I have always dreamed of having a big piece of property full of fruit trees, gardens, and open spaces. A place where my children and their imaginations could run free. Perhaps a part of this is the small taste that I had of this as a child on Lasqueti Island where for a brief time we spent our days on a 25 acre piece of wild land that was ours to explore.
For the three years we lived there we were truly free as far as time and the boundaries of an island allowed. I remember running for hours through the woods by myself or with my siblings making up stories and contemplating the true nature of moss. We climbed the bluff behind our house and walked till we could see the sea. We ran through tall thick ferns and evergreen trees. We followed feral sheep paths and sampled wild berries. Our movements were not limited by fences and busy roads. Our time was not tightly sliced and diced with endless structured activities and learning outcomes. We had the wind at our backs and the miracle of nature reflected in our eyes.
Flash forward to adult life and my world is a different place. Six years ago we bought a townhouse in the suburbs close to where we both work. It was a medium term step we believed at the time. We wanted to get into the market and then after a few years, we thought, we’d have built some equity and would sell and then buy a home with a big backyard. This yard wouldn’t be a 25 acre playground, but it would serve as a garden and a free run space for our son. Our child wouldn’t run wild and free, but he would at least have a similar life to free run chickens who have access to the outdoors and enough room to move their limbs.
About five years “in the market” the real estate market skyrocketed. Vancouver became one of the most expensive places to live in the world competing handily with New York and San Francisco. We looked at many places over the course of a year and saw many of them slip from our grasp. One specific house we were particularly fond of, which backed onto a small forest and river sold for $80,000 over asking in a single day. People our parents age were selling and celebrating their house lottery retirement windfall. We on the other hand finally admitted defeat and gave up. The dream of a house with a backyard garden in Vancouver was just not within means anymore unless we wanted to get serious about mortgaging our lives.
Even though a suburban house with a large backyard was no exotic fantasy the loss of this choice threw us both in a state of deep house mourning. Our plans for our life, our dream for how our son would grow up, our expectations of the good life – all centered on a single family home – were clearly not going to happen. We clung to this for over a year. We should have bought a house earlier we said to each other. If only we had gone in a little over our heads just a few years ago; we might have beat the boom and be sitting in our backyard now we moaned. It’s not fair we both whined. We clung to the frustration that we couldn’t have what our parents had.
Amazing things can happen when you don’t get what you want. When you can’t get what you want. For me I found I started to do two things. First, I started to question why I wanted the thing in the first place. I mean what I really wanted was a big wild piece of land not a suburban backyard. How did the suburban grass box become the overriding dream? What was really going on here? Second, I started building a new dream. People sometimes comment that I am a glass half full kind of person. This is a little bit true. Generally though my go to emotions are actually grumpy and annoyed. But, when faced with a brick wall of a problem – when I know that I will not get what I want – I can quickly and easily find a way to build a bigger and better alternative. I can see the glass filling up. But, first, I need to hit the wall.
It seems funny to say that not getting a house in suburban siberia made me begin to question everything in my life. It made me stop. I stopped walking along the perfectly manicured path that my husband and I had carefully pruned through rational planning, endless compromise and societal conformity. The path had led to a brick wall. There was no way over. I stood still for a while looking at the brick wall. Then it occurred to me to be grateful for the wall. Because of the brick wall we didn’t go another $300,000 in debt for a slightly bigger yard and more autonomy from a mentally unstable Strata Council. Because of the brick wall I took the time to reexamine what I wanted out of life.
It’s a bit ironic that I write this here on this blog since the blog was first started in an effort to begin downsizing my life in 2013. Somehow even after that first effort at intentional living I found myself still mindlessly walking the bigger house bigger life path in 2015. This time though I didn’t need a path change because I felt guilt about my lifestyle footprint. What was different this time was that I had an epiphany that made me question everything in my life rather than just the size of my house or how many appliances I had in my kitchen.
So after we shut down the real estate frenzy, almost exactly a year ago, I started what I have come now to call my “project fearless.” I have started taking each part of my life off the shelf and begun examining them like I would objects in our house. I have been asking whether each of these parts is in my life by design or by accident. I have begun to make choices based on what I want to do rather than what I think I should do or what I thought other people would want me to do. I began imagining different scenarios and asking a lot of “what if” questions.
A lot has come from this project, too much to talk about in one post, including a new set of life goals and values. One of these is to set aside all the reasons I put as roadblocks to traveling. Without a new massive mortgage tying us down we have the liquid funds to travel somewhere each year. As an alternative to the rabbit enclosure of a green space we would have obtained our son will get to visit places like California, Argentina, Vietnam, and Cuba. Instead of spending weekends playing in our backyard we’ll be camping year round in the mountains and valleys of BC in our soon to be purchased camper van.
This year we explored Yosemite, San Francisco, San Jose and Saltspring Island. Our son got to see one of the natural wonders of the world. We never would have been able to afford this with a big mortgage weighing us down. And, with that big mortgage, I would have felt far more nervous about taking a month off work to do it.
Our son will not mourn the loss of the suburban backyard or stand alone home. He will however relish the memories of a world well traveled. His backyard will be the great outdoors, the parks and wilderness of Canada and the United States (if Trump doesn’t put up a wall that is!), and the cultures, food, people and nature on this big beautiful planet.
Perhaps things don’t happen for any particular reason and perhaps they do. What I think is truly important is that when something seems stuck, broken or impassible in our lives, instead of forcing our way through it, it might just make more sense to stop, pay attention and redesign.