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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

I’m beginning to think I made a mistake

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Loud parties all over the neighborhood yesterday. Well, it’s Carnival. One loud week a year, no problem. A Fourth of July that goes on for two weeks, no problem.

But the neighborhood of my new-old house is beginning to get me down. Badly.

You buy in a poor neighborhood, you expect some stuff. And hey, I’m the person who once told a real estate agent I’d rather live next to tar-paper shacks than the McMansions he insisted on showing me.

But on top of the Notorious Neighbor from Hell, the quality of living here has deteriorated in the last year (and in the last 10, other neighbors say). There’s been some disturbing sh*t going on. Like kids throwing stuff into my backyard — including things that could hurt the dogs. Like kids climbing the rickety fence into my backyard to retrieve soccer balls from their games in the empty lot behind my place (I’m always glad to get their arrant soccer balls for them, but it embarrasses them to knock on my door to ask.) Like more litter than a landfill. Litter I pick up all the time but can’t keep up with.

This is the house directly across the street:

House across the street with garbage and dead cars

Beer refuse under stairway of the house across the street

That’s its permanent condition, too, not just some temporary post-party rubble.

No, I don’t think litter police should intervene (though if I were the landlord of the horde of young men who live there I’d be on their ass right now for treating my property that way).

But I am beginning to wonder why I’m spending so much time and money fixing up my own place if this is what the neighborhood is becoming. And worse, I’m beginning to feel like some officious old crank, fretting about what my neighbors are up to instead of minding my own business.

I’ve been looking at real estate listings and have sighed over a couple that have crappy houses but a couple of acres of land. But it’s not likely I can move any time soon unless I luck into a deal like I got on this place — rock bottom price with seller financing. Or get a lease-to-own deal, since any FRNs I have are tied up in this place. (Don’t even say the word “rent”; not with three dogs and a cat; besides, rentals are way higher than my payments here.) Even then, there’s a lot of fixing I still have to do before this house can go up for sale. And in this market, properties are sitting for a loooooong time.

I suppose an alternative might be to organize some sort of neighborhood pride movement. But that is so not me. And although there are plenty of neighbors who keep nice little homes, I wonder how much success anybody would have persuading boozy young renters to clean up their act.

Maybe I didn’t really make a mistake buying here. This house was my opportunity to get back to the NorthWET, after all. And I love the house itself. I love what it’s becoming.

But the trash and noise and rowdy behaviors are getting me down.

34 Responses to “I’m beginning to think I made a mistake”

  1. Pat Says:

    You should learn to play soccer with the neighbor kids – it’s fun! I didn’t know the first thing about the game till my son started playing years ago, but it does keep you young – or at least limber.

    You might even talk the kids into helping keep the neighborhood clean, and they in turn might take the idea home to their parents. Maybe they could find things to recycle and sell or trade. But fixing up the neighborhood walks a fine line between living in litter and noise, and paying higher taxes.

  2. Claire Says:

    OMG, Pat. You’ve just described my idea of hell.

    But as to littering … it’s these boys who are among the biggest culprits. Indeed if somebody could get the idea across to them that littering hurts the neighborhood and recycling could make them some money, it would help.

  3. Karen Says:

    Maybe a local boy scout troop needs a community service project. Call it ecology or environmental something and they may even qualify for badges. Back in my high school days, when we werent dodging dinosaurs, there was a group/club called the Key club which did all sorts of community service projects. Or maybe, if any of your neighbors are senior citizens, the local senior coalition could arrange some cleanup. Shame the local landlords don’t seem to give a crap about their properties.

    It makes me sad that you’re down and I sure hope it’s mostly a case of damp February doldrums that will melt away when the weather turns into spring.

  4. Claire Says:

    Karen, those are good ideas (about Boy Scouts and seniors). Hm. The scout troop I personally know tends to be into more wildernessy things. But maybe they’d consider something like this.

    Thanks for the good wishes. I don’t think these are just February doldrums; it’s actually been a short, mild winter and overall I’m upbeat. I’m just frustrated. The more I work on the house and the more money I spend to improve it, the crappier the neighborhood around it gets. As a born Ghost, I’d rather just avoid it all. Were I an organizer/Agitator type, I’d probably relish the challenge of trying to get people to take pride in their neighborhood and show respect to their neighbors. As is, I dread that and am the wrong person for that task.

  5. Claire Says:

    I just emailed a local Boy Scout leader. I’ll let you know if he has anything positive to say.

  6. Kent McManigal Says:

    Good fences make good neighbors. Sounds like you need to construct some “good neighbors”.

  7. Claire Says:

    If you mean replace that rickety old fence with something they can’t easily climb, Kent, that’s in the works. Definitely. I hope not only to replace the fence but to move it closer to the house so their misdirected soccer balls aren’t as likely to come into a fenced portion of the yard and so kids who are inclined deliberately to throw things over the fence won’t have so easy a target.

    Problem is, that’s just one of several large projects that needs doing as soon as I have the time and/or money. I’m juggling …

  8. Ellendra Says:

    Have you warned the kids that some of the rescue dogs you take care of might not be so easy-going about them climbing fences? Even if you don’t happen to have such a dog at the moment, letting them know that you’d “hate for them to get hurt because the dog thought they were intruding” might make them a little more leery. If you can say it in the right tone, they’ll take it as genuine concern instead of a veiled threat.

    Maybe sneak in a story about a cousin or someone who gets a decent amount of spending money picking up bottles and cans to recycle. Next time they’re short on cash one of them might remember and start cleaning the place up.

    True story: when I was little my brother and I didn’t get allowances, we recycled stuff. He bought a gaming console when he was 7 with money from soda cans. I did the same when I bought my first microscope. Yes, I was a weird kid.

  9. Claire Says:

    Ellendra — Yeah, I’ve talked with them about reasons for not climbing the fence or otherwise coming into the yard without permission. And indeed I don’t think anybody sees me as threatening them or even being bitchy with them (I hope not! We’ve always got smiles for each other.) It may just be that there are several different groups of kids, and not all of them have gotten the word. Or maybe one kid decides he’s going to be cocky. Or whatever. I’ll put up “keep out” signs and eventually get that fence rebuilt.

    Putting in good words about recycling is a fine idea, too.

    There are just SO many crappy things going on in the neighborhood right now. The NfH — another guy in his building who comes in and out at all hours speeding in a car that’s modified to make a lot of noise — trash around people’s houses — litter tossed on my lawn — deliberate damage to the trees that border the impromptu soccer field. It feels as if there’s more than can be solved. It feels as if the neighborhood problems are like hydra heads — try to solve one and two more come up.

    But I don’t want to just bitch. One way or another, I’ll find a way to do something about this.

  10. Kent McManigal Says:

    I have always thought that to live happily in town, I need a 10 foot tall (at minimum) fence that can’t be seen through and that trash can’t blow through. Maybe a solid stone wall…

  11. Ellendra Says:

    Claire, I think I understand. Even the most tireless freedomista needs to vent and get a hug now and then.

  12. Claire Says:

    Ellendra — You understand, indeed. Also, all my life I’ve worked on problems by writing them out. Now it’s just a little more public.

    Kent — Yeah, I’ve been wondering if the city codes would allow me to put up an eight-foot fence, both for the sake of the soccer players and me.

  13. EN Says:

    I usually shut up in these situations, but maybe I can give you some hope of the future. There’s never any good way of telling how the dice will fall in the Northwest winter. It’s a shithole, of dreary wet, green and gray. This all seems relatively normal for where you’re residing. But the weather will improve and along with it people will start to clean up and it will lose that natural sterility of the place that’s made worse by being dotted with human refuse. I have a theory that anyone who’s lived in a dry, sunny climate, even through the winters can get cold, has lost the key to the Northwest winter for all time. But it won’t be winter forever. Hang in.

  14. naturegirl Says:

    Your move to there was so sudden, and something that all happened rather unexpectedly (IIRC)…..It’s not like you were nearby and scoping out the area for a while before the move….toss in an economy that affects everyone everywhere, and those negatives always show up first in neighborhoods (which is why it’s changing)… you’re learning how it is there, now.

    Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a place where everyone has the same values as to how they take care of their area. Or it changes for some reason. And I must use myself as the example of what happens if a person chases “hermitdom” – waiting for the “appropriate place” – and the results of that ;) It can take a long time.

    I’m pretty sure that you didn’t go there to stay there forever, or if you did I missed you saying that. And I’m pretty sure that you appreciate getting there, being able to have the deal you got; and so it’s puzzling to see other people not have the same appreciation (respect) for what they have – ……I suspect you also have a bit of “trapped” going on, partly with the local incidents and the country’s incidents contributing to that (and I point that out with all due respect) & I know how that is, too…..

    As long as you feel safe, you might have to wait it out for awhile before you make your next big decision. Hopefully (maybe during that time) some of these neighbors will move out-move on and resolve things so you won’t have to……

    – that’s just my vague .02 that doesn’t say as much as it does say ;)

  15. Stryder Says:

    Perhaps this is why you got such a good deal? Sorry that you’re having neighbor troubles but you won’t be able to wait it out. I like the ideas presented about local groups and in every area there are folks who actually like the idea of standing up to the bullies of urban blight. FIND THEM! Once you have, a gentle nudge may be all you need do to get them working on the problem.

  16. clark Says:

    Heh, I’ve heard it said, women often just like to vent and don’t want solutions, which men invariably provide.

    naturegirl wrote, “Hopefully …some of these neighbors will move out-move on and resolve things so you won’t have to……”

    I’ve lived in neighborhoods like this one, complete with the under the steps trash pile,… these neighbors will likely Never move out, if they do, they’re almost always replaced by more of the same. Imho, urban renewal does Not work.

    Sound proofing and ear plugs sometimes help.

    Also, nothing says, “I have good stuff to steal” (even if you don’t) like a new eight foot fence.

    I knew some People who had two or three dogs and they didn’t have any trouble finding a house to rent that accepts pets. YMMV I guess.

    CW wrote, “rentals are way higher than my payments here”

    Seems like you don’t want it bad enough,… yet.
    Are you including maintenance and repair costs in that calculation? Interest too? Suddenly I’m thinking about

    However; consider 320 sq. ft. shotgun shacks or used mobile homes? 320 sq. ft. requires extra well behaved dogs though.

    This neighborhood story Is a perfect metaphor for the decline of our culture.

    Insert image * here * of house perched atop a large trailer while going down the road to a new location.

  17. Pat Says:

    I’ve rented a good deal of my life, and it’s neither fun, profitable, nor conducive to independence. One of the major reasons I moved last year was to have a garden and pets, not allowable at my former home. Nor could I influence my landscape–that too was dependent on the landlord. There’s no control over the quality or choices you get, if changes are made; and if rent is raised you’re stuck with it, or you have to move.

    As far as men providing solutions, clark, never let it be said they always have the CORRECT solution–sometimes it’s only the *LOUDEST* solution.

  18. Claire Says:

    clark — “However; consider 320 sq. ft. shotgun shacks or used mobile homes? 320 sq. ft. requires extra well behaved dogs though.”

    Lived in a one-room Cabin Sweet Cabin for nine years, then moved into an old fifth-wheel trailer that was about 170 square feet. So yes. Also, one of the real estate listings I’ve been sighing over is something like that — but with a few acres of blessed space around it.

    You’re right in several of your points. One way or another, I will solve this. Talking (or writing) the situation out is part of the process. (NOT just a way of avoiding solutions, but of working my way to the solution that’s right for me.)

    Good points, all. And naturegirl … that sums up the situation pretty well.

    Decline of the local civilization: there may be an article there.

  19. M Kellogg Says:

    I live in Tacoma, WA and totally understand how it is. People here think nothing of littering, damaging property of neighbors, etc. Husband and I have a piece of land on Anderson Island, WA and hope to build there in four years when I retire. Nothing fancy, just a plain little house. When we return from the Island, we always say we are going back to the dark side with vampires, dragons, and trolls.

    Check Anderson Island WA out, we could use some good neighbors when we get there!

  20. J W Hilliard Says:


    For the kids try this: Get them a new soccer ball. Take it over to them when they are playing and congratulate them for not sitting on their ass in front of a TV. Give it to the kid who is the ring leader. Watching them for 10 minutes will show you who that is. Ask them to knock on the door for you to get their ball. Make sure and take the dogs with you on a leash. Kids love dogs and will pet them. Mention the issue with the dogs and that someone has been throwing stuff over that might hurt them.Now that the dogs and kids are pals that stuff will stop. And the soccer ball retrieval will be no issue.

    For your neighbor: Call the landlord. Ask him if it is ok for you to clean up the mess since the renter wont do it. I did this and it works. Here is what will happen. Do this like a religion. It might take daily clean ups for years but several things might happen. First, the renter might be shamed into cleaning it up. Not Likely. Second, others might see you and help. Not Likely. Third, he might move in that time. Possible. Regardless, you wont have to look at that crap. I had 4 group homes down the street. I tried to talk to the company who managed them. No dice. I just started cleaning up the beer bottles, cigarette butts, etc. No bitching, just a little work. I didn’t have to get pissed every time I looked at it. Eventually the management team lost their license (no wonder). And new management came in. The new management team cares and cleans it themselves. Now there is no garbage. Not only by their houses but anywhere on our street. I think everyone saw me picking up trash and just started doing it too. Now its part of the character of the neighborhood – no trash. I did the same with graffiti and no more of that either.

    I like you chances with these options. Good luck.


  21. Claire Says:

    M Kellogg — Anderson Island — lovely! (I once came close to buying a place on Hartstine Island.) Not a single thing there in my price range, but lovely.

    JW Hilliard — Great ideas on both the kids and the trashy renters, and good on you for doing that with your own trashy neighbors. I’m definitely going to follow up on those ideas.

    FWIW, I’m feeling less discouraged and more (hate this word) “empowered” today.

  22. Matt, another Says:


    Don’t get discouraged. I have lived in the same neighborhood for just over 20 years now. I’ve seen it’s high points and it’s low points, the only thing for sure is it never stays static. The properties are a mix of original owners, first time owners and renters. Some places look great, some look trashy, some in between. Some weekends it gets noisy, especially when the weather is great. I’ve learned to live with the noise.

    Even though the neighborhood is considered in the “bad” side of town (interpeted as being the least expensive area to live) it is a great place to live. Property crime is almost non-existent, I think the residents go to other neighborhoods to steal, and many people walk the streets day and night. We have Soldiers, professionals, working class folk, and a few drug dealers and prostitutes. I say hi to them all and wave when they pass. Several years ago I adjusted my landscaping so I could have a good view of the street and neighbors and things actually improved. I can see them, they can see me and it helps.

    We do have a neighborhood association, not a HOA! It provides beautification tips, nags the city to provide dumpsters for bulky trash once or twice a year, holds a block party and helps us keep in touch with each other. It takes work but does make the place better.

  23. Scott Says:

    I used to pick up bottles as a teenager(they were deposit bottles then) and made more in less time than flipping burgers would have. Some states have bottle laws that make any bottle woth a dime(the same as deposit bottles were in 1976).
    Some churches also do volunteer cleanups(it’s fairly common here). It might be worth emailing a local church about.
    Keeping your own place fixed up has mixed results. At my last job, I used to ride my bike through some raggedy-@$$ areas filled with raggedy-@$$ shotgun shacks and even more raggedy-@$$ apartments. In the middle of all this Post Apocalyptic looking housing, there would be the occasional immacualte little house…and maybe one or two others would appear over time. Nothing overwhelming,but some improvement. I think a lot of rental property is owned by absentee landlords, people who have bought some cheap house to rent until they disintegrate,then sell’em. My supervisor at my last job did this very thing. Run down areas in a small town are far easier to deal with than run down areas in a major urban area.

  24. Claire Says:

    Matt, another. That’s great. You also help me to appreciate the good in this neighborhood. We also have very little property crime, and though there surely must be plenty of drug use and some dealing, the dealing is no longer being done in the lot behind my house, as I hear it was five years ago.

    I love that in your neighborhood, prostitutes and a do-gooding neighborhood association appear to peacefully co-exist.

  25. S.O.B. Says:


    Sorry to hear about your troubles. It seems that one way or another, many people live lives at other people’s expense. I’m now in the early stages of geezerhood, and think I’ve finally figured out what’s important to me. I can handle wind, and extreme hot and cold, but I gotta have my privacy and peace and quiet. I’d trade a nice home in a noisy neighborhood for the quiet of a fifth-wheel in the desert any day.

    Lots of interesting suggestions from your readers, and I’ve tried most of them in my quest for peace, but the only thing that ever worked for me was a “For Sale” sign and a U-haul. You are creative, and way more diplomatic than I ever could be, so perhaps your story will have a happy ending.

    My prayers for peace are with you.

  26. Pat Says:

    “Decline of the local civilization: there may be an article there.”


    But decline starts from above, and works it’s way down to the local. It is the local community that is society’s foundation, who knows how to build a society from the bottom up, and hold it together, working together, while the “top” is falling apart and ultimately brings down the entire society. Please offer credit and denunciation where they are due.

  27. naturegirl Says:

    I lived in Chicago & ‘burbs during the 60s-90s….neighborhoods (in those early days) were created more for ethnic reasons than financial ones….and during that era it seems the elder generations had more pride and different priorities than the subsequent generations that moved in to replace the ones who had left…..

    It was also during that span when the evil cabal known as homeowner associations were invented…and a neighborhood had to look all the same for the “good of the hood”…..they made choices for everyone living there, period……

    I haven’t lived anywhere else for that long to test my “generation theory,” but I’m willing to bet it can be applied in more cases than just financial reasons…..In short, you can be poor and still pick up your garbage….you can be poor and still raise children to be respectful – it’s priorities and pride and taking responsibility for your “own zone”…..

  28. clark Says:

    Interesting responses for sure.
    Man, I’d hate to spend a lot of time picking up other Peoples trash over and over again for a wage of not seeing it. The value is not there for me,… I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. Each to their own I guess?

    I just wanted to add, any time the carnival or keriokie bugs you, just think how lucky you are it’s not from a pair of Very loud horns from multiple trains laying hard on the horn sporadically throughout the night.
    …Or a pack of 40 motorcycles without mufflers rumbling too close past your house after they peel off from the stop light creating such a ruckus things on the wall begin to shake and you wanna jump out of bed at 2 A.M. to throttle something too.

  29. MamaLiberty Says:

    Each to his/her own, of course… but I could never figure out why anyone would want to live in any city.

    It’s quiet, clean and peaceful out here in the country. I can see the unbroken snow all around me right now, yet know that I have many good neighbors to call on if necessary… and know they would call on me at need as well.

    Had to chuckle at the idea of getting the kids to pick up the trash to earn money. I tried that with my own sons once when we lived “near” a city, and the city folks threw things out along the roads as they passed through. The boys gladly picked up the cans and bottles that had some value, but they could see no reason at all to pick up anything else. Soggy paper and such were usually left behind unless they were specifically paid to pick that up as well.

    And this was long before plastic grocery bags became the new state flag. :)

    At least that area didn’t have piles of used disposable diapers, condoms and discarded drug paraphernalia. Then…. it probably does now.

  30. Claire Says:

    clark — “just think how lucky you are it’s not from a pair of Very loud horns from multiple trains laying hard on the horn sporadically throughout the night.”

    You know, it’s funny what bugs people and what doesn’t. Several times I’ve lived very near train tracks, depots, or yards, and it’s never bothered me much (well, the train yard with its bang-bang coupling day and night sometimes did — but never as much as avoidable people-noises do). In fact, the years I lived near a train depot, I found the horn blasts evocative and weirdly comforting. Got to be that the only time they’d wake me up was when I didn’t hear them, like one time when somebody had thrown himself on the tracks and all the morning trains were held up.

    But people blasting their personal noises at neighbors for hours on end … makes me scream.

  31. Alex Says:

    I was thinking about your “neighbour” problem a lot. Essentially, there’re only 2 solutions fitting into libertarian frame of mind if your neighbour is not cooperating.

    One solution would be a guerilla war with him. You might come up with a plan, such as making even more sound, sending your dogs to his lawn to do their business, etc. But it may retaliate against you even worse, so I wouldn’t advise anything of the kind.

    Another solution would be to sue him in a small claims court for damages caused by his abusively loud music/parting. There could be 2 options – either try to pick one party and go by yourself into a small claims court and say you had lack of sleep at that night, which caused you day of work, and as a writer your average salary per day is say a grand, so you’d like tripple the damage… If he fails to appear, he loses. If he has to go to a court after a party, he might reconsider his behaviour (loss of his time would be his cost anyways).

    Or you can find a sneaky lawyer to work on conditions that he get %% of the settlement rather than paid by hour. You’d go to doctors, “cure your nerve system”, check your hearing, etc- document any long term damages to your well-being caused by loud music of your neighbour and let your lawyer to sue the guy big way. You would probably get only a little bit out of the whole settlement, maybe 1/3rd, but you wouldn’t need to pay to the lawyer anything. The same lawyer can represent the whole neighbourhood (something, that “officials” should do, but failed to in your case).

    I’d go for a small claims first, if that fails, I’d start looking for lawyers. Good luck, I love reading your stories.

  32. clark Says:

    Going to small claims court? I had an old man tell me once about something similar, “Just chalk it up to a learning experience and avoid the ulcer.”

    On top of that, I don’t know about your courthouse, but going into mine means I must take off my belt, empty my pockets and leave my pocket knife at home… I’d rather not be treated like a guilty criminal.

    The sound of fingernails scraping a chalkboard doesn’t bother me in the least,… it Is funny how that works, it bothers some but not others.

    Maybe the valley I’m in amplifies the railroad sounds here as I’ve never been bothered in other locations by them before either, and for some reason the trains are more active here than anywhere I’ve been before. Not to mention the low hum of an idling engine(s) they’ve didn’t do before I moved here is,… arg, irritating as all get out.

    When the new air-horns came out awhile back, the ones that can only be heard if the sound beam was pointed at someone and not heard by anyone else I thought they might be applied to train horns… so much for that idea though.
    The state could build overpasses seeing as how dangerous things are, but that costs too much, convenience over safety reigns.

    Whatchya need is a big sound wall between you and the parties. Put up a sign that says, “free dirt needed” and build a mound?

    Ok, I’m done. :)

  33. pat rizzi Says:

    If you have a zoning inspecter,call . It is up to the zoning board to protect your property value.

  34. clark Says:

    “… any force-based system necessarily compromises private property rights…”

    Here is a perfect Real World example of how property rights work without government, maybe something there for you:

    The Culture of Violence in the American West: Myth versus Reality

    … “What were these private protective agencies? They were not governments because they did not have a legal monopoly on keeping order. Instead, they included such organizations as land clubs, cattlemen’s associations, mining camps, and wagon trains.

    So-called land clubs were organizations established by settlers before the U.S. government even surveyed the land, let alone started to sell it or give it away. Because disputes over land titles are inevitable, the land clubs adopted their own constitutions, laying out the “laws” that would define and protect property rights in land (Anderson and Hill 1979, 15). They administered land claims, protected them from outsiders, and arbitrated disputes. Social ostracism was used effectively against those who violated the rules. Establishing property rights in this way minimized disputes — and violence.” …

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