Stuck: Why Most of Us Really Will be Adapting-In-Place

Sharon October 7th, 2008

Want to know how the current economic crisis is playing out in most people’s lives right now?  Well, for some, there is the disastrous loss of a home or a job, the need to move, increasing stress and the sense of crisis.  But for most of us, so far, instead of increased mobility, we have less.

Had you planned on moving?  But the house won’t sell, so you are stuck.  Were you saving for a downpayment?  But wait, you don’t want to buy until the market bottoms out, right?  Were you nearing retirement?  But if your pension or 401K has tanked, you can’t retire.  Do you hate your job?  But you need your seniority if you want to outlast any coming layoffs, and you can’t risk your benefits.  Were you thinking of going to college or back to school, or have you just graduated?  Well, student loans are increasingly tough to get, and the job market is looking bad - back to Mom’s we go.

The first effects of our tanking economy have been enormous pressures on most families and households to stay where they are - even if they might be better off somewhere else.  And the dual problem of increased and decreased mobility seems truly unlikely to do anything but accellerate - for the rising numbers of unemployed and those who lose their houses, the need will be to move somewhere, anywhere they can find work and housing.  For those lucky enough to keep their jobs and homes, the ability to move or change jobs is rapidly disappearing.

Now to some degree, and for some people, this may not be so very bad.  Those who would have liked to move for career reasons or for a bigger house, parents who might have downsized to a condo but now have room for the kids and grandkids to move back in may find themselves not so very discommoded.  For others, who dreamed of buying a farm, wish to be closer to aging parents or beloved family, those who invested in an area that may not be sustainable - this is a big and serious problem.  Being trapped is better than being unemployed, but it isn’t good.

So the question becomes - how do we get out of the trap?  Is there any recourse for us now that credit and the old ways of getting things have dried up? 

And the answer is yes, but it will require a lot of something that most Americans don’t have in their friends, neighbors and family - trust and cooperative energy. What do I mean by that?  Well, the truth is that you probably only need one 2000 square foot house between two 4 person households - so if you can trust each other enough, and find a way, you and your sister (or your best friend or your neighbor) who both have houses teetering on the edge of foreclosure can save one of those houses and move into it.  But that requires that one of you be willing to give up their home, that everyone sacrifice privacy, that the fears that the arrangement work out badly don’t overwhelm the value of it.

What if you wanted to quit your job and start a business, building the local economy, but you can’t now?  Or if you need to retrain?  Well, one of the best possible tools for you might be the kind of collective funding that immigrant communities have brought to the US.  Everyone puts a certain amount of money into a kitty.  The money is loaned out to one of the members of the group, who is then required to repay it within a reasonable time.  Then, the money goes out to the next member.  This is scary stuff - someone might lose money, someone might fail and be unable to repay, everyone might get hurt a little by taking a risk.  On the other hand, everyone might gain, as well.

What if you were hoping to retire, and now you can’t, and it is increasingly hard for you to work?  Well, do you have any friends in the same situation?  Could you share housing, and make what’s left of your retirement money go further?  Could you let your grandkids or a your friend’s daughter move in with you, in exchange for her keeping up minimal costs.  Perhaps you could take your new free time, and barter some childcare and your house for someone to take over earning most of the payments.  Maybe you can change your dream of what a retirement is - perhaps to owning outright a little house with another couple.  But this is much harder and scarier than relying primarily on your money to take care of you and help you out of trouble.  It is hard for the person who is aging, and it is hard for the younger family they will rely on. 

In a crashing economy, family, community, friendship and social ties are what we have to compensate for a lack of money.  We turn to barter, to love, to friendship, to trust, to shared risk, to shared gain to make up what is missing in our lives.  We’re stuck - but we get unstuck by risking ourselves with other people.  And sometimes, it won’t work.  Sometimes we’ll lose, maybe even more than we can afford.  Odds are, however, mostly we won’t.  And if we do, the only thing we can do is remind ourselves that losing more than you can afford isn’t limited to direct human relations - it happens all the time in the industrial economy.

 Sharon

24 Responses to “Stuck: Why Most of Us Really Will be Adapting-In-Place”

  1. risa bon 07 Oct 2008 at 10:45 am

    The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers used to say “friends will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no friends” — no, their saying was a possibly deplorable variation on that one — I like the original.

    For the non-food, -water and -shelter aspects of adapting in place, our family strongly recommends):

    1. Friends, the kind that “know where all the bodies are buried and love you anyway” — some of whom are able-bodied and handy

    2. A small pickup — theirs or yours. Better yet, a bicycle with utility trailer, if you’re urban — or several

    3. Craig’s List and Freecycle, local shopper paper, community bulletin board, and word of mouth

    4. A nail puller, rip bar, crowbar, assorted screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches, etc., come-along, block and tackle, wire brush, and a brace and bit (better than electric, only a little slower)

    5. A bench vise — a stout one — fifteen pounds or over — that can double as an anvil — unless you also have an anvil

    6. A bench grinder (heavy duty) — mine is electric, but some older hand-cranked ones are stout enough for serious efforts

    7. Bench (duh) — with good natural light

    8. Learn to use all this to make things into other things for which people will trade.

    Welding and cutting-torch thingeys are nice but often dependent on a technological network that may fade on you in times of chaos, You can, if neccesary, cut, drill and assemble strong things with hand tools

    Example: we’re librarians for now, but we know how to be mid-scale chandlers. We’re hoping to insulate and finish the interior of the garage into a small, relatively efficient candle factory that runs on either electricity or firewood.

    Adpating in place can be a marvelous adventure. While we were finishing the roofing last week, a flight of about thirty Canada geese flew so low overhead, the wind in their pinions sang. Wide vistas of travel opened in our minds, and it didn’t cost a penny!

  2. […] By Traverse Davies Categories: Uncategorized Sharon Astyk just posted this: http://sharonastyk.com/2008/10/07/stuck-why-most-of-us-really-will-be-adapting-in-place/ she gives me hope for […]

  3. […] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Stuck: Why Most of Us Really Will be Adapting-In-Place Want to know how the current economic crisis is playing out in most people’s lives right now? Well, for some, there is the disastrous loss of a home or a job, the need to move, increasing stress and the sense of crisis. But for most of us, so far, instead of increased mobility, we have less. […]

  4. Rosaon 07 Oct 2008 at 12:45 pm

    This is really timely for me - we’re considering being a host family for a homeless youth. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but we keep not doing it for one reason or another (first no space, then no time). But the need is worse this year than it was a few years ago when I started thinking about this, and it’s getting cold outside.

    I need to talk to my partner about growth and change and challenging your boundaries. There’s a prospective host family meeting on Monday that I really want him to attend with me.

  5. Rosaon 07 Oct 2008 at 12:46 pm

    …and the reason we can think about it right now is we *are* stuck, in our too-big house. Might as well use that extra room for something.

    Sorry to double-post, that was supposed to be somewhere near the beginning of my comment. Thank you, Sharon.

  6. Is depression coming? « Mom Must Writeon 07 Oct 2008 at 1:22 pm

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  7. Kation 07 Oct 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Was interested to find out recently that one next-door-neighbour-couple (recent “retirees” who also happen to be MY daughter’s guardian should anything happen to the hubby AND myself) just had their younger daughter and her long-term boyfriend (fiancee) move in with them. These neighbours are the one’s who’ve taught me a good deal about gardening, are always sharing a pound of fish in exchange for one of my spare loaves of bread or a plate of cookies. Just found it very interesting that they’re the first proof I’ve seen of adult children moving back in with parents, because of the current economic melt-downs. Then again, most of the rest of my neighbourhood would qualify AS the adult children. And yet, so far most of us are pretty securely in our home. (My hubby and I are hoping that seeing as our locally owned bank OWNS our mortgage, and we’re 1/3 of the way done with paying off our 30-year home-loan, and have always been very good on making payments on time, the bank would grant us some leniency and lowered payments if it came down to that.)

    For Shelley (the new commenter from Alaska), who commented a couple of posts back, I’m in North Pole if you’re nearby. Hope you see this! It’s always nice to build that community around here, even if it’s just being able to recognize each other at Safeway or such.

  8. Anion 07 Oct 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Yes- agreed. I think that many people are going to need to figure out how to make what they’ve got, be it their house or job or whatever, work for the forseable future. There are a number of people with houses for sale around here though- and one thing that troubles me is that psychologically they’ve already got one foot in some other place- so how much are they going to work at building community here if they’re still hoping to move elsewhere?
    Will they resign themselves to staying at some point or always keep hoping they can sell?

    That said, the barter economy can only grow bigger; swapping not just stuff but skills. I made it to the local thrift store when I went to town today- had this weird epiphany; wondered if a few years from now, we all would be doing all our shopping from each other”s used stuff- no longer buying anything new but rather an endless cycling of used clothes and housewares, etc. The stores that are thriving and busy all seem to be thrift stores and second -hand consignment types here. I did notice that there was a supreme lack of nice woman’s tops- went looking for a few as many of mine have aged enough to become “farm clothes”- didn’t find a one. But did score a Land’s End “field jacket”-lined- for $2.50 and a nice comforter for 75 cents so am not complaining……;-)

  9. WOW Traineeon 07 Oct 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Please be cautious about sharing your home. An friend of mine decided to share her home with another woman. At first all went well. Then the roommate situation deteriorated. Turns out renting a room or even sharing a home/house is not without legal risk. Getting the other/s to move out is not so easy. Meanwhile, you have to live in this nasty and possibly dangerous situation.
    Even when I was going to marry my sweetie, setting up and sharing a home wasn’t an easy situation. Think about alternatives or at least look at local legal options & insurances. Of course, running a bed and breakfast or boarding home is an option, just be wise. Helen

  10. Kate in CTon 07 Oct 2008 at 5:08 pm

    An aquaintance of mine is moving in with her son’s family, one town over, for the winter just to save on heating oil, then back to her little house in the spring. First I’ve heard of anyone doing this, but sounds like a good deal for all.

  11. squrrlon 07 Oct 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Oh, sure, roommates are a PITA…we once had a roommate steal something very valuable of ours and then call the police on US (all worked out fine and I still cherish the memory of my utterly unflappable spouse poised to pitch him off the back deck), but if you need to, you can make it work. There definitely need to be pretty heavy-duty, in-writing ground rules agreed to by all, though, in my opinion. Outside accountability (normally that’d be a landlord, but I dunno how you’d arrange it in a non-renting situation) also seems pretty important.

    We were having dinner with our neighbor last night, and she said that since we’ve moved in (two years ago) she feels happier and more at home here than she had the previous three years they lived there. I nearly cried in front of her, I was so touched. Really being close to neighbors is more wonderful than I can tell, especially for stay at home moms like her and me, but in general, too. When Jacob has a project he can’t quite swing himself, there’s help to hand. When their deck collapsed out from under the husband, Jacob was there to help in minutes. We’re constantly loaning each other the figurative cup of sugar or sending dinner over on nights we know will be hectic…I wish this for everyone. I wish I could only do better at expanding this spirit of trust and cooperation to the rest of my neighbors.

    I totally hear what you’re saying, Sharon, about a lot of people being trapped, and I do have a pretty good idea, personally, what that’s like, but in some ways I hope it’ll turn out good in the long run. I think we’ve really been sold a line about the joys of mobility and the importance of the perfect career, and we’ve given up home, family, and community for it. When I look around at my friends and acquaintances, most of their deepest and most painful hurts come from being cut off from the people and places they left behind. Me, too, even though I love it here and am adapting well.

    Just some semi-random thoughts your excellent post provoked.

  12. Shaneon 07 Oct 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I moved with my aging parents a couple of years ago onto a small farm in anticipation of all this happening, and while I must say we have all been basically happy with the decision it isnt without its complexities.

    On one hand my parents feel like they are holding me back and that I should be venturing off into the world after a more demanding career. But now I am job hunting for something full time again they are worried that they wont be able to cope without me around as much.

    People who are outside the situation don’t know what to make of it either. On one hand they envy and idealise my three day weekends spent in the garden, on the other the stink of failure that comes from “living with your parents” at my age (early 30’s) is still the norm in most people’s minds. Luckily I have been an outsider all my life so other people’s opinions don’t rank too highly for me.

    Ill keep looking for something more secure and rewarding but luckily my current job as a personal assistant is relatively good, just dead end. Things may completely melt down sooner or later, or keep bumbling along, but it is comforting to know that I would have plenty of useful things to do if I couldnt get any work by just expanding food production on the farm. I could certainly make a modestly paying small local business out of it too, so there is always hope.

  13. Miaon 07 Oct 2008 at 8:21 pm

    I lived next door to my parents for years and now am living with my husbands parents. There is still a lot of social stigma attached to living with or very near to parents — people assume it’s unhealthy, over- dependant, a little wierd. And , I am having a way hard time sharing a home with my in laws– the stress is almost enough to break our marriage apart. While I know in theory it’s good, and remember my Indian friend who told me if he did NOT live with his mother people would think he was very wierd indeed, and think of my turkish friends who not only moved in with their in-laws the day they got married, but also are expected to do all the housework etc.,— but wow, the actuality is still hard. I don’t know if I can make it, and I’m ready to go live in a cave or a mud hut rather than day in and day out have to share space with my mother in law.

  14. MEAon 08 Oct 2008 at 9:42 am

    In other words, being stuck doesn’t have to suck.

  15. robinon 08 Oct 2008 at 10:51 am

    At the beginning of this last summer I moved my family of five back home to live with my parents. We were struggling with our small business and our home was in foreclosure. We decided to take the leap before we reached the bottom, so we stopped making our payments on everything to save enough cash to build a very tiny home (700 sq ft -actually a yurt) on my parents’ property. We left behind a $500,000 mortgage on a home that will never sell for that much and let the bank have one of our two cars back. We declared bankruptcy to get the credit card companies to stop harassing us.

    Now we share basic utility costs with my parents, spend not even a dollar that we don’t have to, and use food stamps and WIC to feed us what we can’t grow. My husband works at a dull job, but he’s thrilled to have it.

    It is not always easy to share space, chores and childcare with my parents and to use foodstamps and WIC coupons at the store. Overall, though, our lives will be much easier and more secure because we are sharing resources, both human and material.

  16. Evaon 08 Oct 2008 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for putting this so well “In a crashing economy, family, community, friendship and social ties are what we have to compensate for a lack of money. We turn to barter, to love, to friendship, to trust, to shared risk, to shared gain to make up what is missing in our lives.”.
    Rather than doom and gloom this is a heartwarming thought.

  17. Rosaon 08 Oct 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Robin, does living with your parents reduce your WIC eligibility?

    I’m sorry you had to go through the bankruptcy and foreclosure, but it sounds like you are handling it really well.

  18. robinon 09 Oct 2008 at 8:29 am

    Rosa, when I applied for WIC they counted living with my parents as income in-kind, the same way they did for foodstamps and MediCal. Even with that additional income we qualified.

    Going through foreclosure was hard to explain to close friends in the beginning, but as events unfolded in the news and we all heard about just how many people were facing the same situation it became easier. I just count us as incrediblty fortunate to have somewhere to go. The fact that that somewhere is a few acres of arable land is also fortunate.

  19. Rosaon 09 Oct 2008 at 11:07 am

    Yeah, you’re definitely not alone.

    I was surprised, when I was pregnant, how many of my coworkers had been on food stamps and medical assistance - I guess in Minnesota it’s about half of all families with young children get assistance at some point. And my stepsister has been on & off medical assistance forever - her husband has a good job, but for a small family company with no health insurance. Lots of time they couldn’t afford health care for their kids if she worked - the benefits were worth more than she could make, until she got her degree finished. (And, thankfully, she finished her degree in a recession-proof field just before the construction work started to disappear - I think she’s gonna have a house husband this winter.)

  20. Rebeccaon 09 Oct 2008 at 11:16 am

    I finally broke down and applied for food stamps this week. My family was on welfare while I was growing up and I swore never again; but, you do what you have to do. Their going to give me $176 a month; I can eat like a king for that.
    When I arrived (at 8:30) to turn in the application, I was the 25th person to apply that day. The worker said they are swamped. There have been so many layoffs that people are desperate.

  21. robinon 09 Oct 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I also feel like the $488/month foodstamps that our family of five is recieving allows us to eat very well. That’s because of our rice and beans-based diet and the garden my father and I collaborated on this summer. I am glad we transitioned to eating that way a year or two ago. Back when I had extra cash I spent about $700 on a year’s worth of dry goods, like what Sharon recommends. Now I am working on keeping it rotated.

    Rosa - I’m curious, what’s the line of work you refer to as recession-proof?

  22. Rosaon 09 Oct 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Nursing home nurse, in a little rural town where (like lots of small towns) the majority of income is transfer payments - that is, farm subsidies and social security.

    If Medicaid goes away, she may make less money, but at the point when the old folks homes close down completely there will be worse things to worry about than being broke.

  23. Frank Milleron 10 Oct 2008 at 4:47 pm

    A good article. Thank you for getting out the message. Now, we have had five tough days for the market and counting. Investors really need to make changes to their investing strategy if they have not already, especially since the market has not hit the bottom yet.. This means move money into T-bills and municipal bonds and invest some overseas to guard as a hedge against the coming inflation of the US dollar. I use offshore bank accounts for this and they have helped me. If you would like to learn more, feel free to visit my site.

    Best,
    Frank Miller
    http://www.theoffshorebankaccount.com

  24. Steven Earl Salmonyon 21 Oct 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Please consider that which could be a product of arrogance and also shameful behavior.

    Our lexicon of business activities is being expanded daily, thanks to the “wonder boys” on Wall Street. We are learning about derivatives, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, recapitalization, puts, short selling and so on. We are gaining a new vocabulary from the recent meltdown of the financial system and expected slowdown of the real economy worldwide.

    Where did this debacle begin? Well, it began in the center of human community’s banking and investment houses in the financial district of NYC. Supposedly, the “brightest and best” among us go to Wall Street, know what they are doing and do the right thing. Unfortunately, such assumptions turn out to be colossal mistakes.

    How did this calamity occur and why is the human family in such dire economic straits? It appears that grotesque greed and a culture of corruption have come to dominate significant operating systems of the global political economy.

    Powerful people in high offices within huge business institutions with access to great wealth are recklessly and deleteriously manipulating the unbridled expansion of the global economy in the small, finite planetary home God blesses us to inhabit.

    Self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe have surreptitiously “manufactured” a sub prime “asset bubble” and perversely fostered its uneconomic growth within the world economy. Not unexpectedly, this asset bubble did what bubbles do. The sub prime bubble burst and made a mess. Global credit markets have frozen, stock prices are tumbling and the value of the dollar is gyrating.

    Evidently organizers, managers and whiz kids overseeing the global economy, and the unraveling {ie, deleveraging} of the worldwide sub prime swindle, are running the artificially designed financial system of the global economy as a pyramid scheme. This is to say that the international financial system is being operated so that most of the wealth funneled pyramidally into the hands of a small minority of people at the top of the world economy where this wealth is accumulated and consolidated. Note that thirty percent of annual corporate profits end up in the accounts of a tiny number of people. At the same time, the vast majority of people on Earth, near the bottom of the global economic pyramid, are left with very little wealth. Does the economy of the family of humanity exist primarily to provide wealth to the already stupendously wealthy? The “bankstas” among us evidently think so.

    In the 1980s, this extremely inequitable method of distributing wealth and arranging business activities was called a “trickle down” economy. We have been repeatedly told how this ‘rational’ economic scheme is good because it “raises all ships.” And yet, from my limited scope of observation, the billion people living on resources valued at less than one dollar per day and the additional 2.7 billion people being sustained on two dollars per day of resources now appear to be stuck in squalid conditions. The ’ships’ carrying these billions of less fortunate people {ie, more people than lived on Earth in the year of my birth} do not appear to be lifting them out of poverty.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

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