Writing left handed

The Capitalist Kool-Aid

When I’m not busy daydreaming about kitchen cabinets or whether or not it would be possible to paint an accent wall to resemble Islamic tile, the anthropologist in me sits back, sighs a bit and wonders whether or not I’ve drank the capitalist Kool-Aid.


Is a room to call my own really worth 30 years of debt? Am I going to regret tying myself down? Am I just cashing in on the inevitable gentrification of yet another neighborhood? Is gentrification actually inevitable? And when does “renewal” and “community building” become “gentrification” anyway? Is it okay since the neighborhood I’ll be moving into is already primary white? And, if I have in fact drank the Kool-aid and succumbed to this particular facet of the American dream (home ownership), is it any real surprise?

I have, after all, spent the better part of three decades living within a capitalist society. I’ve grown up listening to my parents espouse the virtues of financial independence and sweat equity, of learning to fix things and “do it yourself” projects.

They are beyond proud of me and every time I make even the smallest progress on the home buying front, they buy me drinks to celebrate.

We celebrated my first “drive by” day (when, in late January, my mother and I took a three hour sojourn through North Philly to look at neighborhoods with my grandmother in the backseat).

We celebrated my first day of searching (the day I stumbled across the dead squirrel).

We celebrated my decision to make an offer and I’m pretty sure we’d probably have a few drinks to mark the completion of Tuesday’s home inspection if I didn’t have to teach in the evening.

I know they’re just being supportive, and given how easily I get pissed off and stressed out about paperwork (especially paperwork of the financial variety), I appreciate it. Plus, when I buy my own house, I and all of my dance company paraphernalia will be out of their house. But it’s still funny how excited they are for me. I mean, it’s not like I’m getting married, and isn’t that the normal thing for women my age to do?

Then again, this is a big step. This is a huge step. I will be plunking down every last cent, even my “emergency” fund which has sat, untouched, in my Barclay’s account over in London for several years (the rational being that I’d always have enough to support myself for about two months, should I ever find myself A) heartbroken, B) in need of starting over, or C) all of the above).

(Oddly enough, the thought of running off to London barely crossed my mind when I found myself single again back in January, even though I always said I would if it ever came to that.)

At any rate, it’s scary. And it’s especially scary going it alone, but herein lays half the thrill: I am going to buy a house all by myself. Without a husband. Without a boyfriend even. And although I’m sure I will curse this fact when it comes to the heavy lifting, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud. Plus, then I’ll be able to do whatever I want with it.

White Christmas lights only.

Fair-trade coffee.

Eco-friendly cleaning products.

An accent wall painted to resemble Islamic tile, about which I will be very stubborn and of which I will be very proud, even though it will almost certainly turn out like crap.

A world map shower curtain.

Vintage flamenco posters.


Of course, the rest of the world isn’t quite as forward-thinking as I am.

When I initially started to apply for a mortgage at Wells Fargo, the loan officer could not, no matter how I explained it, comprehend what exactly it was that I did for a living.

So then I moved on to a smaller agency recommended by an accountant. “They’re used to working with artists,” she assured me. “They have programs for low income folks.”

But when I explained that I’m adjunct/freelancer/dance instructor, the woman on the phone replied, “Oh, I see. Well, what does your husband do?”

Right. Because obviously I had some rich husband bankrolling my artistic pursuits.

I was so mad that I started crying as soon as I got off the phone. Then the crying turned into cursing and the cursing turned into a rather impassioned Facebook rant (Hello!!! This is 2014!!! I have the f*cking money! I’m going to put down 20% f*cking percent! I didn’t realize it was ILLEGAL to buy a house without a husband!!!) It didn’t help that I was still newly single at that time. In the end, I didn’t have the heart to tell my accountant why things “didn’t work out.”

At this point, I went on a brief tiny house kick.

And by brief, I mean all of 90 minutes.


“Have you heard of tiny houses?” I asked my mom. “They’re really cool. Less materialistic. Less consumerism, you know?”
I started watching promotional videos, reading blogs, researching zoning laws in Philadelphia, Googling designs for standing work stations and even contemplating whether or not I could successfully complete the 100-Thing challenge.

(Would I have to count each individual bottle of nail polish, I wondered? Or would my whole box of approximately two dozen shades, 2 removers, miscellaneous emery boards and cuticle oil applicators count as only one thing?)

“I could live in a tiny house,” I mused aloud, thinking that I could perhaps get on board with reducing my shoe collection by about 95% if it meant a life free of both debt and clutter.

“Yeah right,” my mother replied.

I was offended by her utter lack of faith in my newfound dedication to all things simple but then I took another look at my shoes and realized she was right. My dance shoes couldn’t fit in a tiny house, let alone my regular shoes, even if I did manage to reduce my boot collection (which, to be honest, I had no real interest in doing).

So I found a new bank, found a new realtor (who I absolutely adore) and accepted the fact that although there are (as my favorite intro-level anthropology textbook states) “many options that exist for living a satisfying human life,” that the ownership of a regular, non-tiny house, is what makes the most sense for me.

We are the products of our environments after all.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t dream of a “less complicated” time, or think romantic (and admittedly overly simplistic and not very anthropologically-sound) thoughts about living in a hut in the Amazon basin or a yurt in the foothills of some forgotten corner of Europe.


But always the thrill I feel in just thinking about having friends over to my new place for the first time wins out in the end.

I can already see the decorations, smell the food, taste the wine. I can even picture myself smiling, laughing, the mistress of my own domain in a fabulous dress and heels to boot.

And I am so excited I can barely sleep.

Well done, capitalism, well done.

11 Responses to “The Capitalist Kool-Aid”

  1. Zak

    I was raised by very financially conservative parents who have almost always had one credit card – my mom tells me she cut up her individual Macy’s, Sears, etc cards early in my life. So when I was 21, maybe 22, I got my first credit card, and I didn’t buy a house until I was 32, even though I could have afforded one much earlier, and I don’t buy the car with everything in it; in fact, I bought the cheapest car that meets all my basic needs and added power windows and automatic drive (for the first time in my life!), also at 32.

    My point to all that is: despite the fact that I spend much less than many peers, I was still asked similar questions by the bank when I called, and I was damn near insulted when I have to PROVE that I was a safe bet. They wanted three forms of credit, of which a credit card was only one, and since I didn’t have three credit cards, I was a “risk” according to them. Do you know how hard it is to find three forms a credit? Luckily, my auto insurance and power company wrote me letters; my cell-phone company, soon-to-be-former landlord, etc, would not!

    So, I’m sorry you were insulted, but glad you have moved on to better people to deal with.

    As for sweat equity and all that: I do love my house, and although it can be a money suck, it’s a money suck that I enjoy. Hang a picture, paint a wall, take a wall down, all my choice, no landlords to deal with 🙂

    • Zak

      Oh, and like you, I have many random things I wanted in my house (and now have some!):
      -a hallway of large prints of the sand dunes I’ve visited (six and counting)
      -a place to showcase my collection of rootbeer bottles
      -display shelves with custom lighting
      -a world and USA map with push pins indicating the countries and cities I’ve been too and hiked in (different colors for each, of course!)

      And so on.

  2. becky119

    Congrats! I think it’s pretty awesome that you have the guts to get your own place, especially one that would need some work. It’s ambitious, but from what I can gather (based on previous posts) you are not one to shy away from a challenge. Good luck!!!

  3. Landlord

    Yes, we are proud of you, and not only us, the “book club” asked many questions about the house (and I kept saying with fingers crossed, that the inspection, etc. all go well) and they can’t wait to see it either, and are so very happy and excited for you. And Zak, yes, we all drive very inexpensive, fuel efficient cars, have mostly inexpensive or upcycled furniture, love thrifting and are very happy being DIY’ers. This is why it was so hard for her to get credit too, she only had one card, which she only opened to get credit! I guess it didn’t matter that she had paid her student loans off???? oh well…could be worse.

  4. essbee14

    Congratulations – what an incredible endeavor! I think it’s so important and empowering to embark on big life decisions on your own terms, and it’s shitty that the loan officers reacted they way they did. Cheers to all the memories to come in your new nest!

  5. Khai

    I just. I want to buy a house. So bad.
    But I don’t think it’s as much the koolaid of capitalism as it is the allure of having a place to call my own, to build a life in, to build a family in, to really settle into

    But, I’d be comfortable doing that in a tiny house, so there’s that. Congratulations on your home-buying adventure!


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