SA 95San Antonio, Texas gets pretty damned hot during the summer.  Entire weeks of 100°F weather are not uncommon. People deal with the heat in two ways:  

Some people spend the entire summer (which is 3/4ths of the year) in a climate bubble.  They wake up in their air-conditioned homes, get into their air conditioned cars to drive to their air-conditioned offices, shop at air-conditioned stores, and work out in air-conditioned gyms.  The only time they feel the heat are in the occasional transition zone of the parking lot.  My first job was a grocery store bagger – my role was to get the customer’s groceries in their trunk as quickly as possible to keep their outdoor time to a bare minimum.  Land is cheap here, and homes are hermetically sealed ecosystems, with big-screen, high-def, surround sound entertainment systems, giant fridges, backyard pools, and spare rooms for home gyms and for storing all the stuff intended to make their lives complete. Perhaps this is why San Antonio is the second fattest city in the USA.

Hotter N Hell 100The other way people deal with the heat is just to live with it.  Construction and lawn care continues during the height of summer, runners and bikers fill the parks year round, kids play sports outdoors, and as you drive into the hispanic-dominated south of the city, the air conditioning gets more scarce, and you start seeing people at open-air taquerias, car washes, and other shops on the street.  You may start to realize that the air is still breathable, sweat is not toxic, and the human body can survive in a surprisingly wide temperature range.  

Some people even celebrate the heat, such as the Hotter ‘N Hell 100, a yearly 100 mile ride in 100° degree weather that 13,000 Texan riders find quite fun, though I was only able to complete 85 miles of it before the cut-off time.  Later than year in Dallas, I went for a hike around the Grapevine lake in 97° weather with my soon to be wife.  We had such a great time that we forgot all about the heat.  

Sophie in the parkThese days, I live in Atlanta, Georgia.  A few days a week, my wife and I take our daughter to the park next door, which is in an upscale neighborhood.  Occasionally we strike up conversations with the other parents there.  Sooner or later, the question of where we live comes up, and we casually mention that we live in an apartment complex.  I still remember the first reaction to my answer – I was instantly branded as a member of the lower-class.  At this point, any chance of a play date or further social connection was permanently rejected.

minimalismIt’s true – my family of three lives in a small one-bedroom apartment.  It’s a pretty nice apartment, in a good neighborhood, but that’s irrelevant.  The fact that I have not bought a house for my family makes us outcasts, poor, financially irresponsible, or otherwise unsuitable for social company.  Wouldn’t any responsible parent get a home for their children?

Most Fridays, some friends of ours come over to our complex so our kids can play in the pool.  Having a pool next door is one of the perks of living in an apartment complex.  Living next to a big city park is another.  Living next to my office, so I can get to work in less than five minutes is a third.  I spend less of my life in traffic – and I spend it on my bike.

If the other parents at the park bothered to ask, they would learn that living in a small apartment is a lifestyle choice, not something we do out of financial necessity.  In fact, chances are quite good that our financial situation is better than theirs — and a big part of that difference is our decision not to buy a home.  I’m won’t rehash the reasons for that here – read these posts.  What I want to address is the American habit of treating the home as a spaceship — a self-contained ecosystem which is expected to provide for all their needs.

Summer 1985 LitinWhen I was a little boy growing up in Ukraine, from the age of six on, I would wander our village all day, coming in only for meals.  Often I would have to be found and dragged in.  I wandered around the stadium and construction sites, using the frames and air ducts of buildings as makeshift jungle gym, the piles of sand as targets for jumping from the second floor.  

When we moved to San Antonio, I spent entire days exploring the city by bike, even in the middle of summer.   I dared myself to go as far from our house as possible, limited only by my supply of water in the 100 degree heat, and the need to be back before dark (I was too poor for a bike light).  

From the time I was a small child to today, my home has always been a place to eat and sleep, and occasionally work.  However, when I want social company, entertainment, play, adventure, a place to concentrate on work, or relax, it is far lower on my list of options.  

My ideal home is just two rooms: a bedroom to sleep in, and a kitchen to cook in.   These are things which I have personal preferences about and am willing to maintain.  Everything else, I am quite willing to outsource for someone else to maintain.  Every extra square foot or possession is a liability – a square foot I have to spend time maintaining rather than enjoying life.

The other day, our three year old daughter was playing with her rocking horse.  She had flipped it over and was pretending that it was a kitchen stove.  She asked me if I wanted some eggs and then pantomimed in surprising detail the process of cracking eggs, washing hands, frying eggs over easy, and serving them to me.  I remarked to my wife that perhaps Sophie needs a play kitchen.  She said no – first, as I just saw, her imagination served her just fine, and second, she knows how to cook many foods because she has helped her mommy many times in a real kitchen.  She has her own kitchen utensils, including a sharp knife and a vegetable peeler, and helps out to the best of her physical and mental abilities.  The real world is her playground.  When she needs to burn off energy, she goes to the park.  When she wants to be creative, she plays with legos and paint.  When she wants social company, she plays with us or friends.  (We have a maximum of an hour of screen time per day.)

Sophie - Arabia Mountain, GeorgiaThe real world is my playground too.  When I want to relax, I meditate in the park.  When I want to exercise, I ride my bike around the city.  If I want adventure – well, the Appalachian trail starts less than two hours North from here.  When I want to concentrate, I go to the office next door.  When I want social company, I go to the pool or cafe.  When I want entertainment – well personally, my life is exciting enough without Hollywood, but if I want to watch a movie, my 4k laptop screen is portable and better than most televisions.  

There are many examples I could give, but my point is: your house is not a spaceship lost in space.  Whether your have a family or live alone, make the whole world your home.  It’s far bigger and more wonderful than any poor imitation you could try to recreate on your own.   I’m not saying that you should never buy a house.  Just don’t try to fit your entire life inside it.