Artists Shouldn't Buy Houses

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In 2004, drunk on the money we were making from technology jobs, my wife and I bought a house. We shouldn’t have. As much as I love my home, as much as I love watching my kids grow up in one place (like I did), I consider buying our house the biggest mistake we ever made.

Artists shouldn’t buy houses.

No, they shouldn’t. End of story. But, here’s the thing: in 2004, despite the fact that we were both in grad school for arts-related degrees, I think we lost sight of that, lost sight of who we are. We fell for the con that is the “American dream” and tied ourselves down to one place because that was what we were supposed to do. It was and is a gorgeous place. It’s small, but it has a rooms for us and the kids and an office besides. And though it doesn’t have much of a yard, it has a yard, and that’s more than what we had before. The walls were ours to paint as we pleased, there were parking spots right in front of our door. It was intoxicating.

But now, now we’re stuck. We bought when prices were high and now we’re living in a world where prices are low and don’t seem likely to rise. There is no way out. We bring enough just enough money to get by. It’s not enough to pay off the difference between what we owe and what the house could sell for, and too much for options like a short sale to be feasible.

I don’t think we ever considered we’d be trapped like this. I think our intention was that this house would not be forever, that within a few years we’d be closer to our goal of a home on the seacoast that was equidistant between our two families (mine in Massachusetts, hers in Maine). But when I think about what we thought, what I realize is that we didn’t think. At least not enough. We went with our gut, which is what artists do.

Which is exactly why artists shouldn’t buy houses. What we want one minute is not what we want the next, and being tied down is antithetical to what we do. Temporary constraints are fine, and even helpful, but permanent constraints are the worst.

And so, I work two jobs, leaving me too little time for artistic pursuits, too little time for the social life I crave and miss, and, most importantly, too little time for the family I’m doing all of this for. All because of this house and the debts we’ve accumulated because of it. All because we wanted a place of our own.

But here’s the rub, folks: Nothing you see in front of you, nothing that surrounds you, none of it belongs to you. You’re renting it all, folks. Even the stuff you think you own is all part of a lease you sign when you take your first breath, one that ends when you draw your last. Don’t fall for the illusion that your stuff belongs to you. That illusion will trap you. It will destroy you. Better to embrace the temporary nature of everything than to fall for the deception of permanence.

My fellow artists, I hope that you will be smarter than I was.