The House We Live In: A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona
I don’t particularly care for the concept of a New Years Resolution. It implies that there was something wrong with the way I was doing things before. But I do find value in beginning the new year with reflection on some specific goals. It can be more of a routine refocusing and recalibrating, taking into account the wisdom and happenings of the previous year in considering how to steer for the next year. It isn’t a question of getting off course. It’s a course that can only be set so far in advance, and benefits from examination at regular intervals. So I take this chance to look back and ahead.
I could say that my goal is to build the house this year—if not to complete it, at least to have it well on the way for a move-in next winter. But that’s a bit of a cop-out. That ship has sailed; that choice is already made. Anyway, many of the factors determining how far the process progresses this year are not going to be in my control. Deciding it will be done to a certain point by a specific time when I can’t actually do much about it is setting myself up for unneeded anxiety and frustration. I’m sure there will be plenty of anxiety and frustration baked right in; why add more?
If I am to set a goal here, it must be not about what I am going to do, but about how. And for me anyway, that has always been more honestly challenging anyway. I have no shortage of willpower, but sometimes it has been difficult to remember that when things feel hard, most of them are things I have chosen for myself—and things I actually wouldn’t surrender if given the option. (Law school, a race I’m training for, a complicated dinner recipe, War and Peace).
Already there have been moments with this project where I have felt burdened by it. The addition of a house-related task at the end of a work day when I’m already tired can be taxing. I resent it. I just want a glass of Zinfandel and The Sopranos. But those books on water harvesting and small spaces are staring at me from the table. Those emails are piling up. The well-meaning suggestion feels like criticism, and I just want everyone to leave me alone. It’s all too easy to slip into feeling put upon by this process that I willingly undertook, and indeed, undertook in the face of resistance and advice that I re-think.
So here is the goal: if I notice myself starting to feel that way, I will try to pause. I will remember that I chose this path. I chose it because it is an adventure, because it is the best way to get the kind of house I most want, with the features that matter to me. Because the design process actually is fun and rewarding, because there is great excitement in envisioning things, in the first time I lay eyes on a 3-D rendering, in looking at pictures of all the possible types of countertops or cabinets. Because I want to use as little city water as I can and every news story I read about the current state of our resource use reminds me of that. Because there is such an enticing optimism in imagining my life in this new house. Because it will be unique, personal, the product of a massive collaboration among talented friends new and old that I have the privilege of coordinating.
The tired days, the days where I don’t want to deal with all this—they will come. I’m sure some of them will be worse than what I’ve felt already, as zillions of details have to be settled and logistics start to come to bear. And perhaps on some of those days I can rest, and leave tasks for the next day when I might have less going on. Or sometimes not—sometimes, it will be for me to work at gratitude for this chance instead of lamenting a lost lazy evening. They are, as Matthew would say, classy problems. And even more than that, they are tasks I signed up for partly because they are onerous. That is how this project becomes more of a contribution than a simple purchase. I can’t very well set out to do something that’s supposed to be hard and complain, even silently, alone in my kitchen, when it makes me sweat.
I could’ve found a house that was already built, and put up some new gutters, a rain barrel, and some PV panels. If I’d gone that route, I probably could’ve moved in by now. I wouldn’t have to answer these emails and study these websites and balance these books. But that isn’t what I wanted. Of course it isn’t. I wanted a project to sink my teeth into.
Amy Knight is the fiction editor for Terrain.org. In this weekly blog series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at [email protected]n.org or leave a comment here.