Paying it forward: Home remodeling

Quick post today as I’m jammed up on several different projects. I was driving home last night and saw this:

It may not look like much to you and me, but there’s a fascinating story of community resilience and self-reliance here. One thing you see often in Central America and many developing countries are houses like the above — that is, houses in which the owners slowly make additions like a new bedroom, a new kitchen, a storage shed, even a new living room.

That’s what’s happening above.

The fascinating bit as it relates to self-reliance is this: The owner doesn’t take out a home equity loan to make the addition, because such things don’t even exist here. No, instead, homeowners like the family above scrimp a little, save a little, maybe buy a few concrete blocks (“bloque”) at a time, some rebar, a couple of bags of cement, and slowly-but surely the remodeling job gets completed.

In this case, the owners may be expecting a new child, or perhaps a brother or sister or elderly parent is coming to live with the family… Who knows. The important thing is that the owners of this little home have absolutely no debt — they own the home outright. Nor do they take on any additional debt when they choose to remodel because they don’t even have that option.

More importantly, you can’t see it in the photo above, but this little remodel job is a community affair. Outside of the frame of the picture on the right were about 8-10 folks from the neighborhood helping this family with the construction — building furniture, mixing cement, setting the concrete blocks, etc. There was a big table of food laid out, and what looked to me to be at least 20 cases of beer stacked by the construction site. It’s been the same scene for the past three days I’ve driven by — beer, food, neighbors, and slow but steady progress towards a major renovation — a helluva party.

In the U.S., we used to call these sorts of things “barn raisings”, a collective action of a community, in which a barn was assembled quickly and inexpensively by members of the community. Barn-raisings and scenes like the above are a fundamental form of community cooperation called indirect reciprocity — “you guys all help me, and (as long as there’s beer and food) I’ll pitch in and help out when one of you need a new bedroom or kitchen.”

It’s something you see all the time in little communities down here in what many dismissively view as the “third world”, but rarely anymore in the “first”.

Part of the reason is because of the lack of community in many developed countries today. We may look down our nose or feel sorry for the people that have to live in houses like the one above, but they have one great big thing going for them in the resiliency department — community bonds that run deep.

As I’ve remarked before, their homes are largely utilitarian — places where they cook, bathe and sleep. Their “living rooms” however, are outside where they interact with other members of the community, spend time chatting with each other on the street, worshipping at the local church, playing checkers on the park bench, or partying and dancing at an impromptu fiesta in someone’s front yard.

In other words, self-sufficiency, a refusal to incur debt, independence, and community cooperation are all still a very important way of life here.

So, here’s a thought… If you’re thinking of an addition to your own home, maybe remodeling a room, or even just building a storage shed or vegetable garden, why not consider doing it the old fashioned way? Instead of hiring an expensive professional contractor or taking out a home equity loan, see if you can get some friends together to do an old fashioned “barn raising.”

Make it a community affair and promise to “pay it forward”… You’ll be doing yourself and your community a big favor.




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One Response to "Paying it forward: Home remodeling"

  1. Rob Wilson says:

    Excellent post – such insight is only gained from being out there, away from the insanity of “developed” countries, and immersed in community. Well done!!

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