By Luke Erickson
Every person needs a healthy place to exist. That’s why we never make eye contact with others at fast food joints, because we all know we’re not there to be our best-selves. “I’m just here to pick up something for a friend…I mean enemy, I would never give this stuff to a friend…or my kids….Uh, yeah, I’ll take 4 kids’ meals, please.”
In a given day, we typically find ourselves in our workplaces, commuting in cars and buses, at schools, gyms, walking the neighborhood, driving our towns (in search of the latest issue of the Idaho Family Magazine no doubt), and generally taking advantage of the conditions of our broader country and planet. But at the forefront of all of this are our homes.
Your choices of when and where to buy a home impact far more than where you’ll eat, sleep, and binge-watch “Stranger Things.” You’re also making a whole heap of lifestyle decisions along with the house. No pressure! (…like a drip, drip, drip that will never stop. You got that if you have kids. And, seriously, it’s not a bad idea to check the water pressure before you buy).
But, yes, so many things are affected by our home purchase and renting decisions, like commute times, accessibility to local amenities such as greenspaces, grocery stores, libraries, schools, and your ability to make it to a coffee shop before you fall asleep in your car and die in a fiery death, unless it’s a self-driving car, which, in 2022, still means you might die a fiery death. Smart people are on it folks – with coffee, humankind can do this!
Sure, as a personal finance educator I believe that first, a home purchase is a huge financial decision, and one that should be planned for carefully. But it’s also a major lifestyle decision that has long-term and sometimes unpredictable ripple effects. In so many ways it is the foundation for countless other decisions that affect our health and happiness. It even affects our social circles, and the friends our kids will ultimately make, the values they will ultimately develop. It even determines the particular set of “Joneses” that we’ll try to keep up with. It can impact our willingness to get out and walk, run, socialize, worship, party, explore and the ways that we’ll grow. In many ways, the “tiny house” movement is an acknowledgment that only so much health and happiness can be found within the walls of your home, and that time spent outside of the house, socializing, working, being physical, and enjoying nature has extensive value.
Indeed, our time outside of the home has a plethora of opportunities for healthy living, but we can’t ignore the fact that we do end up spending a good deal of our lives inside our homes. If nothing else, this is something we all learned during the ‘Rona, when the vast majority of us were homebound for months on end.
Among the things I learned during this Covid-quarantine is that the “home office” in our house – which also doubles as a guest bedroom, and triples as an I-don’t-know-where-this-goes catch-all space – was right next to the main TV room and not a truly quiet place to work, unless you’re inspired by loud YouTube videos of kids playing Minecraft and screaming at each other. I also learned that, especially in the winter months, the house doesn’t get a lot of direct sunshine, which science says can boost serotonin and keep you calm, positive, and focused. I also gained a heightened awareness of the importance of keeping clutter down and maintaining clean and calming living spaces.
In some cases, creating a healthy home doesn’t mean major changes, perhaps it’s something as simple as making a better cleaning routine. In other cases, it might be wise to spend some time or money on upgrades like additional sound proofing between your office and the kids’ TV.
And when it comes to our homes, there is one activity that we do far more than any other: sleep. Or, if you have small kids, attempt to sleep. Sleep is one of the three main pillars of physical health along with exercise and nutrition. If we’re following recommended guidelines, we’ll be spending about 7 or 8 hours a day in bed. These hours are most effective when your room is dark, uncluttered, free of screens, quiet, peaceful, cool, and free of work and other distractions or possible sources of stress. And since you spend far more of your life on your mattress than you do any other piece of furniture, you should also invest in something quality and comfortable. Your bedroom should have a retreat vibe and be a place that induces calmness and tranquility. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the option of one of my professorial lectures, which seems to cause universal narcolepsy.
While creating an appropriate atmosphere in the bedroom is especially important, you should approach the rest of your house the same way. You want it to be a space uniquely yours, a place that gives you some pride because it is a representation of you, your values, and your energy. Entering your home should be a positive experience for both you and your guests. And for potential burglars too – the vibe in your house will be so positive that the minute they creep in through the broken window they will be persuaded to abandon a life of crime and instead see the good and hope in the world.
In so many cases, it’s not about making more money to be able to afford healthier surroundings, but simply redirecting the resources we already have in healthier ways. In my opinion, these efforts may even end up SAVING you money because they can significantly improve things like mental, physical, and spiritual health and avoid typical spending we might otherwise do in these areas.
All of these things take thought, care, intention, and yes…some well-focused spending. And while it can be easy to gloss over things like the atmosphere of your home, investing resources into it can produce significant returns for holistic health, happiness, and life experience. I strongly believe that healthy decisions pay for themselves.
A healthy place to exist doesn’t often happen by accident. The decisions you make related to your home, neighborhood, and community can pay you back significantly if you make them with intention, thought, and care. And if you can do nothing else to make your life a little healthier, at least take routes around town that avoid fast food joints. Wait, what? They put in a new donut shop? Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact.
Luke Erickson, Ph.D., AFC®, is an associate professor of personal finance for the University of Idaho. He works and lives in the Treasure Valley; @drlukeerickson (Instagram), email@example.com