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UUJEC Issues & Actions Blog

The Buy Nothing Project, by Terry Lowman

Oct 18 2017

I recently read an article about a website,  Although I wouldn't typically use such a website, my Mom's farmhouse burned down in 2007 and we rebuilt a new house with 2/3 of the insurance--my brother didn't want to be involved so my husband and I rebuilt the house in partnership with my silent partner sister who wasn't involved with construction. 

We didn't just rebuild the old house, we radically changed--expanding the footprint slightly and building a two-story house instead of a story and a half.  Before we started, we polled the family on what they would like.  Turns out no one wanted a bedroom in the basement and a bathroom by the bedrooms would be really nice.  So, we re-arranged things so that the best view was in the living area and put all the bedrooms upstairs.

But what I mostly wanted to share was using Craigslist to find building materials and furnishings.  I went through the listings of furniture and building materials at least once a day.  I traveled all around central Iowa to source these goods.  And that's where it got interesting.

I went places I had never been.  I met people I never would meet otherwise.  I went to a trailer park--I was invited in, but ignored until the cartoon was done...and then I was informed I was in the wrong mobile home.  They were very friendly--it looked like the whole neighborhood was there--10-12 people watching TV.

I went to fabulous homes too.  I was so busy that I didn't see what was coming--it was 2008 and the economy was swirling down the toilet.  I bought bar stools from a couple--it was a gorgeous home--they probably got caught short--an expensive lifestyle and dwindling income.

I bought a beautiful prairie style bed from a lesbian couple in Des Moines--one of the times I paid full price for an expensive item.  How could I haggle with my LGBT family?

A listing for "manufactured" stone led me on a goose chase--it was free, but I had to be there by 8 PM and it was 7 PM.  I rushed to get it because we needed something for the fireplace.  It was an awesome bargain.

When the house was finished, I told a writer friend that she should write a book about Craigslist shopping.  She said "no", but someone made a movie called Craigslist Joe about traveling money free, depending on the kindness of strangers from Craigslist.  And people were really kind.

It was a very special time because people were jettisoning possessions, hoping to get through the economic meltdown.  I really didn't do much haggling, particularly as I came to understand some people's desperation. I tried to buy things that reminded me of my parents' old possessions--a pressure cooker from the 40s, a colander like my Mom used to use.

I call it the house that Craigslist, creativity and clearance sales built.  Since building had come to a stop, I was able to buy a lot of things on clearance--all the appliances, vanities, attic fans...  A few things survived the fire and I had saved a few things for my children when Mom moved to the nursing home.

In the end, I used up the money we had, but more or less, I built the house on budget.  There were a few special things that I wanted that I paid for myself, but we're talking less than 1% of the cost of rebuilding the house.

We were done in December 2008 and had Christmas dinner there.  Mom lived another three years, so she was able to enjoy seeing her home rebuilt.  It was a lot of work, but very rewarding.  When you build "sweat equity" the home is really a home. 

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