Sometimes we have choices, and sometimes we don’t. When we moved to a small Himalayan town with two rentals available (that’s right, we could only find TWO in the entire town), I really wrestled with a contentment conundrum.
contentment conundrum: (adj.) when you know you should be content, but you are not.
I’m a problem-solver, and in a new country, with a toddler and a baby on the way, I wrestled with whether I was supposed to choose contentment in less-than-ideal quarters, or fight to find a more suitable place. Looking back, I’m still not sure what we should have done, but I did learn 3 key lessons through it all.
Before I share these, I’ll give you a picture of our housing journey.
We moved to Small Mountain Town and found a B&B to settle into “for a week” till we found a place. Our requirements were: at least 2 bedrooms, and on the sunny side of the mountain.
Not too much to ask… right?
One place was a century-old, English-style cottage at the end of the earth, on top of the mountain. Cold and dark and moldy. And lots of leopards (I presume). The other place was “almost finished, but was two separate stories. You climb an outdoor wrought iron staircase (picture a fire escape) to get to the bedrooms from the house’s front door and kitchen.
We chose the second house, and then waited six weeks till the house was “ready”. Workers continued to plaster, solder the metal railing, and paint for one month after we moved in. It was stressful. One worker soldered part of his foot off while working on the house.
After 1.5 years in the fire-escape-house, our second child was now 6-months-old, and I experienced anxiety and depression. After “choosing contentment” in a less than ideal house, we went looking for another place to live.
The place next to us (a 2BR, 1 living room, and all on one level), had been empty for 2 years with an out-of-town landlord. So by this time we had more understanding of culture and possibilities, and we knew more who might help us.
Our neighbor helped us locate the landlord’s relative and Tyler went to meet him in person and bargained him down to a price we could pay. We moved in and used our own money to paint the house, bring our own décor and furniture items in, to have shelves built and a couple fans put in. Tyler caulked windows, covered others with plastic wrap, stuffed sections of a leaky roof, and finally bugged the landlord to fix a few things too. We even installed a mini water heater for the kitchen so we could wash dishes with hot water. Labor and supplies are cheap here, and we invested personally to make our home (which we ended up living in for 1.5 years) more workable.
In the first house I stressed that we didn’t have a yard and we parked our car on the main road. BUT low and behold, a year later I was ready to move next door (with the same problems) because I realized that I cared more about good neighbors and proximity to places than I did about a yard or parking.
In the end, we have adored our 2nd home, our 800 sq foot, 2 BR mountainside cabin, despite its quirks. So I want to share just a few lessons we’ve learned and will always take with us.
In your own country, you can make educated decisions as to where to live. However, if you’re brand new to a country, you need to trust others more an trust your own judgement less, and avoid saying, “I know what my family needs…”.
Because sometimes you do. And sometimes you don’t.
And you may just end up making the wrong decision. And that’s ok too.
In a developing-world country it can be worth putting your personal money into making adjustments in a rental that make it “homey” and more manageable for you. Try to find a middle ground between “accepting what is” and “making it better” (if it causes unnecessary stress).
I have learned that more important than square footage, layout and location are critical to how we live. This has made all the difference.
And several bonuses to a small space. One, you can’t hoard much stuff. Small spaces keep you purging the extras. Two, it forces you to get outside if you need some peace and quiet. And three, when you start small, its easy to go bigger. But the opposite is just plain painful.