What is a home?

Some say there is a thin line between love and hate. I think there is a thin line between every human. We are all very much the same, in spite of our differences.

I have lived for months and even years at a time with people foreign to me in my pursuit of martial arts mastery. In the deserts of Nigeria, I sought Dambe champions to spar with. I spent months in Columbia learning the juegos1 of grima machete fighting. I traveled through all of south China seeking the fabled Southern Shaolin Monastery. I spent a year in the American south learning how to survive and thrive in the bayous and swamps of Louisiana, before moving on to New Mexico in an attempt to track down a mythical group of native warriors who had dedicated themselves to retaining the stories, language, rituals, philosophy, and fighting styles of their past and integrating them into the present-day context.

One lesson I have learned from my travels is that modern Americans are often quite stupid.

A position of privilege

The developed world likes to talk about side hustles, but in many cultures the idea simply does not parse. There is no such thing as a side hustle—there is only hustle. The great struggle to stay alive, to stay relevant, and to move ahead.

Most people in the developed world operate from a position of privilege2. We have clean water, decent air3, shelter, and cheap calories. One hour of work at the current American Federal minimum wage can, in spite of the reduction in buying power of the working class, buy two people a cheap dinner. The extremely frugal and clever can squeeze a day's worth of calories for three out of that same amount of money4.

The FIRE mentality is one that takes these advantages and leverages them in order to build positions of strength, not fragility.

Housing is no different. People who approach housing in a naive manner are very likely to fall prey to a dizzying array of pitfalls, but there are opportunities for those who know how to look for them.

A home is not a showcase

In most of the world, a home is not a castle or a showcase5. In these countries, every house and household plays a central role in people's effort to make their lives antifragile.

This is an often forgotten part of Western cultural heritage. When people imagine a simpler time, when a woman's place was in the home and not in the workplace, they are imagining a fiction. Women have always been economic actors6, and the home has always been a workplace. Homes were genuine economic centers, with incoming raw materials and outgoing work product.

The traditional middle-American "main street" was not so different. They were developed along a mixed-use model, where storefronts and housing were tightly integrated. Small shops had attached living quarters, allowing for an additional income stream or reduced costs of living and increased stability.

Now many Americans live in houses whose only chance at adding economic value is through resale or rent. Some poor souls have Home Owners' Association (HOA) restrictions limiting their ability to rent out rooms or even the entire house, eliminating exactly half of their available options. Some covenants go so far as to limit the owner's ability to allow family members to move in during hard times, through mechanisms such as limiting the total occupancy of the house or limiting the number of cars that can be parked at a house.

God forbid you try to start a business in such a location, or add a mother-in-law unit.

An antifragile choice is possible

Blindly choosing to buy in modern suburbia means choosing to bake in fragility and weakness into your life. You can do better.

Look at the space of your home critically. Is it functional for your family? Is it functional for your side business? Will it pull its own weight as an asset, or is it simply a drain siphoning money from your bank account to someone else's? Is there space for a workshop or office? Could you rent out a room if you needed to, and how much would that bring in?

The kinds of upscale McMansion communities that command high prices are often deliberately structured in ways both subtle and unsubtle to keep out undesirable people. That is, anyone who is not already relatively well off (or who is not willing to go into debt in order to pretend to be so).

They do so in the name of protecting property values. This is akin to the male peacock's beautiful and entirely useless fan of tail feathers. Somehow, in our backwards world, the most valuable properties are the ones that are the most useless.

If you purchase into an HOA, make sure you understand what restrictions are currently in place, and be aware that those restrictions could change at any time. These communities actively work to destroy the ability to use your home as a platform for monetary independence7.

Is it worth it?

Your house should be the engine driving your personal economy, not an anchor weighing you down.

Andrew Reeves is an entrepreneur, touring musician, and practitioner of eleven martial arts. He reached financial independence at age 28 and has dedicated his retirement to fighting crime and helping others.

Footnotes

  • 1

    Literally, "games;" in this context, it means different styles of combat.

  • 2

    I would like to say "all of us," but it would be a lie. For some reason the richest countries in the world continue to struggle with desperate poverty and systemic oppression.

  • 3

    I hear the new EPA has a plan to rectify this.

  • 4

    Assuming a modest amount of infrastructure, reliable transportation, and sufficient free time.

  • 5

    Or at least not just a showcase.

  • 6

    The difference is that in the past, in much of the Western world, women's economic output was fully captured by the men who controlled their lives.

    The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was was passed in 1974 in the United States. Previously, women who were single, divorced, or widowed had to bring along a man to cosign any application for credit. Their wages were also considered at a discount, sometimes as high as 50%.

    My grandmother had to have a man help her open a bank account.

  • 7

    I once lived next door to a shade tree mechanic who was working on anywhere from two to four cars at a time. He was well on his way to becoming a millionaire before forty. He was also a nice guy who never wanted to make waves. He would move the cars into his driveway if someone on the street needed more parking available for a party, and since he worked with his garage open, he was able to keep an eye on the street.

    I never want to live in a community that would try to shut down that kind of economic activity.

Does your housing help you move towards prosperity? What do you feel when you see people attempting to run businesses out of their homes? Have you ever ignored overly burdensome zoning or HOA rules in order to get ahead? When was the last time you fought someone with a machete?

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