Janet Sheridan: What makes a dream home?
I read the results of a study in the AARP April Bulletin, snorted with incredulity, and spewed coffee on my bathrobe. Researchers had asked 500 millennials, ages 23 to 38, what they would sacrifice to own a dream home: 29% said they would give up their iPhones; 9% would leave their partner; 25% would spend a week in jail; and 16% would go without sex for five years.
I understood giving up an iPhone. In fact, I’d find it a relief. And a week in jail in exchange for a dream home might be possible. But walking out on a partner or giving up sex to live in a house with a sauna in the bathroom and a wine-tasting room next to the home theater made about as much sense to me as the coffee dripping off my chin.
Having lived in a series of imperfect homes quite happily, I’m baffled by the willingness of young people to make such sacrifices in exchange for a dream home.
The pioneer-era house where I spent my childhood had elusive drafts, cranky doors, freezing bedrooms, and a bathroom made hazardous by the ongoing battle between its faulty plumbing and my frustrated father. In return, it offered my siblings and me the comfort of dozing by the living-room heater on cold mornings, the ticking of a grandfather clock that echoed through the house like a heartbeat, and a kitchen so big we could enjoy the companionship of our mother and the smells of her cooking as we played.
When I was 12, we moved to a middle-aged house near the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. Its roof needed attention; its yard needed trees; its startling red, orange, and turquoise walls needed repainting; and at least once every winter the coal-burning furnace clanked a warning, belched black smoke, and died, catapulting Dad into frenzied activity punctuated by his steel-plant words. But the house also offered two picture windows, plumbing that worked, spacious bedrooms that didn’t require bunk beds, and a large front porch where we watched the passing flow of hunters driving pickups, families in sedans loaded with camping gear, truckers who tooted their horns when we waved, and an occasional cattle drive.
Next, I lived in a series of dorm rooms that felt like home only when arguments broke out over whose turn it was to clean the bathroom. But even in those small, utilitarian rooms, I breathed the potent air of independence and lived easily.
After I married, my husband and I rented apartments. Our first was an attic accessed by a rickety flight of outside steps, and our last, a single-wide trailer sitting in the middle of an empty field as though quarantined. All had their oddities: an air conditioner that blew like a nor’easter and a duplex where every day the man next door played taps at sunset. But we knew these temporary homes were stepping stones to the house we would one day own, and we were content.
Eventually we bought a house in Carson City, Nevada, and faced the reality of no landlord to call when an appliance failed, the sewer backed up, rusty freckles invaded the lawn, and the garage door fell off its track and hung awry, making a public display of our ineptitude as homeowners. But we pounded nails where we wished, painted in hues we liked, added a patio, and changed the landscaping — activities unrewarded by Better Homes and Gardens, but pleasing to us.
The house where Joel and I now live is the nearest I’ve come to owning my dream home. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it, and I enjoy living in it every day. Though it has developed annoying eccentricities over the years, I easily forgive them. After all, the house is as old as I am, and I’ve acquired quirks of my own as well.
Since learning about the mindset of millennials, however, I’ve been wondering what I’d be willing to give up for my dream home: a house that’s self-cleaning.