Skip to main content

$Monday: The Race to Keep a Roof Over Our Heads

The American Dream in 2020 is to not be homeless. This summer, up to 40 million of us are on the verge of losing our homes due to an inability to make rent or mortgage payments. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are already homeless, which is too many on a perfect day. During the pandemic, it has become suddenly impossible to safely house the usual, insufficient number of people in existing shelters while homelessness has become a much bigger public health crisis than it was before.

Most people who struggle to stay in their homes find somewhere else to go and don't experience true homelessness, at least not for long, but forcing people to bounce around among inadequate living situations has serious health and economic consequences. Putting down roots in a safe and healthy habitat is one of the most important determinants of future success.

This is always true, but during quarantines, personal space and privacy aren't luxuries so much as basic necessities. So do whatever you can do to obtain and maintain healthy, safe housing--apply for every source of financial help. Swallow your pride and accept charity. Take out loans if you can. Sell your stuff, hustle, learn to DIY, cut expenses, and get proactive about keeping that roof over your head. My husband and I have done all of the above. It hasn't been easy, but it has been worth it.

Two new opportunities that 2020 has brought include lower mortgage rates and some unexpected free time and money, for those of us fortunate enough to already own homes and still have jobs, to swap vacation plans for home improvement projects. For those of us in a good yet precarious position, it's time to invest in home projects that will not only add value to our real estate but also to our daily lives, while saving us money in the long term. Investments that lower our daily costs of living keep us more secure in our ability to cover future mortgage payments and home maintenance. 

Housing security makes everything else possible--health, productivity, and wealth. Having a solid foundation allows us to show up for others in our communities in a variety of valuable ways, helping to stabilize the fabric of society. Wins all around!

It makes the most financial sense to prioritize home projects in a logical order of most to least urgent. Exceptions can be made--for example, my family has decided to hold off on all non-emergency projects that require an outside worker to enter our home before we have a Coronavirus vaccine--but I have outlined some helpful guidelines for determining when to allocate resources to each item on the to-do list.

Your first priority should be taking care of cost-saving repairs and maintenance--think leaky pipes, broken windows, and roofing issues that will cost more and more money--or even create financial disasters from water damage--every moment that they are neglected. Get on top of that stuff immediately; waiting until it's an emergency almost always makes it more expensive. All homes need regular repair and maintenance, just like all motor vehicles. The cost of ownership includes the cost of maintenance, so make sure that is always in your budget. Whenever possible, leave your home better than ever after a repair. Replace materials and parts with better-quality things that are built to last longer or save on utility costs in the future.

A few years back, my family replaced the aging shingles on our roof before they had sprung a leak. It cost us a lot less to replace only the shingles rather than the whole roof, which was still perfectly good underneath. We were able to afford nice-looking, 30-year shingles that should last us until we're about retirement age. If we had waited for a roof leak, the job would have been far more expensive, even if we had opted for cheap shingles that would fail much sooner. Being proactive can save tens of thousands of dollars.

Your second priority should be making upgrades that immediately start saving money or generating value in your life in some other way. Cost-saving upgrades include improving your home's insulation and upgrading appliances to more energy-efficient models. Sometimes there are even rebates and other incentives for the up-front costs of purchasing newer, better things. 

My husband and I recently took advantage of a sale to upgrade our dishwasher and refrigerator to models that function better on only a small fraction of the electricity it took to run the old ones.

Years ago, we installed a wood stove in our downstairs fireplace to supplement home heating, cooking, and clothes drying during the colder months. We prefer using our natural gas-powered radiant heat system most of the time, because it doesn't require hard work and doesn't generate delightful-smelling-but-still-polluting wood smoke. However, we like building fires when storms are coming so that if and when the power goes out, we have a pleasing and romantic way to stay warm and cook meals rather than having to go without or use a generator. Old-fashioned, gasoline-powered generators are noisy, smelly, and incredibly expensive to run, and despite being awful, they are also popular targets for thieves. Even nicer, newer, natural-gas-powered, hardwired generators cost a lot more to run than our wood stove. 

This may not be true for everyone, but where we live, we never have to purchase fuel--it's always entirely free and abundant. Neighborhood trees are frequently trimmed or cut down by people who are happy to give us logs, and we live close to many wild areas where we can forage a virtually infinite supply of firewood. If you aren't sure about using wood heating, Pip Magazine offers a useful overview of how to choose and use wood heaters.

A wood stove can be a cost-saving solution in some households, or it can be a value-generating feature in terms of creating joy for those who like to use them. A value-generating upgrade can be anything that helps you to be more productive, healthy, or happy living in your home. This could mean making changes to your kitchen that allow you to more easily cook nutritious meals. Or it could mean creating a comfortable space to exercise, or fine-tuning the ergonomics of a home office. If you plan on staying in your home for at least a few more years, tailor your home improvements to your own household's needs, tastes, goals, and best habits.

Your third priority should be making those finishing touches that make your home feel special. If you plan on sheltering in place for the long haul, get personal, ignore trends, and feather your nest however it pleases the people and pets who live inside your home. If you like to entertain guests, think about the tastes and love languages of your favorite visitors to come up with ideas for welcoming decor and creature comforts that will turn your home into the ultimate hangout spot.

If you hope to sell your home in the near future, go in the opposite direction and shoot for an impersonal, neutral look that falls in line with the character of your house's architecture and neighborhood. Make your spaces shine with neat, tidy, simple design choices and finishes that look fresh and new but aren't too aesthetically or financially risky. Don't outspend the ceiling value of your home based on location and neighborhood comps, because you won't recoup the costs of overspending on what amounts to lipstick on a pig.

When my husband and I were house shopping, we came across some truly bizarre renovation choices, mostly involving fancy marble countertops in new kitchens that were perched atop crumbling foundations. What good is that high-end faucet if the whole house collapses into the earth and kills us all? Hard pass. Shoot for tidiness and cleanliness, but don't bother with anything more dazzling if top-priority issues have not been addressed first.

If you are ready to put your house on the market soon, give more attention to outside curb appeal than interior upgrades. Giving your home's front a cosmetic makeover is usually easier, cheaper, faster, and more effective at attracting potential buyers than making inside changes that nobody will see if they don't get past your shabby front door. In short, curb appeal has a higher return on investment than interior decoration.

When you take good care of your home, it takes good care of you. When you feel secure in your home, you have more mental and emotional energy, time, and money to spend on achieving your dreams and helping others along the way. Tend your own garden, as the saying goes, so that you can be a strong anchor in your community--and also throw some gorgeous dinner parties for your neighbors and loved ones when quarantines can safely end.

Have you completed any home improvements already this year? Feel free to post pictures and ideas in the comments!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

TBT: The Magic of Essential Oils

Oh essential oils, beloved friend of loopy-goopy women of my own demographic marketing cohort, along with magic crystals, mystic doulas, organic pesticides, multi-level-marketed leggings, anything labeled as "herbal supplements," and alternatives to vaccination. The essential oil craze is something that has a basis in scientifically verifiable reality but has been endowed with magical, holy, pseudo-scientific properties for marketing purposes. I bought into it wholeheartedly before I learned that not all that crunches is harmless. All too often, legitimate fears based in reality (of toxic chemicals, unnecessary medical interventions, pharmaceutical side effects, etc.) are stoked to induce women like me to jump from the frying pan and into the fire of an "alternative" that may be at least as harmful as what it is supposedly protecting me and my family from. I still use certain essential oils for cleaning and other purposes, and I think everything I've stated in t

Pocket of Joy: Renovating to Love, Not to List

My mom and I have watched Love It or List It for years, and it's no surprise to us that most families choose to stay in their own, customized home rather than move into a new, blank box. The qualities that make a house a home are not the same qualities that make a marketable real estate property. Houses sell better when they are whitewashed into sterile, blank boxes where a new homeowner can come in and add their own personalized color and texture. If you're rich like the people on LIOLI , you can custom build a personalized home from scratch or personalize a market-fresh house in a short time, but even so, it's easier to stay in an already-customized house than to start over.  For regular people who aren't rich, turning a house into a home takes even more creativity, hard work, and time. But working class people certainly can create beloved homes. I've seen dream homes created from the tiniest of tiny houses in the humblest of neighborhoods, in trailer parks, in a

$Monday: Bog Witch Style on a Budget

Autumn in a pandemic is the perfect time to tap into your inner bog witch with wild hair, cozy clothes, forest rituals, creepy cats, fire, books of spells, and Dark Cottagecore home decor mood boards on Pinterest . You don't have to live in a literal swamp. The word "bog" comes from a Gaelic term for "soft," and it sounds nearly identical to Slavic words for gods or divinity with Proto-Slavic roots that refer to earthly fortune. Bog witches burrow into the true goodness of life nestled beneath all the hustle and polish and show of making a living. They focus on soft wealth and spiritual power. The vibe is slow, earthy, comfy, moody, sneakily seductive, maybe sticky, wise rather than smart, preferring old things to new, charming rather than impressive. It's about harmonizing with the natural environment, blending, melting, enveloping, and sinking into earthy, downward energy. Bog witchery vibes with hygge, friluftsliv , and the indigenous earth wisdom of whe

A Lightbulb Moment

All the lights are on! This weekend, my dad finished installing our kitchen cabinets as well as three pendant lights that hang above them. Hallelujah, let there be light! Now we can finally see what we're doing, giving us a boost of productivity by providing both visual access and a more pleasant work environment--which will soon become a warm, welcoming place to cook and eat and converse! This bright, warm light is a great metaphor for something else I've realized over the course my month-long home renovation staycation--which, though hard and busy, has been a clean break from my nonprofit work, my novel-writing creative work, and most of my social life too. I had an "aha" moment about illuminating the kitchen that my family has designed and built ourselves with a set of clear, warm lights that my husband and I chose together, as well as the fact that we are no longer living in other people's stuff. We're approaching 40 now, and we've finally been able t

No Cook Summer Snacks

We've been living without a kitchen for over a month now while we renovate, and while I miss baking and cooking, it's also a little bit nice to not have to cook. My family doesn't have a daily takeout budget (or else we'd be paying someone else to renovate our kitchen, obviously), so we've relied on my parents to share their kitchen and home-cooked meals with us in addition to setting up a makeshift pantry in our living room filled with foods that don't need to be cooked. During a hot summer, even when we have a fully functioning kitchen, it's nice to have some things on hand that don't need to be cooked with a stove or oven--or even a grill outside on scorching days. Whether or not you have a lovely kitchen that works, anyone can stay a little cooler and enjoy a little more time to relax this summer by stocking up on no-cook snacks such as... in-season fruits and veggies that can be enjoyed raw hummus, salsa, liquid nacho cheese (no judgment), or any ot

Pocket of Joy: Heirloom Tomatoes

Among the joys of homegrown veggies and fruits, heirloom tomatoes rise the highest above their grocery store cousins. Nothing cultivated to survive mass production and shipping to supermarkets can compare to the flavor of a homegrown heirloom tomato. Heirlooms come in a startling variety of shapes, sizes, and colors with great variation in flavor and texture as well. The bright, shiny, red, smooth, uniform-looking tomatoes that show up in grocery stores have been hybridized to enhance production and durability at the expense of flavor. There isn't anything wrong with eating grocery store tomatoes in terms of health, but once you taste the sweet, brilliant complexity of an heirloom tomato, you understand right away how different and special they are. If you can't or don't wish to grow heirloom tomatoes yourself, and if you don't have green-thumbed and generous family or friends willing to invite you over for grilled bruschetta this summer (oh, the tragedy!), you can usua

Pocket of Joy: Old Books

Old books! You can judge them by their shabby chic covers, because they function as objets d'art and objects of desire on a shelf no matter what stories they tell inside. Books with leather bindings, books embossed and edged in gold, books with plates and illustrations and fancy lettering inside, books that give off the subtle scent of an aged library, books with fraying ribbon markers and tactile spines. Old books are charming, comforting, and, when they aren't first edition antiques, they are usually cheap. The stories told inside of old books can also be wonderful and so thick and rich that you can revisit them again and again, each time discovering something new or forgotten, as fans of Jane Austen and George Eliot know well. Those were stories built to last the ages. An old book can be a roundly multi-sensory experience. I once picked up an old maiden volume by Anthony Trollope that had never been read--and I know, because I had to rustle up an antique book knife to cut ap

Pocket of Joy: Hot Gourd Summer

The corn has grown past "knee high by the Fourth of July," and so have the sunflowers. The delicious bean plants keep trying to climb up their tall sisters' stalks, though the cute, fuzzy creatures of the neighborhood keep trimming them down. And in one very green corner of the garden, the zombie trash gourds have returned! Last year, they volunteered to take over my compost and apple wood stick piles, and this year, they popped out of the front yard garden (after I spread compost there) to say: it's time for another hot gourd summer! The Fourth of July fireworks are all used up and done; it is now legal to look forward to Halloween. Pumpkin spice girls and bog witches, rejoice with me! And pray to every curly shoot and warty bump that by the time these decorative gooseneck gourds ripen, my witchy kitchen will be finished and ready to display them on rustic cherry open shelves against shady green walls. Until then, it's a joy to let the gourd plants' broad gre

Check Out My...

Pantry! We slapped in some fun and easy, removable wallpaper and dug around in the garage until we found this functional beauty, a commercial-grade speed rack abandoned by a former roommate long ago.  The wallpaper is also pretty old, leftover from a project in my parents' former house. Weirdly, I just saw it featured in a bookcase in an episode of Love It or List It . As seen on TV! While we renovate, we've been going through lots of old stuff in the garage, attic, and shed to donate, throw away, or, occasionally, use in the new kitchen. I've unearthed some VERY interesting and exciting treasures from deep inside the garden shed, which I hope to show off soon.  Things are getting very bog witchy around here indeed!