Category Archives: lifestyle design

Houseless and Happy

We are “homeless” right now, actually between houses. We’re downsizing – or rightsizing as I prefer to think of it – and are fortunate to have sold quickly,  but before we could get into our new place.

While most all our stuff is in storage and we only have a small portion of our belongings with us, it still seems like we have way too much. Now, once we get our new place and stuff back, we’re hoping to cull even more than we did for the move!!

Somehow we’re managing to cook just fine most of the time with one pot and one pan. Our son has access to only a small portion of his toys, and yet he’s only missed a couple of items.  I find myself scrutinizing each piece of clothing I have in my bag, a fraction of what is usually in my closet, wondering why I have so many shirts. I doubt we’ll maintain such a minimalist lifestyle going forward, but we’ll definitely be paring things down.

This interim time without a house has it’s reinforced what we already knew to be true, the idea that home is wherever we are. We don’t need it all to be happy, not even that favorite toy or our trusty home network. And maybe in some small way it’s helped prepare us for what we hope is a future filled with travel!

That mom

I ran across a spontaneous blog carnival from last year and have been so inspired by the posts that I just had to write about it, because I want to be That Mom, too.

I want to spend my every waking moment with our kid, living life. I want to experience all the crazy things he did today, not just on the weekends. I want to spend my time supporting his interests and catering to his whims, whether that’s making chocolate chip muffins, creating mud puddles in the yard or looking up slime eels on the Internet.

I’m doing as much I can right now within the confines of my current work arrangement, and generally everything is going quite well. We’ve managed to keep him at home and pretty happy. But our limited time together is just not enough- for him, for me, or even for my husband. I want that life so bad I can taste it. And I’m going to make it happen!

And in the meantime, I’m That Mom on the weekends and after work. The mom that takes her kid out for Indian food wearing Thomas PJs and carrying his large Lego Robot Krabs creation. That mom that knows all his favorite shows as well as he does in order to act out the scenes together, sing any theme tune or understand a random reference. The one still breastfeeding well past the socially acceptable norm because it’s what he wants and I trust he means it when he says he needs it. The kind that stays up until 11:00 PM on a work night playing whether it’s because he’s eager to spend more time with me, or just not ready to sleep yet.

I’m that mom that strives to trust and partner with her son as he steps his way through to adulthood and beyond.

Earnings vs. income

Lifestyle seems to grow to accommodate the income available. For most people that means that as your paycheck goes up, what you expect to be able to buy or do keeps pace as well, resulting in a new norm that closely matches current earning capability.

Newly middle class people choose middle class cars, houses and name brand clothes. Why is this? Why don’t they stick with the same types of things they had and did before their income grew, often things less extravagant? Why not keep shopping in thrift stores, driving that older car and getting inexpensive haircuts?

Instead of paying off debt, investing or saving, many will choose to commit the extra funds towards purchasing a big ticket item such as an automobile or a house, perhaps one they’d consider more suited to their new position in life. My family fits into this category (though I wish I could say we didn’t).  Somehow, we got along just fine when we had a much lower income. Our house had as much square footage as our current accommodation, at a lower mortgage cost. But then we decided we needed to trade up. We had some legitimate reasons for seeking a new place, and had a lot of housing options available to us that fit our general criterion for size and location. We could have found some something around our same mortgage rate and still have gotten all the major things we wanted.

So why’d we instead choose one that was quite a bit more expensive? Why do most people? Because they can. We saw something and liked it. We could do it, so we did. Hardly rational or long term thinking at work, or at least that’s how it appears in hindsight.  (Though I am very grateful we didn’t borrow as much as the bank was offering to lend us at the time!)

A family of four could choose to live in a three bedroom apartment within walking distance to a park, or alternatively a three-bedroom house with well landscaped yard, both within the same neighborhood and school district. The impact on the number of friends their kids make, what the family eats or hobbies they take up should be minor, but the decision will make a huge difference to their overall financial outlook, especially when considered over the course of a lifetime.

This difference could easily be enough to finance a round-the-world vacation, private school, early retirement, or some other dream. However if asked, most would say they can’t afford those kinds of things, and don’t really feel like they have a choice in the matter.

Most likely their spending has grown to match their earnings, and they don’t see the choices there anymore because they’ve settled in with the new norm. And this shift just seems to happen gradually, without much thought going into the matter.

One thing that keeps getting brought up over and over in conversations about our economy is that less than 1% of the US population controls almost 40% of the country’s wealth.  It’s also often pointed out that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, not only in America but across the world.  While the poor often struggle to get enough good food to eat, or keep roofs over their heads, those in the middle (and sometimes the top, too) struggle to keep what they’ve got and hold on to their mortgages. But would they still be struggling if they hadn’t extended beyond what they really need? Had they gone for an adequate 1500 square feet instead of an extravagant 4500 would so many still be facing foreclosure?

People elsewhere in the world manage to live on a few dollars a week. So why do we need hundreds or thousands just to pay for our existence? Don’t kid yourself that our quality of life is so much better, or that we’re happier, because it’s simply not true.  If you look at anything that measures global happiness and wellbeing, we’re up there, but nowhere near #1.

In the US we’re obsessed with wealth. We imitate those above us, get jealous of what they have and hope to win the lottery so we can join their club. I’ve decided this is not something I want to care about anymore.

My family is working hard this year to eliminate debt to help further our long term plans, plans that ultimately do not focus on how much money we can earn, or what kind of stuff we can buy, but rather on the experience and enjoyment of life and what we want to do with our time.

Unfortunately, this means that in the short term we have to focus on money more than ever in order to dig ourselves out of this debt as quickly as possible. We’ve made the conscious decision to focus on short term inconvenience for long term gain.

Look for more posts to come on the topic of lifestyle design, a term that basically means taking charge of your life, figuring out what you want it to look like and making it happen. There are a lot of great authors and bloggers out there focusing on this topic, and much of what they say makes a lot of sense to me so far. I’ve just scratched the surface, but I’m eager to learn more. Anyone have any recommendations?

It’s time to make some changes and we’re already on our way.


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