A month ago I sat across from my twice-former housemate and told her I was thinking about moving again for what would be the fifth time in less than a year. “Are you moving toward or away?” she asked. “Away,” I was able to answer definitively.
I was moving away from my unhappiness, searching for a solution outside of myself. I imagined that if I could just change one thing in my life—the place I’d signed a lease to live in for six months—then everything else preventing me from being happy would follow. I’d find a job where I was valued, could use my talents, and make enough money to live comfortably. I’d form friendships, move effortlessly into a lasting relationship, start traveling again, and finally start living the life I’d wanted when I made the first of four moves months ago.
We cannot depend on any one thing to bring us happiness. I knew this and yet there I was on the verge of running again from a life that was not working, running toward a hypothetical future where all that I wanted appeared as if by magic without my having to do anything more than move a few boxes from one place to another.
My friend didn’t ask me to change my mind or make a decision, but she invited me to learn to love my home before leaving again.
Weeks before our conversation I’d made a list of all the things that bothered me about my current home. I thought focusing on the negative would help urge me into action, protect me from going through the motions of life for months, passively accepting things that I wanted to change.
One of the first things on my list was my mailbox. Getting the mail had been something I’d enjoyed since childhood. I love surprises and the unpredictability of what would arrive slipped through the slat in my door or bunched in a box was enough to incite a border-line obsession with stalking the mailman.
The mailbox at my present home was duct taped to my neighbor’s whose was nicely mounted on a wooden pole in front of her house. The tape had loosened its grip, unwound itself into long, lifeless strips that flapped in the breeze. The box canted despondently downward so the door didn’t shut. On windy days I’d come home to find my mail scattered across the neighborhood.
The day after our learn-to-love-your-home talk I walked out to the mailbox with a fresh roll of duct tape, tore off the old pieces, and realigned the metal so the mail wouldn’t spill out. It was a temporary fix, but a solution nonetheless.
A week later I came home to a completely new mailbox, painted a beautiful blue to match the color of my cottage, standing straight in a row beside my neighbors’ pink and green boxes all securely mounted together on a new wooden structure. The colors are vibrant and cheerful, the boxes strong and straight. I hadn’t even mentioned the issue to my landlord, she’d made the change on her own.
The second gripe on my list was much more serious than the first. I’d begun to feel unsafe because a homeless man was frequently knocking on my door, sometimes inebriated or on drugs. His interactions were amusing at first, but then became worrisome as he appeared later and later, knocking on my door close to midnight one night and then forgetting what he’d done the next day. With my friend’s encouragement, I spoke to him directly and told him how uncomfortable he’d made me feel. He got down on one knee, apologized, walked away, and hasn’t returned since.
In addition to feeling insecure, I felt alone. Most of the homes around me were either unoccupied or commercial properties closed every evening. My one neighbor traveled frequently and spent only a few days a month at home.
Since deciding to love my house, my traveling neighbor has moved out and been replaced by a man who is always around, walking his dog through the neighborhood and cooking with the doors wide open. A husband and wife who’ve decided to downsize will soon be moving into the unoccupied cottage directly behind my own.
Everything I’d found to be a fault has been eliminated in a matter of weeks. The changes are precisely the magic I’d hoped would come from moving.
This past weekend I went away on retreat in honor of my upcoming birthday. I drove a few hours from my house to a 40 million dollar property perched high in the mountains. Sitting in the dining hall and looking through the long floor-to-ceiling windows reminded me of peering out from an airplane. I was surrounded by clouds, staring down on mountains and trees, facing east and able to see the sunrise spilling across the land.
And yet after a day away I was missing my home. I cut my trip short and returned earlier than anticipated. As I pushed open my front door I smiled at the bright familiarity of my living room, set down my bags, and spent the remainder of the day planting a garden in the large plot beside my driveway, certain that I’d be around to enjoy the fresh fruit and vegetables in a few months.
Since opening up to the possibility of loving, not running, the other aspects of my life that were making me unhappy have shifted as well. I’ve created a job for myself where my talents will be valued and rewarded, discovered that I’m already surrounded by rich and lasting friendships, traveled only to realize I’m happiest when I’m at home, and found fulfillment in loving what is instead of dreaming of how things should be. Had I made another move as planned, I would have been running toward a nonexistent future weighted down by the unresolved problems of my past, unaware of all that was already available to me right where I was.