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About the American Dream: Built From Scratch

What most of us think of as the American dream—owning your own home—can be realized without going into debt. I have always been a single woman, without financial help from anyone since age 18. Now 65, I have lived in my own county-approved, owner-built home for 31 years this month.
During the years I spent erecting and finishing and furnishing my home, I paid cash out of my small monthly paycheck for nearly every purchase, large or small. For a few years, I spent very little money for anything except lumber, nails, sheetrock and other necessary materials.
The most I ever went into debt was $800 for windows, which I needed to install before the weather changed. Whenever I did not have enough cash to buy materials, I quit working on the structure until I accumulated the money. For instance, I spent two years saving until I could afford the carpeting and oak floors. Instant gratification was definitely not a part of my agenda.
My ongoing satisfaction came from seeing a wall that I framed and stood into place, or a window I installed, or the wraparound porch that I added in later years. The greatest joy came when I completed the wiring, all of which I did myself, and flipped a switch. There was instant light!
Yes, I had help from family and a friend or two. Yes, it took several years to finish the outside as well as the inside. And yes, it was quite inconvenient. But the home is my source of pride, pleasure and accomplishment. This was all done with perseverance and, best of all, no mortgage.
I share my story with people who think acquiring the American dream must be an overnight experience that normally comes with a forever price tag. Instead, with patience and hard work, this acquiring process can be a fun, satisfying, strength-building journey.
The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Jaclyn Dee Hawkins is a reader from Merlin, Ore.

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