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the 5-year itch

Someone moving into my neighbourhood
It's been 5 years since we moved to this lovely 2-level condo here in ville St-Laurent.  Five years is the longest that Dean and I have lived anywhere, so it is no surprise that the itch to move has been pretty strong in the past few weeks.  I have been going to open houses, checking out properties online, and even had a real estate agent come in and appraise our property.  The sight of a friend's new house on Facebook caused me to immediately find one in my neighbourhood that I wanted to buy. It's not that there is anything really wrong with our condo (though I would like a bigger closet and another full bathroom). This restlessness has very little to do with inadequate living conditions; it basically means that what at first seemed new and exciting has now become old and familiar. The gleaming hardwood floors, soaring cathedral ceilings, winding staircase, and open mezzanine have ceased to dazzle me.  Now I see only the small closet with a hot water heater cramped inside it, the peeling paint above the shower stall, the water stains on the floor where the condensation leaked from the air conditioner, and the dated blue tile in the bathroom. The old and familiar is starting to need some upkeep; moving just seems easier and much more exciting.

The famous Marilyn Monroe film, The Seven Year Itch (1955), addresses this apparent restless tendency within the context of marriage.  The name of the film stems from the term social analysts use for a declining interest in a partner after several years of monogamous commitment. It seems that we humans tend to tire of the same surroundings, people, and situations no matter how wonderful they are.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that the film's script is based on any hard science, but its popularity does speak to the human desire to seek continual excitement and stimulation. Restlessness in itself is not a bad thing.  In fact, I believe the quest for things new and exciting keeps us motivated and moving forward in our lives, but it can also lead one to make some bad decisions, especially in the arena of relationships. People are not objects that can be discarded like an old pair of shoes or traded in on a new model like a car. People are, well, people. They are our beloved, intriguing, occasionally annoying, but nevertheless precious fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children, friends, neighbours, and colleagues.  But I digress. My restlessness does not relate to people as much as to my surroundings.

Aside from looking at new houses or calculating exactly how affordable (or unaffordable) that brand-new condo is downtown, what can I do?  Well, for me, it starts with a few honest questions to myself.

1) Is the timing feasible for a major change?  Not right now, no.  I have an intense summer of studying ahead (69 titles to read, that's 100-200 pages a day) so this is really not the time to be packing up a house and moving.  It sounds exciting, but in practice...not so much.
2) Can we do a small change instead of a total relocation?  Yes, it is probably cheaper and more advisable to do a few renovations to our existing condo than to sell it and move.  And it would increase the value of our place which is always good. There is a saying that goes something like this: the house you own is always cheaper than the house you move to.  Not that it is all about $$$, but it is important to look at what really needs to change.
3) Is my restlessness geared toward long-term progress and investment or a quick fix? Do I really need to move in order to get away from the blue tile or should I concentrate on addressing the minor repairs which will keep the condo in top shape for years to come?  Any long-term commitment (be it a home or a vocation or relationships, for that matter) requires regular investment in order to maintain or increase its value. Let me choose to reflect the priorities of solidity, stability, safety, and functionality over trendy decor.
4) What is keeping me from enjoying where I am right now?  One of the things I started doing in the past few weeks is to walk around my neighbourhood more and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.  It is giving me a new appreciation for what I already have. Sometimes the desire for change can mask an underlying lack of gratitude (not seeing my life as a gift), a dissatisfaction with oneself (perfectionist tendency), superficiality of expectations (our consumer culture fosters this), or a lack of proper soul care (cultivating inner peace and contentment).  When I address these things, my discontent notably decreases.

I am still restless, but there are a lot of good ways to respond to it.  Since I have the urge to move, I can literally move (get some exercise, walk around my city, go on a day trip, etc.).  I can affirm the good things in my life to make sure that I don't take them for granted (go on a date with Dean, cook a meal and have friends over, take in the sights and sounds of our city, rejoice in the privilege of reading and studying, sit on my balcony for a few moments each day and appreciate my neighbourhood, catch the sunrise or sunset, begin each day with a litany of thanksgiving).  I can be more gracious towards myself and others (not expect everything to be charged with excitement and adrenaline, give more space for development and learning, embrace imperfection). I can invest in the things I am committed to, making sure that I continue to hold them in high regard and contribute to their beauty and functionality. Above all, I can cultivate gratitude and contentment through ongoing communion with the generous Creator and Provider.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. (Psalm 23, Good News Translation)

Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have. We didn't bring anything into the world and so we can't take anything out of it. (1 Timothy 6, Common English Bible).


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