How Renting Makes Me Re-Evaluate Who I Am

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?

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  1. Naomi says:

    Oh – you’ve read my mind. We are having BIG debates in our house about home ownership vs renting … but strangely enough, the discussions are being started by our two little ones. They DESPISE (very strongly!) the fact the “our car” belongs to someone else, our house “to the landlord” and while it’s not about responsibility for them, it’s 100% about stability. Who would have ever “thunk” ?? Not me, for sure. It’s causing me to big-time reconsider this lifestyle and what it all means.
    Naomi’s most recent post: Box 53b

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’ve decided there is absolutely no way to predict what kids will want from us. Every time I think we’re giving them some great opportunity, they wish they had something less great and more “normal”.

  2. Megan says:

    I am looking foward to picking up the phone when something breaks to get someone else to deal with it, to wondering “how long will this take to get fixed?” rather than “How much is THIS going to cost?”. Even if just for a while.

    Who am I? I am a person who seeks. A person who sees. A person who shares that with others. And thensome.
    Megan’s most recent post: Ice Water

  3. Your right, it is easy to hold that as part of your self identity. I remember first moving into Condo’s and our first house and being asked if we rent or own, and proudly saying owner. But it is such a silly materialistic thought.

    I’m a writer that happens to do HR during the day. I’ma father, a husband, a fiercely loyal friend. I am also someone who suffers from insecurity and anxiety and depression. Thankfully my don’t worry, be happy pills keep that mostly under control.
    Corey Feldman’s most recent post: Happy Valentines Day! Perfect day to buy my book!

  4. Sheila says:

    I’m not sure who/what I am anymore.

    There’s been even more belly button gazing going on in my world than ever before…..which says a lot, I think.

    I do know, however, that I am awesome.

    That’s enough for now :)

  5. Lisa says:

    Thank you for posting my exact thoughts regarding the changing of status from Homeowner to Renter. The perception I have about myself is that I am a less-valuable person for not owning my own home anymore. I hate not being able to make changes or repairs. I hate having to beg my landlord to do anything cosmetic to the house. And I hate the fact that for the two years I have been renting I have not felt “at home” in our house. I am embarrassed to have anyone over (and I have not had anyone in my house, family or otherwise the entire time I’ve rented). And I worry what that means for my son.

    I am struggling daily with changing my self-perception, but dang, it is hard–so damn hard. Any tips?

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think I already sent this to you in email, but wanted to put it here also:

      The best thing I know is to be honest with ourselves about what we’re afraid of. Face the fear, see it for what it is, and then practice letting it go.

  6. Claire says:

    I’m currently both! I have part rent/part buy flat in Kent (UK) and am lodging down in Devon as that’s the only place I could get a job!! So I pay a mortgage AND rent on one place and just rent on the other. I’ve had all the hassle of home ownership (and breaks were my responsibility to fix) and none of the benefits (I still couldn’t make changes etc). I’ve been trying to see for nearly a year and can’t see me ever wanting to own again!!
    Claire’s most recent post: 3 Good Things – Weds 13th Feb

  7. Hockeymandad says:

    Wow, I never thought about owning vs renting being a label. It only seemed to matter when filling out forms related to money and credit. I guess it does make some difference though in how you approach neighbors. Chances are you’re not going to invest too much in renting neighbors because they likely aren’t going to be around forever. It was never about labels for me though, it was more about stability and the peace of mind that no one but myself could cause me to have to move. However, if I moved to a new town/state/region I would almost certainly want to rent in the beginning to become familiar and stabilized in the new endeavor, but that’s just me. I am a worrier! ;)

  8. Kelly C says:

    Very interesting post. I live just outside Orlando…where it seems soooo many of us rent. In fact, I only know of a handful of homeowners vs hundreds of renters. I guess maybe it’s because so many of us come from other parts of the country.

    My parents owned their home for 30 years when they decided to move to Florida. Then, they rented for a few years and eventually settled on a home ownership in a 55+ community. They are happy but know that if they didn’t live in a senior community, they would not be as happy.

    I have rented since becoming an adult and moving out of my parents’ home. I never considered myself “irresponsible” or “unreliable” because I rent. NEVER. I know that when something breaks, it is not my responsibility to fix it however. It’s not the money coming out of my pocket when the a/c goes or the pool pump stops working. I get to enjoy living in my beautiful home worry free that the house might need to be sprayed for ants or the house needs power washing. Can I knock out a wall or add a built in fireplace? No. But, I’d much rather have the option of leaving the neighborhood quickly if it starts to deteriorate or safety becomes a concern. I can move if I want with ease. Also, just because you rent doesn’t mean you are going to leave quickly. I’ve lived with my husband and children in this same house now for 8 years. We have no plans to move at this time. But it’s nice knowing that if a new neighbor moves in and insists on throwing parties every week night or decides to run a garage out of his..well…garage, then I can move.

    I am a proud renter. :) But I’m also a Mom, a wife, a liberal, a Democrat, a reality tv addict, lover of travel, Disney fan, homeschooling teacher, photographer, etc….Basically, I’m just Me.

  9. I’m just a dude with too many children.
    Father Muskrat’s most recent post: mardi gras 2013

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