Is Your Dream House Still Your Dream House?

Nesting on 06.08.11
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Photo: Sugar Pond/Creative Commons


Denying My Roots
Last weekend, for the first time in nine years of having one, I hired somebody to weed my garden. I felt like such a mother. It was two students earning money for college. They did a killer job. Everybody wins!

The garden was in a bad way. I gave birth to my son last March, so when I gave the guys a grand tour of the supermegaforest, it was the first time I'd set foot in the backyard since 2009. That sentence you just read is 510 percent true. 2009.

Weeds towered overhead. Ivy climbing a brick wall had become so strongly rooted that some looked like it was growing out of a small tree trunk. There was no way to walk through the garden completely because of the giant branches hugging the air. The long-suffering rosebush was dead.

The thing is, I could hide behind childbirth, but who am I kidding? It looks like this every year. I hate the garden. I am the luckiest person in the world to have one, but I hate it. I have neither the time nor the energy (nor the desire) to maintain it. I believe in making sure your home is not an eyesore for your neighbors, and I also believe in the pride of doing work yourself. But since becoming a mother, I've had to get down to brass tacks on how I live in my own home, and I've found that the image I always had of the life I'd lead and the home I'd do it in does not mesh with the reality of the upkeep.

Weeding Out the Chores
In New York City, the two most coveted and nearly unattainable luxuries for homeowners are a parking space and an outdoor space. I don't believe in leprechauns and pots of gold and fairies who sprinkle glitter in my wake while bluebirds make my bed, so I don't have a parking space (which is logical, really, seeing as how I don't have a car either). But when my husband, then my boyfriend, bought the apartment in 2000, he scored a backyard. "How great!" I said. When you get your paws onto an apartment with a garden in Brooklyn, you never, ever let it go.

Here's the garden:

I tried to Google the average dimensions of a Brooklyn brownstone garden just to give you an idea of the space, because unlike other people in America, most New Yorkers do not have "property" or, like, a "yard" or a "porch" or "stairs." But all that came up were real estate listings and one message board with the heading "What are Brooklyn Decker's measurements?" So I'm not good at math, but I think my garden is between 20 and 40 feet on each side. The previous owner was a botany professor, so the garden is full of huge plants, many of them prickly. There is a janky slate path that's broken and uneven. There is nowhere to sit, nowhere to entertain, nowhere for my son to play. But it does have weeds. Always lots and lots of weeds.

I have a fantasy of what I'd do to the space if I had the money to hire someone to do it. I cannot and do not want to do it myself. I will go as far as to lay wood chips to try to starve the weeds, but I am not tearing anything up.

It's just become a burden because it's so much work. I complain about it a lot.  Oh sure, I do weed it (sometimes). I plant flowers (sometimes). But as much as I wish I were, I am not one of those people who finds gardening cathartic. So when it's Saturday morning and I have an hour, I don't want to get my hands in the soil. I want to play with my son and take him to an actual usable green space like Prospect Park or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, both of which are within walking distance. Or I want to check my e-mail. Or sleep. Or do anything but pull weeds. But I think about them all the time because it's not just my problem. There are five units in this building and three look on the backyard. The garden may be mine, but this is their home too.

It got me thinking about what it must be like to have a house and how much work it is. There are so many demands in life, and when you own a home, you can't possibly love everything homeownership entails. So how do you eliminate those burdens, or at least ensure they don't take away from what you really want to be doing?

Planting New Seeds
My sister just visited Atlanta. She drove around a neighborhood that's growing like — wait for it! — a weed. She said that there are these giant houses that sit on no property at all. Literally: There are no porches, lawns, backyards. Retirees are moving there and don't want to deal with the upkeep having property requires, so there just isn't any. No white picket fence, because really, who wants to keep painting the thing?

I think as people get busier and the economy continues to reside in the crapper, the vision of the home of the American Dream is going to change (except for the pool; there will always be a pool). People will adjust their dream to a smaller house, or even a nice apartment. Instead of an annual vacation, they may choose to invest in a monthly housekeeper. I, for one, see myself probably always wondering if I'll ever move into a house, but I'll probably always choose a manageable apartment because I have to be honest about the limitations on my time and how I choose to spend it.

And despite my husband's protests, unless it's usable and I can afford to hire help, I will insist on no garden. Not even a houseplant. And if he so much as tracks in a leaf on the bottom of his shoe, we're moving.


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