I like to think of myself as a bit of an adventurer. I roam the country with no permanent address, working here, there and everywhere to provide my family with organic food and changing vistas. We fancy ourselves minimalists. It all sounds very romantic to me - right up until the point that I have to convince another adult that I’m a dependable grown up.
Last week I had the arduous job of finding my family a home to rent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More specifically, it was my responsibility to talk a landlord into letting me pay them to live in their property.
It turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.
I haven’t rented since I was 19 years old. I was fresh from my first year of college, pregnant, and working part time at a taco joint. I had one of those credit cards they give kids in front of the campus bookstore in exchange for a free beach towel; I’d mostly used it to pay for gas and pizza. It took me exactly one hour to find a one bedroom apartment and sign a lease.
Fast forward to last week, and I’m a 32-year old woman who has owned three homes and regularly feeds four mouths. I have no consumer debt and I recently managed to fund a year of traveling around the United States for my entire family. I’m prepared to pay three months of rent in cash (or rather, first month, last month, and a security deposit) because I know our credit scores took a hit when we short sold our house in Florida (thank you, Orlando real estate bubble.)
I experienced my very first rejection from a landlord.
As it turns out, not living anywhere for a year isn’t so much as adventurous as it is sketchy. Freelancing? Totally cool when it comes to being able to grab lunch with your girlfriends in the middle of the week. Totally less cool when it’s your family’s primary income. Your husband doesn’t have a job because you don’t actually live in this city yet? It’s nice that you have faith in his work ethic, but that won’t fly with a management company.
I suddenly felt more stupid than adventurous. Worse, I felt irresponsible. Reckless. Unreliable.
Although I had the bank statements and spreadsheets to prove that we were embarking on a financially-feasible plan, I began to question our judgment. Were we looking to spend beyond our means? Were our kids one doctor’s visit away from a homeless shelter? Should we ask my in-law’s about moving into their basement permanently and begin sending out resumes to corporations that issued W-2s and benefits statements at the end of each year?
I was shaken. Hard.
Of course, I had still had to find my family a place to live. I kept searching and did, eventually, find both the right home and a landlord willing to rent to us. In fact, our new home is even more perfect for us than the one we’d been denied - life seems to work out that way - but a little bit of the rose dust has been wiped from my glasses.
I’m rethinking the importance of not only being able to live the life we want, but being able to prove that our lifestyle is sustainable.
On principle, that ticks me off. In reality, I realize that’s the price you pay when you have to rely on someone else - whether to loan you money or let you live in their space. We either become completely self sustaining, or we acknowledge that there are rules for playing in the community sandbox. I’m honestly not sure yet which path I’d rather pursue.