When we decided in the fall of 2010 to sell our house, we didn’t think twice about casting off the title of homeowner.
I mean, we thought about whether short selling instead of renting while we were traveling was the best financial move. We thought about whether we’d want to buy again in the near future. We thought about all the money we were losing because of a failing real estate market. We thought about how grown up that beautiful house had made us feel, and how much love we’d poured into making it ours (OK, maybe that part was more me than we.) But never once did we think about what it meant to be able to call ourselves homeowners.
When we were wandering the country in an RV and struggling to answer the simple questions of “where are you from?” and “where should we send this check?”, we got our first inkling of what it felt like to be something other than a homeowner. But really, that required coming to terms with being a little weird and very different from the norm – and it was fun and exciting, so not too hard to make peace with.
But now we rent. For the first time since Jared and I were 20 years old, we are not homeowners. And it has surprised me to learn how much of our identity had been tied to that financial responsibility.
I’ve felt awkward meeting neighbors. When I point out where we live in relation to their home, I feel like I’m saying “we’re the interlopers who are squatting there.” When friends tell me about their home improvement projects, I’m keenly aware of the fact that I’m not allowed to make changes to the place where we live. We’re no longer among the group of real grown ups. At least, that’s the message that keeps playing in my head.
It’s funny the words that make up our identity, descriptions we might not even realize are pregnant with our values and sense of self worth – until they’re gone, at least.
A friend of mine who used to practice law before becoming a published author and speaker tells me that it took her a long time to stop leading with, “I’m a non-practicing attorney”. It was, she said, a part of who she was and a symbol of what she was capable of. Even when it wasn’t actually part of what she did, it was hard to give up that identity.
I’ve felt that way about being someone who is from Iowa and then someone who lives in Florida. I remember struggling when I was no longer a woman with a great shoe collection. Similarly, it took me a long time to own writer, even after I was paying my bills with my craft.
We think we know ourselves – at least, I do – but it can take us by surprise to discover the labels that matter, especially because we don’t seem to notice their importance until they’re gone.
I’m not a homeowner. I’m a renter.
I’m trying to practice letting go of the fears and insecurities that surround that new title. The judgments are not absolute, but optional and subjective. Homeowner is not necessarily synonymous with responsible or safe anymore than renter is automatically equal to irresponsible or unreliable. I can choose what to infuse each label with, or even to just let them be factual descriptions of residential status. They can just be what they are and nothing more, if I let them.
This little shock to my self image reminds me to consider what labels matter most to me.
I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a woman. I am a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I am a writer, a reader, and an eager creator of things. I am an optimist. I am a person who tries and a person who reaches.
That’s what I am.
What – or who – are you?