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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

A House Is a Ship of Theseus. Get Used to the Idea

If you’re prone to “long lunches,” as I am, and the part of your cerebrum that stores your Greek legends is shriveled up a bit, let’s recap: Theseus was the founder and lord high muckemuck of Athens. He rescued the Athenian children from King Minos after pestering his pet minotaur, and then escaped onto a ship going to Delos. He had a ship and all, so there really was a ship of Theseus, but that’s not really the topic at hand. The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment. It’s a favorite of two-bong-hit dorm room discussions and directional state college philosophy professors. Its a question, not a thing. Here goes: if Theseus’ yacht repairman replaces every piece of his boat, one piece at a time, is it still the same boat when no part of the original remains?

There are several ways to look at this problem. First, if you’re the guy working on Theseus’ boat, you don’t want to hear any guff about whether it’s really his boat or not. You pay his extremely hefty bill, and then he can go out and buy his own yacht with the proceeds. It’s your boat, Theseus. Period. Most philosophers who want to start drinking before the sun goes down sorta go along with this conclusion. The ship is The Thing, and replacing parts of the thing doesn’t make it Not The Thing.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you own a house, you’re piloting a Ship of Theseus, and perilously close to rocks and shoals, my friends. You’re going to have to get used to the idea that you’re going to replace every damn bit of it, one piece at a time, or in big chunks, and usually more than once if you live in the same place for a long time.

By the way, I can offer the definitive answer to the Ship of Theseus question. Perform an experiment. Stop paying your mortgage, and when the sheriff comes to put you and your cat on the curb, tell him that it’s not the same house you borrowed the money to buy, because you changed out the Corian countertops for quartz. If the sheriff is more philosophical than most, he’ll concur, and say, “You know, you’re right, it’s not your house any more. It belongs to a bank now. Can I drop you at the homeless shelter?”

People don’t like this idea. They want to think of their house as a permanent structure. Don’t get me wrong, they want to tinker with it. But they only want to add stuff. They just don’t ever want to maintain the place. They want to buy hot tubs and tanning beds and ceiling fans and exercise bikes and GATHER signs from the Hobby Lobby, and put them hither and yon in their house. They build rooms in the basement to do what they should be doing in the rest of the house, but you can’t watch football with a Live Laugh Love sign hanging over your couch. That’s the living room, where normal people don’t live. The neighbors would mock you.

People who are not your friends are going to tell you that your house isn’t a Ship of Theseus. They don’t love you like I do, so you can’t trust them to tell the truth. The anti-Theseus contingent is broken up into two camps.

Plastic Everything

The first camp figures that their house can be made, and should have been made, indestructible. They figured that’s why they bought a new house. It had a warranty and everything. Of course the mortgage is for thirty years, and the warranty is for one year, but come on. New houses don’t need maintenance, do they? The builder knows his audience, and he put vinyl siding, and pressure treated porches, and plastic everything everywhere. He’s not about to tell you that vinyl siding fades in sunlight, if it’s not peeled off in a windstorm first. Pressure treated wood won’t rot, it’s true. It just splits and splinters and comes apart. Plastic gets brittle outdoors pretty quick. That pavement in your driveway must be better than the stuff out on the freeway, amirite? They never have to repave those things.

Trust, me, you can’t win this battle. Make it from brick, you say. Great, bricks are attractive, and can withstand a baseball thrown with some mustard better than vinyl siding. So far, so good. But Mr. Entropy doesn’t take days off, ever, whether your siding had birds singing in it last month, or was baked in an oven. Have you ever seen the look on a homeowner’s face when he’s informed that all the bricks on his house need re-pointing? I have. It’s a seven-figure face in many cases. Trust me, every thing on your house needs looking after. Anything “maintenance free” should be labeled “disposable,” because instead of caring for it continuously, eventually you’re going to be replacing it wholesale. While paying retail.

The Better Homes Than Yours Shows

Pick whatever shows you want from home and garden TV. They’re completely ruled by women now, and women aren’t interested in construction. I can’t say I blame them. You can get a very black thumbnail from carpentry. Picking out throw pillows is safer, and you can do it while clutching an appletini in your off hand. All these shows treat housing like fashion. They used to drag interior decorators into home improvement shows on the last episode for three minutes. Now they’re designing the places. The entire house it just an excuse to go shopping for furniture and bric-a-brac. That’s why they tear out all the walls and turn every house into a bowling alley with a kitchen stapled to one wall in one corner. It leaves more room to display Live, Laugh Love signs.

So I have already assured you that nothing is permanent in any house, except of course ceramic tile in a color you don’t like. That’s why treating housing like fashion shows is a bad idea. The gaunt anorexic supermodels can go back to their dressing room and change into normal people clothes after the worst designer in the world dresses them in some ghastly romper. Everything in your house will sure seem plenty permanent after you’ve spent all your money buying it, rendering you incapable of changing it. A bad doctor buries his mistakes. A bad architect can only tell you to plant vines. A bad interior designer will just get another show on the Lifetime Channel, where they repossess houses that took their advice last time. They needed a new roof and got a soaking tub in front of a giant window instead, and went to foreclosure.

So nobody wants to paint their house, or mow the lawn, or turn a screwdriver in the place. I get it. To avoid it, they pick a fight with entropy, which is the natural destruction of everything by the universe and squirrels. But I want you to be happy. Playing King Canute to the entropy tide in your house is a recipe for disappointment. Changing out kitchen counters every couple of years because fashions change costs more than black market kidney transplants.

Listen to me. Your house is a Ship of Theseus. Start rowing. You might find you get more satisfaction looking after the place than just watching TV in it, waiting for it to fall on your head.

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