Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Home Improvement

This morning my local paper ran an AP article headlined “Home Economics” which discussed a new trend—that of homeowners doing more of their own maintenance and upkeep around their home in order to save money.

What I find appalling is the extent to which people have moved away from maintaining their own home. Seemingly, all over America people are rushing to Home Depot and Lowes (whatever happened to Ace and Our Own hardware stores?) for supplies and materials. The sales of lawnmowers and snowblowers are up. Sales of cleaning supplies are up as are sales of paint. You know, people who are too affluent, busy or whatever miss an incredible amount of satisfaction. When I left the Midwest 11 years ago, I don’t think I knew of anyone who either didn’t do their own yardwork (or who didn’t use the free child/slave labor also known as a tax deduction).

One featured couple listed the things they are now doing themselves. They have laid off their gardener and housekeeper, don’t go out to dinner several nights a week and iron their own clothes. According to the couple, they are saving $10000 a year. Ten grand! Do these people not understand how they could have boosted their 401K, 529 or savings?

The most important things, quite frankly are the satisfaction of pulling that nicely ironed shirt on that you, yourself, ironed (I can iron a dress shirt with sharp crease in 5 minutes). Or the satisfaction that you managed to mow the front yard before the tip-off of the NCAA hoops game and did it so that the tell-tale lines left by the wheels are either perfectly symmetrical—like a major league ballpark outfield--or have disappeared all together because you know how to mow on diagonal lines. Or, how about the satisfaction of a perfectly raked back yard in the fall where maple leaves are now afraid to fall? Did you ever find yourself sneaking peeks at the freshly mown or raked yard and say to yourself, “yep, that’s my yard looking good and my back that’s a bit achey”. Come on already, remember “Home Improvement”?

This is how we’re supposed to live. If we need someone else to mow the yard, that’s where the neighbor kid comes in (assuming there’s no one over 12 at home who can do it) who will come over either trundling his own mower or use yours and do the whole yard for $10 which you gladly pay because it’s a bargain and because the kid can use the cash. Or in the winter the same kid will come over and clear off your driveway and sidewalk after a snowfall if you can’t or won’t. God, I remember one time spending the best part of a whole day out with my dad cutting through 10 foot snowdrifts on our corner lot in North Dakota. It was frigid cold and yet it was one of the times when my Dad respected my work and ability to keep with him and when we weren’t arguing.

And there’s a social aspect to it too. BSing with the neighbor while leaning on a rake or snow shovel, or helping to sling a hammer when there’s a project going on. This is what living’s all about. Not hiring everything out and viewing our possessions as trophies. It’s what makes a home.

So anyway, I’m glad for this “trend”. It’s too bad that some folks are losing income because people are doing more for themselves. But the good news is not only is this a good way to save money, it builds families and communities as well—nothing says lovin’ like taking the kids on an excursion to Lowes or Home Depot!

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