Thursday, January 05, 2006

Adrift

Well, here we are, nestled in the hills of West Virginia. We have escaped debt, urban sprawl, traffic, high crime, and the stress that comes with it all. Life is just the stars, the empty roads, the wooded mountains, polite neighbors, and the absence of the rat race.

We no longer own a house and are renting a brick rambler in a small valley a few miles north of the state capitol. But, we are no longer home owners, we have reverted back to working renters. On the one hand it all feels foot-loose and fancy-free after the nightmare of keeping up with a high mortgages and then trying to sell the house. On the other hand, we have no real wealth now. We are no longer in debt, but we are not as well off as we were before.

When we owned a house we could barely afford to pay our other bills, then had to put our groceries on the credit card. My wife could have gone out to work but that would have been a form of poverty in and of itself - the impoverishment of family life. Some people can do the double income thing with both parents working while still maintaining a healthy family life, but most can't. Most people in that situation just have a time wasting, stressfull mess on their hands. So the majority of us who do not make tons of money or who are superheroes are faced with a choice - continue with a single income and risk deep, destructive debt, or double the job load at the expense of home life and their children's well-being, or do something extreme like selling their economic anchor, pulling up the stakes, and heading for the hills in search of another way of life. The days of affluence are over and those of us with families are living with this challenge. Gone are the days our parents knew, gone are many of the easily accessible economic options. We have to work harder and harder for less and less. And the cost of keeping a roof over your family's head has become untenable in a lot of places, unless you are willing to risk your life on a two to three hour commute.

That is how my family and I wound up out here in the mountains. I work for a good company that was able to give me a lateral move to one of their office not far away from here. And the housing market is still very cheap, whether you are buying or renting. But I know this combination of a decent job and an affordable place to live (that is not a health hazard) is a rare find and it took us a while and quite a bit of looking and quite a bit of luck to get it. But we are no longer living in an age of affluence so many of us have to begin developing alternatives or we will lose the things we really value, like a safe and happy family life.