Leanne is really smart.
Soon after we met at UBC in 2006 we moved to Japan to teach English. We used to drive from our small town of Ibi-gawa along the Ibi River (Ibi gawa) to Ogaki City on one of the narrow river roads that run on top of the dikes that line the rivers in Japan.
It was driving on the river road that I Leanne told me the Cheap Boots Metaphor. She read it in a Terry Pratchett novel.
When someone is poor they live hand to mouth. That means whatever money they make with their hands must immediately pay for food to put in their mouths. Living hand-to-mouth.
When someone is living hand-to-mouth and she needs a new pair of boots, she is forced to buy the cheapest boots in the store, because she needs the rest of her money to buy food and pay rent.
Let’s say they cost $30.
As you know, with boots and many other things, you get what you pay for.
A year later, the boots are falling apart and she has to buy some more. She pays another $30. (In south-western British Columbia, you need waterproof boots in the winter.) Our hero spends $30 every year and throws the worn-out boots into the landfill. After 5 years, she has spent $150 on boots.
On the other hand, someone who has a little bit of discretionary income can go into the same store and buy the $120 boots. His boots are guaranteed waterproof and they last him 5 years before the sole wears down. In fact, his boots are good enough that he could probably repair them and keep on a-walkin’.
The punchline to the story is that the person with more money ends up spending less over the long term. He spends $120 and she spends $150.
She has also had to waste time dealing with her cheap boots and shopping for more. In her boots, I might start to feel like everything is crap or at least everything I can afford is crap. How depressing.
This story has resonated with me for the 10+ years since Leanne told it to me.
How does this relate to Hammond Forever House? Well, obviously the more work we do now, the more we will save in the long term, but when we look at energy retrofitting, the metaphor is even more powerful. If we spend more to reduce our home’s energy use, it will be cheaper to live here, especially as energy prices rise.
I alternate between feeling depressed that we can’t afford to do this house (and the planet) right and feeling defiant.
We will find a way.