If you grew up in or around a religious family or community, chances are you are familiar with the concept of backsliding. For those of you that didn’t, it means going back to wrong and sinful ways or naughty habits, like smoking, or eating pork rinds and Ben & Jerry’s at midnight. Basically, it’s a bad thing and something you should avoid at all costs.
A year ago this month my husband got laid off from his corporate job. The day he walked in the door with his termination papers I couldn’t think—I was terrified. My parents had come to visit and we were going out to dinner later that evening. I agonized about making it through the night with that secret between us and them. I couldn’t imagine how we would tell our daughter.
As shocked as we were that day, we shouldn’t have been. We had suspected for a year or two that it was coming. I work in Human Resources and have managed reductions-in-force or layoffs at various times in my career. I saw the signs (and it opened up my mind, I saw the signs—sorry, digression):
1- There wasn’t enough work to keep my husband busy 40 hours per week.
2- He was the last person hired into his position.
3- He had a prior boss who wasn’t paying attention.
My husband’s job loss hacked our income nearly in half, and the reality of that and the domino affect I knew it would have kept me up many nights. Of course this was before I’d learned about “taking a knee,” so the hours between midnight and 3:00 a.m. were torture.
Something unexpected happened. We realized my husband finally had a reason to leave the corporate environment he’d loathed for years and the opportunity to focus on his illustration business full-time. He got a generous severance package since he’d worked for the company for eleven years, which is a lot more than the thousands of people got who went the way of the unemployed before him. And unemployment benefits would be available after his severance ran out.
Even with this drastic life change ahead of us, it was my husband’s face when he responded to the question, “So, what do you do?” that made losing his job seem worth it. “I’m a full-time illustrator,” he would say, his head held a little higher and welcoming the questions that usually followed. Once he was out of what he called the “soul crushing” corporate world, he became a new person. He had joy in his life again. He smiled more.
But there was no doubt about it: We were at a crossroads.
About four weeks after his termination date, we received a letter from our realtor. She said housing inventory was low in our area and asked if we knew of anyone who wanted to sell. We called her because we knew we wouldn’t be able to stay in our house for long on my salary alone.
Just the year before we had contemplated walking away from our house because we were underwater by a sickening amount (having bought at the height of the market in 2008). Selling, even if we only got out even, was a step up from our original plan. After talking with our realtor, we decided to sell.
Our house sold within six weeks. We didn’t come out even. We had to pay to get out of our house. Not a lot, but our savings took a hit and we had no money for a down payment for a smaller, more affordable house. Ultimately it didn’t matter because we made the decision to leave home ownership behind and backslide into the world of renting.
I know renting is commonplace for millions of people. For some, based on where they live, owning a home has never been or will be an option. But it was awkward when we shared our plan with our friends and family because we lived in a state where only a small percentage of people floated in the boat we were about to board.
That may have been true at some point, for some people. But those arguments didn’t work as well with couples like us who bought homes just a few months before the crash of 2008. It simply wasn’t true for those of us who saw our money, real and make-believe in the way of inflated equity, vanish.
It’s hard to buy into that message when you have to write a check to get out of your home, even after home prices across the country have rebounded since the day we saw it all disappear.
But we did it anyway.
We know that may seem juvenile when today many people our age (early and mid-forties) usually leave their homes to move up to bigger ones.
Some might say that we didn’t make a choice, that our hand was forced. That’s partially true—my husband’s job loss and a seller’s market gave us a push. But it wasn’t a push down three flights of stairs to a painful death (and shared mailboxes). It gave us the push we needed to live our life the way we wanted to, not the way we had to.
To some, it may have seemed like we were backsliding from the American way, the path all grownups are supposed to blindly plod down.
But what no one ever tells you about backsliding is that sometimes it’s a good choice. Sometimes it’s even the best choice.
Backsliding into renting freed us from something that had become a burden, and had driven my husband to take and stay in a job that bound him in what felt to him like a five layers of full-body Spanx. It also provided us with an opportunity to model wrestling with these soul-searching life choices to our tween daughter.
So yes, we’re backsliders, but we’re okay with that. We’ve enjoyed this regressive ride, free of the pressures and stress of homeownership, and full of the joy of living an authentic life of our own choosing.
We’ll see you at the pool this summer…the one we’re not responsible for cleaning.
What sort of life changes have you gone through, and how were they received by friends and family? What made you push forward even if people thought you were crazy? Or did you change your mind when they waved the straightjacket in front of you? Did you regret your decision, and why or why not?