Move Over: Deborah Paul on Staying Put

Someone I don’t know is building on my dream lot in my dream neighborhood.

The day I walked the neighborhood where I hoped to move, the ground was muddy, the homebuilder was hobbling from a recent hip surgery, and I was keeping a secret from my husband.

Downsizing to a smaller house from the one we’ve occupied for nearly 25 years appeals to me. Just think: no more lawn care, exterior painting, or foggy windows.

My husband does not agree. He is at once both less and more emotional. By the time we update our current home to put it on the market, purchase a new place complete with suitable furnishings, and pay moving expenses, we won’t save money, he claims. And his heart is at home, where we raised our family. He is more attached than I to the trees we have nurtured. Two towering blue spruces frame our circular drive, and thanks to the costly feeding and spraying of our specimen shade trees out front, we have maybe the most majestic—and healthy—pin oak and sugar maple in Carmel. I haven’t caught him in the act, but I think he talks to them on his way to fetch the morning paper.

This is why I didn’t tell him I had spotted a new zero-lot-line development on the north side of Indianapolis and had made an appointment to view the lots. He and I like new houses, so I thought I could tempt him with the smell of lumber and fresh asphalt. We have built three homes, and the selection of everything from roof tiles to doorknobs, as well as fun visits to the job site every evening, have always brought us closer together. Aside from the TV series Breaking Bad, there probably has been no form of entertainment we’ve enjoyed and agreed upon more. I hoped he would see the plot of ground and dream with me about starting over, one last time.

Thanks to a recent heavy rainfall, my walk with the builder was squishy, but I liked what I saw: a tree-lined lot in the back corner, private but for a few older homes adjacent to the neighborhood. The birds were singing, the leaves of the towering beech trees were rustling, and I was thinking paint colors. He allowed me a week to decide, as another potential buyer waited in the wings.

Our current house is no mansion, but it’s more than we need.

I came clean to my husband and lured him to the development the next evening. We stood on the street and took in the entire project, walked the lot in question, and even visited with neighbors curious to meet the prospective buyer. I crowed about the quiet, the lot location, and the likelihood of building a house of stone, something I’ve always coveted. He saw that the lot lay lower than the one next door, the main street was too short for a healthful walk, and yellow buses lined up at the nearby school. I could tell by his tight frown and the way he folded his arms across his chest, that my cause was lost.

Nonetheless, I continued to pester. Our current house is no mansion, but it’s more than we need. Our two kids are grown and gone, and even though I have turned their upstairs bedrooms into guest and grandbaby rooms, they are rarely used, except as access to the attic when a befuddled repairman must disassemble the furnace. The only living things in the dining room are orchid plants that enjoy the southern exposure, and no one has sat in the living room for so long, I notice a musty smell coming from the sofa.

Long story short, I lost the battle. There was no compromise: Either you move or you stay. Action requires two votes, inaction only one. So, someone I don’t know is building on my dream lot in my dream neighborhood, past which I can now hardly bear to drive. My husband breathed a sigh of relief and went to share the good news with the trees. As consolation, I got lovely stone countertops installed in the kitchen.

There is some relief in knowing I needn’t give up the things we have acquired over 47 years of marriage. What do you do with six duck mugs from a country-decorating phase, or my mother’s damask tablecloths? I have Mexican pottery, Spode china painted with buttercups that accented a long-gone yellow kitchen, and way too many Hummel figurines. At least for now, I don’t have to decide what to keep, toss, or donate. I shudder to think of how much stuff folks moving into the tiny houses now in vogue must relinquish.

I am the youngest of four children, and after my wedding, my parents gave up their two-story, four-bedroom home in Meridian-Kessler and moved to a one-bedroom apartment in the high-rise Tarkington Tower. I always felt sad that the small table on which they then shared their dinners was pushed up to a wall. No more could they gaze upon the cherry tree that flourished outside their former home’s sunny breakfast room. Dad called their new lifestyle “cliff-dwelling,” and although Mom had shed the responsibility of housework, I think she missed home as much as he.

So I didn’t gain my new small, stone house. However, our shade trees grew so much over the summer, they now form an imposing arch over the driveway. Even I have found myself murmuring encouragement to them and patting their sturdy trunks. I’ll never tell my husband he was right, but there is something to be said for appreciating what you have.


Illustration by Clare Mallison