Since I am about 85% downsized and already living a pretty simple lifestyle, I have chosen to talk more about a couple of my biggest past obstacles and my solutions to them in hopes they will also help others to simplify their lives in those areas:
First, a little from my background…
Although in the beginning I was never quite sure why I was so attracted to the idea of uncluttering my life, I am quite sure now that it had everything to do with building a mortgage-free Tiny House to live my retirement years in! Up until the last year when I first heard about the Tiny House Movement, I just wanted to live very simply. When I was in the Air Force I only had a single duffel bag and a large footlocker that carried everything I owned or needed for 8 years! I loved that kind of simplicity and after doing it for that long I knew it was do-able! However, it was not without costs!! Military life was not always an easy way of living. For me, it meant a single tiny room with a set of bunk beds, a desk and 2 lockers in the noisy barracks with a roommate who was often not of my choosing, the less-than-private community bathroom, the nearby chow hall for most of my not-always-so-tasty meals (when i wasn’t engaging in my then staple diet of drinking beer or California wine and eating pizza, chicken wings & subs) and the nomad life of rarely knowing when I would be moving on to the next place – all the stuff I have no interest in dealing with at this stage of my life!! While it became a lifestyle I no longer wanted to endure, that transition into civilian life was very difficult for me. I was leaving behind my close knit family that I could trust my life with… I loved living within walking distance of work… I loved that everything I really needed was right on the base in a community where prices were affordable – like the base exchange (a smaller, cheaper version of Walmart)… mostly free work/hobby shops (like woodworking, the auto shop and ceramics, etc) with access to all their work areas, tools and machines…I was used to the military ways… and I loved the simplicity. It took me a few years to adjust, but in the meantime I started accumulating ‘stuff’ I thought I had missed. Now if I wanted to work on my hobbies, I had to invest in my own tools and have a place big enough to work on them. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was surrounded by lots of debt & clutter. Although back then there wasn’t really a term for it, I knew I felt boxed in with too much stuff!! Luckily, a few years later I was introduced to clutter, what it meant and how to deal with it… a then fairly new concept in the early 1990′s.
For the most part, this whole simple living procedure has been very cleansing for me. It took many moves, but once I got started, the process of every move meant a fresh new start with a lot less. I began to realize what was important and what wasn’t. Of course, the beginning was tough, especially when at least 2 of the moves were real estate turnovers and not my idea. I couldn’t seem to get settled in anywhere and I still struggled with what was important enough to keep lugging around with me and what wasn’t. Moving now is much harder than military life because they used to do all the work for me.
As you can see, the steps towards my Simple Life Endeavor have been a long and trying process. If you are just starting your Journey of Simple Living, you need to also understand that by stretching this process over a period of years, it was much easier for me to start letting go of the ‘things’ in my life that no longer served me any purpose. Each little step made the next step easier. The key was to keep on keepin’ on!!
Before I start though, I must tell you that everything I have let go of in my life so far, I have never missed for a second!! That fear alone was the single biggest mental obstacle that kept me locked into not moving forward in the earlier years of implementing my Simple Living Plan.
I have only chosen the 2 biggest obstacles I have faced in order to cut down on the size of this article. Here they are:
This has been, by far, the biggest obstacle I have encountered in my quest to ‘lighten up’! While I was in that ‘stuff’ culture, I accumulated a lot of debt. I can’t even remember some of the stuff on those credit cards, but at the time I was sure I just had to have them! As for the stuff I do remember, I don’t have most of it anymore. Impulse buying was one of the most unfulfilling habits I had and now that I finally had the room for all the clutter, I became overwhelmed with it. I began to call it Financing Unnecessary Clutter Karma!! And the acronym for that is what I said every time I opened my monthly credit card bills!! With each purchase, of whatever it was, the void I was trying to fill inside just got bigger. And with that, it made things more stressful with payments, maintenance and clutter. I longed for that simple military lifestyle without the government control. It took me awhile to discover that my ‘void’ needed to be filled from within. Thankfully, that was about the time I got into Shirley MacLaine’s works and the mantra…”Go Within or Go Without!”. I have now come to love just “BEING” (one of my alternate versions of doing nothing!)…a state of mind which only requires quietly finding the forgotten peace and tranquilty within myself and my simple surroundings. And it’s FREE
- I moved very close to my job to save gas, insurance costs, maintenance and wear & tear on my car…have access to public transportation if I wanted to take advantage of it…have easy and close by access to almost anything…end the wear & tear on my body, mind and spirit from the stress of driving 2 hours a day!
- I moved to a smaller apartment in which heat & hot water were included in my rent, a huge savings here in Upstate NY with our cold, harsh winters and the costs of fuel!! Little did I know that the new place was going to be one of the best places I have ever lived and the rent alone was cheaper than the apartment before it!
- I got rid of my land line phone in favor of a simple pay-as-you-go cell phone plan. I don’t talk on the phone much so that part was pretty easy…and inexpensive.
- I stopped watching those shopping channels!!
- I changed to a cheaper internet provider.
- I got rid of costly cable bills in favor of renting DVD’s from Netflix and online access to local news & weather.
- I stopped all my magazines, book clubs and newspapers.
- I simplified my eating habits.
- I started drinking mostly water.
- I take day trips with a picnic lunch rather than vacations that cost alot of money in lodging, food & travel expense.
- I CUT UP ALL THE CREDIT CARDS!!!
I think the hardest things for me to downsize have been my books! I had lots of them!! I was sure I would never be able to part with any of them. I am a real lover of books, but let’s face it, moving books around often requires alot of muscle power and sweating! It seems no matter what size the box is, it is still pretty heavy. Most of my books were information & technical books which are usually larger. I found that alot of the information in those was outdated by new and improved technology. All books spend most of their time on shelves…untouched and taking up space…sometimes for years! Slowly and painstakingly I have been able to let go of 95% of them. Here’s how…
- I rarely read a novel more than once so the novels were the first to go…I mostly gave those away. I then started going to the local library or searching & reserving novels online that can be delivered from anywhere within the US Library System to my library for me to pick up and check out. I can even renew my books online if I haven’t finished them or can’t get to the library by the time they are due back. My library card is free!
- It didn’t take long to realize that as much as I didn’t cook, the cookbooks would not do me any good!! I wrote down my favorite recipes (a pretty short list by the way!!). Then I used my computer to type them up and store them on a standard word processing recipe card template in my Recipe file. Mostly now if I want a recipe I search online for it, print it out and then throw it away or store it on my computer when I am done using it.
- Nearly 80% of my books were arts, crafts & hobby instruction books. I slowly started to eliminate those by deciding which activities I would actually commit to. Happily I found alot of them would be more expensive in supplies and take up alot more room than I was willing to accept, so those books were the next to go! I found that selling them on Amazon was fairly profitable because alot of them were brand new. I made up my mind that I could always check out (from my library), rent, borrow, buy or download instruction books & videos if I changed my mind and wanted to take up something I no longer had those particular books for. By doing it this way, I was able to easily and effortlessly let those go. And guess what? So far, I have never missed any of them
- Investing in the Kindle 2 from Amazon is a very smart idea. It will hold over 1500 books, is small and easily portable. This is, by far, the easiest & lightest box of books I will ever be carrying again! I have been lucky enough to find most of my favorite info & reference books that I use on a regular basis in Kindle format for roughly $10 each and delivered in seconds to my Kindle 2 via cyberspace…without an internet connection! Some of those books cost over $60 in the hardback, space-raping, heavyweight version!!
- I started reading the local newspaper online instead of buying one…some of the more popular newspapers can also be subscribed to on the Kindle and delivered before the news stand copy comes out!
- I download free audio books available at my local library website to listen to on my mp3 player or with my laptop software (available at the library’s website). Although the list isn’t all that big, it continues to grow.
THE HARDEST OBSTACLES COMING UP
The hardest obstacle I have yet to face is giving up all the space I have acquired by downsizing. I love all the open & unused space. Even though my apartment is small, it still allows for healthy air circulation and positive flowing energy. It allows me room to move around freely and it leaves plenty of room to do Yoga or my (mostly small & portable) Artwork in either the living room or bedroom. Since the heat is included in my rent, I am no longer (directly) paying to heat all that unused space. My little cat, Bandit, can still run and play inside and we have a place to store his litter box.
The solution to this might be to design my Tiny House to be one large rectangular room with no interior walls, 8′ – 10′ high outside walls, a loft, lots of windows, a larger wood stove for heating & air conditioner for cooling and maybe a couple of support beams if necessary. Then build a small, simple, one-room Tiny House for my Yoga and Art Studio right next door…something similar to the Shed Cluster Concept that Michael Janzen mentioned on his Tiny House Design site back in May 2009.
I will find it really hard to give up the central location I am in. Although it is not very compatible with the way I want to live (the peace and quiet nature stuff), I am loving the conveniences. Everything is just around the corner…the grocery stores, small education centers, my medical, dental and optical facilities, Bandit’s pet hospital…stuff that is not always easy to get to or as inexpensive in a country atmosphere.
Then there is the question of whether or not (at retirement age) I will forgo power from the grid in favor of using solar or wind power. Do I want the maintenance it may require? Will the initial cost be worth it for me? Is it going to be easier for me to just pay the price rather than endure the hassle? These are questions I must answer after I have honestly studied these power alternatives.
ABSOLUTE NO NO’S!!
In closing I would like to mention a couple of things that (right now) I refuse to forgo:
- A Real Flushing Toilet
I find the alternatives unacceptable to me at this point in my life! Of course this means a septic tank and a lot less freedom to move my Tiny House around the property. By then though, maybe something will come up that I am willing to accept…like some kind of RV or other portable plumbing system.
- Running Water
- A Bathtub
These 2 things really go hand-in-hand because surely I am not willing to haul water and heat it for one of my favorite luxuries…A NICE HOT RELAXING BATH
The subject of this issue of Small Living Journal was actually my suggestion. I thought it would be useful to hear how people have solved, and plan to solve, past and future challenges. Here are some example of common obstacles and my solutions.
Past & Current Obstacles
After watching the equity in my home evaporate I began to think very differently about money. I decided that for me, debt is to be avoided at all costs because the risk it too high. For example if I were to loose my job I would put my family in a very difficult position.
I’ve made some immediate changes in spending and have chosen to eliminate every unneeded expense. Living frugally immediately puts money back in my pocket and gives back some of the freedom lost by taking on debt.
When the housing market recovers we’ll be able to move on and into a smaller less expensive home on a larger piece of land. Once we’ve landed my financial focus will be becoming debt free.
I have a simple plan to create multiple revenue streams by leveraging my knowledge and skills. Most of us make money by selling our time to an employer. We make more money over time as our skills and knowledge improve, advancing as our contributions increase. The problem with this is that we’re reliant on someone else to support us and if that company should fail we go down with the ship.
There is another option that everyone can capitalize on immediately, and that’s banking your knowledge. To some degree everyone is an expect in something and when you take the time to record that expertise on a blog, book, recording, video, etc, you are banking your knowledge.
I’ve chosen to blog about my passion for tiny house design and have a couple book ideas in the works. Each one of these efforts becomes a small self-sustaining revenue stream. They don’t have to be large, they just have to be plentiful and require little effort to maintain. Blogging does require a lot of time and energy but I love to do it so I’d actually say the effort is low. In other words I’ve taken something I love doing and turned it into a revenue stream.
My long term plan is to create enough small streams to help eliminate debt and give me back more and more of my time. It’s a slow process but can work if you can maintain that entrepreneurial spirit.
More time with my Family
In 2006 Julia and I adopted our daughter Katie. As every parent can attest, having a new baby is life altering. The job I had at the time was a 100-mile commute away. I took the bus mostly and then the train when the bus route got canceled.
After Katie was born I began to make the trip to San Francisco by car because it was faster and gave me back about 2 hours a day with my family. But this was still not enough, I wanted more.
One day a job opportunity presented itself and a few months later I had switched positions and was working from home full time. Working from home has saved me so much time commuting and I can even have lunch with my wife and daughter.
Not every profession is as accommodating to working from home as mine. It’s also very hard to imagine working from home if you’ve always worked outside the home. But I think if you use your creativity and do some research you might be able to find a niche that fits your skill-set. My only warning is to look for real jobs and avoid anything that looks like a scheme.
Peak Oil Transition
I realize this is a loaded topic so forgive me for blurting it out like this, but hang in there with me for a few minutes.
At some point in the future the demand for oil will exceed supply. This will be due to increasing demand and fewer sources of oil. It’s clear that business and government are focused on the problem and are injecting more resources into finding a way to curtail demand, like using energy more efficiently, and diversify energy production by exploring coal, new oil exploration, tar sands, solar, wind, nuclear, etc.
In my humble opinion, all of this momentum has created a peak plateau and I’m certain it’s all in an effort to make a smooth transition to a new alternate energy source world. Some see our future powered by coal, nuclear, and natural gas; others see a wind, solar, hydro world… but they are all united in finding a way to make the transition smooth to keep human civilization strong.
Here’s a list of things I’m doing and plan to do. Ironically no matter what your predictions are for the future, none these choices can hurt.
- Eliminate all debt.
- Move to a temperate climate with adequate rainfall.
- Become less dependent on an income by building a sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle and multiple small revenue streams that could theoretically survive a deeper economy downturn.
- Move toward a sustainable lifestyle and live in balance with nature.
- Buy only things I’d be happy keeping for a lifetime.
- Buy only electronic devices that can run on 12VDC.
- Invest in alternative energy equipment like photovoltaic solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines.
Life, Liberty, Happiness
While peak oil concerns have acted in part as a catalyst for my interest in simple living, downsizing, sustainability, and self-reliance; I think it’s really the desire to live a happy and free life that is my primary motivator, as it should be.
This is also something I think every human around the planet can relate to, we all ultimately want to be happy and freedom is a prerequisite. It seems many of us have strayed from that goal by giving into short-term perks powered by borrowed money and a society that seems to require the sale of our time, aka, a job.
Ironically the solution to this obstacle has been staring at us through the pages of history. Species that survive are those that are in balance with their surroundings. We are an incredibly resourceful animal. I’m certain that if we choose to solve this puzzle and take into account the need to be in balance with our natural surroundings we will prosper, be happy, and free. I suspect if we choose to use up our natural surroundings we will ultimately fail because we’ll be so far out on a limb when the branch finally decides we’ve gotten too heavy to hold.
So I’m choosing to get off the limb and climb down the tree. I certain I can find a way to live free and be happy by choosing to use my clever human ingenuity to architect a sustainable future for myself and family. I figure the more of us that put our focus on what truly sustains life the better our chances will be for a long and fruitful civilization. The first step is it to move our focus off the noise around us and redirect it on the things that keep us in balance with the life around us.
Our future plans aren’t set in stone and that is perfectly okay with us. The world is changing quickly and flexibility is an important quality. Especially, in a time of economic woes. Being able to move or change plans quickly can open the door to unforeseen opportunities.
Since our plans are loose and flexible, we’ve crafted a few guidelines for a bright future:
1. Living Small. Since downsizing, we’ve discovered that less is more. Rather than devoting large sums of life energy and money toward a traditional home or huge apartment, we will purchase a tiny house in the next year or two. In the meantime, we will continue our downsizing process and living in small apartments. Taking a pass on the traditional American dream and creating our own beautiful home is the best option for us. Living small will propel us toward financial independence and free up our time to spend with friends and family.
2. Staying Carfree & Debt Free. For us, a large part of living small means staying carfree and debt free. Ever since we sold our car and paid off our debt, a huge burden has been lifted from our shoulders. Without debt we are free to make choices that bring us happiness.
3. New Opportunities & Growth. I’ve been thinking about starting my own tiny business for the last few months and have been working on a master plan. Within the next year, I hope to launch a tiny business that will bring in a small supplemental income. Any extra money that is made in this venture will be put in savings. There are many goals I’d like to work on, like growing as a writer and photographer, spending quality time with friends/family and enjoying the outdoors.
4. Loving Life. Finally, I want to live life to the fullest. I know this sounds cheesy, but I think a lot of people engage in activities that don’t make them happy. As Gary Vanderchuck pointed out, during South by South West:
Live your life and do what you love. People worry about stupid shit.
Gary’s comment made me laugh out loud and reflect on the number of times I’ve fretted away about trivial things. Changing my perspective and devoting my life energy toward projects that make a difference in the world have changed me for the better.
During his talk, Gary emphasized the importance of loving yourself, embracing what you do well, and not waiting to make things happen. For me this message is about simplicity. Pursuing your passion shouldn’t be so difficult. But so many people are stuck in jobs they hate and are incredibility unhappy.
Our time on the planet is limited and I want my future choices and plans to be good ones. Above all, we want to pursue happiness; not more stuff.
What about you? Has downsizing affected how you foresee the future?
This is a supremely hard post for me to write and I doubt that anyone is doing it easily.
For the last 4-5 years, I’ve been trying to figure out what was most important to me. Five years ago, I felt that I might have the desire to go to grad school. I’ve always been torn by which creative path to take and how the process of making my creative pursuits into viable money-making endeavors could affect the creative urge. My three loves are these: writing, singing, and photographing.
Since I was in high school, I’ve been trying to figure out which one was most important to me, and have mostly ended up cycling between all of them. So I applied to school for creative writing, got accepted to NYU, and flew to New York to decide if it was the right move for me (photo is of me eating an NYC doughnut in my NYC outfit then).
Steph and I were talking yesterday about how we make important decisions, and she said that usually when she makes what people on the outside think are rash decisions, they are actually the result of much much internal thought and consideration, and only seem to happen suddenly. Five years ago, I sat in a classroom in NYC and I listened to an amazing class with an sharp professor surrounded by other poets, and as much as I got out of that class, it didn’t feel right. Then I went and listened to one of my favorite poets read just down the road and that, too, didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem like my future.
I am now at the end of two years of grad school, $30K in debt, and supposedly closer to knowing what I’m doing. What I do know is that I want to do work that is valuable and helpful to other people. So in five years, I hope to be doing something that helps others in some capacity.
My work as a documentarian began because I think understanding and being exposed to other people is a very important component in human compassion. And this compassion is necessary for any kind of progress. As much as I think it would be nice to be debt-free, and living in my own home in five years, the most important thing to me is to use my talents to promote understanding among other people. If I can help that process along in some way, and be surrounded by people I care about at the same time, that’s all I can really ask for.
As I get older I realize that life is short and you need to really prioritize the important things in your life.
Our kids are growing up and leaving the nest over the next few years, a perfect time to really simplify our lives, get rid of the debt we’ve built up with the kids in school and life in general. Our oldest daughter will be finishing college in one year. Our youngest will just be starting his college education next year, so we still have some major expenses to look forward to.
During the next five years my goal is to completely wipe out our credit card debt, pay off the car loans and start to find that piece of property to which we can retire on. I also want to continue to grow my internet business so that it will support both of us and my wife can retire from her teaching career after the kids are through school and out on their own.
I see us downsizing to a smaller home similar to the one I am featuring in this article. A small two bedroom home of 400-700 square feet with a Tumbleweed Tarleton as a spare bedroom and home office is what I see us in over time located on at a quarter acre or more with room for a garden. A small home in the country.
As we all know there are many unknowns that are thrown our way so don’t plan for everything to go according to your best laid plans.
Be flexible but keep your goals focused and make small steps to enable them to happen.
So these are my ramblings of my future plans. I encourage you to write down your goals and plans and start making small steps toward them to make it happen for you.