Tuesday, April 28, 2009

home sweet home

Relative to the other homes in our neighborhood, we live in a very small house.

Although we use it as a three bedroom, it really only has two bedrooms.

The third bedroom was converted to a den, so it lacks a closet and a door.

Lately, we've noticed that there are a lot of things that need to be replaced in our home. A tub in the master bath. Windows. Cabinets in the kitchen. Cracked front steps. We've been weighing making these repairs and sinking more money in to our house, or just moving in to a newer and larger space. But at least for now, we have decided to stay where we are, because we can comfortably afford our mortgage - in the event we ever needed to live off of one income.

This past weekend, we spent Saturday night with our friends the gardeners. They live in an 1,100 square foot house that is situated on two-acres of land. The house is a double-wide modular home that was built in 1960. The family that had been living there, abandoned the house 20 years ago. No one had lived on the property until my friend and his newly pregnant wife bought it in 2004.

I think it's important to add that my friend is a real estate guru.

For the past several years, he has been buying and selling houses all over the country. He would buy a house, fix it up, rent it for a few years, and then when he sensed the market was as high as it was going to get - he would sell it for a profit. Over the course of ten years, he has made a lot of money flipping residential properties.

When he saw this property with two-acres of land and a run-down double-wide, he was initially attracted to the location because it was on the corner of an intersection, across the street from a large development. It was his thought that very soon, developers would be knocking on his door to buy his plot of land so that they could continue with their development.

He suspected that he would be able to double his investment.

If not triple or quadruple it.

So he bought the land.

In cash.

In the development - directly across the street - he owned two brand new homes that he had also bought in cash. But, he convinced his newly pregnant wife to move in to the double-wide because he could rent the new houses out. And there was no way he was going to be able to rent out the 50-year old double-wide modular home that hadn't been lived in - except by rats and spiders - for the past 20 years.

So his adoring wife said yes. Because she loves him and she can see the dream that he has to make more money than Midas.

We visited them when they first moved in to the house in early 2004. I remember walking in and not believing my senses. To say that this place was rundown doesn't quite conjure the magnitude of the image I need to convey.

The walls of the shower were black with mold. The floor was rotted and pitted in spots. There was a three foot open gap separating the roof from the fiberglass ceiling tiles. Electric lines had been chewed through by rodents. There were ants and spiders crawling freely. There were dirty dishes piled at least two feet high coming out of the sink. Meanwhile, my friend and his pregnant wife were as happy as I'd ever seen them.

When Charlie and I visited them this past weekend, the house was no better than when we'd seen it last. If you didn't know our friend - you might think that he was dirt poor and couldn't afford anything more. But the reality is - our friend doesn't spend a penny more than he absolutely must.

We happen to know that our 40-year old friend owns his property free and clear. He owns four cars and a tractor. He doesn't have a lick of debt and has a substantial savings account.

The only bills that they pay every month are telephone, electric and a very limited grocery bill - since they grow most of their food.

Although he has three college degrees, he works part time as a college professor two days a week just so that he can have some interaction with the outside world. He's not lazy. In reality, he's one of the hardest working people I've ever met.

On his two-acre parcel of land, he planted a large vegetable garden that he hand waters, every day. He built his wife a two-story temple where she can pray. He built his three small boys a playhouse with a ladder leading up to a loft. And he built a poultry house where he keeps his chicken, ducks and geese. Soon, he'll be adding a goat to the mix.

Within the past five years, he has been approached by developers to purchase his land for a lot more than what he bought it for. But he has decided that he doesn't want to leave. He and his family love it there. With the black moldy shower and the half-a-century old hardwood linoleum.

Hanging above the front door to the house was a sign that read, "No Discouraging Words."

When I asked my friend if that sign had come with the house, he said that he had bought it because it seemed everyone who came to visit had something negative to say about his lifestyle. He said that his mother would never stay with him and she shudders every time she steps foot in the front door.

Why, even my four-year-olds - who cause destruction wherever they go - were shocked at the state of the house. Elizabeth spent much of the morning yesterday walking around with her little finger outstretched pointing at various things. "There are ants IN the house!" Then she'd wander in to a room and gasp, "Mommy. This place is a mess!"

But before long, she looked at me with a big smile and said, "I love it here. Can we stay for six days?" Which for my kids - six days may as well be forever.

My brother, Wally, and his wife, Donna, have been renting a lakefront house that isn't more than 700 square feet for the past ... 20? ... years. In addition to my brother and his wife living in this 700 square foot house, they have three-year-old twin boys and a one-year-old toddler.

And, they have two 100+ pound black labs that live in the house.

The focus for Wally and Donna is life on the lake.

In the winter, they snowmobile. In the summer they boat. Yet, not a single person in my family can understand why Wally and Donna haven't moved. They both work. They both make good money. They could certainly afford to buy a nicer place. But they continue to stay in their tiny space. On the lake. With my three little nephews who are infused with happiness.

The focus for my friends is their garden and livestock and complete financial freedom.

They love having this plot of land to grow their own food and to have the space for their children to explore. They love having absolutely no debt to anybody. When we were there this past weekend, our children had the time of their lives digging in dirt piles, picking vegetables, and collecting newly laid eggs from chickens. Alongside our friend's three little boys who are also infused with happiness.

Yesterday, while we drove the two hours home from our friend's house - while our children napped - Charlie and I discussed nonstop how we could never live in that house under those conditions. How in the world do they do it?

What we determined is that to our friends (and my brother), where they live is just a house. The house is important only because it provides shelter. It's four walls and a roof to keep out the rain. Clearly, both families would rather save their money than spend it. But then again, fancy furnishings and a clean house aren't what make a happy home.

The most important things in a home are things that money cannot buy.

After this weekend, Charlie and I have both decided that all of those upgrades that we thought were necessary in order to make our home more enjoyable, really aren't necessary at all. Perhaps it makes the most sense to keep our money in the bank and rest easy knowing it's there in case we need it.

We've also decided that we spend way too much time cleaning when we should be out having fun and enjoying life. Because the biggest eye opener for me ... is the knowledge that if I don't clean our showers for several years months, no one is going to drop dead because of it.


  1. I don't know, J... At the risk of sounding judgmental, there's a difference between living 'humble' and living 'dirty.' Cleaning mold so it won't make your family sick isn't about saving money. All the rest of what you say sounds like an awesome life philosophy to me, a woman who moved to a new country for a year with her 3-1/2 year old triplets and only the material goods we could fit in our suitcases. In our humble-at-best rental over here, I still clean my toilet and my charity store dishes, even if both are chipped and older than I am.

  2. Debbie - There's no doubt we have different comfort levels for what is clean and what is dirty.

    For our friends, they are perfectly content with their house just the way it is. When the dishes overflow the sink and they have no more to use, they will wash them. But only what they need. They don't want to spend time cleaning when they can spend that time doing other things. It's not at all important for them to have a tidy and organized space.

    I spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep our house at a certain level of clean. Seeing the way that they don't care, I actually felt a tiny bit envious. My body does not possess the ability to walk away from a dirty counter top. Or, look the other way when I see broken toys. I'm borderline FANATICAL about keeping things a certain way.

    Although you and I might not let our shower turn black with mold, those conditions haven't made anyone in his family sick. They are all wonderfully healthy. And the fact that they have NO insulation and the temperatures drop in to the 30's where they live hasn't made them sick, either. They just bundle up.

    And ... eat a lot of organic vegetables.

  3. Laura M. in Indiana4/28/09, 10:59 AM

    There's are many different levels of cleanliness. Sanitary is in there, too. Is their house sanitary? Must they wear socks to avoid being bitten by ants? Do they knowingly have rodents in the house (that aren't pets)? Would the city come and condemn the house for its living conditions?

    I definitely don't keep my house clean, but I don't have mold, ants, or rodents (not sure if those are still there anymore) in my house either.

    It's not important for me to have a clean & tidy space either. BUT, it is important for me to have a sanitary house.

    Their property does sound amazing and a great place to live and grow up. I can only imagine the great experiences and memories that are being created. For that I do envy them. But, the house? No thanks!

    As long as it's sanitary then it's fine. If it's not sanitary then something needs to be done.

    I'm glad you all have a great time though. And, I'm not being judgemental. I'm just curious whether the house is sanitar or not. I'd worry about my kids' health, but that obviously hasn't been a problem for them (hello fresh air and exercise!).

    BTW, I love reading your blog. You always make me laugh and your pictures are great. Thanks!

  4. Wow what a great post. Yes everyone lives in there own comfort zone. I couldn't live the ants and rodents or the dirty sink. There property looks amazing and looks like you had a great time.

  5. Laura: I just spent the past few minutes discussing whether or not the house is sanitary with Charlie and at first we both said "NO!".

    But then, I looked up sanitary to get the definition.

    "of or relating to the conditions that affect hygiene and health, esp. the supply of sewage facilities and clean drinking water."

    They have clean water from a well. They have a toilet that flushes and drains to a septic system (which is located in an area far removed from the well). They have refrigeration and they cook their food thoroughly.

    I don't know if there are rodents IN the house, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were. Then again, there have been rodents in OUR house. In our toilet, in fact. And we are absolute neat freaks.

    To answer your question: I think their house is sanitary and I don't think it would be condemned. But their level of cleanliness is substantially different than ours.

  6. I have to say that I agree with Deborah as well. There is a difference between frugal and filthy. We could probably all stand to live a little more frugally that is for sure, but I don't get what point the not cleaning is making??? It takes the same amount of time to wash ALL the dishes at once as it does to wash them slowly over time, so it's not like they are actually saving any time by washing them on an as needed basis. And my husbands whole family lives in San Diego and I have seen the size of the rats there...that would be enough to get me cleaning.


  7. Oh come on...make a Facebook site for the Amazing Trips so I can become a "fan!"

    Once again I have linked to your site on my Facebook account today. (Is that okay? Maybe that's not okay?)

    I thought this post was a great reminder that we each have our own story and our own priorities and there is freedom in just being ourselves.

    Great message!

  8. This was a great post. In Alaska, compared to the states, you will find a much slower paced life. You will find a lot of people(my sister being 1 of them who just had her second daughter) living in Cabins with no running water, who have an out house 50 ft from the cabin, grow their own vegitables, hunt their own meet and are the most content people you will ever meet in your life. I am also sure there are spiders and bugs livig with them too and probably an occasional mouse or two. While this is not the lifestyle I could ever handle living in, I think it's all about perspective and what's important to you.

  9. I'm never doing dishes again. Our family needs to learn to live within our means. I think when we had a lot of money, we just went and spent it on crap... Only the house is not "crap" but we could have lived in a smaller one... ugh. I WISH we could have a garden...but living above the Arctic Circle has its downside. Happy trails!

  10. Thanks for the perspective. Home isn't a house, just as family isn't always who you're related to.

  11. We live humbly, even if we canNOT do it on two incomes. We've made some life choices (pre-family) that meant two-incomes at the time. Then the kiddos came and we realized our priorities have changed. We are slowly making changes towards a simpler life and I'm proud of the progress we've made. (Debt-free next month - woohoo!) It's been a lot of sacrifices and continues to be so. Sacrifices of things that once were really important, but now, not so much. Life is just different. I just wish we'd had the foresight to have seen those changes back when we got married.

    I have to say that I love reading your blog because it just reminds me that there are other families attempting to make those life changes right along with us. Thank you!

    I am creating a new definition of "Joneses" to keep up with. It's those folks that see the importance of celebrating the small things in life, loving our planet, and loving those that God puts in our paths.

  12. Great post!

    My mom's house is always cluttered. Toys strewn over every surface, the biggest pile of socks, shoes, boots, coats, backpacks, and umbrellas known to man by the front door. Books stacked on every piece of furniture. But it is clean. And it is the happiest place for my children to be.

  13. I think Greg and I strike the happy medium between you and your friends. We have no debt, own three homes for cash now, but we have no big fancy appliances or fancy cars. I only knew what PBK was from reading your website. (I'm KIDDING, but barely) We live almost exactly as your friends, minus the mold and rodents. Our house is clean. He could easily cart off that old double wide and put a new one on there for 20 grand. CASH! See? Problem solved!

  14. Nana Coleman used to tell me to "forget the house and enjoy your children." It sounds tripe when your up to your knees in laundry, but she ws so right. The happiest kids I know are the one's who enjoy being with their Mother and Father. Soon enough they will be gone.

  15. I guess "To each his own". I know your friend and I also met his previous girl friend who was heavily in debt and had so many clothes she could not fit them in the closet. It seems this bubble gum vendor has many odd tastes--but if it works for him, I am sure it is the right thing.
    It is great to have "unusual" friends. The kids look very happy on the farm and toys.

  16. They bundle up when it's cold? Why not heat the house?

    Interesting post. I could never live like that but I also don't jude them at all. 10 years ago I would have but with age comes wisdom: Live, and let live. :)

  17. I'm definitely in a different place mentally now than I was just a few years ago. As much as I love our house, I keeping thinking that we should downsize. Unfortunately, we can't afford to sell in this market, so the idea is moot. But I'm at least downsizing all the crap we own, especially as more keeps seeming to come in the house with the toddler and soon-to-be-here baby.

    To each their own about levels of cleanliness. They obviously don't have the allergies I do (mold and dust, among other things) nor the freak outs if the kitchen is messy for too long. I love that they have the sign above the door.

    That's great that it works for them. My only word of advice if they were my friends is to think about the childrens' future spouses. When one spouse does not learn to clean and the other needs help cleaning, it can become a big point of discontention in a relationship (luckily not mine, but I've seen others). So hopefully they will at least teach the kids about cleaning somewhat. But it's great they are teaching them to enjoy life.

  18. I just worry about the mold and the effect it can have on their future health.

  19. I think your friend has found out what is important in this life, and what is not. I sure wish I knew him. Does he have a web page?

    ~Cindy! :D

  20. I love this post! Thank you! You know I've lived in lots of different places with mold (especially if you've lived in older houses). The stuff that makes you sick gets fixed. We lived in a rental where the garage had a ton of mold. The finished basement had a ton of bugs which is where my husband would work during the day down there - I swear we had a whole ecosystem - we had a monthly pest control service come and that helped some. There was even mold in the bathroom. It was an old house. Where we were living though was great! Lots of times I've done things that are 'temporary' and then in retrospect after 4 years go by, I think - why didn't I start out with a more long term perspective? Oh well. I think generation X definitely has this idea that every child needs their own room. The baby boomers would raise 4 kids in a 1,000 sq ft house and wouldn't think twice about it. I think I worry more about the school district and the neighborhood than the accomodations.

  21. What do they plan to do with all their money if not live comfortably? I'm all for less materialism and no debt, but don't they have any standards of cleanliness? Sounds like they could fix up the place without going broke!