cave crickets in our basement.
Curious as to whether these lessons came to anyone who has called a storied property “theirs,” I reached out to several of my favorite old-home owners to inquire about the lessons they’ve learned while living in, renovating, and loving their old homes. My takeaway? Sometimes the best teachers in life have four walls and very creaky floors.
Remember: You’re Just Part of the Story
If there’s one thing I’ve come to value from living in an old home, it’s how small it makes me feel. We are not the first, second, or even third family to live in our house—in fact, its history dates all the way back to the founders of our town, and there have been 14 families that have called it home since 1826. Like many old-home dwellers, we don’t consider this property “ours”—instead, we consider ourselves caretakers of the space, taking care of and nurturing it until it (hopefully) goes on to lead a life beyond us. It’s an ethos that is at-once comforting and humbling.
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