How My First House Changed My Perspective Of Wealth And Contentment


When I was growing up, living in an apartment seemed like the major factor in designating the haves from the have nots, with me in the latter category. No, we weren’t poor, but we certainly weren’t rich, and but living in a house became to me the symbol of having “made it,” with the backyard a trophy indicating wealth and success. At 20, I moved to New York for law school, living just two blocks from tony SoHo, where my views on what constituted wealthy rapidly shifted. In the sixteen years I lived in New York, I quickly learned that sometimes the extremely wealthy, the hallowed 1%, live in apartments, albeit ones in doorman buildings with annual rents that would purchase several houses in other parts of the country.

Still, that childhood suspicion that houses were status symbols lingered, though I was convinced I’d never be able to afford one. Along with my jumbled class assumptions, I’d simply taken it as gospel that houses cost more than apartments, at least in the tri-state area. It seemed logical to me; a house has more space, and therefore costs more money.

This year, my own tangle with the book economy taught me otherwise. Thought it’s likely to change in 2015, for the last three years as a full-time freelancer, the bulk of my living has come from royalties from erotica anthologies I’ve edited. I’ve been lucky enough to edit close to 60 of them, and though about a dozen were with now out-of-print presses, the rest are in print, and ebook, and audiobook format. The largest of those checks arrives quarterly. When I had a full-time magazine job, that money was often used to treat myself to dresses or books or trips; now that I pay my rent with my royalties, I take them much more seriously. I’d known that even though I was still putting out several books a year, the market for the kind of erotica I edit had taken a tumble after the initial Fifty Shades of Grey-inspired spike; I didn’t realize just how big of a tumble until I opened the statement and found a number far lower than even my pessimistic worst case scenario.

At first, I was in shock, combing the figures for some magical loophole that would secretly mean I could actually pay more than one month’s rent, but none appeared. For the next few weeks, I calculated and recalculated all of my accumulated expenses, but none of them seemed to add up to being able to afford the pricey apartment my boyfriend and I had rented smack in the middle of our suburb. I almost called it a “ritzy” suburb, because our rent was far beyond what I’d ever have considered paying beforehand; even splitting the cost seemed far too high, yet was still marginally cheaper than what I’d paid in Brooklyn. I’d pictured my move to New Jersey as a way to start a new domesticated life and save lots of money, but the reality was that I was spending just as much as I had in New York, between higher bills for a larger space, cable (which I didn’t have living on my own) and New Jersey Transit train tickets.

So my boyfriend, who’d found us what had seemed like the dream apartment, set about looking for a new home. When he told me he’d discovered a house for rent that was significantly cheaper than our apartment, I was skeptical. A whole house? Then I went to look at it, because when you tell me numbers in square feet you may as well be telling me how many people a given theater holds; my brain can’t translate that into what those numbers would feel like inside the space.

The new house was technically smaller, but felt bigger because of the layout. Not only did it have two skylights upstairs, including one in the bathroom, but it had a small office, a backyard and a basement. I was still getting used to the luxury of closets after living without them in Brooklyn.

We got the house, and even though moving a mile away was still as much of a pain in the ass as any move, this was our first move as a couple. It was exciting, but also daunting because I felt like I’d “made” us move, which in a way I had. For the first six months, it was hard for me to appreciate my new home, even though we were greeted by groundhogs racing around our backyard. It’s taken the better part of 2014 for me to truly embrace the silver lining that led us to our home, which is not only cozier than the fancy apartment, but warmer because it’s better insulated. Where our old apartment was somewhat dimly lit, our new house never feels gloomy. We’ve decorated it and made it homey and personal, even though we don’t own it. There are stretches of two or three days where I sometimes never leave our house, and even though that’s something I want to change in the new year, when it happens, I don’t feel claustrophobic.