How do you measure success? I believe Americans judge one’s success by the size of their mortgage or house. I want us to break the paradigms of societal norms and judge success by freedom. Imagine being debt free. If not debt free then without being a slave to debt by having a minimal amount that allows control over spending and the ability to go anywhere.
As little as 100 years ago, when my grandfathers were children it was not expected to own a house. Homes were required for farmers, but many people were transient laborers. For them a bed roll and a horse had more practicality than “bricks and sticks” planted in a single locale. Prior to World War II Americans were far more agrarian and lived on larger lots to homestead. Cities were dense in population and apartments ruled the day. My great grandmother ran a boarding house for coal miners. Boarding houses are now lost to another time.
Immediately following World War II came the invention of “suburbia”. Starting in Levittown, New York anyone could buy the new American dream – a house. I refer to these early, 1,000 square foot structures as apartment with thick walls: grass. Denser than rural areas, but more spacious, a new living arrangement was sold to the American people. Fueled by a rapid shift in post war production to automobiles the time required to travel distances were shortened significantly. Families could escape urban lifestyle and commuter to work.
It was in the 1950 we began training future generations to believe happiness was measured by their subdivision, brick facade, and picket fence. Along the way our parents stole freedom from us. We could only be judged successful when we had a job, married, and bought a house. Not buying a house, and quietly enslaving ourselves to 30 years of payments three times the amount of the original principal, meant we were failures. Once purchased a cycle of accumulation was required; consumerism built through the fifties and sixties by a never ending flow of cheap, meaningless merchandise from countries never heard of.
The 1990s brought us “McMansions” – homes of epic proportion. With 4 and 5 bedrooms, game rooms, media rooms and excessively large bathrooms accelerated by easy money financing anyone could look like a Vanderbilt. Again, judgment of failure fell upon those failing to keep up with the Jones’. Furthermore, Americans found need for storage units to keep all of their stuff: the trinkets bought at stores like Garden Ridge and Pier 1. My personal opinion, two stores that supply absolutely nothing anyone needs, but distribute trinkets made through near forced labor.
In 2008 financial mayhem fell across our country and housing sales stopped. To this day the National Association of Realtors reports we have bottomed out and housing is recovering. Fortunately, data exposes lies and their story has yet to come true. In February 2013, five years into the Great Recession, housing sales totaled 131,000 for the entire month when backing out investor and foreclosure sales. It is again now I ask again, “does debt or a mortgage determine one’s success?” Of course, success is personal. Judged by others though it continues as an expectation; we must own homes to meet society’s norms. My wife and I are pushing back.
We recently moved to Florida to be near my kids after being forced away in 2009. We had planned to buy a house until we started looking. It was appalling what our money would buy: shoddy construction for $300k, homes ten feet from the neighbor’s for $275k, and a piece of dirt for $70k, or an effective $280k per acre. Why, because the Fed’s $85billion per month quantitative easing feeds a desire for cheap money. Lastly, what if something changes? In other words job opportunities, job loss, society degradation, illness, or any other reason. Why would we want to be anchored to 5,000 square feet of Volusia County Florida?
So how do we gain freedom? Break the mortgage race: if debt is required don’t commit to dirt. I’ve seen too many people pass opportunities during the Great Recession because they were connected to a house, not a “home” with their family. A house is just the container, a home is the programming delivered inside. Thus, a compromise to take our home where we want to go can bring the best situation. For now LeeAnn and I are foregoing bricks and sticks containers for one with mobility. We will see in six months how it feels and whether we moved far. Regardless, knowing we can brings peace.