The ‘simple’ life

by LauraFromBaltimore

I almost didn’t read this:

Cabins, the New American Dream

I don’t really have a cabin fetish, and I’m not really drawn to the “tiny house” movement, so I thought, meh. And then I got to this part:

“The truth is, without a modicum of success and career-preoccupation, this life would look a bit like poverty — like the rural existence people have struggled for so long to escape. The desire to have not is a desire of the haves.”

Which seemed to explain why I don’t really have a cabin fetish and am not really drawn to the “tiny house” movement. I think my people are just a few generations too close to the farm to appreciate the “simple” life. The movement (such as it is, and as generally photographed in the NYT) feels a little like modern-day slumming, with wealthy dilettantes rhapsodizing about the joys of the simple life and playing house in the woods for a few days before going back to the real world. I look at the kitchen in the picture and don’t see simple, plain, humble; I think, dude, try cooking three meals a day in that puppy, then tell me in a year how awesome it is.

And yet I do feel the pull of self-sufficiency. I make jams and cook, DH woodworks, and none of this is economically efficient; we do it because we like doing for ourselves. I watch Tiny House Hunters and see twenty-somethings building teeny homes on a $20,000 budget, and I am happy to see them deciding for themselves what they truly need and what makes them happy. I read in the Washington Post about people building communities of tiny houses in alleys and back yards and I think, awesome, good for them. I look at Airstream trailers and I get it: affordable, beautiful, well-designed freedom.

So maybe it’s not the thing itself. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with a cabin in the woods. Maybe it’s the difference between building something genuinely humble with your own hands, because that is what you can afford, and building an $800,000 cabin that only looks humble, so you can really-truly-I-mean-it experience “the simple life.”

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95 thoughts on “The ‘simple’ life

  1. I think my people are just a few generations too close to the farm to appreciate the “simple” life.

    Yes, this. I spent too many long hot childhood summer days picking, snapping, slicing, peeling, shelling, steaming, canning, and freezing every vegetable from butter beans (asparagus was just a weed that grew behind the shed) to zucchini. Why should I do it now for “fun” when I can drive 1 mile to the grocery store and buy whatever I need in a reasonable quantity for my small household? I’ll take the modern life, thanks.

  2. I think the tiny house movement, Mr. Money Mustache, the Magic of Tidying Up, growing your own food, etc. is all tapping into our collective feeling that we all have too much crap. Plus the feeling that you can never get away from work, and when you do you spend a lot of time picking up all of the stuff. Those tiny houses hold no appeal for me but I could see downsizing to a well laid out 2500 square foot house and being perfectly happy. I know sometimes we fantasize about quitting, moving to the small beach town I grew up in and having jobs that you truly quit at 5:00 p.m.

  3. At times, I have wanted a place in a more natural setting that was “simpler”. As I have been dealing with my dad’s death and the added care giving for my mom, I am more and more drawn to the idea of minimalism. I’m somewhat drawn to the tiny house idea, but more from the standpoint that many houses have a lot of wasted square footage and that we culturally feel uncomfortable in rooms that look empty.

    I am not on a purging binge (though I could stand to be), but am much more thoughtful about when and what I bring into my home, regardless of the purpose. And, I am more ruthless about what leaves our house. I’ve also been giving more thought to how to make the yard we have a more inviting place to spend time. We have a decent sized lot, with mature trees and it could be a place we use more even if it is in short bursts due to the heat we often have.

  4. I grew up in Vermont. When I went to college outside of Philly, people at my college would talk about how great it was to be poor in Vermont because those people knew what was really important. The college students from wealthy areas totally romanticized rural poverty. It drove me crazy. There’s nothing romantic about living in a trailer in the freezing cold without enough $ to pay the heating bill.

  5. I’ve always wondered about people who traditionally don’t camp (recent immigrants). Are they thinking along similar lines ? It’s hard to romanticize sleeping in the dirt and cooking over a fire when you are not more than a generation or two removed from that.

  6. I feel the same as SWVA about the work associated with gardening, and I’ve never even tried it. I don’t like anything about the experience of pulling weeds or picking stuff.

    Where I *could* very easily be drawn into this would be cutting and splitting wood, if I had a wood stove or an outdoor boiler. It plays into my inclination toward mechanics and thermodynamics. An old college friend on FB who’s become an academic in the rural Northeast posted a few pics of this enormous wood pile he was left in his yard after having a couple trees taken down. I was immediately envious of the task before him in this newly crisp Fall air.

    I wish good experiences for all the Tiny House folks, but it seems to me that many have sort of lost the plot by replacing one absurd metric–how big a house can you live in–with its equally absurd inverse. The point is supposed to be about simplification, not extreme compactification. Small was supposed to be the natural byproduct, but not a goal in itself.

    There was a discussion thread on MMM about Tiny Houses, and a page or two in, a poster piped up from the Rust Belt with the comment that he would never pay $60k or $80k for some glorified trailer when, in his community, he could buy a small, older actual house with two or three bedrooms for the same amount. But you got the sense that the Tiny devotees in the thread were not happy about that comparison. It lacks the sense of distinction and purpose if it’s just living in the same type of building that unenlightened working-class people have been blindly living in for a few generations now.

  7. I grew up in a small apartment, and I didn’t have my own room until I was 11. I had roommates, or I lived in tiny studio apartments in NYC after college. I couldn’t wait to have multiple closets and extra space for all of my stuff. I love to purge and throw out junk, but I am not ready to go back to a simpler life.

  8. In junior high/high school, we heated our house in Vermont entirely by wood (previously it had been heated by oil; my parents had the oil furnace replaced by a wood furnace). We had to stack cords of wood. Lots of wood. Ugh. One of my parents would have to get up early to bring the furnace back to life in the morning. Double ugh.

  9. In the first place we moved to in Vermont (I moved there in 6th grade), our house had a lot of land and we would cut our own Christmas tree. Not an experience I wish to repeat. I much prefer going to our local nursery where they have lots of trees already cut, and then they put the tree in some sort of netting and put it on the roof of your car for you. I have no desire to drive out to some tree farm or forrest, tromp around in the snow, and cut my own tree. No doubt my kids will feel deprived of this experience once they’re adults and will do the complete opposite.

  10. For some reason my parents put in a coal stove in our living room when we were building the house we grew up in. We always had a big bin of coal in the backyard – ick!

  11. Milo +1 on “The point is supposed to be about simplification, not extreme compactification. Small was supposed to be the natural byproduct, but not a goal in itself.”

    I think there is benefit to not being on top of the other human beings in your house, especially giving the teens/tweens some distance. When we house hunted, we ended up with more square feet than we felt like we needed, but it was due to the inefficient layout. In some ways, it is hard to be smaller if the house was not well thought out in the planning stage. We looked at home that were supposed to be better because they had 2 living and 2 dining areas instead of just one, but they were so poorly laid out it was hard to figure out how to use them.

  12. SSM – funny, before my parents built their camp we cut our own tree there and I thought it was AWESOME – other times we cut our own at a tree farm. I always drag the kids to cut our own tree now. DH hates it (although I think it is more the religious-holiday association that he doesn’t like) but I like cutting your own better because it drops fewer needles through the season.

  13. But his pitch was pretty simple, said Courtney Klein, a digital strategist and entrepreneur, who married Mr. Klein at Beaver Brook in 2012.

    Mr. Klein and Ms. Klein paid for materials and Mr. Bonamici’s stipend

    Zach Klein and Courtney Klein in the bunkhouse, which was designed around a 19th-century barn frame.

    Mr. Klein and Ms. Klein are Beaver Brook’s owners

    The Kleins have since moved to San Francisco

    Those three quotes in the middle seem a little awkward to my ear, so I’m wondering why the NYT wrote it that way. I was thinking that maybe Klein was, coincidentally, Courtney’s maiden name, but she specifically doesn’t identify as Mrs. Klein? Or is that just NYT style? And even if so, why not just “Mr. and Ms. Klein”?

  14. We used to cut our own tree, but it was in California so no snow and not much below 40 degrees. I always got carsick on the way up and back. The advantage is that it is much fresher and doesn’t start dropping needles immediately. Way too much of a pain for me now.

  15. My parents heat with wood – and there isn’t anything glamorous about it in my book (they do have the fancy electric splitter as a nod to their advancing age). They could afford to buy wood (or electricity) but chop down their own trees because it is the right, economical thing to do.

    I used to work with a tough western guy (rodeo scars and all). At one point, I asked him if he likes to horse back ride. He said, “Yes, if it means I don’t have to walk.”

    I love to camp, would love to live in a community of tiny cabins. I get the tiny house movement if it means your time is engaged with the rest of the world – socializing, being outside, etc. Our big houses are such fortresses that we can be so isolated. I know some people think that’s the point.

    Here is an article about people building physical community and small houses near seattle:
    http://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/3-couples-share-1-lot-building-3-homes-close-to-town-perfect-for-retirement/

  16. This fascination of the rich with the so-called “simple life” has a long history – think of Marie Antoinette playing at being a shepardess, or all those Victorian paens to the good virtues of the simple peasant life.

  17. So I grew up largely in apartments,and always had to share a room (except for the summers when I slept on a foldout couch in the living room). My husband had to share a room with sisters until he was 10, and his parents were the ones sleeping on the foldout sofa in the living room. But we did buy a small house – not a Tiny House – but pretty small. I am glad I am not sleeping on a foldout couch in the living room, but I don’t see the appeal of the larger houses either.

    Oh, and we always cut down our Christmas tree, but we go to one of those places that makes it into an Event.

  18. Those Bainbridge Island houses are cute, and since they are about the same size as my house, I would not call them Tiny Houses. However, they will all be wiped away in the tsunami when the Cascadia megaquake hits, so I am not going to buy one

  19. I recently read The life changing magic of tidying up and a major purge does appeal to me. Less to clean and, more importantly, less things to think about/maintain.

  20. We’ve been doing quite a bit more de-cluttering, most of it going to Goodwill. I made my first Craigslist sale recently, and I can now add illegal trafficking in drop-side cribs to my lifetime rap sheet. (Such unlawful items are specifically prohibited on the site when you list any item in the Baby section.) I got a number of immediate responses. I identified a buyer who was ready to move quickly and, at her request, we exchanged descriptions of our minivans and arranged a quick and anonymous meeting in the parking lot of my local Starbucks. The deal was made and I pocketed the cash. It was a fun experience, overall.

  21. “we exchanged descriptions of our minivans” – LOL. I should try the same with our illegal crib.

    On the minivan note, we took a Suburban home (car service) from the airport last week and I LOVED it. So comfy! It would be a huge PITA to park, though.

  22. I grew up sharing a small bedroom in a small house, and have no interest in spending more than an hour in a tiny house. Fine for a tour, wouldn’t want to live there.

    But I’m still cleaning out the attic, garage and basement, so I guess that is a nod to the “less stuff” movement. We are finally getting rid of all the baby plasticrap: exersaucers, high chairs, bouncy chairs, etc. Bittersweet, even though I hated looking at the ugliness of most of it.

    We know some people who have inherited wealth and are “roughing it” on a working farm in a tiny half-built farmhouse. It strikes me as a kind of mockery of their neighbors, who have nothing else and cannot go spend a weekend at the Plaza hotel for a break if the dairy loses money that year.

    But maybe I’m just a crank :)

  23. This has been a year of decluttering and streamlining systems in my house. We have a smaller than average house, roughly 1,800 square feet. Our boys share a room. But we have a basement family room and a main floor family room, so we have enough different spaces in the house for people to be in. I don’t want a bigger house or yard ever, as much as I admire some of the old mansions near us – too much overhead (taxes, maintenance, time) for rooms that wouldn’t get used on a daily basis. I covet all the old wood work though.

    One of my last challenges is figuring out a system for all the paper drawings and projects the kids do. They consider them treasures the first day and want to keep them, but then eventually they lose interest. My new process is to clean them out once a week and put in a holding spot for another few weeks. If they don’t ask for the project, then I recycle all of it. It hasn’t become a habit yet though, so our house goes through a cycle of picked up the day before the cleaner comes to completely out of control.

    My biggest item that causes mental clutter is figuring out how to organize pictures and photos. What software to use? Which company to order from for photo books? I need to figure it out soon as I have 3,000 pictures on my phone I need to go through.

  24. tcmama, I have a huge digital photo collection, and organize it with Lightroom. I have used this software for years, and really like it. It is completely tuned to a photographers workflow.

  25. See the advantage of the non-tree farm tree that drops its needles is I can stop watering it that much earlier.

  26. Thanks MM – I’ll look into that! I have to also get into the mindset of it is okay to delete pictures. I have analysis paralysis about it right now.

  27. On a tangential note, I have a friend with an 11 year old daughter who hates to be alone (we’re confident this will change as she goes through puberty). But it makes it difficult for my friend to get out on her own or have her own space. I was pointing out to my friend, that 50 – 100 years ago, it would have been totally normal for her daughter to have shared a room (and probably a bed) with siblings; she probably would have had more siblings; and rather than her behavior being viewed as “anxiety” it would have been viewed as totally normal.

  28. Laura, I really enjoyed this post. Your comments resonated with me. When we transferred to Houston, my husband really wanted a new/newer house. His father built the house he grew up in. It got indoor plumbing not very long at all before my husband arrived in the scene. I (!!!) was his only assistant in re-roofing it while we were dating. I could see then that the plywood on the roof was formerly a billboard, most likely stolen in the dark of night. He just wanted to live in a house for a while that he didn’t have to fix. On my own, I probably would have sought a better value, but I agree with him that it’s really nice when everything just works. But that means my kids grow up not knowing how to fix anything. As someone else posted, they’ll probably go the other extreme.

  29. Seattle, I often thought that about my babies: a few generations ago, most babies were not spending their day in car seats and bouncy seats, but either being held or allowed to lie down on their own.

    Mine never accepted the idea that they ought to be sleeping in a room on their own in a nice crib, and insisted on being in the same room as someone else.

  30. we took a Suburban home (car service) from the airport last week and I LOVED it

    Initially, the new model looked kind of strange to me, particularly in the column behind the rear doors, and the back window and roofline. Almost hearse-like. But it’s growing on me.

    It hasn’t been available that long, so I was shocked at how popular they were in the parking lot of our Disney hotel. I was wondering if a large portion of them were rentals, but many were not.

    A well-used one may be in my future someday, for the towing capacity.

  31. My grandparents’ house was heated only by wood, which made for some really cold Sunday mornings in the upstairs bedrooms when I visited as a kid. They actually had a fairly large house by 1950’s standards, but they also had 4 kids. 2 of the 3 girls always shared a bed (not just the room but the bed) until the first went away to college. My uncle, the youngest, had his own room but it was barely wide enough for a single bed. My parents used a wood stove for supplemental heat, to keep the electricity costs down. I never had to split wood, but I had to carry it from the splitting location and stack it in the storage location. When I lived in the basement after college, I had to feed the beast every night & morning. Fortunately, we kept wood in the garage (other half of the basement) so I didn’t have to go outside!

  32. Yeah, Milo, get that car in red.

    No doubt there will be plenty of Baby Boomers insisting we wear red to their funerals – oh, sorry, their “Life Closing Celebrations” – but even my aunt has not suggested a red hearse.

    Yet.

  33. Both DH and I grew up in old farmhouses, with little insulation heated by wood. When we built renovated our old farmhouse, we put in the best insulation we could find, completely overbuilt the electrical service, and would have taken out the fireplace if that had been practical. We installed a gas fireplace insert with a remote. As God is met witness, I will never haul firewood again.

  34. In the home country by the time I came along, my grandparents houses though they still had about seven adults living in them were too big given that some of the family had passed on and there were no new family members added. I had a great time hiding in empty store rooms and unused bedrooms. To keep pesky kids out of unused rooms we were told that they were haunted.
    The Bainbridge island homes look perfect for a retired couple. Right now, our house is big enough. However, once our kids leave it will be too big and I would like to downsize. I love our neighborhood, will have to look into which of the houses we could possibly buy.

  35. I will never again live without air conditioning if I can help it. I do not find country living appealing either. I think I have known too many real farmers to romanticize that lifestyle in any way.

    We live in a smallish city condo (2BR, 1400 sq ft), but it’s not so much simplicity as a willingness to trade space for location and an unwillingness to be house poor. I do see the micro-apartments that are somewhat trendy in urban settings, and I start to feel claustrophobic just thinking about living in that kind of space, even if I was alone.

    See article. Notice that his one, artfully displayed cookbook is “The Kinfolk Table”. I mean. I just don’t even know.
    http://chicago.curbed.com/archives/2015/02/24/making-the-most-out-of-living-in-a-300-square-foot.php

    I read the Marie Kondo book. I really liked some of the theory. I purged my closet using her method, and I find it much more functional now – easier to find things to wear. I keep meaning to move onto the next category – paper – but I haven’t made it there yet. I know there is a lot that I could dump easily.

  36. I like Marie Kondo, but she doesn’t have any kids or spouse, both of whom might (or dare I say, WOULD) have different attachments to things, not to mention all the paper they bring home from school. I do like keeping all my t-shirts folded with the folds up rather than in piles – much more functional!

  37. L – I stopped buying DD any more organizers because every organizer (that meant craft boxes, baskets, extra drawers) just got filled with stuff. Now, I insist that she throws out old projects and things she is done with. The paper from school bit does get better as in later grades everything is online.

  38. Tiny houses have been around forever in trailer parks. Of course the people into the tiny house moevement would never dare live in a trailer park, becasue it’s not really about economizing on space and such, it’s about being trendy.

  39. Tiny houses have been around forever in trailer parks.

    This could make for an interesting episode of HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters or Living Tiny or whatever they call their multiple shows on the topic.

    “Tanya, a single mom of four kids, is excited about moving her family out of a motel and into their very own Tiny House. Helping her with her search is Wayne, the owner and landlord of two area mobile home parks. With Tanya’s $600 per month budget, he’s ready to show her three great options.

  40. Rhett – is it though? That’s about 1/3 the size of the average Totebagger’s home. For most people here, that would be considered a major downsize.

    For most Totebaggers, the HGTV Tiny Homes (~100 sq ft) would be considered a closet. And a true “sacrifice” (enter trendy martyrdom here).

    OT – I could see returning to the size home I have now when I’m in my golden years. Right now, I could do with about another 1000 square feet. No farms or hauling wood though. I like my gardens, but I need my modern amenities.

  41. This discussion reminds me of the humble ethnic foods our family ate growing up. My oldest sister seemed to have a “as God is my witness, I will never eat rice and beans again” mentality. When she married and established her own household, she developed into quite a cook, taking special pride in preparing “American” cuisine. Of course, nowadays rice and beans and similar foods are popular and even trendy, considered fine dining by many vegetarians.

  42. Milo, you make me LOL! I can totally see that as a SNL skit – you should send it in as a suggestion.

  43. Funny Milo. I like it.

    COC – yes, but those rice & beans are “elevated” and only use “heirloom” rice varieties. :)

  44. Coc – BIL mentions all the tropical fruit available at WF like he discovered a new galaxy or something. He had those same fruits growing up. These fruits have been available at ethnic markets in all major cities here but he would never be caught driving his fancy vehicle to the ethnic grocery store.

  45. CoC, that is so much like my husband’s mother!! She can make these amazing Polish dishes, but she generally won’t because she is embarrassed by those foods.

  46. ITA with Rhode’s post — for me, it’s also about the amount of space per location in life cycle. I love where I am now for all sorts of reasons — both the size of home/hard per $ as well as the family-friendly neighborhood (i.e., the kids can get themselves most places). But I’m not sure that will still fit in another 20 years, when I’ll probably be yelling at all those kids to get off my lawn and complaining about the effort/$$ it takes to keep up the big house and yard. So I can totally see trading the space for something smaller that’s in a city somewhere, where I can walk or take the metro everywhere I want to go. And then maybe I’d want my cabin in the woods for a change of pace. And, hey, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get written up in the newspaper, and some smart-ass blogger can write about what a poser I am. :-)

    What I really miss now is a big, open space. In CO, we had about 2700′, which was perfect at the time — the rooms were generously-sized, but there were no extra rooms that never got used, and we had enough space to know we could add a couple of kids without worrying about moving. But the kicker was the @1,200′ of unfinished walk-out basement that we could use for whatever we wanted — storage, exercise room, planning for a pool table, etc. And ever since we moved when DD was a newborn, all I can think about was what an *awesome* space that would have been for trikes, giant messy art projects, big plastic kid toys, etc.

  47. We had a rented Suburban for our summer trip. Having all that space was awesome, but it was not an easy vehicle to park.

  48. our neighbors have a Surburban. They also have 3 kids, and a summer home at the beach. It is great for the reasons that you might like to drive one, but just watch the gas mileage if you buy one used. I know they are always complaining about how much they spend on gas.

  49. This post resonated with me because the kids and I got to visit my tech’s farm this weekend. She has 56 acres, about 20 head of Scottish Highlander cattle, a few horses, a few goats and goldfish in her troughs to eat the mosquito larvae. She explained to my kids how she chose the goats and cattle to eat the specific types of weeds that had overtaken her farm while it was unoccupied and how she can now raise more hay in her fields, since the invasive plants are being eaten back. She talked about how getting another field in hay this year meant that she shouldn’t have to buy hay, despite the light and early crop. (It’s been a dry year here.) She told me about fixing up her old farmhouse that was unoccupied for several years. The square footage listing of a house doesn’t reflect the many levels of usage/furnishing that older houses often have. Her attic, and basement, if she has one, are probably best used for storage. But she just canned 42 quarts of tomatoes and she has to put them somewhere. When I look at tiny houses, I wonder where the freezer and racks of canning jars would go.

    I don’t know whether my children will become professionals and I want them to know how to live well on a moderate income. She talked about how since moving from a trailer with land near work to her farm ~25 miles from work, she has no garbage, sewer or water bills (well, septic and occasional trips to the landfill) and her property taxes for a simple residence dropped from $2400/yr to $800/yr. If she were laid off, she could raise more of her own food.

    I’m not yet at the point where I’ll ditch my job to go live off the land, but other than access to medical care, there are advantages to living simply or at least being able to do so. She’s 50 and in great physical shape. I carried Baby WCE around in a front pack and we discussed the pros and cons of front vs. back packs for kids. She carried her son in a backpack as she did her farm chores.

  50. I used to work with a lovely woman who drove a Suburban. Post-Katrina gas price gouging caused some people to question her choice. She was 5’11, her husband 6’6. The youngest and shortest of their 3 kids was 5’8 in 8th grade. It was the only car they could all fit in comfortably.

    Speaking of cars difficult to park – I miss my Chevy Colorado. My uncle just bought a new one (to replace a ~15 year old S10), and I became very sad this weekend. I don’t think he’ll be surprised if he sees me hugging his truck when I see it next.

  51. “She carried her son in a backpack as she did her farm chores.”

    I certainly can’t see the modern-trendy set doing this. Not for that many acres.

  52. Rhode, if you can get a business trip to the local NOAA, I’ll bet I could arrange a farm tour in exchange for a ship tour… or even just because she’s nice.

  53. Rhett, it depends on the stepper. Most of them are larger than that- size depends mostly on your lens column- and you get to attend endless meetings discussing how the 10 auxiliary chemical, electrical and HVAC cabinets will interact with the VOC abatement tool in the fab basement. Can we meet the 15 m cabling requirement for all 10 cabinets? The plot thickens…

  54. WCE,

    Step 1 was the first stone tool used by Homo Habilis – 2.6 million years later our most advanced tool is the stepper. It’s an amazing thing!

  55. My brother the-engineering-manager’s observation: “They’re installing how many millions of dollars worth of equipment with a pregnant contract engineer?”

  56. Any Suburban would be far in the future, and only if the market recovers :). I would find one a few years old with a ton of miles, as it wouldn’t be intended as a daily driver.

    LfB – interesting post from the last time we thought everything was going to Hell.

    L – Jeep is bringing bring back the Grand Wagoneer for 2018. That should have been your parents’ choice–it’s a WASPy Totebaggy car if ever there was one:

  57. Milo – they had a Buick wagon (with the rear-facing 3rd row) before the Suburban. I did have friends with the woody wagon though.

  58. When single I lived in 900 square feet (rented). It was a bit oddly shaped, but had 2 bedrooms, a dining area, living area, kitchen/laundry room and 1 bathroom. If the kitchen had been remodeled to bring it out of the 1940’s it would have been very functional. The problem was frig’s are as small as the place for it and the stove was stand alone with no counter on either side. The modern fridge and washer/dryer took up the space of the previous breakfast nook. The only other issue with more than 2 people would have been the single bathroom and trying to get ready in the morning. The living room was almost too large vs the other spaces, but I really enjoyed that small house. As others said, less to clean and less space to collect STUFF.

    When our kids finally move out, I’m not sure what we’ll do with 2200 square feet. Our prior 1500 square feet would be sufficient.

  59. “…the baseline shoddiness of the RV industry in general. The Road Chief is as far from a big white box of depreciation as possible.”

    I am continually surprised by the persistent blandness and cheapness of RVs. Good design doesn’t have to be expensive and the low end of the market (target, ikea) certainly has seen creative/colorful design in the last 20 years. However, a 1995 mid-range trailer looks much like a 2015 trailer – beige smears, as I call the motif.

  60. WCE, the last time I was in your general vicinity, I visited a friend (HS classmate) who works at the local NOAA office.

    I can remember back to converting from aligners to strippers. Among other things, it was a opportunity to develop a new test pattern.

  61. @Milo – that house in NY especially the bedrooms with wall paper and bright carpet was like our first house. We had tons of wallpaper to remove and got all the carpets replaced by hardwood floors. The owner had spent a lot of money on building a new heated sunroom but no updates were made to the rest of the house.

  62. Louise – in that area, I visited a house that, for all I know, literally could have been that house. It looked exactly like it. It’s difficult to say why, but for some reason you don’t get the sense when you’re inside it that all this stuff needs to be ripped out and updated. It just feels exactly like you expect it should.

  63. We had a suburban for years – it was a hand-me-down car from DH’s parents. We loved it. I looked at getting another one in place of the minivan, and it’s what I probably would have preferred, except you just cannot beat the magic doors for carpool purposes (and I don’t love the design, I agree with others it looks like a hearse – I much preferred the previous 2 designs). But now that kids are older and bigger, and everyone in our carpool is now big enough to easily open car doors, I will definitely consider one when it’s time to replace the minivan.

  64. Even though I should be used to housing sticker shock in NY metro, I was surprised to see the price for the house in CSH because everything needs to be updated. There is a lot of land in a great location, so I guess the price reflects the property vs. the interior of the house.

    I am sitting here waiting for the electrician, and of course he is late! I am so close to this being over, but I know I would never have the stomach to renovate a house like the one in CSH.

  65. I thought I lived in a high COL area and I am also surprised by those prices. I am also surprised that things selling at that price point aren’t professionally staged — white sheets over the couch?

  66. @Milo – I agree. When we looked at the house, everything was neat and looked nice but we knew that it all had to be updated *at some point*. However once we started living in it we couldn’t deal with looking at the wallpaper or the carpet and so in short order we began to rip it all out.
    I didn’t mind it at the time but honestly after that I just wanted a home that was updated. We were not looking for fancy just newer. We have a home in our neighborhood – for sale by owner – the interior is mostly updated but the pictures of the few rooms that are not are unflattering and a coat of paint would make all the difference. The house is just sitting there whereas all the other homes have sold quickly.

  67. i have an eighty-ish acquaintance, a widow with all her marbles, with an older non-mansion house in Dover MA – a very desirable area, I have not been inside it. She got an appraisal, set the price lower than that, no offers. six figures, not seven. She has already bought the condo into which she is going to move. I told her to move, take the furniture she wants, dispose of the rest and hire a professional stager. Of the two townhouses next door to me, basically identical, the staged one sold for 5% higher. She says, “I already decluttered.” (by that she means she cleaned the attic and basement). “The house is clean. ” “My son gave me the same advice.” I have a feeling that her house is just slightly above teardown in the minds of buyers and appraisers, and in that zip code you would be astonished at what qualifies as a tear down.

  68. Meme, did her real estate agent also tell her to move first? I am always glad when ‘regular’ people buy houses instead of developers because it means it is less likely to be a tear-down. In my town, ranch houses and even ‘regular’ colonials are bought for $1M or $1.5M, torn down, and then a $2.5M McMansion built instead.

  69. I have been surprised that the developers who have bought teardowns and built new homes in our neighborhood have done a decent job of building bigger homes but still ones that fit the scale of the existing homes. There are plenty of McMansion type developments if you are looking for a big home on a small lot. Here, hundreds on apartments/mixed used developments are being built. More than enough housing at all price levels.

  70. Do your towns have strict zoning boards? We’ve mentioned the “micro” school districts, and fire departments, but our towns have the same small zoning boards. My town actually streams and airs the zoning board meetings. I haven’t made any changes to the outside of my home so I’ve never had to deal with the zoning board. There are definitely tear downs here, but the process to get a new, larger home approved can take a VERY long time because neighbors will show up in droves if they think the new home is going to be too large, cast shadows, tear down too many trees, have non conforming driveway – etc, etc.

  71. @Lauren – there are protests over the scale of large mixed used developments over traffic, congestion etc. I haven’t heard about protests over individual houses. The builders happily put out flyers showing the outside and inside of the home, the price, realtor contact number – so in fact existing neighbors spread the word among their friends if someone is looking for a home. In fact that is how many of the new and existing homes in established neighborhoods are sold. I wouldn’t want to be living next to people who protested my home being built or renovated.

  72. Louise, I say the same thing to my husband all of the time about being neighbors. I don’t understand how some of these people will exist together for many years to come after watching the zoning board on TV. Most of the new development in our neighborhoods are done by individual homeowners with a local architect/contractor. We don’t have as much empty land for the developments that you see near you, but there are some new large mixed use apartment/hotel complexes that created a lot of protest. The reason is usually traffic!

  73. L – After being rebuffed in the discussion, I stopped asking questions. Old people tend to dig in their heels quickly if challenged. It is a way to assert their independence and competence.

    I know that I have a normal, not particularly cluttered amount of right sized furniture on the two main living floors, but if I were showing my home while still living here I would not only clean, touch up/paint as necessary, purge the closets and attic and shelves, but empty the walkout rec room (including the grand piano), remove 30% of the main floor furniture and accessories, using offsite storage if necessary, and move a master bedroom dresser, upstairs TV and the guest bed into the now emptied office/spare bedroom . I would also follow my real estate agent’s advice about the ROI on replacing worn flooring/carpet

  74. @Meme — ITA. When we sold in ABQ, I was determined to learn from my mistakes in CO, so I did a massive declutter, including 90% of baby toys, shelves full of tchotchkes, even some furniture. And when the realtors came through, the single recurring comment was still “this place needs to be decluttered.” It wasn’t until I thought the place was basically stark and empty that my agent considered it sufficiently decluttered. Real people who are not Rhett just have no clue what that word really means in realtor-speak.

  75. Meme – gotcha; I bet that is why all of the ‘old person’ homes are overpriced.

    Lauren, we usually don’t have complaints over developers for residential places, only for the large commercial developments.

  76. The comment from Sky and LfB about getting rid of baby stuff….made me recall a visit to condo for sale. We were married but had no kids at the time. The condo was neat but DH looked at the toys in every room and asked me if the sellers were running a daycare. I said, I didn’t think so, it looked like they had only one kid.

  77. Yes Anon, a/k/a Rhett — almost exactly (although we did have a regular bedframe).

    @Louise: our house had an oversized living room, with a corner tucked next to the stairs that we used as a kid play area. Before selling, I took everything out of there, except for (I) the little rubberized tiles that I thought showed “hey, look, this is a great kid zone!” (since, you know, our target audience was families with young kids, since that’s who owned every single other house in the neighborhood), and (ii) a small toychest against the wall — and we made sure everything was in the toychest before every showing. I was told *that* was “too cluttered.”

    So I took all the kid stuff away, added glass shelves with three artful things on them, an Ikea folding lounge chair, and a lamp. House sold within 2 weeks.

    I think sometimes “cluttered” is code for any variety of things, from “too grandma-ish” to “too kid-focused” — but they all basically mean “it’s not the picture in my head of how I want to live my fabulous dream life.”

  78. Aaarrrgghhh! Stupid auutocorrect. Steppers, not strippers. We needed strippers for alignments as well as steppers.

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