Although we use it as a three bedroom, it really only has two bedrooms.
The third bedroom was converted to a den, so it lacks a closet and a door.
Lately, we've noticed that there are a lot of things that need to be replaced in our home. A tub in the master bath. Windows. Cabinets in the kitchen. Cracked front steps. We've been weighing making these repairs and sinking more money in to our house, or just moving in to a newer and larger space. But at least for now, we have decided to stay where we are, because we can comfortably afford our mortgage - in the event we ever needed to live off of one income.
This past weekend, we spent Saturday night with our friends the gardeners. They live in an 1,100 square foot house that is situated on two-acres of land. The house is a double-wide modular home that was built in 1960. The family that had been living there, abandoned the house 20 years ago. No one had lived on the property until my friend and his newly pregnant wife bought it in 2004.
I think it's important to add that my friend is a real estate guru.
For the past several years, he has been buying and selling houses all over the country. He would buy a house, fix it up, rent it for a few years, and then when he sensed the market was as high as it was going to get - he would sell it for a profit. Over the course of ten years, he has made a lot of money flipping residential properties.
When he saw this property with two-acres of land and a run-down double-wide, he was initially attracted to the location because it was on the corner of an intersection, across the street from a large development. It was his thought that very soon, developers would be knocking on his door to buy his plot of land so that they could continue with their development.
He suspected that he would be able to double his investment.
If not triple or quadruple it.
So he bought the land.
In the development - directly across the street - he owned two brand new homes that he had also bought in cash. But, he convinced his newly pregnant wife to move in to the double-wide because he could rent the new houses out. And there was no way he was going to be able to rent out the 50-year old double-wide modular home that hadn't been lived in - except by rats and spiders - for the past 20 years.
So his adoring wife said yes. Because she loves him and she can see the dream that he has to make more money than Midas.
We visited them when they first moved in to the house in early 2004. I remember walking in and not believing my senses. To say that this place was rundown doesn't quite conjure the magnitude of the image I need to convey.
The walls of the shower were black with mold. The floor was rotted and pitted in spots. There was a three foot open gap separating the roof from the fiberglass ceiling tiles. Electric lines had been chewed through by rodents. There were ants and spiders crawling freely. There were dirty dishes piled at least two feet high coming out of the sink. Meanwhile, my friend and his pregnant wife were as happy as I'd ever seen them.
When Charlie and I visited them this past weekend, the house was no better than when we'd seen it last. If you didn't know our friend - you might think that he was dirt poor and couldn't afford anything more. But the reality is - our friend doesn't spend a penny more than he absolutely must.
We happen to know that our 40-year old friend owns his property free and clear. He owns four cars and a tractor. He doesn't have a lick of debt and has a substantial savings account.
The only bills that they pay every month are telephone, electric and a very limited grocery bill - since they grow most of their food.
Although he has three college degrees, he works part time as a college professor two days a week just so that he can have some interaction with the outside world. He's not lazy. In reality, he's one of the hardest working people I've ever met.
On his two-acre parcel of land, he planted a large vegetable garden that he hand waters, every day. He built his wife a two-story temple where she can pray. He built his three small boys a playhouse with a ladder leading up to a loft. And he built a poultry house where he keeps his chicken, ducks and geese. Soon, he'll be adding a goat to the mix.
Within the past five years, he has been approached by developers to purchase his land for a lot more than what he bought it for. But he has decided that he doesn't want to leave. He and his family love it there. With the black moldy shower and the half-a-century old hardwood linoleum.
Hanging above the front door to the house was a sign that read, "No Discouraging Words."
When I asked my friend if that sign had come with the house, he said that he had bought it because it seemed everyone who came to visit had something negative to say about his lifestyle. He said that his mother would never stay with him and she shudders every time she steps foot in the front door.
Why, even my four-year-olds - who cause destruction wherever they go - were shocked at the state of the house. Elizabeth spent much of the morning yesterday walking around with her little finger outstretched pointing at various things. "There are ants IN the house!" Then she'd wander in to a room and gasp, "Mommy. This place is a mess!"
But before long, she looked at me with a big smile and said, "I love it here. Can we stay for six days?" Which for my kids - six days may as well be forever.
My brother, Wally, and his wife, Donna, have been renting a lakefront house that isn't more than 700 square feet for the past ... 20? ... years. In addition to my brother and his wife living in this 700 square foot house, they have three-year-old twin boys and a one-year-old toddler.
And, they have two 100+ pound black labs that live in the house.
The focus for Wally and Donna is life on the lake.
In the winter, they snowmobile. In the summer they boat. Yet, not a single person in my family can understand why Wally and Donna haven't moved. They both work. They both make good money. They could certainly afford to buy a nicer place. But they continue to stay in their tiny space. On the lake. With my three little nephews who are infused with happiness.
The focus for my friends is their garden and livestock and complete financial freedom.
They love having this plot of land to grow their own food and to have the space for their children to explore. They love having absolutely no debt to anybody. When we were there this past weekend, our children had the time of their lives digging in dirt piles, picking vegetables, and collecting newly laid eggs from chickens. Alongside our friend's three little boys who are also infused with happiness.
Yesterday, while we drove the two hours home from our friend's house - while our children napped - Charlie and I discussed nonstop how we could never live in that house under those conditions. How in the world do they do it?
What we determined is that to our friends (and my brother), where they live is just a house. The house is important only because it provides shelter. It's four walls and a roof to keep out the rain. Clearly, both families would rather save their money than spend it. But then again, fancy furnishings and a clean house aren't what make a happy home.
The most important things in a home are things that money cannot buy.
After this weekend, Charlie and I have both decided that all of those upgrades that we thought were necessary in order to make our home more enjoyable, really aren't necessary at all. Perhaps it makes the most sense to keep our money in the bank and rest easy knowing it's there in case we need it.
We've also decided that we spend way too much time cleaning when we should be out having fun and enjoying life. Because the biggest eye opener for me ... is the knowledge that if I don't clean our showers for several