Your house can be one of the greatest blessings in your life, or one of your greatest curses. If the house you live in controls you and your decisions, it may have made a slave of you without you even realizing it.
We don’t talk about slavery much in the modern world, but it is all around us. While you may not see people walking around with physical chains, spiritual and psychological bondage still holds many of us back from experiencing true freedom in life. Money and the trappings of the modern world can often be the cause of this slavery, unless we learn to use wisdom to walk in freedom.
In modern Western society, our homes are often the biggest expenses in our lives, and maintaining them (and paying for them) requires a lot of our time and resources. There’s a point, though, where good stewardship crosses into slavery — a point where your house owns you, instead of you owning your house. When you reach that point, you’ve become a slave to your home.
So, how do you know if you’re a house slave? Here are some warning signs that might tip you off.
1) You’re always cleaning.
There’s no way around it — every home has to be cleaned. And the more active your home is (with children, guests, etc.), the more often it will have to be cleaned. But for some people, good housekeeping can turn into a compulsion. If you’re still religiously cleaning every day (or every week) long after the activity in your house has died down, you need to ask yourself how much good you’re really doing with all that work. How much is it contributing to society? Are there other things that you could be doing with your time that would be more productive, more profitable, or more helpful to others? If you feel restricted in your life because of the time you dedicate to cleaning your house, you may be a slave.
2) You restrict your house’s use.
The homes that we own exist to serve us — to shelter our families and to allow us to show hospitality to guests. But if you’re the kind of person that is very particular about the way your house looks (if everything has to be “just so”), you may find yourself restricting the way that you and others use your house. If you don’t allow people to eat in the dining room (because the furniture in there is too “nice”) or don’t let your kids play in the living room (because they may mess up the carpet), you’re beginning to serve your house (instead of vice versa). People who take this to extremes are reluctant to have guests over or even enjoy their houses themselves. If this is you, then you have to ask yourself: Who owns who?
3) You’re house poor.
Housing is usually the biggest expense in any individual or family’s budget. Because of this (and the modern attitude of judging people based on the size of their home), it’s tempting to over-extend yourself to get the biggest, best house that you possibly can. Most financial experts say that you’re house payment shouldn’t exceed more than 25-33% of your total income. If you’re spending more than that on housing, it’s going to hold you back in other areas. You may not be able to upgrade your vehicles as often as you need to. You may not be able to save for emergencies or invest for education or retirement the way you should. And you may be so stretched that you find yourself leaning on credit cards and other consumer credit just to make ends meet every month. All of these things spell trouble.
4) You have a long mortgage.
The 30-year mortgage may be as traditional as Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Carrying such a long mortgage on your home means that you could be in debt on a house for most of your adult life. Even worse than that is the fact that 30-year mortgages usually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of the loan. A much better option is a 15-year mortgage, which gets you out of debt faster and saves you tens of thousands of dollars in interest, while only modestly increasing your monthly payment. If you’ve opted for a 30-year mortgage, you’re likely stretching to get the very most house you can for a low monthly payment, but it’s going to cost you big-time in the long run.
5) You’re limiting your life options.
Because buying a house is usually a long-term purchase, the decisions that we make about home purchases often have ramifications that stretch far down the road. Unfortunately, unwise purchases can limit your flexibility and options in life. If you buy a nice home while you and your spouse have two jobs and no kids, maintaining that nice home may force you to keep two jobs after you start having children, eliminating the flexibility for one parent to stay home. You may find that your home puts you in a school district that you don’t like, or that it makes your commute to work unbearable. If you’re not willing or able to make changes to your living situation in order to give you the flexibility you want in life, you’ve become a slave to your house.
House slavery is a scary thing, and a tough problem to solve. The solutions are out there, but sometimes they’re more difficult than we’d like. What are you willing to do to become free?
Photo by Tom Baugis. Used under Creative Commons License.