Monday, April 30, 2012

Why We Live Where We Live

Friday is D-day at the Boissonneau household. D-day is dumpster day, and it's a BIG DEAL!

Living for almost two years in a house that is a construction zone is incredibly difficult. I'm sure that there have been numerous studies done about how your physical environment affects your mental and even your physical state and I can certainly corroborate that feeling. Phew, it's tough. But more on this tomorrow.

I don't think I've ever really told you about our back-story and what led us to purchase our icky fixer-ixer upper. So, here goes...

Over the course of our almost twenty-year marriage (May 30th = twenty years! WOOT!) Roger has been laid off three times. It's part of the "fun" of working in technology. The first time was because the owner of the small company Roger was working for just up and closed. The second time was the crash in 2001 when he was out of work for eight months. This last time was 2008/2009, corresponding with the rampant unemployment and recession, and he was out of work for almost exactly one year.

I don't care who you are, if you don't have a whole lot of money saved up, having the primary breadwinner unemployed for any length of time will kill you financially. It happened to us three times and each time it was devastating. This last time I had the good fortune to get sick without insurance. So now we have some financial difficulties that we are in the process of overcoming. We have some debt and we don't have access to credit so we're are sort of on our own. Oh, we have the help of our very generous families too. I can't forget that :-)

Anyway, after that happened (three times) we are now VERY cautious about our bill to income ratio. We are very aware of how much we have for debt, we try to be very aware of what we spend and our mantra has become "NEVER AGAIN!" I've heard that there are a huge number of families in the USA that are literally one paycheck away from financial ruin. We used to be in that category, it did not work out well for us. Now we are determined to be able to afford to live on an unemployment check or working at an extremely low-paying job.

We can't control whether or not we have work but we can control our lifestyle. So we do.

Some of the ways that we've adjusted our lifestyle: we buy less stuff, we re-use and refurbish things, we learn to make things ourselves, and most importantly, we've adjusted our expectations. We've also learned to be careful about how we define the word "need."

We "need' a roof over our heads but it doesn't need to be big or fancy. So far, we only need 960 square feet. We "need" clothes but we don't need more than a few outfits, I mean, we can only wear one set at a time, right? We "need" healthy food and we feel we should learn to grow some of it ourselves. We "need" furniture but it doesn't have to be new and expensive. We "need" transportation but we don't need expensive new cars.

So when Roger was finally re-hired in September 2009, we decided that affordability was the most important factor in the house that we chose. We wanted to be able to pay the mortgage on a limited budget so that we wouldn't lose it if we were ever in that situation again. We also wanted it to be a home without anything significantly wrong with it. No electrical or plumbing overhauls please! So when we found our ugly little house we knew that it was the right one. It was ugly but it didn't need everything fixed and it was little so there was a definite upper-end to the possible renovation budget.

Since then we've been hard at work. We are removing all of the walls and we started to add two inches of studs to the exterior walls. We upped the insulation to a R-23 and filled all of the leaks. We're working on making the house energy efficient. We had to replace the kitchen, we still have to replace the bathroom, all of the floors have to be replaced too. We ripped the ancient oil furnace out and recycled the ugly wood stove in the basement so we could heat the whole house with wood. It's going to need new decks, a roof, appliances, and windows. We have a LOT of work to do.

There are some very positive outcomes from this experience. Honestly, I'd go through it again. Looking back at what I was like before these lay-offs, I realize that don't like who I used to be. I was never satisfied with what I had, I was impressed by money and status, I always wanted more and expensive. If you had told me ten years ago, that I would live in a tiny ranch by choice and that I wouldn't want something bigger/nicer/fancier, I would never have believed you. It took the adversity to create the positive change. I couldn't have gotten here without going through the testing.

OK, so, positive things. First of all, we have learned how to do lots of different things. I can hang drywall, I can mud it too. I can install a sink and lay flooring. Roger can do all of that plus framing and cabinet installation. We can design and build furniture. I can install crown molding and we both can do woodwork. We can install doors. Roger can do electrical. All in all, we feel pretty confident that we can tackle almost anything house-related.

Second, going through all of this has made me more easy-going and better able to roll with the punches. I have experienced troubles and I know that I can come out the other side a stronger and better person. Well, some troubles anyway. I've had other things that have happened in my life that only make me sad, that I don't think made me stronger or better... I don't want to issue a blanket statement that everything that happens to you makes you better and stronger. The financial troubles did though.

Third, I'm not nearly as materialistic as I used to be. Fourth, it's made me very creative as I try to make my home cute with little money. Fifth, it's made me sensitive to people who are struggling. All good things.

So that's why we live in an icky little house when we can afford a much nicer, larger home... with fancy things like floors and baseboards and non-rotten decks.

Living like this has a downside too, but that is for tomorrow's post, I've talked your ear off enough for today ;-)

Have you had any hard times that you feel made you better? Care to share?

See you tomorrow,


  1. hello heather, that's some wonderful lemonade from some really sour lemons! good for you. i can't believe all the carpentry things you can do. you must be proud of your skills.

    and, as long as you have your roof and your dear ones, what else do you need? the best things in life are not things - but people. your roger and your families sound like the best. thanks for sharing!

  2. I so admire your ability to cope with all that has been thrown at you. To still have a house at all after three retrenchments is a bloody big achievement. I really appreciate you sharing, because for some reason (it might be the endless rain, or the pile of bills, or the living in a construction zone) I've been feeling very down about not being able to get our house finished at the moment.

    We've had my husband become ill just as we started building our house - a double heart by-pass later and 12 months out of work - I juggled like crazy but I think we are just now starting to see the impact of that juggling and I really need to get my head out of the sand and look at refinancing or something to try to ease the pressure.

    I will reread your post everytime I'm struggling with trying to live more simply.

    Again thank you.

  3. Good for you! I love to see people in design/shelter blogging who aren't just spending their asses off! We paid off a ton of debt and have extra money saved up for the first time, and it feels good!

  4. I found this post really moving and powerful. Thank you so much for sharing it. I'm really impressed with everything you guys are doing, and what you're accomplishing with your sweet home. I'm really looking forward to following along on your journey.


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