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October 7, 2008


Evidently this term now applies to squatters or members of the back-to-the-land movement. Although we generally like doing things from scratch, and we aim for simple living, I can’t really call ours a lifestyle of agrarian self-sufficiency. Neither are we on a squat-to-own plan.

I was going more for “homesteading” a la Little House of the Prairie. You know, staking your claim on a place by finding it and staying there and working hard to make it great.  Of course, we actually bought our house and land, but we’re also having to do those other things. Our place hasn’t earned its nickname, The Project, for nothing. We have fewer than 850 livable square feet of space that currently features wires hanging from the ceiling, holes and cracks in walls, leaks in the roof and zero closets.

We bought The Project three years ago and moved in last September. Some days we look around and marvel at all we’ve done: patched and refinished the floors, taken out whole walls, rewired, replumbed, painted, put up drywall, HAD A BABY. But at other times, when the clothes and dishes are piled high, or the rain outside is dripping into a bucket inside, or it becomes frustratingly clear that the most steps we can take away from each other and remain in the house are in the single digits, we wonder what we were thinking.

I like to believe that the more you invest in something, the more you’ll appreciate it.  I cling to this theory with particular desperation when visiting the “starter homes” that fellow twenty-somethings have moved into (by the way, am I the only one who thinks first home and starter home are not necessarily synonymous?). I’m happy for our friends who made a smooth transition from their grad-school apartments to custom cabinetry and too much space, really I am. And before I get carried away wondering what their eventual upgrade will look like (Buckingham Palace, anyone?), I have to remind myself that I’m the one who wanted the 16 wooded acres, the “charm” of an old house, the “experience” of hands-on renovation.

Enter our personal Homestead Act, which I’m signing into family law. (D and I maintain our own shortlist of rules, regs and compromises that have become necessary over the course of our young marriage. This one joins the likes of the Separation of Work and Home, a pact allowing no more than 10 minutes of work-talk per person, per night. They’re like New Year’s resolutions, except that we really mean it.)

Basically, the Homestead Act is our agreement that all of the dirty work, our many investments  (financial, physical, psychological) in The Project, the close quarters, and the [very long] time line are — or will be, anyway — for the best and totally worth it.

After all, isn’t there something romantic-Americana about this?  Circa Little House on the Prairie, it meant braving the frontier and turning a drafty shanty into a cozy cabin full of quilts. Times have certainly changed, and I won’t pretend to be that hardy, though we did survive one winter month with only the fireplace for heat. We’re no pioneers, but we’ve learned to do a lot on our own. And while our friends may be wondering whether it’ll become an eventual success or another funny story, I’m hoping for both.

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