Can the right home make you happy?

Mary Elizabeth Williams, author of Gimme Shelter, shares how her search for the perfect home changed her perspective on love, life and happiness.
By Sarah Treleaven
Can the right home make you happy?

MaryElizabeth Williams, author of Gimme Shelter, shares how her search for the perfect home (in Manhattan) changed her perspective on love, life and happiness.

Q: Why made you want to buy a house?

A: There were a variety of factors. I had my second child at the peak of the housing bubble, and the desire to give my children something that didn't feel month-to-month, along with the relentless message out there of what George Bush called "the ownership society," really got to me. I was very swept up in the feeling that this was something I had to do.

Q: What did you want in a home? Did you have a long list?

A: Buying a home is a lot like falling in love - you have your list, but it goes pretty far out the window when you see something that captures your heart. I was very adamant about not buying beyond our means, no matter how much we wanted the place or how tempting the deal. And I was firm about staying in the city. It's true what they say, the three most important things are location, location, and location. I cared more about being in a great neighborhood with a good school than getting a lot of space somewhere I didn't want my family to be.

Q: Did searching for a house change your perspective on what might make you happy?

A: The search - and the acquisition - definitely changed my perspective on a lot of things. I thought a home would give us a measure of security that I hadn't felt myself growing up. Instead, my husband lost his job the same week we closed, and my marriage went on the rocks. I still love my home and feel very happy to have it, but it didn't give me a magic happily ever after.

Q: What was the toughest part, emotionally, about trying to find a house?

A: The demoralizing experience of looking at dozens of miserable places was pretty bad, but the conflict it brought to my marriage was the real sucker punch. My husband and I had never been so opposed about what we wanted and how we wanted to get it as we were about ownership. Home ownership forces you to look at a lot of hard stuff - money, security, community, what you want for your children. The whole process drove a huge wedge between us.

Q: Were you able to find something that works?

A: It look a long time - three years of searching - but yes! Our place is very small and it doesn't get much light. But it's really charming, in a beautiful neighborhood, and I absolutely consider this my home. It's the classic relationship story -- it isn't perfect, but it somehow works, and I can't imagine being anywhere else. Well, at least for now.


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