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Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 38 - Is it your duty to pay rent or a mortgage?

RowdyKittens, Flickr

Is it your duty to pay to live somewhere?

In this world of mortgages and rent, very few adults can claim they reside somewhere for free. 

But there will always be subgroups to refuse to follow the mainstream ways. Here are some categories of people, most of them qualifying as minimalists, who have opted out of mortgages and rents altogether. Why is their lifestyle so alluring, and what are some of its downsides?

The hermit

I just finished reading One Man's Wilderness, by Richard Proenneke, the man who lived as a hermit in the Alaskan wild for about 30 years. Arriving there with the bare necessities, he built himself a log cabin and the furniture, tools and other objects he would need.

The hermit life and the self-reliance it implies has had an appeal for me ever since I read Robinson Crusoe when I was 8. I replicate it, smaller scale, whenever I go back country camping with my family.

The nomad

The nomad category has also fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Modern nomads are those people who sold their house, and live on the go, sometimes in a camper or on a boat. The story of La V'limeuse, a family of six who traveled the world for six years on a sailboat, stayed in my heart ever since I read it, as if I had been there with them all along. The nomad life bears the unique appeal of the constant discovery: new places, new people, new schedules: you never get tired of anything, simply because nothing lasts long enough for that.

My own take on nomadism lasted three months, that I spent travelling Europe on a train pass (actually sleeping on the train, and sometimes on a ferry, as often as I could to save on hostel costs). 

More recently, a German student decided to ditch her apartment and live on a train to save money (and to avoid the hassle of dealing with landlords, apparently). 

The tiny house enthusiast

New trend in the rebellion against mortgages and rents, the tiny house movement is gaining in popularity. Its proponents usually start by mentioning they were tired of spending so much money to just live somewhere. With seducingly low costs and some elbow grease, many were able to build themselves a small but cozy living space. See what it's like here and here

The other side of the coin

At first glance, it seems like the hermit, the nomad and the tiny house enthusiasts are making an individual choice of frugality. However, a closer look sheds some light on the tacit agreement they have with others, and on the fact that complete self-sufficiency might be a pipe dream.

Proenneke, the hermit, depended on someone to bring him the life's necessities he could not find or build himself. His friend Babe made several trips with his airplane to carry such things, including his mail.

Muller, the lady who lives on a train, "tries to sleep at the apartments of relatives or friends. Often, she is accommodated by her boyfriend, her mother or grandmother." 

Williams, who built and installed her tiny house in a friend's backyard, also uses said friend's water, fridge, and oven. The friend is, needless to say, also responsible for a mortgage and property taxes that Williams does not mention (and does not seem to contribute to). Admittedly, the friend expresses great joy about having Williams in her backyard. But for the latter, this arrangement doesn't qualify as living off the grid.

And so for a lot of those self-proclaimed minimalists, frugality is partly made possible thanks to other people's generous input. 

There are even individuals who, in addition to not paying mortgage or rent, refuse to use money altogether. It's the case of Heidemarie Schwermer, this 69-year old woman who hasn't used money since the turn of the century. She gets around by bartering: she will, for example, offer to clean a grocery store in exchange for food. That seems fair. Some people, however, have commented on the fact that the house-sitting and house-cleaning services she offers to homeowners in exchange for residing in their houses are hardly worth the real cost of the rent/mortgage, utility bills and other home related expenses. Following that premise, one could argue that she is able to live mostly thanks to the generosity of others, not based on a fair exchange. 

In light of the above examples, do you think it is our duty to pay for where we live?


I might have become the queen of resisting temptation. We had to go shopping for kids' swimming suits (sun, sand, salt and chlorine have destroyed the old ones). That task involved facing one of my biggest temptations: sports gear and outdoor equipment stores. Surprisingly, I was able to keep my calm. My heart rate did go up a smidgen when we walked past the running clothes and the backpacks, but that was quickly and easily managed.

Even more impressive was my reaction to D bringing home a dozen doughnuts barely 48 hours after I decided I wouldn't eat sugar anymore. After an initial reaction of terror, I regained my composure, didn't eat a doughnut, and generally speaking felt pretty good. A week without sugar, and I must admit I haven't been half as cranky as I thought I would be. I did eat a little bit more fruit than usual, and I did buy a 80% dark chocolate bar, with only 4 g of sugar per portion, to share. I also lost two pounds, which was not even the goal!!! 

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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  1. It's an interesting question. I think that most people like the conveniences and comforts of living in a place they pay for and it's a good thing we do because we can manage a few people with alternate lifestyles but it would become very difficult if everyone was trying to get free or substantially discounted accommodation.
    In the last few years I have spent a lot of time considering barter/ pro-bono services and come to the conclusion that money is the best solution to making sure that trades are fair and equitable. In pretty much every other kind of arrangement, somebody eventually feels used or cheated and resentment breeds

    1. I kind of agree with you on the bartering. It works for some types of exchanges, and I do use it (I will write about it in a later post)... but it has its limitations.

  2. really interesting question! Id say heck no it is not our duty and more than that can easily visualize a society where none did and all bartered.
    I want to read that book you mentioned now as well.

  3. Years ago I read about a man who moved into the wilderness of Washington State and prospered there for many years. He had skills! He was a blacksmith among other things. He made money fashioning firearms with beautifully decorated stocks and barrels. Most people left in the wilderness would perish, this man could build civilization! My favorite quote of his, "If you can see your neighbors house, you are a poor man!"

    1. Skills are needed for sure. I also like not being close to my neighbors. :-)

  4. What interesting thoughts. That book, I'll look out for it. Thanks for sharing, and greetings!