Do you feel like its time to reinvent yourself? I’m definitely getting that feeling. Over the last few years I’ve begun to feel like I need a new creative outlet. There’s this internal conversation about what I’m doing with my time on earth. And just to be clear, there are no voices in my head telling me to go all Jeremiah Johnson. Pretty sure I’m not developing a rubber room illness. But it does feel like life is drifting along, as opposed to moving forward with self fulfilling purpose. I can’t say that I have a bad life, in fact, my rather modest life is reasonably comfortable. The thing is, it’s not particularly challenging, and without challenges, there’s little sense of accomplishment.
The good news is that I’ve done this before, in one case I moved to a different continent. So I understand what a difficult and complex task it is to make major lifestyle changes. But no matter what your previous experience has been, there is always a certain level of fear. There’s no rule that says you can’t screw it all up. At the same time, I realize that reinvention is a journey, and if you want to move forward you have to take that first step.
This will be my first blog post on chronicling the process. I expect it will take considerable time to complete the transition, probably a few years. Investing that much time and energy is a big risk, there needs to be something worthwhile at the end of it. To that end, the new life will be carefully researched and crafted to achieve both objective and intangible goals.
We like to think of ourselves as unique and wonderful little snowflakes. That may be true to an extent, but we also share many common desires. Over the last few years, I’ve talked with a lot of people who have expressed a similar desire to live a simpler, more satisfying life. While the concept sounds incredibly appealing, we have to remember that there are good reasons for being where we are now. My own current circumstance didn’t happen by accident, it’s the result of many decisions made over a long period of time. Those decisions may have been the best option at the time, but time passes and our ideas mature. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Inventing a new life that reflects our changing ideals will take some serious planning, along with a commitment in both time and energy.
The first step is to analyze the current situation. In my own case, I live in a house that’s much too large for my real needs. It’s in an area that’s expensive for the services I consume. And getting more expensive every year. So the obvious solution is to relocate to an area more in tune with my real needs, and downsize to a smaller house. I’m certain there are a zillion people out there who have similar issues, and are considering a similar course of action.
Let’s be very clear on one important point. Downsizing is not about finding a more frugal way of living the same stress filled and materialistic lifestyle you’re living now. It’s about priorities and values. That means living within your means. Spending more time on the things that matter, such as relationships, living healthy, and at the end of the day, feeling like you’ve done something worthwhile. Self fulfillment.
The first order of business is to decide where you want to live. For many people, this decision is made for you, by your employer. For others, there are overriding factors such as family or other relationships. If you need to be close to loved ones, and they live in tornado alley, and can’t or won’t move, you’re going to have to learn to live with the risk of dangerous weather events. Your options may be limited to buying or building a house with a storm cellar. The main point to keep in mind is that these early decisions are the most important. Each decision point narrows the available options for every decision that follows.
Researching and selecting a location is a complex subject in itself. I’m going to save the checklist for that particular decision for a separate post. For now, let’s talk about how we expect to be better off. What will make the difficult process of creating a new life worth the effort?
The giant, humongous, elephant in the room here is debt. A primary goal is to greatly reduce, or even eliminate debt. There are literally millions of people in America who every month pays a double digit percentage of their income to the bank. Add up the mortgage, the car payment and credit card debt, and it can become a crushing weight that affects everything we do. Even if you are getting along just fine, think about what it would be like to spend those interest payments on things that make life more fun.
It’s a worthwhile exercise to go through your financial records for the last year and write down where your money went. How much of your income went to the bank for interest on debt? How much for utilities and subscriptions? Include cable TV and your phone. How much for your house and car? Get it all compiled into a simple list. Then ask yourself, did writing checks for those interest payments make you happy? The whole idea of downsizing and living a simpler life is to have a greater percentage of your income drop directly to your happiness bottom line.
For most of us, biggest investment, and biggest long term expense is the house. So, let’s first look at the benefits of living in a smaller, more efficient home.
One overlooked, but obvious point is that you will feel like you’re making a fresh start. There can be a new sense of purpose. You are taking active steps toward making your life more fulfilling.
Another factor is time. At first, moving and adapting to a new environment will suck up huge amounts of free time, but in the longer run, you will have more free time. There will be less time spent on cleaning. Less time on maintenance. In general, less time on daily chores. Believe me on this point. As you get older the value of free time increases at an exponential rate.
Lower monthly bills are another advantage. A properly built or renovated small house can reduce utility bills by as much as 50%. Good design and materials can also mean less expense for long term maintenance.
A smaller house, well designed and built properly, is better for the environment. Doing a small thing for the planet will make you feel like you’re doing your part.
The financial benefits of a well thought out and executed downsizing plan will make the effort worthwhile. While that is a huge positive, I think the biggest benefit of all will be psychological. It’s about reducing stress, having more time to spend on things that are good for the soul, and knowing that we’re doing something positive for ourselves and the environment we live in.
My own plan is to wind up debt free, with a totally awesome home. I expect to have both time and the financial resources to travel a bit more, and to be more creative. That’s the pot of gold at the end of this personal rainbow. We’ll see how it plays out down the road.