100 Things #1: Shelter


The first issue in housekeeping is having a house to keep. Your “house” might be an apartment, a condo, a row house, semidetached, freestanding, 300 square feet or 30,000. It is the place you retreat at the end of the day. Most of us sleep, eat, bathe, relax, and entertain in our homes on a regular basis. It is where we find our domestic unit if we have one, whether it includes pets, roommates, partners, children, or extended family. It is also where we keep our stuff, with all of its useful, beautiful, and intensely self-defining qualities.

Enough pontificating. Here is what I have learned about choosing your shelter:

First, that you often don’t have much of a choice. The rich and self-entitled on HGTV have given us all the wrong idea about what we can afford and what is generally worth having in a house. Dedicated guest bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, workout rooms, and multiple common living spaces are expensive. Since you will pay through the nose for every extra room, I encourage you to think hard, and outside the box, about what spaces will fit your life. I do believe that you should take advantage of every square inch available to you and turn every room in your house into one that is used every day. Can a guest room serve as a dressing room for you or your spouse? Would you like to have a library instead of a formal dining room? Would you rather have a king-sized bed in your studio apartment than a sofa, table, or desk? Follow your bliss and make it so.

There are some concerns about a house that I have become familiar with over the years. They are the following:

1. What are the windows like? Are they modern insulated windows or old aluminum or wood frame ones? This will make a huge difference in your heating bills and the temperatures in various rooms.

2. Do the windows open? Many high rise apartments do not have opening windows for safety concerns. Many mid-century houses have big picture windows that do not open. Fresh air is important, and without it you at least want a very good, quiet, high-volume air circulation system. Modern high-rises will have one. Mid-century houses won’t.

3. Does it share walls, floors or ceilings with neighbors? If so, how well was the building built and soundproofed? Which rooms share walls? How much does noise bother you? In my experience tenants, landlords, and police do not care about noise issues and will do nothing to help you with them. Your only choice is live with it or move.

4. How many bedrooms and bathrooms does it have? If you watch a lot of HGTV, you know that people often can’t afford as many as would be ideal. If more than one person is living in your house you will be much happier with at least 1.5 bathrooms if not two. Many older houses only have one.

5. How many electrical outlets are available, and what kind are they? Many older homes have fewer outlets that you could wish for, and practically no grounded outlets (the kind with three holes; you cannot plug an appliance with a three-pronged plug into an ungrounded outlet!) For that matter many older houses are in need of all-new wiring and electrical panels if you’d like to, say, run the dryer and a window air conditioner at the same time.

6. Finally, think about dust, allergies, and air quality. Would rather live with carpet, which is always a little dirty but usually looks clean, or with hard floors which can be cleaned thoroughly but which show dirt and dust easily? How is the house heated? If it has forced air, are you happy about the increased air circulation within the house or unhappy about having dust thrown into the air? Have you ever lived with radiators? With baseboard heaters?

Enough about shelter. Of all 100 topics I will write about, this is the one over which most of us have the least choice and control. The key to happy housekeeping is to make the space work for you.


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