Overconstraining the Problem

Mark and I went house shopping this past weekend. We are looking for a new-to-us home. We were looking for a 3 bedroom condo with an attached garage, so we can have everything on one floor. I’m willing to have the extra bedroom on another floor (up or down) as long as I never have to go there. That means all the regular living space has to be on one floor.

We had several discussions about why 3 bedrooms. We need a master bedroom and I need an office, so that’s two bedrooms. Mark is planning for the future grandchildren. Neither of our daughters is married, so that’s really planning. We do need space for Daughter #2 to crash when she comes home from college for the next couple of years.

Well, the first place we saw had a detached garage. It was up-the-hill walk to the condo. That means it’s a down-the-hill walk to the car every time I want to leave the house. Nope, that won’t do. The floor plan was fine, but the garage made it a no-deal-at-all. All the other available places in that development had the same problem: detached garages.

The second place we saw had a one-car attached garage, but had a skinny formal living room and a skinny formal dining room–not how we live–and a galley kitchen. I need a wall oven so I don’t have to bend over, which is almost doable in a galley kitchen. The places in this development had basements where the entertainment rooms (TV rooms) are. Well, I’m not going downstairs to watch TV. We use our living room to relax and read and watch TV now. We don’t use a dining room except for when we have a pile of people. It was the wrong layout for us.

The good news is we saw a bunch of places. The bad news is nothing was right. More good news is we know what we don’t want. And, we are not in a big hurry. At least, not right now. I’m stable right now. With any luck, that will last for a few months–maybe even a year or two!

What I did realize is that I was over-constraining the problem. We don’t need to move into a condo. We could move into a house. If we moved into a ranch with an attached garage, we might have more luck finding something in our desired geographic location.

Mark still has a commute to his work that we need to consider. We have our religious community to consider. We have dance classes to consider. We don’t want to move too far from any of those to make it difficult to participate.

So my first solution was okay. It was not a good enough solution. I had not applied the Rule of Three. (I wrote about the Rule of Three in What Took You So Long.) I suggested that we think of a ranch. I also told Mark we could move to the San Francisco Bay Area where many of the houses are one-story ranches, but he didn’t like that suggestion. What a surprise! That violates the commute problem.

So far, we have the condo and ranch options. Or, I have to sell a lot more books to be able to afford condos in a higher price range with attached garages. (I’m talking a lot more books.) We have other options:

  • We can stay put (not a good option)
  • We can take out a much larger loan (yech)
  • We can get a smaller place
  • We can sell our house and move into an apartment for some time while we look for a place that really fits. Neither of us is excited about this. Although it has the side effect of us having to downsize our Stuff. That would be Quite Good.

I’ll be thinking of more options. I suspect we have not yet seen what the market has to offer. It was one day of house-shopping. And, we know what does not work. This is good. Now we need to see what might work.

This kind of problem solving, jumping to the first alternative solution, is epidemic in problem solving. Using the Rule of Three is helpful. Just because I don’t see three solutions right now doesn’t mean there aren’t three. Or four. Or five. Or more. I don’t see them yet. I haven’t begun to explore yet.

Part of the problem is that exploring solutions around housing is a charged emotional experience. Wait until I blog about the conversation we had last night about our stuff. You will laugh your head off. I did.

I made the mistake of thinking this problem is about a house. It’s not. To Mark—but not to me—the house is much more than a street location. This house is truly a home.

To me, the house is a house. The memories are what I take with me. So I don’t care about the location. I sound like an ice queen. But to Mark, the memories are tied into the physical location of the house. He remembers getting the kids on plastic skis in the backyard. I remember that too, with great love. But I can take those memories. I don’t care about the location. He does.

And that’s why people, including married couples like us, get stuck on how to change houses. It’s not just the size. It’s not just the location. It’s not just the aspect ratio of the living room. It’s the fact that whatever house we buy, that house is a house where the kids didn’t have their fourth birthdays in the backyard, or that I didn’t bake Barney cakes in the kitchen, or that we didn’t have pizza parties for teenagers in the dining room. And that’s going to have to be okay.

So, we will keep talking about what we want out of our new home. What are the problems we need to solve for my health and Mark’s commute? How do we want to live? And, how much room do we really need? I am learning a lot about myself.

2 thoughts on “Overconstraining the Problem

  1. Jack Vinson

    Adding some fun: What about the constraints associated with your friends and colleagues? There aren’t too many ranches in the town where we live today. And there are lots of hills in town that create your other constraints.

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