Quit Like a Millionaire is one of my favorite financial independence books of all time. Not only does it have more specific details about the technical details of FI, it also made me laugh like a sea lion.
Kristy Shen starts by describing her experience as a poor child in China. This is an excellent and attention-grabbing foundation for the book, because anyone reading it in English surely has more resources and ability to earn and save money. If that statement seems challenging, at least agree that anyone reading this is not a little kid...? ...and then actually read the book itself. Shen also describes herself as a mediocre student, struggling with concepts and getting by on hard work rather than brilliance.
In other words, if Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung can do it, anyone can. The book is filled with charts showing the numbers for all different income and saving levels.
Shen goes over the financial principles she used to become financially independent very carefully. One of the most surprising of these is her Pay-over-Tuition score, which shows that a doctor or a lawyer may do only about as well as someone in an arts career due to the high cost of their education.
Something I particularly appreciated was the concept of “eating bitterness” and how Shen makes use of scarcity mindset. I have a bit of this myself, and have actually broken out in hives at the thought of wasting money on certain things. It definitely helps to draw on this attitude when engaging in extreme saving.
Quit Like a Millionaire explains Modern Portfolio Theory, capital gains harvesting, and geographic arbitrage, among other concepts. The section on insurance was enlightening. It can be hard to believe, but becoming financially independent actually eliminates whole categories of spending, and insurance can be one of them.
Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung retired just after they turned thirty, which is nuts, but possible. What is even crazier is that they accidentally discovered they could travel the world for the same cost as living at home. Now they’re at least three years into their retirement and it sure sounds like they’re having a lot of fun. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t mind joining them.
Read this book and Quit Like a Millionaire today... or maybe eleven years from now, but who’s counting?
No one is coming to save you.
My boss didn’t care about my mediocre grades; he hired me because of my insane work ethic.
For them, failure was totally an option.
Since I knew that things could always get worse, the Scarcity Mind-set taught me that money was precious and if I wanted security and autonomy in life, I’d have to earn it.
“The past doesn’t matter. What do we do now?”
If you understand money, life is incredibly easy. If you don’t understand money, like the vast majority of people, life is incredibly hard.
It’s that time again. I went to the grocery store, walking in behind an employee with a massive display arch of helium balloons, because I live in a musical and that kind of thing is happening around us all the time. Out front the hay bales had already been set up. Technically it’s still summer, but the winds have changed and autumn is coming.
School is back in session and the pumpkins are out.
The winds are changing, blowing through, sweeping old dust out of the corners wherever they can.
What’s different this year compared to last year?
I’m a summer person, and in a lot of ways, fall makes me antsy. I know the days are getting shorter and the cold, wet weather is coming. I also start to count off the weeks that are left until the New Year. That’s my ultimate watershed moment, the way I measure whether I’m doing as well as I want and whether my plans are working out.
I also feel the glimmer of possibility, that what felt like an endless summer on an 80-degree day is now about to run out. Any warm and sunny day seems more valuable, perhaps the last chance to run around and enjoy it until next year. Have I had a picnic, have I sat under a beach umbrella, have I sauntered along in the park?
Those in the Southern Hemisphere can use my wistful feelings of summer passing toward planning fun things to do in the coming months. Please do!
There are other ways besides seasonal change to take notice when a fresh wind blows in. What’s changing around us? Is this indicative of a trend?
Your boss or a former colleague gets a promotion
Someone you know is getting divorced
One of your friend’s kids suddenly becomes a teenager, and how did that happen??
Someone is moving
The neighbors are cleaning up their yard
We bumped into one of our young ones at the coffee shop. She’s excited because she just started taking a class on American Sign Language. I showed her the few pathetic signs I learned in childhood, when my mom’s best friend happened to be Deaf. Cookie, I’m sorry, bathroom, parachute. Useful signs for a four-year-old! A wind blew in with her, a breezy possibility of learning new things and making new friends.
Why didn’t I take the opportunity to learn to sign more from my mom, my ex-husband, or any of my other friends or boyfriends who know how to sign? My dusty old brain needs sweeping out.
Like everyone, I’m surrounded by fresh opportunities all the time. Some of them I notice, some of them I don’t, and some of them I don’t even recognize or understand. Whenever a breeze kicks up it’s my job to perk up and pay attention.
This is something we feel in our new apartment, in our new neighborhood. The microclimate is ever so subtly different than it was in our old place, two miles away. On the top floor instead of the ground floor, we’re now able to get a great cross-breeze day and night. We actually have more than one window. This makes our daily life feel wildly different, even though we’re in a similarly sized place, quite nearby, with the same job and the same friends as before.
It’s always surprising how many people never open their windows. One of the indicators of hoarding that I notice in my ambit is when drapes are never opened, but are visibly pressed against a window by the stacks of clutter behind them. A dim and dusty room should never deprive a person of fresh air and sunlight, no matter what the neighbors might think.
We’ve just moved, into a place that feels breezy and bright, and it’s changing everything. We’ve rearranged our furniture four times in a month, constantly reconfiguring as we cull our stuff and adapt to the new conditions. We invited our friends over and the room filled with laughter, wall to wall. The best kind of breeze of all.
What if a wind blew in and it changed everything? What would that be like?
What if everything around us was arbitrary and subject to change? What if our petty annoyances simply blew away? What if we realized that our biggest problems were secretly only problems of perspective? What if the wind changed, and then our minds changed too?
I’ve felt this in my life, as I’ve relocated, traveled, changed jobs, transformed my body. Body transformation is probably the weirdest one, wandering back and forth over eight clothing sizes, but it tends to show that anything is possible. Paying off debt is possible, training for a new career is possible, finding love is possible, forgiveness is possible. Certainly unloading clutter and redesigning a room is possible, and it can be done in a day with a little hustle. Bustle and bustle, hear the leaves rustle.
If you’re big into the holiday season, now is the time to start getting ready. There is still plenty of time to make space, to design a Halloween costume, to plan a Thanksgiving menu, to finish off some New Year’s Resolutions. All the stuff you will wish you had done the week before, you can start doing now, as a cute and fun gift for Future You.
Social deadlines are the best deadlines, as long as we’re doing something appealing and we’re genuinely looking forward to it. Decorating, hosting a party, and breaking out the special holiday treats are all excellent motivation for getting stuff done. As the wind blows in, telling me that fall is here, I’m looking forward to a full month of Halloween. I’m clearing the decks and making sure I have no reason not to indulge myself.
Open the window. Do you feel the wind blowing in?
Our fridge is still full. Not only did we buy a bunch of party food for our housewarming, but people brought stuff, too. Like every potluck, if everyone brings enough for 6-8 people then it’s a pretty big multiplier.
There was so much that we couldn’t even bring everything out, which is why there’s still a giant watermelon filling most of the top shelf.
The problem with this situation is that we’re only two people... well, unless you go by size, in which case we might get an extra quarter-person between us... and we can only eat so much. How are we going to reach our year-end goals of physical transformation when there are all these GOODIES laying around?
As I may have pointed out, the Halloween Store is already open in our neighborhood, in a place so close and conspicuous that we see it every time we leave our building. This is the first reminder of how we do it:
A month of eating candy and watching horror films
Mashed potatoes in general
And suddenly, oh dear, New Year’s Eve
What this all means is that our September party food problems are just the beginning, just the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.
I’m a “live to eat” person. I can’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy something I do at least four times a day to the absolute maximum. I’m never going to stop eating and loving party food.
On the other hand, I’m also a tightwad who hates shopping, so it’s incumbent upon me to continue to fit in my clothes. The alternative would be to buy more, without being able to escape the memory of all the fries and cake that put me back in the changing room.
One of my secrets here is to make sure to buy or make very particular party foods. There’s a method to the madness.
First of all, there are a lot of perfectly great snacks and treats that I don’t necessarily like that much.
I’m a potato chip person, so we always have corn chips or pita chips, both of which I can walk right by. I’m also fussy about anything in a huge bowl where people are reaching in with their bare hands. I see that and it’s like that bowl isn’t even there anymore, it stops existing to me.
Not a big fan of salty foods in general, like nuts, pretzels, or popcorn.
I quit drinking soda of any kind back in 2013.
Probably most of all, I’ve been vegan for 22 years, and that makes it easy for me to skip anything with even one non-plant-based ingredient. Pie, cookies, cake, deviled eggs, anything with butter or whatever... I would no sooner eat those foods than I would walk by someone in a restaurant and grab something off their plate. Not mine, not for me.
The easiest way I’ve found to deal with party foods that I actually find tempting is to make them myself. Cooking in my kitchen is an intensive activity. I do a lot of bulk cooking or attempting to feed groups of a dozen or more - even when only three people are coming over. I’ve found that the act of cooking from scratch keeps me from snacking. There is nothing about flour, raw onions, or a teaspoon of spices that makes me want to pop it in my mouth. Other people sneak bites when they are doing food prep, and I can’t really imagine how, what, or why. Clean hands!
I made a platter of hummus wraps but never got around to eating one.
It turns out that being a hostess in a small space packed with people makes a conveyor belt of continuous snacks less possible. Every time you turn around, you’re either meeting someone, greeting someone, or trying to finish the story about how they got the purse out when it fell down a hole six feet into a bank of lockers.
It’s also different with a dog and a parrot. Our critters are both extreme extroverts who love meeting everybody and they were on their best behavior. Ah, but neither of them are trustworthy if there’s a plate of food within reach. There happened to be a lot of avocado on the premises, mostly in the form of guacamole or seven-layer dip, and it’s literally a matter of life or death to make sure nobody unknowingly offers some to Noelle. I kept my eye on her as she kept dancing around, asking someone to carry her to the kitchen or at least bring her a few pounds of snacks.
The reason to have a party is to be with your friends.
There happens to be a ton of food around, of course, but the grocery store next to our building is open eighteen hours a day. Just because there is food next to me does not mean I am required to continually shovel it into my cakehole.
It’s basically all there for sustenance so that we can focus on serious business, like fast card games, or conning an intern into trying to spin two hula hoops while juggling three balls.
Also cheaper than sushi for a crowd.
Entertaining at home can be a good bargain for all concerned. No parking, no traffic, no waiting for a table, no tips, no babysitters. If you’re in the habit of doing it on a regular basis, it takes off a lot of the pressure for perfection, and it can also take away the pressure of feeling like this is the one and only lifetime opportunity to eat snacks. Eh, that’ll be there next week.
I made it through unscathed. Rather than gaining three pounds, which is typical after a big party, I was still on track the next day. This is important, because I never want to feel like avoiding a social gathering just because there will be food there. People first, then everything else.
Free isn’t free. It’s better to understand that going in. Anything you take, any object that you handle, has strings attached.
One of the great paradoxes of clutter is that it’s usually harder to get rid of “free” stuff than things that we bought at retail price. Why? No idea, I just know that it’s true.
We had a give-away party after our last move, and one of the items in the pile was our last set of plastic shelving from when we had a garage. We were 100% sure the shelves would go, and we were astonished when they didn’t. The other half-dozen sets had so much traction on Craigslist that we probably should have sold them for cash.
We don’t look at it that way, because we don’t necessarily want to advertise our home as a place full of valuable stuff. (It isn’t). Giving something away attracts gratitude, while selling something seems to activate scarcity mindset in everyone involved. Do I really want to spend my free time dickering over $20? Do I really want a lot of random strangers driving to my specific home address, wondering what else I have?
The thing about shelves in particular is that they have no intrinsic value. They are not beautiful to look at, and their only use consists in storing and/or displaying other items. Nobody just wishes for a house full of empty shelves, and then leaves them that way.
I had a good laugh the other day because one of the apartment units in our building is visible from the pool. What we could see from our perspective was a wall of built-in shelving with about a dozen paperback books on it. There was room for several hundred and they looked a little lonely, all on their own.
This is dangerous, an attractive nuisance. Nature abhors a vacuum and for this reason, empty shelves attract clutter like nothing else.
Once clutter is stored or displayed on a shelf, it never leaves. It merges with the shelving unit and becomes an unremovable part of the whole. It becomes impossible to imagine the object and the shelves separately.
The strangest thing about shelves is that they tend to be inexpensive and easy to find. Yet the people who need them the most never seem to have any. I have a theory about this.
When my eldest nephew was a little boy, we had a conversation about money and stuff. He came running in breathlessly asking to get into his piggy bank because a neighbor kid was willing to sell him a plastic truck for ten dollars. What the heck?? [insert static noise] I told him that sounded way too expensive and that he’d have to ask his dad. Then I gave him a homily about how we save money so we can get something really cool later.
“I like to buy lots of small stuff and then I don’t have to wait,” he replied.
Yeah, you and all my hoarding clients, I thought.
My people, caught in scarcity mindset, all share a knee-jerk reaction that goes NO I CAN’T AFFORD THAT. They are unable to process the idea that a $40 set of shelves costs the same amount as ten $4 items or forty $1 items, which I can clearly see scattered, stacked and piled all over their home.
I “can afford” infinite amounts of $1 and $5 items. Never in life, in no alternative universe, could I even hypothetically afford any item over $X.
That’s the line. That’s how it works. In the scarcity paradigm, there is a permanent cutoff of any price tag over a certain amount, forever and always, for all time, the end.
The other issue with something like a set of shelves is that it needs to go somewhere. Any set of free shelving is virtually guaranteed not to match either the existing furniture or the dimensions of the room. In a cluttered room with a lot of big furniture, it’s never obvious where such a thing could go.
Our utilitarian beige plastic shelving wouldn’t look good anywhere except for a garage, and none of our friends has a garage, because few of the homes in our region do. We live in small apartments or condos because that’s mostly what is available. Who wants to live in a small place dominated by an ugly set of shelves? We all operate under the assumption that our homes should be comfortable and reasonably attractive.
My people, on the other hand, plan everything around THEIR STUFF, what they already have and whatever else they might carry in.
How could I set up these shelves? I’d have to move all these bags and boxes first.
The free shelves that are easy to get are only free because there’s something wrong with them. Either they are rickety or unappealing, or the original owner tried them and found that they didn’t do the job. They’re designed for a purpose. Our shelves are designed to hold medium-sized moving boxes or storage tubs. They work great for that, but they’re too tall for most stuff, either in the garage or indoors. Other “free” shelves might be designed specifically for DVDs or paperback books or some other standard size unit.
A standard shelf will either attract more items that fit it, because it feels right, or it will fill with random clutter that has nowhere else to go. It’s either manifest destiny or lebensraum.
Ideally, a shelf empties and refills. Clean dishes, clean towels, fresh groceries, they’re all supposed to come and go. It’s hard to tolerate clutter on shelves that are constantly in use, because anything that isn’t being used is always in the way. That’s what clutter IS, of course. So what is it that we think we’re doing with any shelf if it’s filled with stuff we don’t use?
The goal is always to be intentional. With something like shelving, it should be clear what is being stored, why, where, and for how long. Then it’s simple enough to find a set of shelving of the right size and dimensions. Maybe sell off some existing clutter to pay for them, thereby solving two problems: too much stuff, and nowhere to put what’s left. Good luck finding any free shelves that will magically do that job.
Work is that place you go where everything drives you nuts and you can’t tell the truth about it. Right?
It’s a truism that most people are going to work because they have to, for the money, in spite of every possible discouragement: Being simultaneously overworked without challenge, bored but unable to take time off, wasting time at pointless meetings, having no creative input, with a micromanaging boss who is an obstacle to productivity, all with a long commute. Yay hooray.
Does it have to be that way, though?
When I got my first office temp job, I was so excited I didn’t know what to do. My previous job had been at a convenience store, so go figure. Literally anything is better than wiping up day-glo nacho cheese while listening to a hyperactive child play with the doorbell. This was a purely entry-level job, standing in front of a photocopier. Other temps had walked off the job on their first day. One of them quit after two hours, remarking, “I don’t have to do this.”
Faced with one of the most boring possible things, the human mind will wander, looking for some way to add excitement. I saw it as a great big video game that generated money. Try to beat the copier and keep it going so you don’t have to wait while it warms up for a new cycle. Count how many copies you make and try for a new high score.
My positive, upbeat attitude attracted the attention of the staff. They taught me things. I caught on quickly, and more people taught me more things. Their backlog disappeared. I started supporting two dozen people with basic administrative tasks.
Obviously other people would look at this as servitude, which it was - doing other people’s scutwork for low pay and no benefits. Seven dollars an hour was better than minimum wage, but it didn’t go very far. Ah, but almost everyone I knew in those days worked in either retail or food service. I had what almost none of my friends or acquaintances had. I had evenings and weekends off! I could predict my schedule months in advance! I didn’t have to hustle for tips, wear a uniform, or get pulled in to cover other people’s shifts.
Also, the basic skills I learned are skills I use every day, in my personal as well as professional life, skills that neither my family, high school, nor college had to offer.
The fact-finding mission of my first office job ever was to find out, What is it like to work in an office in a professional setting?
I liked it. I always have. I love the business world for so many reasons, the predictability and structure most of all. It is hilarious and surreal in many ways, a self-parodying comedy machine in which we’re never supposed to break character or peek through the fourth wall. Yet overall it’s a clean and well-mannered place to spend time.
Right now I’m on a bit of a true crime kick, and it has struck me that it might be very interesting to work in a law office. That’s one of the few fields where I have never worked. Suddenly it clicked that I could easily get a job as a paralegal, where I would learn everything I want to know...
And unlike school...
THEY would pay ME!
There may well be someone reading this who has a job as a paralegal. “You can HAVE it!” this person is thinking. Scoff scoff. This hypothetical person already knows everything that I do not know, and is thus no longer approaching the job with curiosity. I understand that as many people leave the legal profession every year as those who enter it, that it’s draining in the long term. It doesn’t bother me because I don’t want or need an administrative support role in the long term, and I would openly state as much in an interview.
“I will work for you with great curiosity and interest, and you will throw everything you can at me as my incentive. If and when it quits working out, no harm no foul.” Or something along those lines. I can speak business jargon at least as well as anyone else.
Literally every employed person has the option to replace one job with another. We’re all free to bring in whatever attitude we choose. We just don’t realize it.
So you replace one boring, unfulfilling, low-paid job with another. What have you lost? If you already know your current position or field depletes your energy, why stay?
I think what gets most people is interpersonal dynamics. We start feeling crushed by management, by bureaucracy, by colleagues, by clients or patients or customers. What makes the day difficult isn’t the work itself, it’s the social atmosphere. Mood, in other words. The thought of revising a resume, going after new credentials, or interviewing fills us with dread.
I’ve never had a client who was willing to do a job search - the very thought makes them quake with terror, even if their job is the worst part of their life.
It’s the key to freedom, though!
You can’t go on a trip without booking the tickets. You can’t move to your dream home without packing and changing your address. You can’t find romance without introducing yourself to your future sweetheart. You can’t get your dream job without that pesky old interview.
Every improvement comes from change.
It’s possible that someone who has been languishing in a soul-crushing job could transform it by turning it into a fact-finding mission. Possible? Trying to figure that out is a fact-finding mission all on its own. It’s worth a try.
The ultimate fact-finding mission is to figure out what it is that makes other people fulfilled and satisfied, even invigorated, by their work. Are we doing what they’re doing? It’s when we’re most engaged that we’re offering the most, and getting the most in return.
No Hard Feelings if someone at work hands you this book, okay? This is a book of pure genius that should be part of the onboarding process at every company in the United States, and possibly elsewhere. It manages to be fascinating, authentic, hilarious, and paradigm-shifting while still being completely suitable for the office. Leave it out in a conspicuous place, maybe in the break room, and watch everyone flip through it for the cartoons.
Everyone is included in No Hard Feelings. There are predictable style differences between extroverts and introverts, strategic optimists and defensive pessimists, leaders and followers, and of course the various generations, races, cultures, and genders. Some of these have been well explored in the business press, and others seem quite fresh and intriguing in the context of emotional intelligence.
Stress, burnout, and interpersonal conflict come up often. The authors have excellent strategies for setting boundaries, especially with the digital world. They recommend ways to set a company culture that encourages vacation time and discourages constant access. There are highly practical ways to lay down limits and shut down at the end of the day. Surely being less frazzled and exhausted would help everyone to get along and make it to Friday.
One of the features that I liked the most about No Hard Feelings is that it assumes ambition, that the reader is either in a leadership position or may eventually be considered for one. The concept of a “challenge network” was new to me, and I will be using that term when I speak on mentoring and continuous improvement. Everyone should have someone to go to for emotional support, and also someone to go to for advice and constructive criticism.
This is the Twenty-First Century, and it’s high time that we all collectively start acknowledging that emotions are real. Mood repair should be a part of standard operating procedure. Recognizing the human factors of communication and emotional intelligence can only make work easier, more fun, and ultimately more productive. Get your copy and put it in your boss’s inbox today.
...the future of work is emotional.
If you let someone underperform for months or even years without saying anything, you’ve failed as a manager.
A friend took me out for my birthday, and it turned into a breakup. Not between us, of course, because we aren’t dating each other!
My friend had a new flirt thing going with a guy from a dating app. This is great fun for me, because I’ve been out of the game for nearly fifteen years and it can be really entertaining to learn about app life from someone else. Vicarious thrills and all that.
We were sitting on the beach under the moonlight, eating strawberry ice cream, when her phone lit up. She lit up, too, thinking of her crush and how much she liked him.
Her face fell as she read through the rapid-fire barrage of texts.
Her crush was accusing her of being out with someone else, because all she supposedly wanted was to date a younger guy.
What the heck, man??
She didn’t reply until later, after we said goodnight, but they had a fight and she blocked him. Honestly, who needs that kind of energy?
I couldn’t really get over it. I might be a lot of things, but a younger guy I am not!
Almost everything we were doing, my friend and I, would definitely come across as cheating if we were in a romantic context. In fact I picked up a phrase that another friend of mine coined. Ro-tic.
It’s “romantic” without the “man.”
This is what’s so messed up about jealousy and why it has to be a dealbreaker. This guy was so fixated on the idea that someone would want to cheat on him that he blew up a new romance over it.
I have a unique perspective on the situation because I was there, and I know myself to be a monogamously married heterosexual middle-aged woman. Totally not a single bachelor in his thirties or twenties. I know my friend wasn’t out cheating with a younger guy because I’m her alibi, and a pretty boring one at that.
What were we talking about, while this delusional man was fuming over his suspicions?
Soup. Vision boards. How to give feedback to our direct reports. Interior design. Dog breeds. Book clubs.
The thing about jealousy is that it turns a living, breathing person into an object. Rather than a woman, my friend is suddenly a cardboard cutout representing Cheatin’ Females.
About 20% of people cheat. That’s one in five. Those people believe in their hearts that everyone does it. People will do whatever they want based on the stories they tell themselves, and some tell themselves a story that involves romantic involvement with more than one person at a time. Sometimes they are willing to be honest about this and sometimes they are not. But it’s only one in five.
There are people who find themselves cheated on more than once. Sure, of course. One in five is reasonable probability, and I’d probably buy a lottery ticket based on 1:5 odds!
There are two things that happen. Either the person isn’t asking the right questions or setting the right boundaries, or their behavior instigates cheating in a person who otherwise never would have done it.
Actually there’s probably something else, which is when a person is attracted to the operatic style of relationship. That’s the one where the couple believe they have massive physical chemistry or some sort of fate has driven them together, and then they have huge fights but make up afterward. Barf me out the door. But some people like it. They can’t believe they are loved or wanted without high drama and explosive emotional outbursts.
What a jealous person probably wants, after throwing a jealous tantrum, is that the recipient replies poetically. “I love you the most, there’s nobody else for me, you are the grand passion of my life,” mwah. I actually walked my friend through this as a strategy and offered to talk to the dude on the phone, assuring him that I am not in fact a younger guy. Boring old lady talking about soup recipes.
Fortunately my friend has no need of a jealous boyfriend. Who does, really? It hadn’t occurred to her that there was a formula she could follow to keep this guy, because once he revealed this icky jealous side, she was done.
If it happens once, it will happen again.
She’ll sit next to a man on a plane, or her male boss will call her one evening, or a male person will happen to live within a mile of her, and the jealous guy will get jealous, suspicious ideas. More and more of her emotional energy will be burned up trying to explain reality to a walking delusion. The more she explains, the guiltier she will look.
Not only is it better to date among the 80% of reality-based, non-jealous people... It’s better to be alone.
Better to live amongst friends, neighbors, and colleagues who take you at your word.
Better to associate with people who trust you and accept that you are implicitly trustworthy, which of course you are.
The reason jealousy causes cheating is that when someone is constantly under suspicion, they’re forced into this defensive, negative posture through no fault of their own. The very first time that someone else comes along who treats them normally, without this constant criticism and judgment, they will remember what it’s like in Realityville. They’ll turn for comfort to the only person who is offering it. It’s impossible to love a scornful face.
I feel bad for the jealous guy, because he had everything going for him. Successful in his career, interesting, funny, physically attractive, well-dressed. “Gee, why are you single?” Until he can get over his fixation that every woman wants to cheat on him, nobody will ever love him. He’ll create his own lack of love until he is no longer funny, interesting, or attractive.
The real irony of this situation is that there is not a younger guy in this story, and never will be. One of the things my friend and I were talking about was what it would take for her to settle down and get married. We both agreed that younger guys are fun, but too much hassle, and no longer worth our time due to where we are in life.
My own husband happened to be out of town on business. (This evening wasn’t my actual birth date). He didn’t spend any time worrying about what I was doing, eating strawberry ice cream on the beach under the moonlight. He knows that I chose him, that I’d sworn off younger guys before we even started dating. There’s not a younger guy on earth who could give me what I have, either a mature husband or a fun female friendship.
Caricature of social media, the same caricature of the past ten years:
I ate a sandwich for lunch
AND HERE IS A PICTURE OF IT!
Nobody wants to see a picture of my favorite sandwich. There’s no way to make it look good, even if you’re the kind of person who dedicates your off hours to food photography. I am decidedly not that person. Also, I’ve been scaring people away with my propensity for Tofurky and sauerkraut sandwiches since like 1997.
The trouble with the sandwich is that I keep improving it with glorious add-ons. It started with the bread. Then it was the stone-ground mustard, then it was the horseradish with beets. Sometimes it’s cranberry sauce, although then the other guys have to go.
I know this sandwich is my downfall and one of the major causes of my recent weight gain. I know it is. I also know that nobody in America wants to talk about weight gain, but too bad. I thought we were all about authenticity and not presenting a fake image that drives other people to FoMO. You want authenticity, you have to hear about my love-hate relationship with one of the major characters in my life, which is, my lunch.
Not everyone even eats lunch. A lot of you out there with the microwaved popcorn and the Diet Coke have more to worry about than I do.
It’s true that I don’t indulge myself by skipping or delaying meals, exploding at people, and then apologizing because “I was hangry.” I’m proud of this. It’s a cultural fault. I’m one of the only people I know who actually eats a proper, intentional, sit-down lunch every day.
The trouble is that I’m a small-framed person eating the lunch of a longshoreman. Not a literal guy: a real longshoreman could no doubt defend his lunchbox from me, or hoist me overhead in one of those big cargo nets until I gave it back. I’m picturing a metaphorical guy, someone much larger than my 5’4”.
I’ve been a bunch of different sizes in my adult life. I’ve worn each of eight different clothing sizes for at least a year. These are all places I’ve been before. Right now I’m at one of my least-favorite places, hovering right on the line between normal and overweight.
I’m noticing it more because I decided it was time to do something about it, and put my plan into motion, and my weight has been stuck within 0.1 for a week.
It’s my sandwich, that handsome devil.
I just can’t quit you!
When you basically do the same things all the time, you basically tend to get the same results.
I eat oatmeal every morning for breakfast, because it’s one of the great loves of my life, and I’ve succeeded on it across workouts. Hiking, running, martial arts, oatmeal is the one thing that sticks to my ribs.
My hubby and I eat basically the same couple dozen dinners, because there are only so many thirty-minute meals that we know how to cook.
My beloved sandwich is under suspicion because I started upgrading it again. It happened in stages. Our grocery store quit carrying the special bread I used for nearly five years. I went back to my old brand, which is larger, and then started adding more fillings because it looked so... small and flat.
Suddenly “my sandwich” was about 20% bigger.
Add 20% to your meals, and what happens?
It’s simple math.
This is a deeply, profoundly controversial concept. I recognize that. What I don’t understand is why it makes sense for my pets, who are different classes of animal, but supposedly doesn’t make sense for humans. My parrot weighs under a pound, my dog weighs under 25 pounds. We measure her food with a tablespoon and we measure his with a half-cup scoop. Obviously she can’t eat the same amount he can - she wouldn’t want to, and she can’t snap off bits of his kibble anyway. Equally obviously, he couldn’t survive on her meals, even when she throws him bits just to watch him skid out on the floor.
Nobody thinks it’s pathological that my pets have their meals measured with a scoop. All the vets they have had have told us the same thing, that we feed our animals a little too much and that we need to dial back a bit. They’ve both had endocrine and liver issues, and gee, isn’t that strange? Two chordata, a mammal and a bird, eating different diets from different brands, going to different clinics, with similar health problems? The common denominator, the primates who fill their bowls. Plus a few little treats on the side, day after day.
Aww, but they’re so cute when they beg!
We relate to them so much through food. They both love music, they both love to go out and meet people, they both love to snuggle and get pets, so much of their personalities are not food-oriented. But we are.
We could never harm them by playing them too much music or snuggling too much. We pick the one thing that could ever cause them any trouble.
We can also appreciate that animals don’t have issues with body image. Are you kidding? A dog walking around with his ear inside out and his tongue hanging out of his mouth, a parrot picking her nose with her toe. They’re not even ashamed of eating off the floor. We can have frank discussions about their weight right in front of them and it will never interfere with their boundless self-satisfaction.
Why am I talking about my pets when I started out talking about my sandwich? Because my sandwich is a sort of pet of mine as well. A fixation, an enduring presence, part of how I define myself and plan my days. I have no idea what else I would do with myself.
I know how to disrupt my pattern, and there are two ways. One, I can keep hanging with my frenemy sandwich if I start running serious mileage again. Two, I can bulk-cook a bunch of soups, lasagna, all sorts of other enticing meals with a lower calorie count, and eat a nice hot lunch every day instead. Or I can make a giant project out of it and do both.
Left to my own devices, I’ll keep at it with my sandwich, my frenemy, and I’ll still be complaining about the same pattern three months from now, or a year from now, or forever. Nobody redefines my day but me.
It’s that time again. We’ve just moved, and there’s a big pile of random stuff in our dining room, staged and ready for our next give-away party. Invites have already gone out.
What is a give-away party?
It’s a social occasion where anyone who is invited can look through the pile and take stuff home.
Why do we do it?
There’s a built-in deadline for us to finish sorting stuff and moving in. Also, we can give away things that we can’t donate. Stuff we don’t need circulates back to the Stuff Place. We continue to live with the expectation that we keep only what we actively use, so that we can keep our expenses and home maintenance as low as possible.
In my work with hoarding and chronic disorganization, almost everyone struggles with letting go of stuff. One of the few things that will break up this pattern of emotional attachment is to feel that something is going To the Right Person. I’m “saving it” for “someone who might need it.”
The paradox behind this is that 1. We believe there is someone who truly needs this thing, although obviously we do not need it ourselves, AND YET 2. We are keeping it in the only way that absolutely guarantees it WILL NOT go to anyone who needs it.
It’s like if I had a ham-and-cheese sandwich and I put it in my fridge, even though I’m a vegan, because “it shouldn’t go to waste,” but I didn’t tell anyone I had it. Who did I think was going to come knocking, asking if I happened to have an extra ham-and-cheese sandwich sitting around?
What we are doing is hosting a housewarming, but instead of bringing us a bunch of potted plants or candles, our guests can just bring snacks. Actually it’s a reverse housewarming, in the sense that we expect people to take things home rather than add to our inventory.
It’s surprising how many things can’t be donated, like garage shelving or glass furniture. A lot of thrift stores won’t take furniture of any kind.
We’ve always given away a lot of stuff over Craigslist or Freecycle. It can be complicated because it’s a toss-up whether someone will actually show up to take what they claimed to want. I can’t count how much time I’ve spent hanging around, waiting for a call that never came, then having to re-post something and go back and forth for eight emails. I gave away our moving boxes after this move and it took nearly an hour for the guy to get through traffic and find our address.
What most people will do when they realize they no longer need something is to leave it in place for a long time, and then maybe carry it off to the garage or a junk room. When asked, people will claim they’re “going to have a garage sale” or they’re “going to sell it on eBay.” That day never comes. The next time it comes up, they double down, and all that happens is that they feel more intensely annoyed, defensive, or anxious. The stuff is still there, radiating complications.
We quit having garage sales when we realized it took two of us an entire summer Saturday to make $150. We made less than minimum wage. We would have been better off financially if one of us got a part-time job at Taco Bell and the other literally beat all the yard sale stuff into smithereens with a big mallet.
Check my math: ($150/2 people)/(12 hours)=($75)/(12)=$6.25/hour
(Also no free tacos)
A give-away party takes the financial aspect out of consideration.
What we’re doing is showing magnanimity. When we give away something like our first blender to an intern, we’re giving that person a chance to make blender drinks and still pay down their student loan. Rather than spend all the time and mental bandwidth trying to sell a used blender that cost $25 new, we can maximize our mental efforts doing something else. We set an example of generosity that will be paid down the line over time.
“We were broke at your age, and now it’s our turn. When you’re our age you can pick up the check.”
We accept that The Blender Cost $25. That money is gone now. We are not buying into the sunk cost fallacy. We paid $25, we got (by definition) $25 worth of use out of it, and now it goes back to the Stuff Place.
We value our time at $X/hour, and evening time at $2X/hour, and weekend time at $10X/hour. It would be absurd at the deepest level to value our free time at pennies on the hour.
It’s entirely possible that nobody who comes to our party will take anything out of the give-away pile. We’re certainly not forcing anyone! We simply want to set the example that stuff comes, stuff goes, and what is truly important is friendship.
Maybe we’ll be left with a big box of empty canning jars and a set of plastic shelving and some random housewares. That’s cool. At that point we will do what we have always done and set about advertising this stuff to the community. Please, take it off our hands.
The result of a minimalist lifestyle that involves regular give-away parties is that we have minimized our rent and maximized our savings. We might have given away “hundreds of dollars’ worth” of stuff, but in the process we have saved TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars in rent. We’re maximizing our retirement portfolio, rather than maximizing a giant pile of junk in a garage full of black widow spiders and mice. Or, worse, a storage unit, doing nothing but eating money month after month and not even contributing to our home equity.
What we’ll remember about our give-away party is seeing our friends, eating snacks, laughing, talking, and playing games. If asked to make a list of all the stuff we gave away, we won’t be able to remember it all. That’s fine, because almost everything that exists can easily be found in the Stuff Place, and when we need anything, we can easily get it. There is plenty and there will always be plenty more.
It comes up a lot. People generally can’t believe that a married couple our age are voluntarily choosing to rent instead of own a home. One of our young ones came over on open house night, and blurted out, “You guys RENT??” Like it had completely violated his impression of us or something!
That’s generally how you know you’ve hit upon a truly contrarian position. Nobody understands it or why you’re doing it. Young or old, rich or poor, artist or business professional, nobody gets it.
You don’t... own... a car?
You... don’t... drink coffee?
You... actually like... the middle seat?
Personally, I do weirder things, like using chopsticks with my non-dominant hand, and nobody notices that stuff at all. Most of the time people are just thinking about themselves, that or their phone.
You can get away with A LOT in plain sight. People may give feedback in one form or another, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay attention or base your major strategic decisions on their opinion. Especially if you think the common denominator isn’t working for most people.
Default: tired, broke, cluttered
To sum up, our strategy is to rent a tiny apartment, use public transport, and max out our retirement contributions. Literally anyone in the world can live in a small space and not own a car. This is not elitist. It’s about the complications you are willing to tolerate.
What are the three basic home-owning strategies?
Ideally we would love #1. We live in Southern California right now, and we agree that it’s paradise. It’s a combination of a beautiful place with a great climate, ready access to fascinating work opportunities, and a culture that suits us. Unfortunately, buying an amazing house where we live costs about 4x as much as the same house somewhere else.
We understand #2, and we know precisely how to do it. We are both tool-oriented DIY types, part of our initial attraction to one another. One of our few continual quarrels revolves around who gets to assemble new furniture. The problem with this strategy is that all your free time, evenings, weekends, and holidays, goes to fixing up the house. It becomes your only hobby, that and accidentally breaking some drywall.
#3, geographic arbitrage, is something else we understand. Pack up and go somewhere else, like... Belize? Our biggest problems with this strategy are 1. Jobs, 2. Our pets, and 3. Choosing one place. Quite frankly we would only go in this direction at the point of retirement, and neither of us really believes in retirement as a thing.
Oops, another hot take! Let’s save that one for a different day.
The biggest problem with owning a house is that nobody wants to talk about the externalities.
The closing costs, the annual maintenance costs, the higher utility bills and other hidden costs, the extra chores of yard work and housework, the risk position, the house becoming a character in your story and demanding things, like extra furniture.
Risk position! There are NO GUARANTEES that you won’t need extensive wiring work, plumbing repairs, and a new roof, just as you find out you have a cracked foundation... and then you get hit with a major natural disaster shortly after finishing it all. When you own a house the buck stops with you.
People will try to talk you into home ownership in the same way they try to talk you into having children, or adopting a cat. They won’t talk about all that stuff like burst pipes, teething, or the cat barfing on your bedspread. “It’s different when they’re yours!” Yep, my point exactly.
The main reason that my husband and I haven’t bought a house is the way mortgages are structured. The loan is front-loaded, and almost everything you pay for the first five years is interest. You aren’t building equity. Due to our strategic position on career growth, we haven’t felt that we could guarantee we would stay in one city for five years. We decided that before we got married, and in point of fact, we were right.
If we had chosen the house over the career opportunities, we would have had to pass up several promotional choice points. We’d be making 50% less money, and, to be honest, I would probably be tired of the house and constantly being in Remodel Purgatory.
It’s my nature. If I lived in the fanciest house on the entire planet, there would be something I didn’t like about it, and I would want to either rearrange all the furniture or remodel something. I don’t have it in me to just fall in love with one specific building and want it to never change.
There are other home-ownership strategies out there, and probably room for more, because anything can be modified or disrupted. For instance, a lot of people live with their parents and save money, and someone could probably do something similar while house-sitting. Another common one is to live in a granny unit or put in a garage or basement apartment, get tenants for the main house, and use their rent to pay down the mortgage. Or get a job that includes housing, like working on a cruise ship or at a fire watch tower, and save as much money as possible.
One day, we might buy a house. We’d do it when we had fallen in love with that city, when we had a sense of knowing about that property, when we had nothing better to do with our copious spare time. When that will be, only time will tell. In the meantime, yeah, we rent. What’s it to you?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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