With six kids, people are always asking if we live in a big house. Sometimes those people are ourselves. And the answer is: no, it’s 1800 square feet, three-bedroom plus a basement. Where we live, this house in on the larger size of “average.” Back in the 1990’s, this would have been considered a “move-up” home. That was back in the day when it was acceptable to build with vinyl flooring and laminate countertops. Now, new 1200 sq.ft. duplexes have granite and a soaker tub in the basement bathroom. So, as you can imagine, we’ve been feeling the pressure to sell and trade up to some larger real estate. But to continue our trend bucking lifestyle, we aren’t moving. And here’s why…
1) “Afford” when a bank says it, means something different then when we say it
It’s taken us a while to realize that when the bank says you can “afford” the payments, they mean that you have liquid capital to cover the principal and interest. When we ask “Can we afford it?”, we mean will the purchase fit comfortably fit into our lifestyle, and leave us with enough money left over to do something else, like cover an emergency or go on vacation. In the bank’s mind, we can “afford” to spend $350 a month on chocolate truffles. While this is technically true, I don’t know if our kids would get a checkmark for a “Rainbow Lunch” with 4 different colours of foil wrapper.
2) Houses should go back to just being a place to live
As this article from David P. Goldman shows, we middle class folks can’t count on our houses funding our retirements anymore. I’m suspecting they also won’t be doing a great job beating inflation or funding our kids’ inheritance, either. Once upon a time, my great-grandfather (along with everyone else he knew,) cut wood and hammered nails, and built his own house. It was exactly enough house to keep his family warm, fed and sheltered. It was not a grand homage to how well he did at his career, or an existential statement on his personal design aesthetic. It was a house. Period. I propose we all give that attitude a try.
3) We would like to buy our grandchildren Christmas presents
I once heard someone say, that it’s harder to be old and poor, than young and poor. If our kids have even small families of 3 kids each, we should expect 18 grandkids. If they decide to have big families, we could have 36 grandkids or even more. And we would really like to give them all presents at Christmas and birthdays. If we stay crammed in our three-kids-per-bedroom situation now, we won’t have a mortgage in 12 years. In 12 years, incidentally, we will only have 4 kids age 18 or under. However, if we trade these payments for a mortgage that extends out 25 years, we will still be paying off space that no one is inhabiting for an extra 13 years. I think older generations realized this and avoided debt, allowing them to enjoy their golden years with a sizeable nest egg.
4) Does this really sync with our values?
I’m in no way saying that large house owners are bad people or lacking in virtue. Some of the best people I know live in some pretty swanky digs. But is that path the one God has laid out for our family to walk? We have a big family. Our resources are split between more people. This requires that we all make sacrifices to get along. Personally, I struggle with materialism big time. My first impulse for any problem is to hit the Supercentre, and purchase a solution. But sometimes the solution is just make do. Do we really need the room, or are we trying to impress people with what we own? Can this house be made workable, can we use some better organizing solutions, get rid of a bunch of junk, or build a bedroom in the basement? If our heart is where our treasure is, should we be putting all our treasure into a note to the Bank? Shouldn’t we be trusting in God to provide for our needs, rather than scheming on how we can get more?
5) This house is just fine — if we stop looking at other houses
Our current house has one of the largest kitchens I’ve seen in a suburban house, it’s new so we don’t need to replace the roof for years, it’s about 150 feet from our school and a playground, it’s on a major bus route, we’re walking distance from our Church and a new Recreation Centre, it’s bright and sunny, and we already have a fence and garage. BUT — It is on a busy street, doesn’t have front driveway and it only has three bedrooms. “Moral arithimetic” would seem to prove that we should stay, no contest. But in grass-is-always-greener fashion, we keep looking at other houses on the Internet. And becoming disatisfied with the one we have. I spent my twenties and early thirties watching decorating and home renovation shows. It’s time to grow up and accept reality. Cultivating house envy may be a fun pastime, but as a way of life it sucks. A house should be clean, functional and pleasant to be in. Anything else is gravy and most likely the domain of those who don’t have little kids.
So yes, the bunk beds and selves of shoes stay (I draw the line at family closets.) Looks like we’re staying put. But at least now I know what I’m asking for Christmas: built-ins.