Best way to roast the broomstick. Must try. Five Stars.

Where the heart is

During the many months that my last home was on the market I lived in a constant state of fear, a maddening limbo of not knowing if or when the house would sell, not knowing where I would be living in the months or years ahead. It’s a bit of a first-world problem to have, owning a house to sell, I understand this, but because I was doing it alone it will go down as one of the most stressful things I’ve ever lived through.

I never once looked at real estate listings because the the whole idea seemed masochistic when potential buyers would come and go without showing any interest. I told myself to wait until I’d gotten a solid offer, but when that finally happened, the buyers wanted a 30-day escrow. I quickly secured a loan, but when I started researching houses that would fit my needs I realized how impossible it would be to find something in four short weeks, something I would want to sink all that money into yet again.

My mother said we could live in her basement until I found what I needed, but that would mean living and sleeping in the same room as both girls and both dogs and commuting over 45 minutes to their schools in the morning. I’d have to pack up the dogs and my laptop and work at a dog-friendly coffee shop every day until school was out, then the 45-minute commute back to the basement. Although my mother was a saint to offer this, and I am so lucky to have this kind of option should everything go horribly wrong, it just wasn’t ideal. Plain and simple, I don’t think I could resist eating all of my stepfather’s bologna.

My mother says that what happened next is a result of all those times she put my name on the prayer list in the temple, and if that is true, thank you prayer list. Prayer list, you saved me and my girls from months of disgruntled living. You also saved my stepfather’s bologna.

About a week into escrow I was driving home after dropping Leta off at school when I saw a FOR RENT sign in the yard of a home about a half-mile from where I was living. From the outside the house looked like it was in good condition, so I jotted down the number and made a call to ask three questions that would determine whether or not I would ask the fourth:

1) How much is rent?

2) Is there a fenced-in backyard?

3) Do you allow pets?

The landlord answered yes to all three so I asked the fourth:

4) Where’s Waldo?

That afternoon she let me take a look at the place, and I brought Tyrant along so that he could give me his opinion. The layout was fine, there was a bedroom for Leta and a separate bedroom for Marlo, and there was space for the office. I wasn’t a fan of the paint colors, the wallpaper, the light fixtures, or the carpet, but the price was so affordable that none of that really mattered. Here was a viable option for me and the girls, one that suited our basic needs and would save my mother the hassle of housing her 37-year-old daughter.

Tyrant’s opinion? “Can you tell your mom to put my name on the prayer list?”


This would also allow me some time to get my bearings after months of living in a sort of suspended state, to figure out what I really wanted in a home instead of prematurely jumping at the first thing to catch my eye. This goes directly against how I normally make big decisions. I don’t like to lollygag or dawdle. My gut is very opinionated and often right, so when I see something I like I go after it. But when I’m dealing with the kind of money that goes into a down payment and a mortgage? Maybe it’s time to tell my gut to shut it.

So I signed a lease. And now I’m living in a home where if the dishwasher breaks, I don’t have to buy a new one. This feeling of freedom and relief after all those months of not knowing and now living in a space that someone else has to take care of should probably be illegal.

Also, the girls have settled in here so seamlessly, and that’s the most important component to all these very fortunate events falling into place. My girls feel at home.

I’ve been living here only a month, but I’ve already started to put together a list of things to look for when I decide to buy again, a list informed by all the things that I didn’t like about the houses I previously owned. You may be surprised to hear this, or maybe not, but the one thing that bothered me the most about the three houses I’ve owned is the size of the last one. One day I’m going to write a book about living in a very big house and I’ll call it “Very Big Unhappiness.”

Never have I wanted to simplify more than I do now, that’s what that last home taught me more than anything. And since I have some time to breath before signing my name to another 30-year mortgage, that’s what I plan to do.

Here are the make it or break it items:

– A fenced-in backyard for the dogs
– A dedicated space for my office
– A separate bedroom for both girls
– A garage
– Washer and dryer hookups
– A kitchen that does not need a total overhaul
– A working stove on which Ryan Gosling can make me pancakes made with almond flour

Here are the things that would be nice to have:

– A bathroom for the girls and a separate bathroom for me
– A bedroom for guests
– Lots of natural sunlight
– A patio
– A storage space where I could set up the dogs’ crates
– White walls
– Hardwood floors
– A dungeon

I’m really curious what you guys have learned from owning homes, or what you would look for if you were seeking to buy one. What are your must-haves? What has surprised you?


This post was sponsored by BHI. Explore the benefits of a newly built home.

  • 1. Natural light and good cross-breezes. When we were house hunting, I couldn’t believe the number of dark musty caves out there. Sunlight and fresh air make me happy.

    2. Lots and lots of storage space. We don’t have tons and tons of stuff, but everything has to have a place to live, and stuff can’t be stacked in front of other stuff or it is the kiss of death for me staying organized.

    3. Every house I’ve ever had until this one has had a basement, and they have all had problems. I’m delighted to *not* have one, and if we ever move, we’ll be looking for another one without a basement. This surprised me, because I thought it would be awful to not have a basement. But this house does have a *ton* of closets—even a couple mostly empty ones, miracle of all miracles—so we don’t miss it.

    4. Well-thought-out kitchen. Ours is the nicest and biggest kitchen I’ve ever had, but I’d still make changes. I *love* having drawers for pots & pans storage.

    Take your time and figure out what you really want.

  • LaurenR

    I have to say, I think you’re being very smart. After my divorce, I had a thing in my head about me and my son only living in a home we OWNED, and it cost me. The housing bubble, you know. But also an ever-present anxiety about all the things I was responsible for. I had no idea how heavy that would hang over me when I had so much to deal with all at once. With a rental, there’s a buffer there between you and major expensive household disaster and upkeep. Good for you. I know this stuff is really hard and it sucks sometimes, but I feel like a superhero when I look back and think about all the things I managed to get through more or less in one piece. It looks like you’re heading for superhero status too. 🙂

  • Flutterby Vixen

    I was really surprised to learn that I wanted a condo. Owning my place made me very aware that I sincerely dislike being outdoors in any season, pretty much, so dealing with snow removal and yard maintenance is not on the list of things I’m willing to do.

  • Jenn

    A really big entry way… that’s my wish for my next house.

  • Ideally also has a bathroom each for the girls. My friends who have sisters always telling me they constantly fought for the usage of bathroom when they were teenagers.

  • Diane Mix

    We searched for our dream house every weekend for six months. I had a list of “must haves” – circular driveway, beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, double front door entry and french doors. My realtor took me to multiple showings of houses having all or most of these must haves. I didn’t like any of them. Then one day I drove by an open house and stopped in. I took one step through the front door and said “this is my house” before ever seeing the rest of it. By the way, it had none of my “must haves” and yet it was, and continues to be, the right house for us.

  • Sandy

    Buy a house WITHOUT a fence and have Ryan Gosling build one for you! Without a shirt…while its hot!

  • Kate H

    I am ambivalent about buying, but that might change should I find a place and job that I like. I emptied out and sold my parents’ house for them 5 years ago (my mother moved across the country and refused to deal, my father was too ill to manage the details, and exactly one friend pitched in to help–clearly, I lack a prayer list), and it was the most stressful experience of my life. Even thinking of moving now sends my blood pressure into the red zone.

  • Christina

    We just sold & moved across the state and the only thing I didn’t get was a split plan. I love the children’s bedrooms on the other side of the house but we have stacked bedrooms. My daughter is 1, she wakes up everyone is up. Laundry/utility room is a big want. I’d add that to your list, it’s also a perfect place for dog crates.

  • Michele S.

    The mistake I made with two of my homes was where the stairs and master bedroom were located and if I could hear my children running above me on the second floor. The house we now live in has NO rooms above the master bedroom, living, kitchen and dining room. The staircase is right at the front door area (far away from the master bedroom). It’s heaven! So when you go look at to buy your next home and decide you really like one, take your girls with you and have them run around to see how good the insulation and things are. It’s a win, win. Your girls can go crazy for a few minutes and you’ll know what sounds/noises to expect when/if you buy it. Good Luck!

  • When we purchased our home, the one absolute was that we needed a garage. We live in Brooklyn, and didn’t want to deal with street parking. The only other thing that I would love, is if I could see and interact with my family from the kitchen (which is too small for gathering). It’s not the greatest kitchen in so many ways–17 years in the house and we never had the money to renovate.

  • Gail

    I really wish our kitchen was off of our garage. Nice for recycling, extra storage for stuff you don’t need very often. Would just be handy. We have a tri-level and to get to the garage from the kitchen means you go through the family room.

  • Claire C

    Plenty of natural light was actually a must for me. You’d be surprised how much natural light can make or break your mood on a daily basis, especially if you work from home as I do (at least in my opinion!). Things I was surprised I could learn to live without: a dishwasher (there are only two of us, so it’s not nearly the hardship I thought it would be), and a tub (I still miss having a tub… but the rest of the house was so perfect that I decided I could do without).

  • Darlene

    In my experience, my house picked me. It just felt..right. Not perfect, not enough cupboards, but a great energy and balance.

  • J E Double S

    A whole house fan. You can add that to the it would be nice to have list. Some people call them attic fans, but an attic fan is actually a little different. Whole house fans can change out the temperature of the house, in just a matter of minutes, with a complete fresh air change to boot! I grew up with one that was rather loud, but as I understand it, they make quieter ones these days.

  • Jillian

    My essential must haves are a shower head that is placed above my head not at my neck and a covered entry so I don’t get soaked trying to get in the house!!! The wants list (large pantry, guest room, office, large yard, etc) could go on forever:) With an upcoming move to a temporary home I have not seen the inside of and doesn’t have a covered entry, we will just have to see what happens! Damn Economy!!!

  • I think you have a really good list there, reasonable and specific. I’ve only owned one home and with it I have learned that my next home will, without a doubt, have a basement/dungeon or garage (preferably both), space for a dishwasher, and at least two bathrooms. Not huge things, but being without them now has showed me how much better it would be with them.

  • judy yeager

    A yard with trees! I need shade.

  • Jessikins

    Not a must-have by any means, but I definitely appreciate having a large laundry room on the second floor. Don’t know if basements are common in Utah or not, but I sure like having a finished basement and a place that all the toys can go where I don’t have to look or step on them. Oh, and though hardwood floors are absolutely appealing, if the house is wall to wall hard wood, the echo and noise gets pretty bad.

  • Jessikins

    Oh, and for me, I grew up with well water and have vowed never again.

  • REK981

    A fenced in yard for my dogs, the kitchen sink on an exterior wall with a window I can look out!! I also like the front and back to face north/south – no preference on which face north, so long as either the front or back does – it makes the air flow better when all the windows are open. No less than 2 toilets! Even if only one and half baths that is fine – just want 2 toilets. At least a 2 car garage at a minimum. I can live without lots of interior storage so long as I have a decent sized garage. A laundry room / utility room / mud room with a door form outside would be nice, thought not a deal breaker. Oh #1 requirement – single story ONLY. I don’t do stairs.

  • Living in a newer home in Las Vegas I’ve come to hate the color beige. Most the houses look the same in our area and all of them are beige. They’re also not equipped with very big backyards or any modern design elements at all. Very cookie cutter. If I could purchase a home I would find one that was modern and sleek not cookie cutter or beige.

  • CaraYetAgain

    My husband and I own many “rooms” (two condos, zero land) and we’re thinking of selling one and getting an actual house with a yard. The only thing that we have to have is space outside for our dog to run – everything else is negotiable. (Although I will say that having 2 bathrooms has saved us from many fights; I just pretend that “his” bathroom doesn’t exist.)

  • well, my kids and I are about to move out of my mom’s basement after about 3 months. I don’t know if she’s put me on the prayer list but I know a few others have and I’m at a state in my life where instead of explaining my atheism to them I just say thank you because life has worn me down to a nub. I’m at one of the lowest levels on Maslow’s pyramid and I’ll take what I can get. My last home was 2800 square feet in a lovely neighborhood where I lived 13 months and this new one will be less than 1000. My kids will share a room which will be okay for another year or so. But I’m excited to be the head of my own household again. My daughter announced to me a couple nights ago that wine is a drug and recalled how I had a glass with a friend months ago (in my own home). In her six year old brain it was akin to a tawdry after school special wherein a skeezy teen offers another a “free sample” of cocaine in order to get them hooked. I suspect this was a combination of sporadic primary attendance and drug week at kindergarten. Divorce / Separation is a sonofabitch. But it is what it is. Thanks to whoever’s temple submission got me an apartment in my price range. It’s not what I thought I’d have at this point in my life, but it will be mine in a week.

  • Milusha

    Having bought the 2nd place we ever looked at, we were surprised at how flexible our “want” lists could be. I credit this all to my upbringing, in Mumbai, India!! With over 16 million people living on 7 islands joined together, they are a tad cramped! We lived in pretty modest flats with either 1 or 2 bedrooms to a family and it was great! Living in North America is extremely different where couples get massive home and wives chide about how the largest closet will house all their clothes while the sad husband makes an “oh you” gesture.

    I digress. Our home is 1200 sq.ft. with decent sized bedrooms and a very contemporary feel. We have 1 child and hope to have another soon. We don’t believe we will be moving from our 2 bedroom home to a larger one with a basement because we have started a family. We are content and we make it work with clever space savers thanks to the Swedes!

    People have the capability of turning a house into a home if they let go of all the “stuff” that clouds the enjoyment of having that home, no matter the size.

  • Chez Sanderosa

    My family is
    renting after owning 3 homes in the past (one of which we unfortunately still
    own and rent to someone else), and you’re right – that “not my
    problem” feeling when something breaks and you call the landlord to fix it
    is awesome! Also, we’re moving this week into a bigger apartment, which now
    makes our 7th move in 10 years of marriage. My list requirements and preferred items is
    almost identical to yours. New to my
    list with this current move – a minimum of one closet per person. Maybe not specifically bedroom closets. A coat closet can round out the count. But at least one per person!

  • Mary Catalfamo

    Robin – some of the happiest times of my life (1971 – 1974) were spent in Grand Junction, CO! I lived on Paradis Drive out near the airport. What a beautiful area and a perfect place to raise a family.

  • Christa

    After living in Cottonwood Heights since last summer with a completely clear view of the Wasatch Mountain range from all the large windows in the back of the house ….I feel like I could live in anything, anywhere, as long as I had a view like this. It’s spectacular.

  • Shelly Knight

    We live on the Front Range of CO and were in Fruita recently. We drove out to 18 Road and saw a lot more of Fruita along the way. I could easily live there-fell in love with it, actually. As long as I could have a pool in the backyard for those summer temperatures!

  • Amy Gomoljak

    The list is so long… but the biggest thing that drives me crazy about my house is that there is a WINDOW in my CLOSET.

  • 7Valerie7

    This will seem so nit-picky, but well-placed outside water faucets. Ours are so poorly located it is incredibly annoying. Also, easy access to “hidden” appliances, such as the water heater. It costs a lot to get one moved!

  • kate rau

    A mud room. We bought a wonderful house built in 1908. The back door (the one we use 100% of the time) opened right into the kitchen. No place to kick off boots, hang coats, etc. So we had one added on and it was, by far, the best decision we made regarding the house. Also crucial to me is a front porch. It’s crazy how much time we spend out there on warm summer nights, and how much a sense of community it brings. Everyone walking by waves hello or stops to chat. It’s wonderful.

    Our house is small (1400 sq. feet), but I wouldn’t trade it for a 9 bedroom McMansion if my life depended on it. Ours is cozy, warm and welcoming, and it is the home to which our friends and our daughter’s friends love to come. Size doesn’t make it “home”, love and happiness (and music and dancing) does.

  • I think, having lived in New England always, I would like my next house to have wider hallways. I can’t tell you how much furniture I’ve had to give up because it can’t turn down the hallway.

  • Torchness

    ATTACHED GARAGE! I mean I put it on my “nice to have” items but man, if you can get it, especially with all of your snow, I think that would be key. I live in the Texas hinterlands and I don’t even have to go outside all day if I wanted. I’m sadly proud of this. Also, a house has to have at least one bathtub– no one will buy it if there isn’t one.

  • Diana

    Storage, storage, storage. I want a place for everything and everything in its place. That and more than one bathroom – not for the guests, but for marital sanity. I’m a simple soul, but I know my limits!

  • Jill Hutchinson

    My partner and I are currently renting a condo. It worked well for us in the beginning, but now I am just ITCHING for space. Specifically, closets. I want a walk-in closet in our room and the guest room and a linen closet. Excessive? Absofrigginlutely.

  • Jill Hutchinson

    And a ventilation fan in the bathroom…. I forgot about that one until I saw Tammy’s response below.

  • acandrus

    I will never ever own another home that has had an addition. I have lived here for 9 years and the roof over the addition has leaked and been repaired or replaced 4 times. I will never ever have another 2-story home with one central HVAC unit. (I live in Memphis where AC is mandatory not optional).. And finally – only brick houses from now on. Between the heat and humidity, I have had to paint this house every 3 years. I am over it!

  • LeeScratch

    Closets, Closets, closets, a spare bedroom & at least 2 bedrooms. I’m also surprised at how much I wish we had an actual hallway or entryway. We have zero wall space in our current home.

  • You can buy closets from IKEA. I had to do this in my last house. The best part is they’re yours forever (or however long IKEA furniture lasts).

  • Lisa

    Try not to put too much pressure on yourself for a while. Let yourself get to the point where you feel settled down. Keep your list in your mind, and edit it frequently. You’re really good at cataloging ideas, so that should come naturally to you.

    Your lists right now, for the most part, pretty much just say “house.” A lot of houses you’d never buy would have most of the things you listed. Your ideas will crystallize.

    Don’t let the experience with your last house cause you to go too far in the other direction. Right now, it sounds like that might happen. For example, you want more than two bathrooms. Yesss, you do. But they don’t all have to be full bathrooms. A powder room is delightful. So is a 3/4 bathroom (sink, toilet, shower stall). And you probably don’t want the washer-dryer hookups in a dank basement. “First floor laundry/mud room” might be more like it.

    Maybe a happy medium between the last house and the house before that?

    Narrow down neighborhoods first?

    I’ll sneak in a “consider building.” Especially since you have this lovely rental situation. You might not want anything to do with building a house. But, it might be worth considering long enough to have that become an actual decision.

    Maybe the owner would sell you the house you’re renting? (Unless you already know it’s categorically off the table, at least think about whether you’d want it. If you would, at some point at least let them know you’re open to it.)


  • Shell

    Interestingly, if I were to find a new place in the next couple of years one of the most important things would be a laundry room on the same floor as the bedrooms/baths. I don’t get why in the 21st century we’re still lugging loads of laundry up and down stairs. Seriously, how did we make it all the way through the 20th century without ever once coming up with the idea of putting laundry rooms adjacent to (or at least on the same floor as) the location where virtually all dirty laundry is produced and clean laundry is stored? My theory is it’s because those who build homes are typically not those who do laundry in the home.

  • twm

    kitchen on garage level

  • Heather Armstrong

    Thank you. This is really good advice. And you’re right. My experience with the last house ended up being so monstrous that the idea of a yurt sounds amazing. That’s why I need this time to breathe and gain some perspective. I appreciate your confidence in me.

  • Miriam

    I was lucky enough to inherit a house that’s been in my family for half a century. It’s small (less than 900 sq. ft.) and we had a lot to upgrade… But it’s a nice house that has a basement, backyard/patio, garage and best of all, no mortgage.

    Things I wish I had: A mudroom or entranceway big enough to put a bench/some storage in. We have a small space off the back door, but it’s basically just a passthrough to the basement stairs and gets a bit cramped with more than one person.

    A bigger kitchen, with counters to sit at. I love counters and high stools and the kitchen is only just big enough to fit one small table – I don’t want a formal dining room or anything like that, but there’s no hosting big family dinners unless they happen outside!

    That said, the one thing I do love is our built-in grill in the backyard. When I was a kid there was a giant brick grill (for charcoal) that was pretty amazing, but now that I have to clean it, I can see that the gas grill is so much easier to manage.

    I do miss walk-in closets, though.

  • Heather Armstrong

    The first house I had was the tiniest, but it had a glorious front porch and was located on the friendliest street. I miss sitting on that porch chatting with neighbors more than I miss anything else. More than a copper free-standing tub. More than a huge backyard. More than a six-burner gas stove. More than brand new hardwood floors. That was by far the best thing I ever experienced in terms of owning a home.

  • Heather Armstrong

    I replaced the shower head in my shower the first week I was in this home, didn’t even wait for the landlord to do it. The one that was there had two (TWO!) streams of water about a centimeter thick shooting out. Took me a half hour just to get wet. Have to add that to my list.

  • YES to closet and storage space! Our last apartment had next to no storage and when we moved into our current apartment that has closets and cabinets everywhere you look, I thought I moved into heaven.
    p.s. Desiree Johnson was my maiden name, how funny!

  • Heather Armstrong

    Submitting this idea to his agent now.

  • Heather Armstrong

    Thank you for reminding me that so many of us are living through similar circumstances. I’m glad to share. I really do feel like renting is the best decision for me and my girls and my dogs right now because they too had to live through the anxiety of showing the house and wondering if anyone was going to buy it. Good luck!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

read more