I Am a Rebel Without a House
Each Chinese New Year – which falls around the end of February – my family gathers at my uncle’s house to exchange red envelopes stuffed with money (some only lightly), play the Vietnamese gambling game Squash-Crab-Fish-Tiger, and pig out on traditional Lunar New Year delicacies. And every year, to kick off the festivities, my cousin Tuan does a short speech.
Shirking the traditional path
At our last New Year party, after thanking everyone for coming and blessing the food, my cousin added that he would love to see me and my older brother find nice, Catholic partners, settle down, and start a family.
And while I know that my cousin had the best intentions, I died a little on the inside.
Aside from putting us on the spot, it was a gentle reminder of how, in my family’s eyes, my brother and I were perpetually lagging in the great Game of Life.
The extended family on my mom’s side veers more toward the traditional life track: religious, married with children – and homeowners. For the longest time, I’ve been a bit rebellious against my mother’s wishes. I didn’t become a psychologist or lawyer like she had hoped. I enjoy my singlehood immensely (maybe a little too much), and getting married remains a big, fat “maybe” in my book. And recently I’ve been more vocal about not wanting kids.
As my mom knows that I’m quite the prudent, diligent saver, she has goaded me about looking into buying a townhouse ever since I started working. I get the sneaking suspicion that it’s my mom’s last hope in her attempts to get me to better align with my family’s core values.
The case against homeownership
I get it. Homeownership is a tremendous achievement. It usually means that you’ve reached a place in your life where you’re financially secure enough to put down sizable sum of money for a down payment, and you’re ready to commit to a long-term mortgage. More important, it means that you’re ready to stake a claim in a single location, and ultimately build a life there.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely proud that so many of my family members have been able to pull off homeownership, especially living in pricey southern California. But it’s just not for me.
I’ve done my research, and have played around with those handy mortgage calculators to figure out what kind of home I could afford. But even if I had the wherewithal, I don’t have a strong desire to be a homeowner. At least not where I currently am in my life.
My decision to rent rather than buy a home serves in many ways as a symbol of being a black sheep in my family: writer, single, free spirit.
The freedom that comes with an unattached life
It asserts the kind of freedom and flexibility I can afford by renting. By not having a mortgage, I can potentially withstand more ebbs and flows in my income, and make adjustments to my living situation as necessary. I might be able to spend more money on passion projects because not as much of my income is tied up with a long-term debt.
And as I’m a full-time freelancer, I plan to try out my digital nomad card – I will be working in different cities for a few months. (Chicago, here I come!) And while I don’t always fully exercise my freedom, not being a homeowner represents a type of flexibility I am not ready to trade for homeownership.
Just like having children, wanting to buy a home can affect making certain other decisions in your life, from the type of work you do to the person you partner up with. Even your daily routine.
Many of my relatives are small business owners or working professionals, married to fellow professionals, who do the typical 9 to 5 workday. My romantic history has been a little more, you could say, colorful, and I’ve mostly dated talented yet, ahem, occasionally underemployed artists.
I am fully aware that when it comes to homeownership, I am over-generalizing. There might be homeowners out there who are seeing their net worth going up by way of real estate appreciation, and who also do all the things that a free bird like me does.
But in my tiny corner of the universe, being anti-homeownership is a subtle act of dissention. It’s like I’m saying to my family, “I respect what you’re all about and what you stand for, but I’m going to go over here and do my own thing. For now.”