Dream Home Series – 1: Key Themes

My wife and I are hitting that wonderful moment in our lives where we’re setting our goals to the next milestone:

A (Dream) House

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Barbie’s McMansion; girl knows what’s up

We’re starting the process now–getting our finances in check, calculating what range we’d want our home price to be within (so we’re not shackled to a mortgage), getting pre-approved for a mortgage, checking out neighborhoods, commute times, school systems… It’s an overwhelming process that is punishing, as every mistake we make will cost us chunks of money. Still, though, we want to go through with it. We want a home for our growing family, for our parents to retire in, and for the rest of our lives.

We want to set forth a pretty solid plan for expectations for our home, so we don’t end up compromising on a home that doesn’t provide what we want. This means planning out the heavy stuff like mortgage and payment plans. This also means planning out the “light” stuff that people tend to scoff at, because it’s not as important as the foundational stuff: what we want our home to look, feel, and be like. Well, that’s the purpose of this series: thought exercises where I (in tandem with my wife even though she’s not writing any of these pieces) dwell and decide on what we’d like in our home.

To start off, I don’t want to bog down with all the little things like “I need an Alexa in every room” or “purple lights and a ‘Live. Laugh. Love. sign in the kitchen”.

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Cringe.

To ground our home and dictate the direction and focus of it all, are some key themes:

1. Easy to Clean and Maintain

This is the most important key directive in the designing, furnishing, and placement of everything in our home. Without it, it all goes to crap, and our dream home turns into another decrepit waste of space. The furniture should not have any unnecessary frills that make it too difficult to clean. The shoes (which will be taken off in the house) must be arranged and stored properly at the entrance to the house. The bathroom must be easy to clean. When dust eventually finds its way to every crevice of our home, I want full confidence that each nook and cranny of dirt can be addressed.

This also means that everything must be organized so that all the cleaning supplies must be placed in ideal, ergonomic, and central locations. I don’t want to go to the other side of the house to grab a bottle of all-purpose cleaner. When garbage day rolls by, I don’t want to empty a small garbage bin out of every single room. Oh, and I want a Roomba, because it allows us to passively maintain a clean space.

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Give away my house’s data so I don’t have to sweep? Yes please.

2. Minimal and Pragmatic

My father is a hoarder. I’ve seen massive livable spaces compromised because of his desire to keep everything, tendency to pick up junk, and reluctance to let go. It brings on clutter, and clutter pollutes a space. My wife and I want as little junk as possible in our home. This means that we reduce as much excess as we can.

  • We don’t need a thousand pots and pans, but we need enough to cater to our every need in the majority of cooking scenarios (because we’re going to entertain plenty).
  • As mentioned above, not every room needs to have a garbage bin in it. Not every bathroom needs to have a full stock of toilet paper and toothpaste. Some redundancy is nice, but too much can lead to clutter.
  • No mono-use items! Even then, any appliance, tool, or any item in the house for that matter should serve a purely singular purpose if it is a big item. Versatility is key, and mono-use is only justified if the item is used often enough.

However, do not mistake this for a desire for few things in our home–essential and pragmatic is what we’re going for. Everything will have a purpose. If there is something in the house that does not serve its purpose or does not serve it well, then it will be relinquished!

3. Eclectic and Cute

This is more my wife’s taste and expertise, as my sense of design is pretty limited and tame. The way my wife sees it, everything within your home–from the furniture you choose to the salt and pepper shaker you arrange on the dining table–is to be viewed a like a collection. Each and every single decision in your home is a reflection of your taste and style. So when it comes to every piece that is in our home, it will be personal. My wife (and her whole family for that matter) has an infatuation with cute things. Their idea of cute doesn’t seem to align with traditional American cute: things that are pink and have polka dots or whatever. They’re interesting, unique items that carry a special aura that I can’t seem to describe very well. All I can say is that my wife’s decorating skills will fill our home with some very cute objects.

4. It NEEDS Central Air

This is less a guideline but more an absolute necessity. I sweat easily, and I sweat a lot. This actually coincides with #1 and #2 because it ultimately will save us money, clear clutter, and be a massive contributor to our standard of living.

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I swear, I have this.

Thus begins our adventure. I’m looking forward into this brainstorming exercise; it’ll be a nice way for us to start taking inventory and discern what truly matters in our future home.

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Living With Friends

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Back in 2006, when I was only 18, I was surrounded by some newfound friends and we had all fallen in love with each other’s company. We braved this new world of a state university and took on all of its challenges and rewards together. We were a mixed cast, with people varying in ambitions, disciplines, and upbringings. However, we were bound in that we all lived in the same dorm without A/C, where we had to deal with this really creepy guy who lived in the single dorm, and we confided in each other that we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into with college. We were good friends for that year–passionate is the better word to describe the intensity of it. Many days and nights were spent together on the roof of cars watching the sun rise, in the thick backwoods behind the highway talking shop, wheeling these giant spools up and down the lawn, and throwing our own wholesome parties with our own homemade Slip-n-Slide.

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If I could go back in time… I’d tell us to NOT use laundry detergent as lubricant. A lot of smokey eyes then.

Many of us are still around today, still friends. Things are, however, much different. A few fell out. A few grew apart. Others just faded away. It’s not the same as it once was, and I’m okay with that–we all have our own lives to live. This is just the way things are these days with everyone. When you form a group of friends from all over the country (and some parts of the world) with such varied interests… it’s understandable that we’d all find our paths leading elsewhere. We just celebrate the small moment where all our circles shared a piece with each other.

There was always this one recurring conversation that comes up whenever we all find a moment to meet up, and catch up. It’s a simple statement, but one that always sparks so many dreams and then always ends with a heart-breaking pang.

“Wouldn’t It Be Cool if We All Lived Together?”

 

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Ed, Edd, and Eddy’s Neighborhood

It would. It would be perfect. Imagine: if all your friends and family (who you cared about) lived just a few blocks–hell, maybe even just a few minutes of a drive–away? How amazing would that be? It was always just a light-hearted and idealistic joke, but I remember that this is what Smalltown America was like before (not saying it was without its drawbacks) globalization. My friends and I would joke about how our kids would grow up to be friends just like we were, and that we would go over each other’s house just like we would go over each other’s dorm rooms. Then we laughed. Then we grew up. Then life went on.

If everyone I knew and held dear lived close, what an enriching life my life–and my family’s life–would be. With my group of friends and family nearby, we wouldn’t have to cook dinner every night; we’d just rotate between each other’s homes and host each other all the time. If Lily and I were working late, Teddy would just have to stroll over a few hundred feet to a friend’s and hang out there. We’d all help each other out, and we’d all help each other grow and raise each other’s families.

I loved the idea of Teddy growing up around my friends and family. How lovely it would be if he could just go around the block to learn how to sew from his aunt Cindy, or could just go over to hang out with his cousins? I want to send him out to the mountains with his uncles Mark and Alex, so he could learn how to be an outdoorsman and be a martial artist. Maybe Olga can teach him how to sing, or Tim can teach him how to be an FPS god…. The sleepovers, the cookouts, the birthday parties, the trips. The examples go on with my multitude of friends and family.

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BRING BACK THE COCKTAIL PARTIES

I’ve been thinking about that more these days. As I watch Teddy play, eat, sleep, and be the cutest damn baby I’ve ever seen… I think about his future quite a bit. I think about the school he’ll go to, the friends he’ll meet, the weekends our family will have together, going over his cousin’s house to play, hanging out with his uncles and aunts–even the ones who aren’t blood related. I’m reminded that the crop of aunts and uncles for Teddy to visit is much smaller than what I had dreamt of a decade ago. One of my sisters lives 4+ hours away, another lives only 45min (and even then I consider that a stretch of a drive). I’ve got friends in California now, or in Colorado, and one of them is in Amsterdam, and another just bought a house in Long Island. Friends and family are getting farther and farther away.

I know there are a multitude of legitimate reasons why this will never be, but I just wish we could all chip in to buy a big chunk of land, a massive property, and live in a commune.

Just a nice thought, is all.

Fun Idea Series (#1) Meal Prep with Friends

love to cook. It’s a passion of mine that I share with my wife. Together when we were living in Columbus, Ohio; Lily and I would spend a lot of our time developing this hobby (which, at the time, was more out of necessity because I could not bear to spend another week finding sustenance on either fast food or restaurants). It is, in fact, one of the many activities that brought my wife and I closer together. We would have all these food adventures (given my $11/hr salary in our crappy 1br apartment) by looking up recipes and trying out something new or refining an old recipe. Delicious recipes were passed down through family and friends, and Lily would scour the internet for anything that seemed delicious.

That was about 5 years ago. We’re in New Jersey now; we live with my parents. This means that we don’t spend as much time cooking because we both work full-time jobs, have a baby, and my mom already cooks plenty for all of us. The passion has been put on the back-burner until Lily and I are able to move into our own home. We have this dream about a modest living, but one of the major expenses we’re willing to go all-out on is on the kitchen and dining areas. We love to cook, and we love to cook for others. It gives us a reason to cook even more, since cooking for two doesn’t require much at all.

Couple that experience with the past year at work–I’ve been on the Ketogenic diet. It’s helped me lose about 30lbs of weight, but one thing was made so abundantly clear throughout my drastic diet change: there are so many carbs in my diet. I could not eat most of what my mom cooked. I could not eat pretty much anything from fast food places. I was forced to cook for myself–so I looked into meal prepping; buying groceries every other day and cooking every night was not a very fun idea (even if I didn’t have to do too much of it because my mother was able to cook for us).

My diet has shown great results, and many of my friends and coworkers are interested in joining me. However, many of them are not as fortunate as I am where I am in a house of people who love to cook (my mom, my wife, and myself). So it got me thinking…

What if we meal prepped together?

Life is so busy that I do not get to see my friends as much as I’d like. It’s understandable, because we’re all on the grind and trying to make things happen. Socializing becomes this potentially expensive (because we go to the bars) and specialized event. Thinking this through, this is the rundown:

  • We want to save money
  • We want to eat healthier
  • We want to save time
  • We want to hang out and socialize

So what’s my simple solution!?


Meal Prep with Friends!

This is my answer to all those problems! It’s obviously daydreaming because the biggest problem to this idea is logistics–if people need to travel far just to do this one task, then it is no longer worth it. If fewer people show up, then the social aspect of the event takes a hit with each person who backs down. Despite the potential problems, I would push for it.

We’re Not Just Hosting

Before any of this can happen, there needs to be an understanding by my friends and also myself: we are not hosting a party every Sunday. Yes, guests are coming over. Yes, food will be served for everyone. However, there needs to be an understanding by everyone involved that we’re all coming together to make something happen together as a community. Together we will make the day happen. Not everything needs to be set up (seating and tables) before everyone gets there–we will do it all together. This will be hard especially for me because this goes against how I was raised. Everyone helps.

Menu Declared by Wednesday

Throughout the week, we can all throw ideas in a group chat to each other about what we want to make for the week (adhering to diets, nutritional goals, budget, etc…) and when the time comes, a big email or text will go out announcing the meal(s) for the meal prep.

Commit and Pay by Thursday

Anyone who wants to sign up for the meal prep for the week will Venmo the ones doing the grocery shopping with their money ($15) and their vote for what they want to eat. To keep things simple, we will always charge $15 or $20 (still not sure about what price matches the need to create 5 servings per person) per person. That will be the rolling budget for the food preppers to work with, and any leftover money will be saved and spent on future meals.

We Shop on Sunday Morning

The beauty of meal prep is that we can properly calculate how much goes into each serving, then figure out how much each person will need, then shop accordingly. On the morning of the meal prep (since most people will be coming around at noonish or 1pm), some of us will go out to grocery shop for the meal. This can double up as another event if anyone else wants to grocery shop while they’re here. If anyone comes early, they can come join the ones who go out to shop for all the groceries.  If this proves to be too difficult, then we can grocery shop on Friday or Saturday (the benefit of committing by Thursday).

We Prep on Sundays

Everyone comes over to someone’s house and we all work together to prepare, cook, distribute, and hang out. Sunday works out because this is usually going to be Football Sundays (Lily and I plan on watching football and our family will watch football too). This gives entertainment for people who just want to socialize, and this keeps Lily and myself focused on something productive instead of sitting idly watching television. The kids can all play together, too, and we can all collectively watch over the children.

We Cook Together

The adults will all help each other out. The beauty is that we’ll have people of varying skill levels when it comes to cooking and prepping, so we’ll hopefully have the space for everyone to do what they can. Those who can cut will cut, those who cook will cook, and those whose only ability is to lift heavy objects can do that too. This will also be a great opportunity to teach young cooks and also to teach the kids how to cook.

Bring Your Own Container

This is just because of preference. 5 servings will be prepared per person, to last them through the work week. They will bring in their own 5 containers and we will fill those containers with the menu for the week. They’ll pack it up in their own coolers, then take it home at the end of the day.

We Clean Together

This is a big one. This hits once again to the first point of this not being a hosted event. Lily and I can’t spend our whole time afterwards just cleaning up after the mess. Hopefully this is handled throughout the cooking process as people are cooking, preparing, cleaning, and watching the kids throughout. At the end of the day, people will all be asked to clean up after the mess made by everyone. It’ll be easier if we do it together.


With this communal meal prep, I hope for all friends and family to come together for a practical cause and consolidate a lot of needs and wants into one eventful afternoon and evening. The resources necessary to make it happen–the logistics, the prior communication, the time, and the effort of it all–is heavily offset by the benefits that can come out of it. I really hope that I can make this happen once Lily and I have our future home. I can see so much good coming out of it!