The Secret Addiction of the Foreign Service Spouse

Well, maybe not all of us have this secret. But an awful lot of FS spouses that I know are hooked on porn.

House Porn.

In the dead of night—or, in the cold light of day, if we are underemployed—we scroll through hundreds of photos on real estate websites. Dreaming of the perfect house. Which we will OWN, decorate EXACTLY the way WE LIKE, and NOT LEAVE until we are taken out in BOX. This will be a perfect way to wrap up life as a Foreign Service spouse, come to think of it. Just wrap me in bubble wrap, tape the box up, and load me on the truck!

There are, of course, various stages to the addiction. The  Just Looking stage, with endless possibilities, is fun. I have a friend who confesses to having hundreds of houses bookmarked on real estate sites: everything from Georgetown townhouses to Victorian farmhouses in western Maryland. Well, why not?

Then, there is the Shopping for Reals stage. Donna at Email from the Embassy is deep into that one. This is the stage in which dreams hit the wall of reality with a resounding SMACK upside the head. The DC-area housing market, in particular, can be a major downer.

I’ve been through the Shopping stage three times. The first two times, my husband pretty much bought the house. In both cases, he extended a business trip back to DC to do some house-shopping. Not that I didn’t have plenty to say about it, but let’s face it, I wasn’t actually there, and our options were limited by our income (and student debt, the first time). So, there was a lot of house porn happening on on my end, mostly involving school districts. Which really wasn’t that much fun.

This last time, we were at a new stage in life: downsizing. Heading out to post with a rising 10th grader, we just couldn’t see ourselves moving back into our suburban rambler as empty-nesters. And the mortgage was too high to be fully covered by renters while we were overseas. So, we decided to unload the place—and I got to shop for a house in person for the very first time.

We looked in Arlington for several months. And saw close-up what the online photos deftly conceal. If an Arlington house in an OK neighborhood has been completely renovated, you can’t afford it. And if it hasn’t, you can’t believe what they are charging for it. Unbelievable how some people live. And slumlords? OMG.

Back out to Reston! Where we bought our little empty-nester house. It was a fixer-upper (mostly “cosmetic issues”) but at least we didn’t pay a ridiculous amount for it, by DC standards, and it is in a great location. I spent a sweaty couple of months right before packing out getting it into shape for rental, and a very nice young couple now lives in it with their dog who is undoubtedly scratching up the tacky Pergo floors we intend to replace as soon as we get back anyway. So, it’s all good.

Fast-forward to the present. I have recently entered the advanced stage of House Porn. Also known as Renovation Porn or DIY Porn. I definitely needed a break after fixing up one house for resale and another one for rental then packing out for overseas all in the space of about six months (holy sh** what was I thinking??) But, addictions are funny that way. You go on a bender, swear off for a while, then slowly the urge returns…

I need to build something. Seriously, I miss my power tools and workbench. I need to get dirty, bang some nails, get paint in my hair, maybe rip out some cabinets. It’s a sickness, I know, but so much fun!

This last week I discovered Pinterest. (Yes, I am apparently the last female on the planet to do so.) What a great way to “scrapbook” house ideas! I can see this is going to be a fun project for the next couple of years.

Looking for photos online to “pin” led to DIY blogs, and oh my, there went the afternoon. I’ve always enjoyed reading This Old House and Family Handyman both in print and online, but I didn’t know about Pretty Handy Girl, Pink Toes and Power Tools, or DIY Diva (“bridging the gap between woman and power tool wielding badass one project at a time”) just to mention a few.

There are some projects that I will be happy to pay others to do, like replacing floors. Been there, done that, and it’s a younger person’s game. Too hard on the knees! And I won’t be installing my own kitchen or bathroom from scratch ever again. Designing them myself should be fun, though! And there’s always painting, light carpentry, tiling backsplashes, replacing the odd light fixture, etc.

I have plans for a really interesting tiled fireplace surround and mantel that I’m going to build myself. And there are those twin closets we want to knock together and turn into a custom entertainment center for my husband’s man-cave. And I’m thinking the best way to add closet space in the oddly-shaped attic master bedroom may be to design and build my own units across one wall….

See what I mean? I am clearly beyond help.

I am Well That Was Different. And I am a porn addict.


  1. House porn is so similar to Porn porn… the photos are airbrushed and hide things you can’t see until you go there yourself and get the porn undressed. It is amazing what you can discover the first time you are naked with someone. (Are we sure we want a light on?) Even if you are married, don’t tell me you have forgotten this.


  2. We are buying my childhood home and my nephew is helping as I redo from afar. I have spent a stunning number of hours looking for the right shelves for the bathroom…


  3. House porn is truly a FS addiction! Even my kids are hooked. We get “The Week” news magazine, for us and for our Middle Schooler, and one of his favorite sections is the real estate… each week we have to choose our favorites!


    • I’ll tell you, after I left the FS, people here just did not understand my desire to look around their houses. When I lived in a place that had weekend open houses, I used to hit them all. My excuse? I wanted to see what the market was.


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