Encore Entrepreneurs: Debbie Durham’s story
Current income generating activity: Community Education Program Coordinator at Life By Design since 2009.
Housing Strategy: House Sitting domestic and abroad.
What she does: Find house sitting gigs as an alternative to paying increasing rents.
What is making her strategy work now:
Debbie has been able to find house sitting jobs since she moved out of her apartment in March, 2016. She charges a fee for taking care of pets. She has strung together constant house sitting stints over the months in the Portland area, but realizes that that may not last forever. So far, she has found all her house sitting via word of mouth. So she started looking at other house sitting options abroad.
When asked how she manages personal effects, mail, etc: use a post office box. But there are certain institutions that require a physical address as well. She uses a storage unit for most items, and assigns respective boxes for bathroom supplies, another for office, suitcases for certain seasons. “The paring down process is ongoing,” she says.
Debbie’s story of re-visiting, re-creation and re-imagination:
Debbie was living in Clackamas County, renting an apartment at a reasonable rate for a long time. The location was perfect as it was within walking distance to the store, post office, and other amenities. She was also taking care of her mother at the time. 2009 saw the beginning of an influx of people moving to Portland, and this started to drive up rent. Debbie’s rent traditionally had only gone up $25 a year over the years. But then the rent increased six times the normal amount. She was not willing to sign a lease. She looked at the current housing situation in Portland as a lose-lose situation.
She looked at her budget, and could not afford the new rent. Her health insurance at the time was about $300 a month, leaving her with a thin margin to live on. “I was working part time by choice to help my mother,” so my income was low and there simply was not enough money for these increases in expenses.
Debbie also reflected on how people want to do something meaningful in their lives, but don’t always get to do this during their careers. Many put off acting on their passions until after retirement. Debbie attended a housing forum put on by Life By Design in 2015. This housing forum focused on housing issues often faced by those over 50. The discussion focused on getting people to think about where they want to be in five years, and not waiting for a senior housing crisis to hit.
Given all this, Debbie thought about how to handle the changing housing landscape, what is important to her, what things make her happy, a how to generate income, and what she was going to do come 2017.
As an erstwhile Peace Corps volunteer, she had experience teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). ESL teachers often have employment opportunities abroad as American ex-pats. She also could find work as a writer or an editor. Debbie also loves traveling alone, speaking different languages, learning about the culture and how people live their daily lives in a country different from her own. After a search on the internet she found house sitting web sites to help potential house sitters find opportunities, including internationally. The international aspect also appealed to Debbie: housing is very expensive in the United States, but considerably less expensive in developing countries. Sure, she realizes there may not be much money in teaching English, but she will be making up for it in terms of paying less rent.
In her research she found plenty of web sites aimed at “a life of ease,” geared at those who are looking for options in developed countries. Debbie prefers to be in “uncomfortable” settings. That’s a mark of an intrepid traveler! One web site she mentioned is www.TrustedHouseSitters.com where potential house sitters can build a profile and make themselves available for sitting. Hosts often say they want retirees.
Her plan as of now is to go to Quito, Ecuador in 2017. She may also go to Nicaragua for awhile. She has connections in both places which helps.
A nomadic lifestyle fits very well for many people, at any age. When asked how she emotionally manages moving on a regular basis. “I have never had a permanent place to live! I am used to moving every five to seven years. That said, my strategy is to keep myself flexible, allowing for spontaneity. I keep reading travel blogs written by long term house sitters/travelers who are quite happy with their lifestyle. That encourages me. My #1 concern is related to being alone. As I age, sharing meaningful experiences with a travel companion is more attractive.”
The BSR take away:
Debbie took stock of her values, experience, and also what made her happy. Being adventurous opens up different avenues for her. She also has experience that puts her in a good position to generate income in an international setting. ESL teachers are frequently sought after in many countries. Many people want to learn English!
Housing is a reality in our current economy and directly impacts our short term and long term choices. If traveling, particularly in developing countries, is a good fit for your lifestyle, international house sitting could potentially be an option for 50+ people considering how to manage their living arrangements and financial realities. Living abroad may not be for everyone but it might work for you if it is something you have always wanted to do but were not in a position to do so in the past.