I had trouble sleeping last night. What upset me, what I was in turmoil over, was that I had a strong reaction to someone else’s choice–a lifestyle, big financial choice, and then I couldn’t approve of my own disapproval. Even though I’d scorned folks for similar decisions before without a qualm. Because this time the culprit had a face.
I knew her by name, remembered her face (don’t know her spouse), and my impression when I encountered her years ago was very positive–a down-to-earth, guitar-playing folk-hymn-singing Christian woman, had traveled, worked in missions, a kind and open face, a smile I liked. The kind of person I’d expect to be living a simple, frugal lifestyle.
Now she and her husband are selling their house–kids all out of the nest, and we were tipped off by a friend that we might want to see it, since it’s in the location we’d hoped for (for school and commuting), has acreage (for the minifarm we’d dreamed of), and each child could have their own bedroom, and we an office. Maybe too much space for the long term, I thought, but maybe my folks-in-law would like to move in with us, or we could rent out a room; I’m trying to be open minded, though I don’t want to take care of the house more than the farm and garden, or heat and secure all that space while we’re all off at work and school.
The house had been listed online, I was told, and my girls and I (they stay in tune about these things, because they share half of our garage for a bedroom) were excited to look it up–could this be the one we’d sell out to buy?
It was a palace. Six bedrooms, five bathrooms, over 5,000 square feet of space, and a shop bigger than the house we have lived in since 1997. A garden, and orchard, yes, but also acres of mowed lawn. It was laid out like an English estate, and it was listed at almost 1.5 million. No wonder the owners wanted to list it themselves–the savings in commissions could almost buy a modest house in one of the soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhoods across town.
My heart fell, and I thought, what’s a family of four, a nice family of the faith, doing with a house like that? First, it’s surprising in a town where all but doctors, top executives, Microsoft retirees, heirs, and a few select others struggle to earn a family wage. Second, how do you look the 99% in the eye, sitting on that? Make whatever you want–I’m not down on earning a lot for hard or highly specialized work, or even wise investment–you can do great things with money if you’re good at making it. But I have a hard time with people who pour so much into visible luxuries such as fancy houses, expensive cars and frequent exotic vacations. Even to let burned out pastors camp there on sabbatical or host lots and lots of foreign exchange students or friends’ troubled adult children.
So lots of judgments coming out. Maybe it’s my poverty mentality. I grew up without any luxury, and with having to share everything, or do without, except when it came to space outdoors, books, and creative pursuits. I was in an environment where luxury was simply inaccessible, and not really familiar. My definition of luxury was having more than one car, a paved driveway, and having to take off your shoes at the door to protect the carpets. And I picked up a subtle sense of disdain for folks that had lots of money and possessions.
During the brief period when my husband’s business made him, technically, a millionaire, we didn’t really change our lifestyle, except we bought a brand new vehicle, which I was somewhat embarrassed to drive, and got out of debt. Other money flowed out in what we might call investments in people. Then we took our family overseas to study another culture and language, and spent the rest. No regrets, no naming opportunities requested. If it ever comes our way again, I hope we’ll do about the same.
But here I am, trying not to look down on someone, draw conclusions, wondering if I should go to the open house just to ask the owners how it all came to be, how they were led or whatever in that particular financial direction. I do want to understand, and maybe change my mind, and maybe the folks who applied for a permit to build an extra 10,000 square feet on their house, and the castle down by the water, and the four-story on on the ridge, have perfectly reasonable explanations. Or maybe, they just don’t know any better, and neither do I.