House-hunting On The Spiritual Path

Life is a spiritual journey, if you choose to approach it that way.  It is a quest for answers to the ultimate questions:  Who am I?  What do I believe in?  Why am I here?  The search continues all the way to the end of our lives and affects every aspect of our lives, including the most ordinary things, like finding a place to live.

The Search
My husband and I, both in our mid 60’s, are looking for a house.  We already live in a great house, but it is too big, and we are trying to follow our values and “right-size” – get rid of the things we no longer need or want (including surplus space) and move into a house that is more efficient and requires less maintenance.  It also needs to be aesthetically pleasing, because we are retired, and we spend a lot of time at home.

The process is more challenging and frustrating than you might think.

First, there are formidable market forces working against us.  We live in Boise, Idaho, where we want to stay near children and grandchildren.  Boise currently has the fastest growing population in the nation, and the housing market has exploded.  While prices are rising nationwide, they are at the highest level in the Treasure Valley, where Boise is located.

According to Realtor.com, Boise home prices have risen by 71.9% in the last four years, compared to a nationwide high of 57%.  Housing experts project that prices will continue to rise, though more gradually, for at least another two or three years and then level off.

There is also a shortage of homes and increasing numbers of buyers, including millennials looking for their first home and people relocating from more expensive Western states, such as California, Washington and Oregon, now that they can work from home.  Houses sometimes sell in one or two days for up to $100,000 over the asking price.  The best word to describe this market is “frenzied.”

Just logging into Zillow makes my stomach churn and my mind race:  What’s new on the market today?  Should we look at it?  How much will it go for?  Can we possibly compete?  Do we even want to?

On the upside, when we put our own house on the market, it will likely sell very quickly and for an exorbitant sum.  We have lots of equity, so we can use that money to buy a smarter-sized house.  Financially speaking, we are in a better position than many local buyers.

But there are other factors operating here besides economics – most significantly, age and life stage.

Time and Transition
Relocating at our age is very different from earlier stages in life, when issues like affordability and proximity to work, school and family are more important than the actual place where you live.

As a college student in my 20’s, I lived in many houses and apartments.  As long as the place was clean and safe, and I could get to school and work on time, I was fine.  It didn’t really matter what kind of place it was (although fully furnished was always a bonus) or where it was located.  It was just a temporary stopping place until I moved on.

In my 40’s and 50’s, I bought and sold many houses.  I lived in one and rented out the rest.  For 21 years before moving to Boise, I lived alone in a 1200 square foot cottage within walking distance of a small town full of coffee shops and trendy restaurants.  I turned the front yard into a perennial garden, complete with a picket fence and a trellis covered with trumpet vines. A homebody at heart, I regularly “staycationed,” enjoying the birds, the flowers, and the serenity from my screened-in porch.

Then I retired, got married, and moved to this house in Boise, which my husband designed and had built in 1999.  It is a lovely place, but it is his, not ours.  I want to create a home together, and I want to do it while we still have the energy and inclination to move and are young enough to enjoy the new surroundings.

For us, buying a home is a highly emotional event.  It will not only be the first house we buy together, but also the last.  This is where we plan to age in place and spend our final years.

Compared to first-time buyers, we last-time buyers face unique challenges, from overcoming emotional attachments to our current home and all the things we have accumulated to anticipating future changes in our health and mobility.  On a fixed income, we must plan carefully so that we can meet rising costs in taxes, insurance and homeowners’ dues.

Buying a house is a symbolic event, signifying the end of one phase in life and the beginning of another.  At our age, the transition is especially poignant.  As psychologist Christina Steinroth says, it feels like “the big finale” (“A Moving Concern:  Transitional Trauma,” 2013).

With this kind of change afoot, during these challenging times, it would be easy to succumb to anxiety and depression.  So I remind myself that this is just another stretch along the spiritual path.  It is an opportunity to become more intentional in our decision-making, to think about who we are and what we care most about, and — while we still have a choice in the matter — to consider how we want to spend our remaining time together.

In her blog “Life at this Age,” Sarah Davidson, 77, urges us to be more mindful at this stage in life and ask, “What will be the prime directive? Kindness? Gratitude? Family? Service? Making a bucket list and checking it twice? Or just greeting each day the same way you turn a new page in a book – open and interested in what comes next?”  (“Aging Well is the Best Revenge?” 2018).

Spiritual Practice for the Days Ahead
My prime directive is step up my pace on the spiritual path. This means being fully present in my daily life, remaining open to new experiences, and deepening my relationships with other people, the world, and the divine.

I have learned much from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, authors of Spiritual Literacy:  Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, about how to walk this path on any given day.  They recommend that we engage regularly in spiritual practices, including mindfulness, appreciation, gratitude, kindness, compassion, faith, and hope.

Especially challenging for me now, during our search for a house, is to remain hopeful. The Brussats explain that hope is “a positive and potent spiritual practice with the power to pull us through difficult times.”  And it is “often discovered in unexpected places” (“What are Spiritual Practices?”).

According to the Brussats, certain attitudes help us develop and sustain hope.  These include patience (the willingness to let events unfold in their own time), courage (confidence in the face of the unknown), and persistence (determination to keep going, no matter what).  “We have hope when we can say, all will be well, and we mean it.”

Which reminds me of a quote from the Buddha: “Everything that has a beginning has an ending.  Make your peace with that, and all will be well.” This is true for the housing market, our own search for a house, and life itself.

All will be wellAs I journey through this challenging time of transition, I’m going to make that my personal mantra.

Written by: Ruth Ray Karpen

Ruth Ray Karpen is a retired English professor who now works as a freelance researcher and writer. She has published many books and articles on aging and old age, life story writing, and retirement. She also volunteers her time at a local hospice and animal shelter. In our series on Heart and Soul, she explores how later life, including the end of life, offers unique opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth.