I’m just going to say right off the bat that what I’m about to write probably has more to do with what goes on inside my own brain than it does with “reality.” It’s just that I read this post from The Minimalist Mom the other day (which is based on this book by Laura Vanderkam, which I haven’t actually read YET) and it, coupled with some other things that have been on my mind lately, triggered this avalanche of thought that I wanted to get down somewhere.
The post basically outlines a premise that Vanderkam purports in her book – that (quoting the post, not the book) “we get more out of small frequent luxuries than we do out of larger one time purchases.” Rachel then goes on to note that the biggest items that Americans typically spend money on are our houses and our cars. From the post: “I use cars and homes as examples because the other shocking statistic in this book is that most people spend around 50% of their after tax income on the two.”
It got me thinking – why do people spend the most on those two things? I think a part of it is that those two areas are very large parts of our lives and contribute greatly to our comfort and happiness in many ways. There are comments in the post saying as much. One person loves to cook, so she considers a kitchen remodel as important to her happiness. Another person wanted a yard to see trees, so having a house was important to her. Totally understandable.
However, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of it has to do with those two items being the two that other people see the most. Where we live and what we drive tend to be very clear indications of our net worth (or at least we perceive them as such – another amazing book, The Millionaire Next Door, debunks this mentality as not belonging to the upper echelon, necessarily, but more to those who belong in the upper middle class who aspire to be perceived as wealthy, but I digress). Downsizing to a smaller house in a less expensive neighborhood or to a more economical vehicle (or even to just one vehicle, which Noah and I did for a few years) is seen as having a larger impact not only on our happiness, but on our status.
If we follow that train of thought, it means that people are hesitant to present a less impressive face to the world even if doing so would allow them to spend money on things that would have a much greater impact on their actual enjoyment of life.
I know this isn’t a completely revolutionary idea, but it really struck me because here we are, living in a bus. You would think that we had lost all that sense of “a home as a status symbol” type of mentality, but it’s still there and I battle with it.
When it comes up that we live in a bus I make sure to elaborate on what a cool, unique bus it is – “oh yeah, it’s a 1970 International double-decker conversion.” I feel a lot better if I can pull up pictures to show people all the work we’ve done to it and I make sure to tell them as quickly as possible that it’s just, you know, while we build A HOUSE. I mention that we’re blogging about the whole experience, which makes it even cooler (right?!).
Living in a bus temporarily for a purpose is a whole lot more socially acceptable than just living in a bus because, frankly, not living in a permanent structure is often associated with poverty.
I think that’s my biggest problem with living in the bus. It’s not the lack of space, because honestly, we don’t really miss it, or the fact that it’s not a house. It’s my fear of other peoples’ perceptions. It’s when Lily mentions at school that we have ants and I’m afraid that people are going to think that we’re living in squalor even though we had ants in our rental too (for the record, the ants are only attacking our trash can and go away as soon as we take it outside). God forbid my children ever get lice or something of the sort – people would probably call CPS.
However, stigma aside, living in the bus has not been detrimental to our overall happiness and has increased it in many ways, especially now that the initial move and set-up are done. Our situation directly supports the original premise that both the post and the book proclaim. Now that we’re gardening and things are growing on our fruit trees (including some absolutely incredibly delicious Saturn peaches) I have a whole new appreciation for our land. I am extremely grateful for where we get to live, no matter what the structure is that we’re living in.
It also helps me to put things into perspective: the average size of a newly built US home is larger than any other country in the world. That chart doesn’t even include third world countries, where the space that we’re living in (about 400 square feet) is considered above average.
I guess my ultimate conclusion is that instead of worrying about what people think about our family’s choices or living situation, which decreases my happiness, I should be spending my mental resources on enjoying the lifestyle that we are getting the opportunity to live right now – free of many of the burdens that most others have to deal with.
I do wonder though, if the many people who proclaim “I could never do that!” upon hearing about our current lifestyle are really only being held back by their own fear of the stigma that can sometimes come with it.
What do you think?