Spite Houses


I just learned the term “spite houses”.

The Wikipedia defines a “spite house” as “a building constructed or modified to irritate neighbors or any party with land stakes”.

The term popped up on a website I enjoy, Atlas Obscura. (If you’re looking for an entertaining, educational rabbit-hole, give it a visit. After you’re done with the post!)

My curiosity was piqued when I read an article about the Alameda Spite House. . BTW, the picture above is the Boston Spite House

In my subsequent, lackadaisical research, I reached this conclusion: Spite houses are constructed when one is:

  • Angry over a divorce settlement
  • Angry over an unfairly divided inheritance
  • Angry over a neighbor’s house
  • Angry over a decision by one’s municipality

(The reasons are not in any particular order.)

Before my wife, Caroline and I split, we lived through the construction of a new house, on what had been a pretty, wooded lot, directly behind the home we had shared for twenty-one years.

The McMansion under construction was a monstrosity.

It made our home look like a toy by comparison. The new house, constructed on a steep hill,  was universally despised by the neighborhood.

Efforts were made to stop the destruction of the lot. All for naught.

Depending on our mood, Caroline and I did our best to ignore what was taking place. Other times, we plotted to create a sign out of Christmas lights on our roof that said “F*CK YOU!” which would only be visible to prospective buyers and those flying into National Airport on the northern approach.

Ultimately we shrugged our shoulders in resignation. The house didn’t violate code and we didn’t have any options. In short, we let go.

In my life there are a number of regrets that I live with. Regrets fueled by shame. Self-anger. The desperate fantasy I had made a different choice.

Regrets are the rooms in my own spite house.

When I was younger, I struggled with self-loathing. My favorite line on the subject was one I appropriated from comedian, Richard Lewis.

“The only thing I hate more than myself, is everyone else in the world.”

I’m over that now. Shockingly to me. When I was filled with loathing, it was impossible to imagine I could feel differerntly. And yet, I do.

In the course of my journey, especially with the help of therapy,  I’ve learned it is impossible for me to shed my regret as if it never happened.

What I can do, however, is change my relationship with my regrets.

I know.

I sound like a broken record.

“Change my relationship with…” Anger, Shame, Anxiety, and now, Regret, capital “R”.

But I have changed my relationship with regret. I’m now giving myself a break, not being so hard on myself. Not letting decisions I made in the second decade of my life define me.

I’ll never be regret-free. But that’s okay. On my journey, my own spite house is no longer towering over me. It has become a rather non-intimidating two or three-bedroom apartment at best.

And I can live with that.


P.S. For anyone interested in downsizing their own spite house, here’s an Airbnb link to get a taste of tiny living. If you stay here, let me know!


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