“I can’t imagine doing that. What in the world are they thinking?”
We all have those decisions other people make that we stay away from. We may not be aware we do it, but amidst the thousands of choices every day, we categorize things as “that’s me” or “that’s not me.”
Choices about what we eat, drink, wear, drive, watch, read, listen to, talk about. Preferences and tastes from diet to clothes to raising kids.
This helps us know where we stand and builds our confidence as to what we feel we’re doing right. Even more, we start identifying decisions as integral to our personality.
However, we probably don’t have the full picture, and it can bite us in the butt.
I’ve been thinking about things I’ve subconsciously distanced myself from over the years, or, let’s be honest, just plain looked down upon. They include:
- Mortgage debt, especially putting less than 20% down on a house.
- Having any credit card debt for any reason.
- Living at home past your late teens/early 20s.
- Pursuing a trade, sales, labor, or the military when a college education is at all possible.
- Driving a junky car with trash, food, and neglected repairs.
- Leaving toddler toys strewn in the yard.
- Wearing grubby jeans or work clothes to church or a restaurant.
- Showering less than every other day or so.
- Neglecting to write a thank you note for a special gift.
- Not giving people plenty of notice when inviting them to dinner or a party.
All of the above has elicited some gut reaction along the lines of, “that’s irresponsible” (big mortgage with little down) or “that’s inconsiderate” (junky car and yard).
But now that life has made an abrupt detour down a joltingly rocky country road for us, suddenly there is a fresh view out the window.
Because housing has been our obsession this last year, we’ve been seeking out conversations with friends about their homes.
To our surprise, some put little or no money down when they bought, as it wouldn’t have affected the interest rate anyway. Instead, they saved the funds for home maintenance and watched the value of their homes climb. And far from being a stereotype of someone grabbing too much house than they can afford and then losing it, these friends are actually in a favorable position in today’s Northern Colorado market.
Renting is financially wiser for millions of people, especially those who would be dependant on their car and an expensive commute if owning.
But I am rethinking my old die-hard beliefs that paying cash for a house is best and that your house is not really “yours” until the bank is no longer invested in it. Our friends who own are invested in their homes, they work hard for their homes, some even love their homes. Who am I to say that they should have waited, just because we have?
Another prejudice many of us have: young adults, especially one of those dreaded millennials, living at home with older parents. Are they lacking in work ethic? Parasitical? Unlucky? Or something else? We don’t always care to understand how a particular situation came to be and have no historical recollection of this intergenerational living in past decades.
I remember during the college years, bouncing from a dorm to my dad’s house to my mom and step-dad’s house and back, not sure where I really should be living. How much am I imposing here vs. there?
And when I finally graduated after five years and obtained my first (and only) small salaried job that July, the school district I worked for didn’t issue the first paycheck until October. An exercise in patience, I remained living at home for the first several months of being a young professional. Finally, at age 23, I felt ashamed that only just now was I moving into my first apartment. But why this sense of shame?
And how valuable was that college degree anyway? How financially robust would I be if I had spent those years working, saving, and investing instead of going down the college road? What would have been my Roth IRA balance or my house down payment amount after living at home and working those five years, even at minimum wage?
A plethora of what ifs, but the point is, maybe my pride, prejudices, and whole worldview have needed an overhaul for quite some time.
More silly ideas:
“Wine is a luxury . . . for special celebrations or people at pretentious parties.”
“Vans are for stodgy people who have no fun . . . or perpetual hippie campers who spend their lives chasing the fun train!”
“Crock pots are for people who think dumping canned beans and a bottle of barbeque sauce together is cooking.”
“Wood stoves are for the Amish.”
“A great deal on clothes would be finding a sporty zip-up sweater on clearance from REI for $25. Patagucci!”
Well, all I can say is . . . my, how life has changed.
Nowadays, on Saturday nights, we put the kids in the kitchen sink for their weekly bath next to the wood stove and dig through our cardboard boxes for the least rumpled Walmart/thrift/dumpster/hand-me-down shirt and jeans to wear to church. Big Country and I will squeeze in our own showers later tonight, our second, or, rarely, third for the week.
The next morning we hop around mud-caked bikes, scooters, and broken strollers to the truck, shouldering our apocalypse-ready diaper bag and Tupperware dishes to return to a kindly friend to whom we’ll give a hug and a smile. We’d love to write a thank-you note, but the stationary is packed, and we’ve been out of forever stamps for months.
We load the kids into their three car seats, moving aside various wrappers, receipts, work clothes, buckets, boots, glass jars, pecans, the occasional dirty diaper, and even sand.
We slam the doors shut, the dent from the tree we hit and meandering windshield cracks prominent. Further down the driveway at the mailbox, we drop our taxes off, which are taped up in a homemade envelope made from a paper grocery sack. There are over a dozen 2 cent and 4 cent stamps covering the front.
I turn around to the back seat throughout the car ride, spooning yogurt and handing pancakes to the two oldest for breakfast.
Later that day, we’ll call a friend last minute to see if she wants to come over for some homemade soup we started that morning in the crock pot. She comes, and we don’t apologize for the beach towel that still faithfully serves as our bathroom wall five months into living in the tiny house. Instead, we laugh and celebrate under the string lights with a jug of Carlo Rossi poured into Mason jars.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a classic sketch about McDonald’s. You find out that somebody you know frequents McDonald’s, and you can’t help thinking, “Well well well! I didn’t know I was better than you.”
But the thing is, everyone has their own McDonald’s. Life is messy. Everyone takes the quick and dirty path sometimes, everyone cuts corners somewhere, because life, much more pursuing the things that matter, can be exhausting.
And looks can be deceiving.
So what does success look like? What does poverty look like? And through all this, what about the heart? What about spiritual poverty amidst material plenty? And the reverse, a life as a diamond in the rough, but a diamond nonetheless?
Big Country and I laugh about when we’re old and we’re still scrounging curbs for furniture and the Salvation Army for free bread but are also buying a third house to rent out and someday gift to our kids on their wedding day.
The kids will have their own prejudices to overcome, and maybe they will think we’re absolutely crazy . . . but just maybe they’ll feel pride that we gave it our all for them, too.