On Not Buying a House


I remember reading once about a Harvard graduate whose friend’s daughter had just gotten into Harvard. She said that what she really wanted to tell her friend’s daughter was to enjoy grabbing the brass ring, but not to put too much stock into it, because it was probably the last brass ring she’d ever feel like she truly got a grip on. We’re sold the idea that if you jump through specific hoops, you’re successful. But as life goes on, those rings get slipperier and slipperier; it becomes less and less clear what to grab, and catching hold of them doesn’t necessarily even make you happy.

Meg Keene writes a lovely essay about growing up working class, defining security on her own terms, and why not-grabbing the brass ring of home ownership is the right decision for her family, for right now.

The unvarnished truth is that we can’t responsibly afford a house. The unvarnished truth is that, under their own steam, not a lot of people in their early thirties in this particular market can afford a house. And for me, financial security is finally not having to pretend. I spent my life pretending: of course these new clothes were no big deal; of course I’d gone out to eat a lot and understood this fancy restaurant menu; of course I didn’t mind that you got to have an awesome unpaid internship over the summer; of course I wasn’t envious of your trip to Europe. I’m tired. And I’m proud of what I (and then we) have slowly been able to build.

I want the day we buy a house to feel like the day I paid off my student loans. Hard earned. A long time coming. Worth it. Simultaneously a huge deal, and not that big a deal at all. Something I’m doing for me, not for how it looks. I want the day we buy a house to not be the same day I have a massive panic attack.

She defines security as “not having to depend on anyone else for money”, the ability to move if opportunity called, and knowing her family wouldn’t be financially screwed by an unexpected job loss. She articulates a lot of my own anxieties and ambivalence in a way I haven’t been able to.

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