Requirements, Choices, and Following My Nose

Posted May 18th, 2009 by Michael Janzen and filed in Issue 5: Future Plans

By the end of this article you will probably think I’m not telling you the truth when I say that I don’t have a plan. Instead of a plan I have requirements, try to make good choices, and then just follow my nose.


In online software development, the career I found myself in, requirements are all the the things a piece of software is supposed to fulfill. Requirements don’t tell a designer or programmer how to meet the need, they just describe the goal.

I’ve taken this simple approach and applied it to my life and ironically it has put me back on track and steaming full speed ahead toward what I expect to be a very satisfying free life. Here are some examples of the requirements that guide me:

  • Increase personal freedom – The most important goal I keep in mind is freedom. I think a lot of us take it for granted and choose debt over freedom everyday. I was sitting in traffic on my usual 100-mile commute to San Francisco when I realized that I had fallen into that trap. Since that moment my number one goal has been to undo what I’d done to myself.
  • Increase time with family – Julia and I adopted a baby girl, Katie, almost exactly three years ago. Our life and many of my values immediately changed that day. Family is one of my very top priorities.
  • Reduce debt – Debt is a trap. Debt can enable us for short periods of time so long as we are actively monitoring risk but a life of perpetual debt is the antithesis of freedom. It’s voluntary indentured servitude and it sucks.
  • Decrease wasted time – Time is our most limited commodity and we must spend it well. The less time we waste the more we can accomplish and spend doing the things we love to do.
  • Increase self-sufficiency – Many of us have one primary source of income, our jobs. This single point of failure puts our freedom and happiness at risk. If we loose our jobs we put everything at risk. Lower that risk by adding income sources and by finding ways to become less dependent on external forces. Never get involved in schemes or take unnecessary risks.


Every choice I make impacts my progress. Even the simplest choices add up so I’ve made a concerted effort to live as intentionally as possible and make every choice count. Nobody is perfect but as long as forward momentum is maintained progress is achieved. I also try not to distract myself with failure and instead focus on the next step. Here are some examples of choices that drive me forward:

  • Watch little television – TV is a complete waste of time and it distracts us from the people around us and our goals. It also changes how we feel, usually for the worse. Experience the taste of real freedom, turn off the TV.
  • Write everyday – Each of us has something to offer others. Writing is a great way to put yourself out there and always leads to more opportunities.
  • Spend little money – Over consumption is wasteful in every way. I try to only spend money when it moves me closer to achieving my goals.
  • Eat better, move more – Our health is essential for happiness.

Following My Nose

I move myself forward by keeping myself focused on my goals and making better choices. I don’t need a plan with specific dates and milestones; I just need a good general direction and perseverance. If the economy hadn’t taken a dump I’d be farther along than I am, but at the same time I have to thank this economic tsunami for the wake up call it provided. It has helped me focus and harden my resolve.

The Carrot

Sometimes the general direction and passing milestones isn’t enough to keep us going. Often a picture of what the future looks like helps keep us going. Choosing the right carrot isn’t easy and we often latch onto the wrong one.

For example if your first requirement is increasing wealth and your chosen carrot is a big house and fast car you may discover that achieving the house and car is a little too easy, because there’s always someone there to lend you the money. Sadly this is probably the reason so many have ended up in the dire straits we’re in today. We had our eyes focused on the wrong carrot.

If our goal is freedom and the right carrot is a life that enables and protects freedom, we’re more likely to succeed. This is a life that is debt free, secure, independent, and sustainable. Money might be apart of that dream but it’s not the focus. The focus is the freedom money can buy, not the money itself or the visible wealth.

My Carrot

I had intended to post a video tour of this 3D drawing of the homestead that’s been developing in my head. It’s my carrot. It’s an imaginary place somewhere in my future where I hope to raise my daughter and grow old with my wife. Unfortunately my puny little computer couldn’t keep up with my imagination and the video tour was just not possible. But I do have screen shots I can share.


I picture a homestead with a garden and small orchard on at least two acres. The main house would be small but not tiny. The main house pictured here measures 16′ by 24′ has two floors and a wrap-around porch. There would be a place for teaching tiny house workshops and a few tiny houses for people to stay in during workshops. There is also a tiny pottery studio (12′ by 12′), kiln shed (8′ by 8′) and mobile tiny house showroom. The first ‘house’ built would be a shed cluster and would initially serve as a place to stay while building the main house. Eventually the shed cluster would provide a place for guests to stay.

The place would help pay for itself and would be mortgage free within a few years. We’d buy the most value for the least amount of money and then build low-cost buildings. This place would also enable me to spend my time doing things I enjoy while moving me toward increased self-sufficiency and reduced dependence on a single job. I’m very lucky to have found myself in a profession that is made for working from home, so there would be no need to leave my day job behind while my alternate income sources grow. At some point I would technically retire but I can’t see ever see truly retiring.

This carrot will change it’s shape over time but helps me continue moving forward as long as I remember that this is not the end goal but a place that could allow me to reach my true end goals.


Above: Shed cluster built without permits; technically not a residence. Below: Pottery studio, kiln shed, and tiny house showroom.



Above: Tiny house workshops. Below: Main house, garden, and orchard.


I invite you to follow me on Twitter, and visit my blogs, Tiny House Design and Tiny Free House, the tiny house I’m building right now.