Vail Daily column: Lessons from my roomies
September 3, 2014
Not too long ago I found myself in the fortunate position to purchase a home in Eagle. Priced at around $215,000, I think it is still one of the few homes that has appeared on the market under $250,000 in the past six months or so. That's a whole other problem, but without revisiting that topic, I'd like to talk about the great changes that have occurred in my life since becoming a homeowner.
You see, I instantly knew that I had too much home to be there by myself. I opted to put up a few Craigslist ads, send out my networking feelers, and in less than a week, I had my other two bedrooms rented — rented, by the way, at rates that I paid nearly eight years ago for an 800-square-foot apartment in another state. Though I somehow managed to kill my yard during the first two weeks of May (always water profusely after you fertilize), I'm grateful for my roomies, and more than simply because they are kind enough to cover my mortgage.
Steve is a philosophically grounded man. I never met him before he committed to rent one of the bedrooms. He first pulled up to my house with a 24-foot U-haul trailer, which he easily determined would not fit anywhere within the 1400-square-foot townhome in which we would be living. He brought with him two black Labs, Maggie and Trapper. Steve was a professional facilities manager for years. Living in Pennsylvania, he decided to do something different, and now he guides flyfishermen for a living. I'm grateful for the life experience he has had that he has not yet shared with me. You can tell by looking at him that he has lived … sometimes harder than might be prudently justified. I think of our late nights talking philosophy, ethics, and his unique ability to fix something in the house that I have absolutely no business attempting to fix.
Our other roommate, Chris, is a Navy man. He talks exactly like where he is from — Georgia. Chris has a unique special ability to start a conversation with inanimate objects. After a day of working, that inanimate object often happens to be me, as I attempt to keep up with the conversation and maintain eye contact. Chris has lived in Okinawa and did payroll for the Navy before somehow deciding to start hopping around the country. He and I tend to be able to banter pretty well when we have the topic to throw around. We worked on attempting to fix the landscaping at the house. The previous owners had, for some reason, buried river rock in every spare patch of earth possible. Chris is one of the kindest people I have ever met. He seems to have a faith in humanity in general that refills my well whenever I get to that critical cynical level.
The three of us, bachelors, come from different areas of the country, different family experiences and even different generations. The lessons I'm learning from bouncing my thoughts off of these two men have provided me with unquestionable insight into my own life, my own biases and my own shortcomings.
One of the key downsides to having a limited amount of time on this planet is that our memories are incredibly short. In fact, our cultural memory is so short in the USA that each new generation in the past 60 years has made considerably different decisions than the generation prior. I suppose that we would expect every new generation to do something different, but what about taking what is best from the previous generation? When we take a moment to consider that the entire history of the United States could be summed up in about 10 generations or less for most of our families (four for mine), it becomes even more apparent that we need to pay attention to cultures that are older than ours.
Prior to World War II, more than 25 percent of the country lived in households that contained two or more adult generations. By 1980, only about 12 percent of the country lived in a household like this. The expansion of individuals away from where they grew up was a natural consequence of modern transportation developments, a growing post-war economy, and the like. I'm not going to suggest that the expansion of individuals to live as individuals is necessarily a bad thing, but can you think of how much money we would have saved as a country if we had simply lived multigenerationally during the past 50 years?
I know what you're thinking: "But Ben, I hate my parents … that's why I moved to Colorado in the first place." Yeah, I get that, but when you strike it rich by starting your own dispensary, and as your pop ages, wouldn't it make more sense to have him around? You see, caring for the elderly has only recently become a public institution. In most older cultures, the young have always known that they would be taking their parents back in the sunset of life.
Actually take a moment to consider the potential benefits of having a few generations around. Free childcare for you, for one. Cost savings on household expenses. Multiple and diverse parenting styles. A never-ending stream of stimulus for your kids as they learn from multiple sources, for better or worse. Shared workload for housework. The economies of scale are endless.
Want to hear something shocking? A record number of Americans are starting to think that all of this is a good idea again. In fact, as of 2008, more than 50 million Americans are living in multigenerational households — the largest number ever. Even though this represents only about 16 percent of the population, the trend is growing.
So there it is — I've solved the budget deficit for the country, fixed Social Security, improved elderly care and improved national education all in the period of about five minutes. It might be worth taking a look at what cultures that are far older than ours are doing.
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He can be reached at 970-471-3546.