Saturday, December 22, 2012
When Tony Tolbert turned 50 last year, he marked the occasion by moving in with his mother.
The decision wasn't about money. He's a Harvard-educated attorney, on the staff of UCLA's law school. And it wasn't because his mother wanted or needed him home.
It was Tolbert's response to the sort of midlife milestone that prompts us to take stock. Instead of buying a sports car, he decided to turn his home — rent free — over to strangers.
He'd been inspired by a magazine article about a family that sold their house, squeezed into a tiny replacement and donated to charity the $800,000 proceeds from the sale. "It just struck me how powerful a gesture that was," Tolbert said. "It challenged me to think about what I could do, where I might have some overflow in my life."
His overflow was a modest home on a quiet tree-lined street a short walk from Crenshaw Boulevard. He'd lived there alone for 10 years.
Last January, he moved out and a young single mother with three little children moved in. A South Los Angeles domestic violence program chose the family from its shelter and brokered the deal. He agreed to let her pay one dollar a month, and imposed on her only one rule: "Whatever has to happen to keep things drama free, that's what I need you to do." ...Tolbert left the good furniture for the woman who moved in. He didn't hide his grandmother's heirloom quilt or put away the fine art."I told her straight out, this is my home. I'm leaving these things for you to enjoy. I want you to be comfortable here."
That was a learning process for Tolbert: "It was a good exercise in not grasping and hanging on to stuff.... Short of them burning the house down, I had to accept that whatever they tear up, it can also be repaired." ... "I'm just a regular dude," he said. "I'm not brave. I'm not a millionaire, with houses to burn. I just wanted to do something to help somebody."