August mortgage update: and the broken windows hypothesis

Last month (July):

Balance: $118,931.96
Years left: 10.4166667
P = $737.96, I =$476.44, Escrow = 591.95

This month (August):

Balance: $117,494.67
Years left: 10.25
P = $743.63, I =$470.77, Escrow = 591.95

Another unpaid summer month, so not much of a pre-payment.  I accidentally overpaid state income estimated taxes (as in… paid them almost twice over because I’m an idiot), so we got a nice totally unexpected refund last month, but I think we will just keep it in savings until we get travel reimbursements.  One months savings from this month’s prepayment:  ~$2.75.

When some of my house gets cleaned unexpectedly (DH needs a break from work without feeling guilty about it, for example), other things that didn’t used to bother me suddenly need cleaning too.  So I clean them.  Coffee rings need scrubbing.  Countertops need wiping.  Before you know it entire rooms are sparkling.  Even though before the small cleaning the residual squalor didn’t bother me a bit.  It is kind of nice having a (temporarily) clean house.

Of course, at some point we get busy and a spill doesn’t get cleaned up.  Which means there’s less push to clean up the next mess.  Eventually we’re ankle deep in cat-fur and our usual squalor.  And I don’t notice it until the next time one of us needs a break and feels guilty about taking one.

There’s a theory in social science called the Broken Windows theory.  This is the idea that if you go into a dangerous neighborhood and, instead of arresting people and working hard on getting rid of the crime, you do little things like clean up graffiti, fix broken windows etc, then the residents will start to clean up the rest of the neighborhood themselves, pushing out the criminal element.  The theory is controversial, the evidence highly mixed, mainly because there aren’t very clean experiments or estimation strategies.  Even if it does work, one problem, elucidated in a good talk I went to, is that neighborhoods tip with gentrification; once the neighborhood is nice, poor folks can’t afford to live there and yuppies move in.

Do you think there’s anything valid to the Broken Window’s theory, either in your own life or in the grand scheme of things?  What makes your house tip into sparkliness or squalor?  How about neighborhoods?

21 Responses to “August mortgage update: and the broken windows hypothesis”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Interesting theory. No, I don’t buy the theory at all. Growing up, we lived in a neighborhood of 3 family homes. There, the only people who kept the garbage off the sidewalks and their homes clean were the owner occupied units. As the owners started dying off and more of the units went to being all tenant owned, the garbage and dog poop piled high on the streets and the neighborhood went south and fast. Heck I even paid a guy in our apartment to keep the yard mowed and clean and I had to do drive by’s and nag him to make sure he was keeping his end of the bargain. He had a hard time taking out his own trash let alone pick up the garbage in the yard. I also saw brand new gorgeous section 8 housing get trashed in no time flat. I’d even say there is a whole population of renters who move every year just so that they can move into a brand new clean and nice apartment which apparently is much easier to do than just keeping the one they have clean.

    And, no, people weren’t less likely to throw trash in front of my mom’s rose covered front yard just because it was nice. She picked up trash and poop every single day from her yard. It was really sad that people care so little about the environment they live in. In his defense, I don’t think the tenant I hired after my mom moved realized how much trash got thrown into the yard every day because she kept it so spotless while she was there.

    I don’t think putting slobs into clean or nicer neighborhoods is an automatic formula for success. They have to have some skin in the game. Gentrification is much easier in areas where people are primarily the home owners of the units they are living in.

  2. Kellen Says:

    Good point from FirstGen. I live in a renter neighborhood that is moving to more owner-occupied, and there is a guy who keeps buying up all the for-sale houses and renting them out, and it is driving the owners crazy, because the rented properties are usually much messier.

    On the other hand, when I lived in Mexico, my Mexican friends would freely discard trash on the ground, even though they felt like it was wrong, because the ground was already covered in so much trash. In a town where the sidewalks are kept clean from litter, your average citizen with a conscience would probably be too nervous to litter where there was no other trash to disguise their deed. Or maybe that’s just me?

  3. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I don’t know on a larger scale. I know personally, I have experienced the clean is contagious thing myself. And I know FLYlady uses this in her system as well (the kitchen sink is always shiny and therefore everything around it also ends up shiny and it is supposed to pour out everywhere). Of course, it’s never that simple. If it was, my house would be immaculate after all of the cleaning I did last week when the bathroom backed up. I think about it often as I ride past some horrible parts of town on the train every day. There’s an elementary school, for instance, that’s celebrating the fact it’s a C school. The place looks a mess with weeds and trash everywhere. Part of you wants to believe if you show people you care about something, they’re more likely to reciprocate. But obviously, different people see different things as signs of showing you care. And there’s such a “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours mentality” in this country, I don’t know if it can be overrun.

  4. Money Beagle Says:

    I think the Broken Windows theory can apply but it has to be before things get out of hand. If a neighborhood, for example, is starting to go in decline, then stepping in before things spiral out of control can reverse the trend. But, if things have already gotten really really bad it’s probably going to be hard to apply this theory and have it work effectively.

  5. Liz Says:

    These sorts of situations – the broken window theory, or dropping litter in the subway – I always thought are classic examples of collective action problems. (My local subway used to have an anti-litter campaign where they explicitly said that if you drop the first piece of litter in a subway car, others will then follow). I do think these situations have a good deal of truth to them because a clean subway would benefit everyone, but the act of holding your litter is a slight inconvenience on individuals and they do not want to feel that they are suckers if everyone else is dropping their litter.

    In your own home, this would hold true if you live with several people. If it is just you, the collective action theory falls apart (I guess you plus your spouse lies somewhere in between). I live alone and I actually have the opposite situation. I will negotiate with myself that if I clean the bathroom this week than I don’t have to vacuum, so my house if usually in a constant state of “clean enough” but never super clean.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, I run out of steam real fast too (#2 here). Cleaning the bathroom is more than good enough; the kitchen isn’t going to get much attention after I already exerted all that self-control to clean one place.

  6. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Since mortgage interest is both the cheapest interest available and is subject to a tax deduction, maybe you should stop prepaying your mortgage and spend that cash on a house-cleaning service.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ve had this discussion before. Our effective interest rate is still somewhere between 3 and 4% and isn’t like getting money for free in these times of low interest rates. Also we’re looking at getting our income cut in half in the near future anyway.

      We’re happy living in squalor most of the time. A house-cleaning service would just make us upset when things went from clean to not clean.

  7. Spanish Prof Says:

    As for the Broken Window Theory, it’s hard to say. I think it depends on a society, a culture, but, above all, rent vs. home-ownership. In Argentina, during the 1980s, they built projects-type buildings, but instead of subsidizing rent of low income people, they subsidize home ownership. They sold those apartments very cheap to people who qualified (just to be clear, in Argentina there is very little geographic mobility because of a job. If you leave in a big city, you tend to stay there and look for a job there if you lost your previous one). It was probably more expensive short term, but my guess is that it saved the Government money in the long term because of the problems it prevented. I won’t say that nowadays those areas are beautiful nor crime-free, but they certainly don’t have the problems that I’ve seen in some inner city neighborhoods in the United States.

    “What makes your house tip into sparkliness or squalor? ”

    Usually my husband, who has a different kind of ADD than me (hyperactivity is a part of it, while I’m the opposite), has spells where he is so wired that he starts cleaning the house because he NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING. Then I feel guilty and I follow suit. Otherwise, I have a high tolerance for clutter and mess, although not for filth.

  8. Debbie M Says:

    What makes my house tip into sparkliness is having company.

    What helps me keep (parts of) it clean is having a good place for everything. For example, all my t-shirts now fit in my t-shirt drawer, so they are always put away (or in the laundry hamper, in the washer, or on me). This is the angle I’m working for right now.

    I don’t know what to think about the broken windows hypothesis. Like the others, I feel it is true sometimes but of course there are other factors.

  9. Carnival of Personal Finance #321 – The Fraud Edition — Narrow Bridge Finance Says:

    […] at Grumpy Rumblings shares her August mortgage update and the broken window […]

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