Debt Free Update

At the time of this writing, the For Sale sign in the front yard got a spanking new upgrade: Sale Pending! (Ok, it doesn’t really have an exclamation point, but it should!) We’re very excited! Our latest adventure is proving to be every bit as exciting as we thought it would be.

The graphic above isn’t really the date that either Rachel or I are considering retiring (we are both blessed with jobs that we love), but we couldn’t find a debt free countdown app so we borrowed a retirement app. It’s fun to watch the date get closer and anticipate the feeling of being debt free.

When we originally decided to get out of debt, our intent was to be debt free minus the mortgage, and continue to use the home as an investment. We started last January with monthly financial goals and took aim at the smallest debts first; furniture, credit cards. We held monthly goal meetings and knocked them out in a few months.

Then we focused on the first school loan, which was about 8K at the time, and this coming Saturday night we have a Student Loan Victory Party date planned! (I might get a gladiator costume and drink from a bronze challis). Death to student loan #1! (Exclamation points everywhere – masses cheering) That will be a very good celebration!

Next in the cross hairs will be the second student loan, which will take us out to September 1st of 2020. One added month to finish the car loans off, and if all goes as planned, we’ll have no debt as of October 1st 2020 and begin a cash-only lifestyle.

Zero financial drag.
Lots of possibilities start coming into focus.
Lots of fun possibilities.
I think I might want to catch a swordfish.
On Jimmy Johnson’s boat.

Throughout this process we’ve kept talking, dreaming, reading, sharing, learning. As we continued to talk about our goals and dreams, we started to really drill down into what we wanted our life to look like and who we wanted to be. Our version of being debt free changed to include the House of Wales as well. We decided it was time to make the decision, do the hard thing (pack / move 713,000x boxes, yard sale (gag)), take our earned equity, and begin investing in earnest.

It’s a life rule: You have to do the hard thing before you get the good thing.

We’re behind in investing. Although I have one federal pension that I’m currently receiving (Coast Guard), and at some point I’ll have the state of Idaho pension (two lifetime pensions = dream), we have some really big plans for our future (have a I mentioned a week on a Cat cruising the Bahamas or the fifth wheel and monster truck with the train horn?) so we want to make sure we’re funding our dreams.

And we’re doing just that.

We’re learning all we can about investment options so that we can add more revenue streams for retirement. There are lots of ideas and choices, and we’re learning about liquid assets and index funds. The equity will be a really nice lump sum investment to get us started. If all goes as planned, we should do very well.

I know the planet suffers the occasional naysayer and joy-sucker. To them I say we’re using all the information we have to do the very best we can with what God has given us. The rest is up to Him. In the meantime we’re on the adventure of our lives.

Becoming non-homeowners is not for everyone, but it’s right for us at this point. Although it’s true I may miss getting tangled up in the rose bush (pokey F’er) or attacking the wood pile bees, the fact is we’re becoming more mobile. We have the Baby House in Mesa and we like being there as much as we can, especially during the Idaho winters. I’ve also reacquired my love for Naples Florida and Vermont cabins. It’ll be nice to know that we can turn down the condo heat, close the door, and go get some real maple syrup sans worries.

Our rent, even with all of the amenities, will be similar to what our mortgage was, and since we’re investing all of the profit, we’ll still be leveraging the compounding effect of our money in much the same way (8% annually?) a home might appreciate.

That’s exciting.

At 58 and I-robbed-the-cradle, Rachel and I are looking forward to being a little more unburdened. Without the duties of keeping a beautiful home beautiful, discretionary time will come back. There’s a mountain bike in the garage that’s been missing me, and a drum kit as well (get the band back together?). There are books I’m waiting to read, places I want to volunteer, side hustles that need hustling, and good non-bottom-shelf gin that needs ‘scrutinizing.’

Moving is hard (!) and funny (!), and there’s another blog coming about that with a guest author (!).

Lord the things we get ourselves into. What a ride!

It’s hard to imagine a better and more optimistic life.
Let’s gooooo!

Changing Dreams

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. It’s been awhile since I’ve had the discretionary time. Life has been a bit nuts the last several weeks. There’s been some big changes to our lives. But more about that in a bit.

As I take ownership and firm grasp of Middle Age, it’s fair to say that some (ok, many) of my perspectives are changing. The way I exercise, the way I eat, the way I drink, my social perspectives and opinions, my approach to finances, my life plans and dreams; much of what was once an absolute is now blender ingredients as I reinvent and reevaluate.

I’m changing, and I’m aware I’m changing. This terra non-firma can be a source of anxious nervousness, discomfort, and sometimes late night panic (Just when I thought I would never eat quiche). Thus far I’ve only narrowly resisted the urge to run naked down the street waiving my arms over my head screaming “What’s happenaaang to maaaaay!!!” (You’re welcome, neighbors).

It can be twice as bad for others in our life. Many people enjoy perspective consistency and find limited value in reflection, change, or sifting one’s attitudes. Change can create insecurity if handled poorly. Assertions like I thought you said that or I never thought I’d hear you say that or I can’t believe that you’re thinking that are valid points.

But change is good, yes?
Growth is good.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to go.

On our last trip to the Baby House, while we were floating in one of the pools and enjoying Thermos Martinis (should be a giveaway right there), Rachel made a statement that created the impetus for Big Change. We’ve been talking about this change for years, and knew it was coming someday. It just so happened that Someday was actually Baby House Pool Floating and Thermos Martini Day (New Holiday!).

I think we should sell the house.”

In the oddest of ways, as soon as the words came to me across the cool pool water (I took a reflective sip right here), I knew that it was time. Right then. No more someday. Strap in. Here we go.

I’ve been kind of itching for a new adventure.

This is the first of what will probably be a multi-part blog on moving on from the House of Wales.

We’ve sort-of-kinda-always had the plan in the back of our minds. We’ve upgraded, worked hard, and made smart decisions. Of late, we’ve been evaluating loan rates, interest rates, the housing market, and Idaho growth rates and demographics. Our realtor close friend publishes a routine Boise area market report that we have been watching closely.

We’ve been on a steady march towards October 2020 when we’ll be debt free. Making extra payments, staying focused on our monthly goals (one school loan bites the big one in 2 weeks!), maintaining our giving, celebrating each success; I’m proud of us. Although we didn’t plan to be mortgage free by October 2020, it’s now been added to the plan. To us it’s a very exciting time.

Although we certainly made The House of Wales our home, there’s just the two of us here now, and as much as we enjoy the family-house-full holidays, three or four days a year is meager justification for 1,900 sq. ft. And while I used to truly enjoy yard work (good exercise), there are other areas of life that I’d like to invest in.

The House of Wales

We’re becoming aware that we want to travel more, and having the constant awareness (mostly me) that the Big House with a Big Yard and pool and hot tub is not being overseen while we’re away is unsettling (even more so in the Idaho winters).

We talked about the possibility of another house, but both of us are finding that moving sideways into the same situation again is not in keeping with who we’re becoming (and I hope we’re always becoming). We’ve been downsizing since we purchased the Baby House, and, as a matter of fact, we’re moving to the other end of that scale.

We’re going to rent.
A modern condo.
On the fourth floor.

Our 4th Floor Condo

A complete change of lifestyle for us. A complete change of dream for us. From owning to renting. From big to small. From Idaho lodge / farmhouse to sleek modern architecture, cozy minimalism, and Smart Home technology. From yard to no yard. From wood fireplace to gas fire. From stairs to elevators (leg days are the worst!).

It’s hard to even articulate how excited we are. Of course, we’re keeping access to a pool and hot tub (I’ll just probably have to wear more clothes. Ok, some clothes. Probably.)

I’ll write more about it in my next blog, but we’ve loved our life in the House of Wales. I’m sure these will have been some of the best years of our lives (Geeze did we make some good memories here). Nothing will ever change that. The House of Wales became bigger than life and so much more than just a house for us and our family. I already know that leaving will be a bit emotionally bumpy. There are things we’ll miss.

But you can’t grab the next rung if you don’t turn loose of the one you’re holding.

And missing is not a bad thing; it’s a good thing.

So, like most things we’ve ever done, we trusted God had us and jumped in. For four weeks, we’ve done little else except downsize, upgrade, paint, stage, and clean (Oh yeah, and buy and pack boxes). Lots. And Lots. Of Boxes.

There are alot of smart people that might say (C’mon, say it with me) renting is just throwing away money. There are variations on this theme (checks flying out of my butt?) and it’s true that home ownership is a foundational element of the great American dream, along with baseball, being a fanatic Patriot’s fan (Tom!), and illegal fireworks. Equity is a very cool and smart financial asset.

But we’ve weighed the pros and cons and run all the numbers. We’ve done the research. We’re still on our October 1st 2020 debt free timeline (!), only now when we reach it, we’ll be 100% debt free. As I sit here writing, Rachel is rechecking our dates, payments, and forecasts (She clacks a few keys, giggles, clacks a few more keys, giggles some more).

It’s our time.

We may have a little house (ok, two little houses), but we have big plans.

I’m proud that we’re brave enough to create big change. I’m really excited about the future. I’m already anticipating the Idaho fall season from the 4th floor balcony with the game on (Patriots over the Chiefs 42-13). I’m anxious to work from my new home office. I have some new hobbies I’m looking forward to starting or re-starting (returning to making live music?).

And honestly, it’s a little scary. I wake up at night with What If‘s. Some are valid. It’s uncomfortable. My back is sore from lifting 713,000 boxes (How do we have SO much stuff?). I lost my robe for 3 days. It was in a box marked Tools in the garage. Ugh.

But I found something the other day that I had posted on my Facebook timeline 5 years ago. We had just finished the pool. For that project (like we’re doing now), we had done all the research, read, asked, and learned all we could:

Never be afraid to just try. We knew nothing about excavation, pools, or construction. An amazing project, many great memories, never a cross word, several uh-ohs, do-overs and are-you-@$%¥!!-kidding-me’s, sore muscles, and sunburned body parts. I’m very much looking forward to creating life-memories from the willingness to risk and do something a little different. And…floating in your pool on a hot July night with a Martini really is quite something to experience.

And boy did we create Life-Memories. In the pool and out, without a doubt, I can honestly say our life in the House of Wales has really been quite something to experience.

Here’s what I’m really trying to say: Dreams can change. It’s ok when they do. It doesn’t mean there was wrong thinking before, or correct thinking after. It just means that as I grow older, my preferences are adapting to the change I’m experiencing. Call it aging, wisdom, boredom (getting sexier every day); I don’t want it to ever stop me from moving forward.

Our dreams have changed. And we’re acting on our new dreams.

One other really cool aspect: In buying our house, another family is changing their dreams and acting on them.
So cool.

We’re excited like little kids.

MP

Kitchen Dancing

One of the greatest, I mean greatest, and most undermentioned benefits of being in Middle Age is that the kids are, well, out. Of the house I mean. As parents we did our best to impart what we knew as wisdom and sage teaching (?), and we helped them venture out to Adult; to conquer their world and make their own way.

Our kids are killing it. We’re very proud of each of them.

But (and), that makes us (yep) Empty Nesters. Middle Age Empty Nesters. We Love our kids, each and every one, but those of you that have reached (survived at all costs to crash prostrate and naked on the beach of) Middle Age, know of what I speak (Ceremony, fanfare, salutes deserved).

And one of the greatest benefits of being an Empty Nester is that we get to do things, grown up things, (adult things, uh-huh), without the fear of being walked in on (You know what I’m talking about).

Like Kitchen Dancing.

Oh yeah.
(said really slowly, like Barry White would say it).

Most summer evenings Rachel and I are in the pool that we built. I’ve mentioned it before. I wrap up my summer-off days of bee-wars, wood splitting, garden chores, pool cleaning, lawn care, general repairs, and house cleaning, she gets back from the increasingly-complicated commute, we make an adult beverage, grab the sunscreen, my Cowboy Hat, the top 40 country music and speaker, and we hit the pool.

It’s Heavenly. We float and talk and unpack the day and sing and sip and plan and solve and posit and dream and laugh. We float-dance too (It’s a thing).

We’re usually out too long (Ok, time gets away. We’re always out too long). Suddenly it’s 7:48pm and the Idaho summer sun gains an angle. And we’re starving.

Rachel jumps out and grabs three or four things from the gardens and heads up to figure out a healthy dinner. I close up the pool and umbrella and shed and garage and grab the music (which is still probably only slightly just a bit too loud) and follow.

It happens when I enter the kitchen, music in hand: Jason or Kenny or Luke. We really can’t help it. There’s music in the house. Suddenly it’s just Dance On: barefoot, drippy, Cowboy Hat, hands in the air. Bustin’ our Middle Age groove.

And we get after it. Around the bar. It’s serious. Those of you that have seen us dance know. This is no Moonlight Sonata. It’s a cross between High Intensity Training and sexy combat (?), right in the middle of slicing the zucchini (I even throw in some Pulp Fiction, the Batusi, or a new move I learned on Youtube). And because we’re in our kitchen, and there’s no one to walk in on us, and we’re in that spectacular place that is Middle Age Love, we really get after it (uh huh, you know what).

It’s just The Best.
Idaho summer nights.
Sunned. Pool clean.
Kitchen Dancing.
Breathless.
Starving. Happy.
Middle Age.

Lord we laugh and catch our breath. And we always finish the song.

Poolside Finances

One of our three pools

Rachel and I have been at the Baby House for some time now. We came down to deliver the Baby Car and to spend some time relaxing between the life changes we’re undergoing. We also wanted to experience summer life here; we weren’t sure we’d like the heat or the sparse park population. It’s been between 105-110 degrees most every day (Go ahead, say it: Yeah but it’s a dry heat, right?) and on some days the park resembles a scene from the movie I am Legend where we imagine being the last people on the planet.

Actually, we’re both a little surprised at how much we like it. We might even love it. Ok, we love it. Love it.

Mornings start early, sometimes because sunrise is around 5:30 and sometimes because the tree guys are 150 feet in the air trimming the palm trees before it gets too hot. The first hour or two is spent on the porch under the grapefruit tree with quiet coffee (friendly tree guys notwithstanding) and our choice of morning reading; right now for me it’s The Simple Path to Wealth. It’s helping me understand better the market and how index funds operate. It’s a very peaceful time. We whisper. Humming birds visit the grapefruit tree. Doves are on the roof. We try to refrain from anything that might evoke stress or a reactive mood: social media, news, etc.

After a bit I start my chores (bed, dishes). We hand wash the dishes here (Small confession: I love my Scrub Daddy) and then we make our way to whatever form of fitness we’ll do that day. Rachel has become addicted to morning pool laps and today set a new goal of 27. She also likes to get some meditation time in after her swim. Having the pool all to herself makes that a really cool option.

My own personal gym

I usually spend some time in the gorgeous onsite gym and then swing by one of the pools on the way back, We ride our bikes everywhere.

After that we try to each do one significant thing each day. Rachel found a great deal on a Cricut cutting machine and is currently cranking out cards for the November show. I’ve been catching up on reading, writing, and trimming the cactus that almost killed me last year (take that you prickly effer). I also spend time in the afternoons on my part-time summer job. It’s online so it works out great.

We swim two or three times a day, and are finding it a heavenly way to end the hot day and usher in the hot evenings. We take our floats and an adult beverage in a thermos (Thermos Martinis are the best!). Sometimes we meet a new neighbor that has come out to the oasis after the sun has an angle and some of the beat down has come off, and sometimes we have the whole pool to ourselves. We enjoy meeting new people and learning their stories of how they came to be here.

Last night our pool time also served as a perfect place for our mid-month financial meeting. We’re in our 7th month of a debt free pursuit and the September 30th 2020 date still holds, despite some significant changes (blessings) to Rachel’s career. We bring our life dreams (a week in the Bahamas on a Cat…with Thermos Martinis of course), we compare research, talk about alternate approaches to our goal, we celebrate our trophies and reinvest in the challenge. We talk about what we’re each going to gift ourselves with after we make it (Tim McGraw black cowboy hat!!). We play the Ok So What If We game and test the waters for other ideas that we’ve read about or heard about or thought about.

We also talked about a new free video series that I found from FMTV and how it’s changing the way we think and act. The 5 short videos are about food awareness, stress and they way it suppresses our immune system, how our thoughts create who we become (The one we watched last night), making sure our goals are aligned with our being, and the art of fulfillment. Sometimes my head hurts when we’re done watching one but the videos are rich with provocative information and we feel they’re time well spent.

Additionally, part of last night’s meeting was talking about ideas for the money I’ll make in my part time summer job. It won’t be alot; maybe $1K after taxes. It’s fun to put it in imaginary places and mentally run out the opportunity costs. We thought about investing but pulled that back; we really want to keep our eye on the debt free ball. We think now we’re going to add it to one of the closest debts and soon be able to add a very big trophy to the debt free trophy case.

Dreamcasting, visualizing, bettering, and talking about what our dream realized is going to feel like keeps us jazzed. Thermos Martinis and poolside finance meetings are pretty great too.

And here’s the best part: I don’t have to clean the pool.

Living Thankful

Picture courtesy of a new found Friend (thanks Gene).

It’s one of the cooler mornings under the grapefruit tree on the front porch of our Baby House (90 degrees at 8:30). I think it’s going to top out around 108 today. Rachel is inside creating some new cards for the November show. We changed up the workout this morning and instead of spending some time in the gorgeous onsite gym, I created a new regime of 20 any-style laps in the pool (one of three here). Later this morning we’ll visit the Mesa Farmer’s Market and get bags of fresh produce for about $10. It’s the 4th of July. We’ll float again in the pool before dinner (we seem to be going twice a day) with a fine adult beverage (martini of course). We bought two insulated containers at IKEA yesterday (am I the last human on the planet to know about this place?). Maybe grill a bit (who grills when it’s 108?). And maybe a Hulu movie tonight that my son in law said was ‘interesting.’ I trust him.

Simple plans.

We’ve been here for about a week. We wanted to try some summer time to see if we liked it. We weren’t sure we’d like the heat. And because it’s the off season in the resort, we thought it might be a bit deserted for our likes.

We could not have misjudged more (and that’s hard to explain). It’s hard to even articulate how our very spirits seem to be soaking up the peace. Just when we think we’re unwound, and the pace has come off (you know what I’m talking about), a whole new level of unwoundness emerges and we sink down and settle in even more.

In my coffee reading this morning I ended up in the 34th Psalm: Seek Peace and Pursue it (Wholly unplanned. Read: yikes. I might be unpacking that one for some time). I always thought of pursuit as an inherently directed and purposed activity. Maybe I should. Maybe peace isn’t something that just floats to us; maybe we need to go get it.

It was, of course, the perfect message for where we are right now. Rachel and I have been talking a whole lot about peace.

Once again Rachel and I are in Change, and this one is pretty big. Rachel is in the midst a major career change. It was time (perhaps even past due). We are both very excited for the new opportunity. Our goals are still in place, and we’re even more hopeful about the future (ok, I way underserved that; we’re giddy).

Actually, there’s something going on and I can’t quite figure it out.

I can only start to try to define it as simple thankfulness. Quiet thankfulness. Peaceful thankfulness. Constant thankfulness. I wake up every morning just so, well, thankful. I go to bed thankful. I look around sometimes and think how am I so blessed to even be here?

I really (really) like how being thankful makes me feel. Rachel and I sometimes get emotional trying to talk about where we are and how we got here. We just sit on the porch in the evenings and reflect on the day and thank God and smile at each other and cry. (It’s pathetic really and I think the neighbor is concerned). Really good tears.

I try hard not to preach. I don’t How To, or You Should; I don’t even like to suggest. That’s not what I want this place to be for me or anyone else. This place is about my observations and my stories from the journey into and through Midlife. And right now I’m experiencing unrelenting thankfulness.

Maybe thankfulness and peace are related, or causational, or the same thing. I’ve not unpacked it all yet. Maybe we seek something until we find it, and then we chase it for all we’re worth. Maybe those things change based on where we are in life. Maybe peace isn’t something we get, but someone we become. Maybe being aware of simple blessings helps create a sense of heart thanks.

We’re off to the market, and then the pool, and then an easy movie in the cooler evening.
I’m getting emotional trying to close this.
Really good tears.

Opportunity Costs

The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”

Earlier this week Rachel and I were sitting in the sun on the back deck after work. The weather had taken a dip towards the cool so we were not in the pool. It’s not uncommon during our end-of-day unwind that we listen to a portion of a podcast or I read to her something that I’ve read earlier in the day (over an adult beverage of course). I read to her fairly often; parts of some article or book that I find insightful or interesting. It can be a good conversation starter. We typically unpack what we listen to or read, and try to see how it fits into our lives, if at all. Many times we find that the information can have a much broader impact than perhaps was originally intended.

This particular afternoon I was reading a small portion of The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins. I’ll admit to not being very smart about money. I wasn’t raised with any sort of money-awareness. I mean, working hard and paying the bills was the right thing to do, but that’s about as far as it went. No one I knew ever talked (or knew anything about) the stock market. I never heard the terms 401K or return on investment (ROI). Debt was fine as long as you could make the payments. There was not a great sense of driving yourself towards higher goals or being a life learner; I was discouraged from pursuing my dream of being an attorney because they were all “educated idiots.” Mediocrity was perfectly acceptable. My upbringing in that area is probably not unlike some others who are now coming into middle age.

I’ve left most of that behind now; except the part about not (still) knowing much about money and investing. Rachel and I are learning fast, and as we move towards becoming debt free, we want to make smart decisions. We want to be well-informed about all things financial. Once we reach our debt free goal, we should have a very sizeable amount to invest monthly and we want to make sure we’re doing it right. So, after I read an article from an author that I respect that listed Simple Path as one of his foundational readings, I ordered it from Amazon and downloaded it to my phone (so I could read it in the hot tub of course).

I didn’t get very far into the book when I came upon this idea of opportunity costs. I thought I knew what it meant (I didn’t), and the whole concept rocked (is rocking) my world (in more areas than just financial). I’m still fleshing it out.

In chapter 4 of the book (this is what I was reading to Rachel), the author talks about buying a car. Once that car is purchased, the money is spent, and there is an opportunity cost to no longer having that money available to work for me. Financially speaking, opportunity cost is what I give up (lose) when I choose to tie up my resources (money) in one thing (car) over another thing (an investment). The car money (a study in depreciation) won’t be “working” for me in the future. If I had invested the money, it would “work” for me by creating earnings at (maybe) 8-10%, and that money would then make more money, and so on and so on. So in the end the car costs me alot more than the actual price because I both pay interest to the car loan and I don’t earn investment interest. Run that out for 20 years and there’s a huge disparity. I suppose if I had used the car to be the getaway driver for bank robbers, the money might in some way still be “working” for me (if you knew how slow I drove, this would be hilarious and a non-option).

It’s this idea of opportunity cost that really set my head spinning. It’s about alternatives and the way the choices we make run out into the future; both the alternatives we say yes to and the ones that we say no to.

We could have chosen to purchase a bigger Baby House in Mesa. We had that option. But then the extra money that we spent on the higher payments could not be used towards getting out of debt. The money that I chose to spend in obtaining my first Masters degree might have been better invested to create returns. We could have chosen to spend 30K updating the kitchen (the architect had the plans all drawn up), but we chose instead to spend 10k and focus on the real needs. We could have chosen to purchase a newer and more expensive motorcycle, but then we could not have used the extra money towards debt (and I wouldn’t look nearly as cool).

I could have chosen to purchase the Super Duper Double Barrel Master Blaster Wasp Annihilator Spray for the back yard wasps, but there are much less expensive (and less deadly) options and, again, that money can be better used (and the neighbors won’t start dis-inviting me to the barbecues).

The idea of opportunity cost is that options we select create the potential for loss of gain, and it’s a really good idea to consider the options before choosing the path. Is there a better way?

It might sound like I’m advocating for never spending, or spending less, or eating rice and beans until financial independence is achieved (although I kinda like rice and beans). That’s not it at all. Rachel and I have really beautiful things. Truthfully, we could have not bought the Baby House (alternative 1) and used that money to get out of debt even faster (alternative 2). We then could have invested more and sooner (alternative 3), and that money would go on making more money essentially for the rest of our lives. So in the end the opportunity cost of the Baby House will be more than the purchase price, probably alot more. Even with that, we would make that choice again in a New York minute. That opportunity cost is worth every cent and pays every year non-monetarily: helping us escape some of the Idaho winter. It brightens us, gives us hope, and has opened a whole new world of potential.

Not all things are about money. Life is not just a monetary excursion or just about amassing bags of money. Looking back in regret at life can be frustrating, and quite honestly, largely a waste of present life. It only has value if a lesson can be learned and used to make the future better. A lesson can be a very powerful tool. Move on. Do better.

Also, sometimes things just don’t “feel” right. And sometimes things do just feel right. The 30K kitchen didn’t feel right. All of the fifth wheels and monster trucks to pull them so far just have not felt right. Despite the dream, it might be a path we choose not to go down. If we had bought the fifth wheel or truck or more expensive kitchen update, we would not have been able to afford the Baby House. And although I’m also not advocating for sitting cross-legged on the floor and making decisions based on Zen, there is a “gut” that’s valid and should be listened to.

Additionally, Rachel and I are noticing that our age is becoming a significant factor in our consideration of options. As we move into this thing called mid life, we’re understanding that we probably have less time to fix a mistake (even though I’m going to live to be 106). By default, it’s making us more cautious.

What I’m really trying to focus on is understanding that our choices, both financial and non-financial, can earn “interest,” and are both manifested and magnified in life. They create results that last for a lifetime. Like the picture at the top of the post, choosing one path means we can’t choose the other. And down that path will be more alternative paths to choose. We probably can’t ever get back to the other path, and even if we do, we’re changed people.

Every decision creates potential. There are benefits and detriments, advantages and disadvantages. Choosing one means that we negate the other. There is a cost to our decisions, and sometimes the cost is worth it and sometimes not. But it’s always a good idea to work that out and know the cost as best we can.

Opportunity costs are cool to think about. I want to apply the paradigm as we move forward, especially now that middle age is upon us and we’re preparing for our non-working future. While that still might be some years off, I’m finding that even in the daily decisions it can be beneficial. Food choices, activity choices, thought choices, word choices; am I at least trying in some small way to be better than I was yesterday, to factor out the effect of my decisions into the future, to choose better paths? In the long run it could really make a difference.

Why is it so hard to get rid of stuff?

Our Weekend Stuff Pile

This middle age journey I’m on is forcing me to deal with some new realities. One of them is that at some point Rachel and I are probably going to sell The Big House and move to The Baby House. We’re working towards becoming debt free, and we know that this current house is bigger (and costs more to upkeep) than we need.

There are still alot of options and the move might not take place for years, but we know at some point we’ll trade ~2,000 sq. ft of living space, 2-car garage, and 10×12 backyard shed for 640 sq. ft. of living space, no garage, no shed, and very limited storage. It will probably be the next big step in our lives.

One of the natural laws of science (and life) is that only so much stuff will fit into a given space (my daughter packing her suitcase notwithstanding). If we want to avoid being featured on one of those A&E TV shows like Buried Alive or Hoarders, it stands to reason that we’re going to need to get rid of stuff. Downsize. Minimize. Reduce excess possessions. De-materialize. Streamline. Un-stuff.

We spent part of this weekend un-stuffing. We did pretty well, but there were a few moments when the realization sunk in that we were choosing to release things from our lives that we once deemed important. Some of it was bitter-sweet; yes we are moving on, and yes there are good memories represented in that stuff. But the truth is, it can be a tough thing to get rid of stuff.

How do we get so much stuff? It seems like it just sneaks up. Stuff is sneaky. Sneaky stuff. We’re living our everyday life, doing our everyday things, and then it’s like a stuff-avalanche. Stuff is everywhere because it can hide in plain site. We have boxes of stuff, and closets of more stuff, and attics of even more stuff, and sheds of even way more stuff. We never see it until it jumps us. We open a closet to get a coat and get stuff-jumped for no reason. There’s a kitchen smudge so we look under the sink for the Smudge-Off and stuff has taken it hostage. Stuff sneaks into our car at night and hides until we give someone a ride. Then it’s a mobile stuff party. Some people who have too much stuff sell their stuff on Saturday mornings to other people who have too much stuff. It just goes back and forth like that. Some people give up or run out of space to hide stuff. Then it’s called clutter and they’re called hoarders.

And stuff can morph. Like a shape-shifter. Or the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Gremlins. It starts out as something cool and Must Have and then ends up in a box or closet or under the bed as stuff.

There are smart people who know alot about having stuff. Authors have built their entire profession on writing about stuff. There are professional Stuff Managers for hire that will deal with your stuff for you. Apparently U.S. homes have more stuff per house than any society in global history. It’s called Hyper-consumerism. The average home has 300,000 items in it (no way. I started counting). That’s a wicked-lot of stuff. Some people need more space to store stuff and they pay for it. The U.S. has roughly 50,000 storage facilities (5 times more than Starbucks) and there’s 7 1/2 sq. ft. of stuff storage space for every man, woman and child.

I confess: I hate stuff. It’s one of my hot buttons. It makes me insane. I once had a job that required me to go to people’s homes; maybe a thousand a year. Some had so much stuff there was nowhere to sit. I would fantasize about taking a push broom or firehose to the whole place while laughing maniacally and when I was done they would gather round and clap and cheer and thank me for saving them. Stuff makes me grumpy.

I was in the Coast Guard for 20+ years; much of it lived on a ship. There’s not much space for stuff on ships. Maybe that’s where my anti-stuff persuasion comes from. Most of the time stuff is very hard to describe (What’s in that box? I don’t know, just stuff. What kind of stuff. Just stuff stuff).

We save stuff over the years. Most of it is useless, but we save it anyway, because it’s perfectly good. We use words like perfectly good or might come in handy someday to describe things we’ll never use again but feel the overwhelming need to keep. We also use just in case and then describe a ridiculous situation that has never happened and never will (we’ll save it just in case we win the lottery and move to Mexico and can’t find a 2006 iphone case). 13 unused spiral notebooks (just in case we need to write a letter), 31 elastic banded pens that all work (might come in handy for writing all those letters), 7 nail clippers (just in case the other 6 break), every book we’ve ever read (throwing away a book is a sin), old eyeglasses (just in case my eyes ever go back to my prescription 7 years ago), various cables (just in case we need to hook something up); all perfectly good stuff that might come in handy just in case.

Pictures are the worst. The worst. We have boxes and boxes of pictures that we don’t look at until we’re deciding to get rid of them, which we never do (I threw away pictures this time. Rachel is pretty sure I now have it in me to be an ax murderer).

We have to Go Through stuff before we get rid of stuff. That’s the rule. It’s just about the only time in life that we ever Go Through anything, which automatically defines it as stuff. We have to be in the right frame of mind to Go Through stuff. Some people Go Through stuff but that’s as far as they get and it makes them feel like they’ve done enough for today.

Sometimes getting rid of stuff feels like we’re being disrespectful. Or wasteful. Or careless. Or cold. It’s our stuff and it belongs to us. We might not want to display our stuff, or use it, or ever really even see it, but we want to know it’s there. Where it’s safe. Under our control. Getting rid of it is so final. Stuff represents our past and reminds us of our mortality. Maybe that’s part of the reason we have so much stuff. Marie Kondo advises that we hold each item in our hand and thank it for the enjoyment it brought us before getting rid of it. Some people might need to thank a whole dumpster.

Stuff can cause big fights if both people aren’t on the same stuff-page. Some people are stuff keepers. Some are stuff get-rid-of-ers. Some people over-identify with their stuff; it becomes who they are. I tend to be a little reckless on the stuff reduction front and am definitely a get-rid-of-er. It makes me feel good (I hear the Rocky theme in my head). I’ve gotten rid of stuff that I shouldn’t have. I know I shouldn’t have because I got caught (stupid trash man).

I learned a lesson once from my grandfather about stuff. He explained that life is like a garden. We need to tend our Life Garden, and on a regular basis purposely pull out everything that’s not helping us get what we want. Weeds, bugs, last year’s old crop, too many of one thing, harvesting: at some point we need to remove instead of add. This removing process is natural and healthy, and makes us better and more purposed people. The tendency is to want to keep growing and growing, adding and adding, but that’s not how life works (and would make for a really messy and unfruitful garden). Stuff is like that. We add and add and if we don’t regularly remove, it’s going to get really messy and hard to grow.

I mentioned in an earlier post that we’re learning that right and hard can be friends, and just because a thing is hard does not mean it’s not right. Overall, it felt good to downsize and get rid of stuff. We still have a good amount of stuff to Go Through, but so far we’ve emptied the attic, 2 big closets, and most of the garage shelves. Some we donated and some we threw away. We’re doing a little bit each month. There were a few bumps but it’s fun to be taking tangible steps in moving towards our dream.