This is how it went:
December. Decide we want to move to a place with lower rent. Coincidentally get notice TWO HOURS LATER that our rent will increase $200 a month. Shrug.
January. Negotiate lower rent with property manager. Spontaneously decide to look at a “junior one bedroom” unit and realize we like it better. Apply for a unit and get it. Give notice.
Two months after we decided we wanted to move, we were sleeping in our new, cheaper apartment.
Two weeks elapsed between when we started packing our old place to when we finished unpacking in our new place.
I packed four boxes a day for the three days before the move. We could have done more, but in a 680-square-foot apartment, there isn’t very much room for a staging area to stack boxes.
My husband has alternate Fridays off, and we spent a couple of hours packing on the Friday before the move. Then we took off to run some errands and see a movie.
Moving Day was a Saturday. We had breakfast around 8 AM. Then we spent an hour filling out paperwork in the rental office before we could pick up our keys. A friend came over to help us move at 10 AM. He left around 1 PM. We were done packing, hauling, and cleaning at 11 PM, including two meal breaks.
Because we moved from one unit to another within the same apartment complex, there was no way for us to use a moving van. Both units are down a walkway from the parking lot. We had to use a dolly and a rolling skidder, or simply hand-carry everything. The move would have gone much faster if all we’d had to do was to load and unload a van.
By mid-afternoon, the place was already livable. We had set up and made the bed, hung the shower curtain, loaded the fridge and freezer, unpacked the medicine cabinet and all the bathroom cabinets and drawers, put away most of our clothes, set up the couch and the pet crates, and unpacked the kitchen drawers. From that point it was possible to go to bed; wake up, shower, and dress; and make breakfast. We carried on hauling boxes.
On Sunday, we finished unpacking our clothes. I set up the entire kitchen while my husband set up his work station. We unpacked all but a small stack of boxes. We cooked dinner for the first time in our new home.
Monday and Tuesday were ordinary workdays. We unpacked the remaining 20% and found spots for everything.
On Wednesday, I waited around for the internet installer and caught up on laundry.
On Thursday, we left town for the weekend.
On Sunday afternoon, we made a to-do list. We gave away some furniture and the now-empty moving boxes.
We kept the rental car an extra day, since Monday was a holiday, and dropped off a load at Goodwill. We also picked up a few things at IKEA and the Container Store.
Now all that’s left is to hang pictures! We’ve found that it’s best to save the final decorating touches for at least a few days, while we get used to the space and the light levels. Sometimes we change our minds about where furniture will be, and it makes more sense to get that settled before pounding nail holes in the walls.
Because we didn’t have very much stuff to move, we were able to take our time. We had photos and measurements from our first viewing of a similar unit, and we’d spent time at our weekly status meeting drawing out diagrams and figuring out what went where. Many of the early loads got unpacked directly into their place, partly because we needed to reuse the empty moving cartons. I had a small “box of holding” that I used to do each kitchen and bathroom drawer separately, while carrying a small backpack with stuff from the fridge and freezer. I would walk over, unpack the box into its new drawer, unload the backpack, and do something like hang up the shower curtain or put sheets on the bed. This meant about a ten-minute turnaround. With this method, we eliminated the middle stage of a dozen box towers, all labeled ‘MISC.’ It was like magic!
Just as we’ve done every time we’ve moved, we’ve gone through two stages. We got rid of a bunch of stuff that we knew wouldn’t fit before we even started packing. We had a pretty solid estimate of how many boxes we’d need, and we bought sixteen small book boxes and ten large boxes. It would have helped to have another half-dozen small boxes, but we were fine without them. After the move, we had another round of culling to do. Even on the first day, we knew that our next move will involve even less stuff than this one did.
The point of minimalism is to focus on what is most important to you in life. Experiences, not things, and it should also be emphasized that the experience of daily life is most important of all. We prefer to live in a streamlined space where we have room to relax, room to cook, room to live. The better we get at this, the more we can enjoy fringe benefits, such as an efficient, straightforward minimalist move.
Note: I continued my twenty-five-year streak of getting my full cleaning deposit back. This amount was roughly equivalent to what I spent buying myself a nice new wicker easy chair for the front porch.
We’re moved into our new “junior one bedroom” apartment. That’s real-estate-ese for “studio apartment that costs more.” There are a lot of legal restrictions in real estate that encourage truth in advertising, but in reality, you have to check it out for yourself. Beware the “peek view,” for instance. Lean over and see it for yourself before you pay a significant markup. We’re much too frugal to ever take a hotel room with a view, and daily living at home can cost even more. Anyway. Suffice to say that our studio isn’t a “studio” because it comes with a room divider. It’s missing a lot else, almost all of which is kitchen storage.
What I’m going to do is to break down the numbers behind the decision to let go of what can be very emotional attachments to very aspirational kitchen items.
Aspirational items are things we buy because they symbolize a better life. Often, they never get used; they just sit there, trophies toward an image of ourselves that we don’t like enough to live it out every day. Aspirational kitchens are so full of stuff that very little cooking goes on in them. They’re like showrooms.
A stand mixer is the big one for a lot of people. By “big,” I mean physically big, because these things are almost always too tall for the available cabinets. They live on the countertop. This is part of why they’re aspirational. They’re designed to be seen and admired. The stand mixer symbolizes a capital investment in that kitchen. I BAKE. These things are expensive for most people, and the decision to let one go would be emotionally impossible for many.
I never bought one.
I could have a stand mixer if I wanted, sure. I could buy one today. I just refuse to give up that much countertop space. The other reason is that if I baked often enough to justify the kitchen real estate it would require, my husband and I would both probably gain 15-30 pounds the first year. When we choose where to live, we can base the decision on a kitchen without needing to accommodate the huge, expensive, weight-gain-inducing stand mixer of the aspirational kitchen.
Moving right along!
What are some other large, aspirational kitchen appliances?
Instant Pot: $80-$150.
Espresso maker: $35-$700 (!?!)
Bread machine: $60-$100.
Pasta maker: $25-$160
Food processor: $30-$200
Note that we decided we would keep our Vitamix even if we went full nomad and lived out of hotels. We use it every day. I’d get rid of a bunch of shoes before I’d get rid of my fancy-dancy blender, because it argues for itself through constant use.
There are tons of other kitchen appliances, of course. They’re popular gifts. I’ve given several of them myself. Ice cream makers, deep fryers, grills, waffle irons. The more of them there are in a kitchen, the harder they are to store. (Kitchens are designed around contemporary trends, and those trends change every decade). The harder appliances are to store, the harder they are to remove and use. The harder they are to use, the less they get used, adding to the feeling of FoMO and the sense that no, I can never let go of anything, because I haven’t gotten my money’s worth out of it.
IT’S WORTH SOMETHING!
This is the funny thing. I just gave away some kitchen appliances I had owned for years, over twenty years in one case. When I looked up what it would cost to replace these things, many of them cost less now and have more features. This happened with a hand-me-down microwave oven that my brother passed on to me during my first marriage. It was almost the size of a dishwasher, it had a dial, and it cooked really slowly. It’s hard to say no to “free.” We did, though, after a year or so. We gave away the free microwave, and I’m sure the next owner also gave it away, because you couldn’t sell that thing. Maybe in 1987 you could have. Now, in 2018, if that thing is still around, you’d probably have to pay someone to take it.
We downsized and accepted a kitchen downgrade because we crunched the numbers. We’re saving over $400 a month on rent. If we’d stayed in the unit where we lived last year, we would have had to pay an additional $200 a month. That’s a LOT of money just to hang onto a few appliances, even if we used them all day, every day. Which we didn’t.
We let go of a blender, a crock pot, a rice cooker, a bread machine, and a bunch of canning jars. For our purposes, it’s irrelevant what they originally cost, because what matters is their replacement cost. (If we don’t miss them and we never replace them, then the replacement cost remains zero). We’ll pretend we’d just buy them all over again.
Replacement kitchen appliances: $30 + $30 + $30 + $100 + $25 = $215
Time to amortize through lower rent: Two weeks
In reality, we’ll never replace that old blender because we already did, with a nice Vitamix. I was only keeping the old, cheap blender because I had a spice grinder attachment. We’ll never buy another crock pot or another rice cooker because we’d just upgrade and get an Instant Pot. We probably won’t buy another bread machine because my husband enjoys making bread. (It was something I used because kneading bread aggravates some problems in my wrist). These were things we had because we had them. Our ability to recognize the difference between the lifestyle we actually live, and the aspirational lifestyle we wish we lived, helps us to save the money that could one day bridge that difference.
Would I know what to do with a huge, expensive house in an expensive neighborhood? Sure I would! I’m quite sure I’d be just as good at shopping and buying and choosing high-end, high-price items as anyone else. I just couldn’t bring myself to go into debt to do it. The decision to make temporary changes for a better strategic position is an easy decision, when it’s obvious what the tradeoffs are. I’m not “giving up” my nice kitchen appliances for a kitchen downgrade. I’m TRADING what are really some fairly trivial items in order to save thousands of dollars on rent for a certain specific period of time.
Most important of all, I’m always going to value my ability to cook in my kitchen and make use of my space. There are no items, no matter how aspirational or expensive, that are valuable enough to clutter up my work area or my countertops.
Most people are never going to voluntarily move to a smaller house or apartment just to save money. Streamlining the existing kitchen so that it can actually be used can feel like a major lifestyle upgrade. Eat through the majority of the pantry stores, get rid of most of the dishes or plastic storage containers, or reevaluate the appliances and other kitchen accessories. Create clear counter space and focus more on the meals than the hardware. The point of a kitchen is to cook in it, not to have a kitchenwares museum.
Heads up, because I’m about to do something unwise and ill-advised. I’m about to step forward and proclaim that I make solid, reliable financial predictions.
I’m good at predicting and reporting financial trends! I put them in writing! I even make predictions with specific timelines and post them!
November 6, 2017. I published a post called “Crash is Coming.” In it, I wrote the following:
“It’s not like I’m foretelling the future when I say that the market is going to crash. I would be if I said I think it’s coming in first quarter of 2018. That would be a prediction. Making specific predictions is always a terrible idea because they’re virtually always wrong. Most people like to wait until after the fact to claim that they saw something coming. Putting it in print sets you up for failure.
In reality, I am planning for such an event.”
First Quarter isn’t over yet, and the outlook seemed to have improved at market open this morning, but I’m weighing in. On February 5, 2018, the Dow experienced the worst point drop in history. Not a “crash” technically, at least not yet. I don’t think we’re done yet, though. I’m bearish right now, which means I’m pessimistic about the near-term economic future. I’ll talk more about this after I pause to brag about my Bitcoin and cryptocurrency predictions.
January 22, 2018. I published a post called “We Passed on Bitcoin in 2013.” In it, I stated that I was skeptical about cryptocurrency for several reasons. Two of these were potential currency manipulation and the risk that crypto wallets could be hacked and robbed. I also said that the $14,100 valuation of BTC at the time of writing was probably a bubble.
Four days later, news broke about the biggest cryptocurrency hack of all time, in which $500 million worth of cryptocurrency had been stolen. Then, on February 5, news reports suggested that North Korea had allegedly stolen billions of dollars’ worth of Bitcoin. The value of BTC stands at just over 60% of what it was three weeks prior, when I wrote that it was a bubble.
I’m going to write more about the market and broader economic themes from now on. This is because they affect how we plan our personal finances and our life strategy. If financial independence is your aim, and if that aim includes a desire for freedom from stress and anxiety, then you need to be aware and informed of the world you live in. You also need to learn to form your own opinions and analyze trends based on how you believe they will affect you. If you’re skeptical about anything or everything I have to say, congratulations! That’s exactly what I want for you. Take that power of discernment and use it broadly, constantly.
Okay. Now for some more predictions.
I think we’re in for it. Over the next 2-3 years, a bunch of icky stuff is going to happen, and some of it has already started. The reason I think this is that we’ve seen these signs before.
Consumer savings are at their lowest in years
Real estate in many urban markets is stretched far past affordability for median-income households
Stock market is [was?] overdue for a correction
US Treasury is borrowing nearly a trillion dollars in 2018, increasing in 2019 and 2020
Novices are investing in financial vehicles they don’t understand
Unemployment is supposedly low, but I dunno if that means what they claim it means
For instance, we were riding in a Lyft recently on a Saturday night. The driver showed up in an immaculate, new car, which it turned out he was leasing by the week. He was engaging and intelligent, someone who would fit in well in our world of engineers and business professionals. We like to chat up our drivers, and this one grudgingly admitted that we were his 17th ride for the night. He’d made $60 and only three passengers had tipped him. I highly suspect that a lot of those high employment numbers reflect gig-economy “jobs” like this one. Also, those failures to tip represent something other than high consumer confidence.
Let me rewind and explain what I mean about novice investors. My hubby and I were sitting at a cafe table together, reading the news. I froze and got his attention so that I could read an article I found absolutely chilling. It was about single mums in Britain who were learning from their hair stylists or their middle-school children how to invest in Bitcoin. One said it was her only hope for eventual retirement. My hubby stared at me, his jaw hanging open. “Here it comes,” I said. We’ve been overhearing a lot of conversations lately in which obvious novices are discussing the stock market, real estate investment, startup funding, etc. Any seasoned investor will tell you that when you start hearing stock tips from your barber, watch out. Newbies buy high, freak out, and sell low. Enthusiastic novices become easily overwhelmed by BS and get sold on overvalued investments, “rental” properties with serious structural problems, junk bonds, and other detritus that more experienced investors will avoid. When a market is high in any sector, it can look like “easy money,” and that tends to turn heads.
Investing is a game in which a small segment of wealthy people with extraordinary math skills occasionally “win.” In this sense, “win” means that millions of people lose most or all that they have. It, ahem, trickles up. The average player truly isn’t playing the same game as they are, and not even on the same board. Wealthy people have access to funds and financial managers with a buy-in in the millions or hundreds of millions of dollars. We can’t get their rates of return because we can’t even make deposits in the same accounts that they can. We also can’t afford their lawyers, accountants, or financial planners. We’re on our own, and we have to use our wits.
There are three smart rules that I can give you, and they’ll work beautifully without further explanation.
If you earn 9% by speculating in the stock market, that’s fabulous. You can guarantee that rate of return by cutting what you spend on groceries, restaurants, booze, and coffee by 9%. You can guarantee 16% (or more) by paying off your credit cards. You can increase your employment income by anywhere from 20% to 200% fairly easily by learning more marketable skills and promoting yourself. Verbum sapienti sat.
Expendable, or expandable? Most people somehow find themselves surrounded by more and more stuff every year. As the amount of stuff expands, it fills up the home. Eventually, either the place is hoarded or the family has to move to a bigger place with more capacity. What, do you think everyone with a three-car garage is filling it with... cars? That’s the difference with minimalism. We focus on our lifestyle. No single item rates above our experience of living in our home. What’s more, nothing we own has more clout than our strategic position.
Clutter means it’s getting in the way.
This is a concept that most people really, really don’t grasp. It doesn’t matter what emotion you feel while you’re holding an object. What the heck does that have to do with anything, unless it’s your engagement ring?
This is how we decide what to keep:
Are we in the optimal job?
If we’re in the optimal job, are we in the optimal home?
If we’re in the optimal home near the optimal job, can we do the things we need to do?
Do we actually use this thing?
See how these questions are radically different than our feelings about an object? Oh, how much did it cost? What color is it? Does it work with my interior design philosophy? Does it make me feel all sparkly inside? Getting emotionally caught up in small-scale objects like a book or a shirt is totally beside the point when we’re making decisions based on career path, financial independence, or domestic contentment.
These are the questions.
If a better job came along in another city, would we or would we not go after it? Our kid is already in college, we don’t own a house, and we can’t live near family due to my husband’s specialized profession. Since it’s just us and our stuff, why not?
Since we’re moving, what are we taking with us? What are the rents like in our new city? We realized several years ago that if we busted down from a full-size, 3BR/2B suburban house with a two-car garage and a yard, we could save a fortune. Was it really worth the extra tens of thousands of dollars in rent and the extra hours of weekend maintenance to keep up that lifestyle? We reconsidered and realized that in many ways, living in an apartment would be a lifestyle upgrade. No more yard work, lower utility bills, less housework, and access to a pool, hot tub, and gym!
At that point, the question becomes how we fit our household into a cute little apartment. Due to where we live, there simply are no larger places in our neighborhood. Even the multi-million dollar houses are really small. Requiring a larger place also requires a longer commute, which is the exact reason most people tolerate a long commute. Where else would we put all our stuff???
Now we crunch the numbers. We have to calculate rental cost per square foot. We have to calculate utility costs per square foot. We have to include incidental costs, like a larger moving van, more gas, and more boxes. We have to include the extra furniture that people buy for their extra stuff, like bookshelves and cabinets and vanities and entertainment centers and desks and armoires and filing cabinets. All of it costs, and much of it has extra carrying costs as well. That’s before you even calculate the cost of buying it on credit.
Due to our income tax bracket and the sales tax in our state, every dollar we spend basically costs us two dollars. It would be more if we carried a balance on our credit cards.
In our complex, a two-bedroom apartment that is barely bigger than our one-bedroom costs $4000 a month. If we’d insisted on keeping all our sparkly cute lovely things, we would definitely have needed that extra bedroom to store them in. But how would we have afforded that rent? It’s not like our stuff is going to go out and get a job and start contributing to earn its keep...
Actually, in rare instances, stuff does pay the rent. We rented a storage unit for about a week and a half during our last move. The manager told us that a few of the tenants used their units to store their work equipment. Landscapers, painters, contractors, people who needed somewhere to store their bulky equipment to earn a living. You can’t exactly keep a lawn mower on the carpet in your second-floor apartment. Or, I guess you can, but you’re probably paying to have that carpet replaced when you move out!
Our first consideration, when we decide what to keep, is what we need to do our jobs. Even if we went full nomad and lived out of hotels, we would keep our electronics. My husband has some active reference textbooks that he would keep. Obviously we would maintain our professional wardrobes, or what would fit in two suitcases, anyway. That’s pretty much it. Virtually nothing else that we own is directly related to our ability to earn money.
In my opening list of strategic questions was a hint about something. Can we do the things we need to do? What I mean by this is that we need to be able to sleep in the bedroom, cook in the kitchen, bathe in the bathroom, eat at the table, work at our desks, and live in the living room. That means that absolutely nothing gets to be in a stack or a pile. We value our space and the use of that space more than any amount of stuff. It doesn’t matter where it came from, how much it’s “worth,” who gave it to us, or how we feel about it. Even if it’s holding its little inanimate arms out and asking for a hug. If it’s in the way, it’s out the door.
Do we actually use our stuff? This question means that we focus on our enjoyment of the things that we do have. We invested in the most comfortable bed we could find when we were newlyweds. It’s kinda romantic that we’ve been together almost long enough to need to replace it! We also comfort-tested our couch. When you buy or keep very few possessions, you can afford to spend more and to put in a little more effort making sure that you really like something before you bring it home.
Here is the math concept behind why we say that our possessions are expendable. We know roughly how much it would cost to replace every single thing we own. If we ever took a job overseas, it would literally cost more to ship our stuff there than it would to give it all away and buy new furniture and appliances. (Plus we wouldn’t have the use of it for the two months of the voyage. If we can go two months without it, do we need it at all?). Renters insurance is mandatory in our apartment complex, and the minimum policy covers $10,000 worth of belongings. That’s WAY more than all of our stuff is worth! If something happened to destroy all our possessions, like the upstairs neighbor leaving the tub on until the ceiling collapsed, or whatever, it would be kind of amusing. Since all our photos are saved to the cloud, there isn’t anything in our home that we’d be devastated to lose. We’d wind up going on the biggest, craziest shopping spree of all time. I don’t even know how we would spend $10k on furniture, clothes, and housewares.
So many people spend more than that on their stuff, though. I have a friend who has spent more than $10,000 on a storage unit. No joke. She would have been financially better off just throwing all that stuff in the trash. Or she could have sold some of it and made a little folding money. The saddest thing in the world to me is that people pay to store stuff that doesn’t even have a resale value. I know because I’ve seen it. Boxes of school papers. Boxes of sentimental but grubby and worn-out dolls and stuffed animals. Garbage bags full of outdated old clothes. Worn-out mattresses and box springs. Boxes of paperback books. Boxes of funky old plastic storage containers with mismatched lids. Why would someone spend thousands of dollars to store stuff they never use?
They do it because they think their stuff is actually worth something. They value their belongings over their quality of life or their financial stability.
Possessions are expendable. As soon as you start to see that, you start to look around at all your stuff with new perspective. Hey, stuff, what have you done for me lately?
One of our key policy agreements is not to have a storage unit. Since we don’t have a car, anything we put in storage is a red flag that we won’t be using it. In our area, a 10x20 storage unit costs over $200 a month. What on earth do we own that is actually worth $2400+ per year? If we aren’t using it, then by definition it is WORTH NOTHING.
Or, worse than that: It has NEGATIVE VALUE. It COSTS us to keep it.
Paying rent on stuff we don’t use is precisely what we mean by serving our stuff, rather than having our stuff serve us. I am not commuting to a job I hate just to earn more money to pay a monthly fee to store something I don’t even look at. I don’t care if it’s the Hope Diamond!
When people put supposedly valuable things into storage, they are discounting the likelihood that the item will depreciate while it’s buried in that storage unit. Things crack under the weight of boxes that get stacked on top. Anything made of paper, wood, or fabric deteriorates. Metal tarnishes and corrodes. Porcelain gets crazed. Wax melts. Cloth smells funky and starts revealing mysterious stains. Photographs clump together and mildew. Stuff never comes out of a storage unit in the same condition it went in, especially if it’s been stored in cardboard. Storing it is basically kissing it goodbye.
I’ve seen a lot of anguish and sad tears in the course of my organizing work. My people believe in stuff. They believe that stuff exists in a perfect Platonic form, as immaculate and unblemished as an icon or a digital avatar. In their minds, their stuff looks exactly the way it would in a well-lit, professional-grade catalog photo. They’re often not just disappointed but absolutely gutted by the reality. It’s scratched! It’s dented! It’s broken! It’s ruined! One of my first clients had a black plastic trash bag containing the powdery remains of a smashed plaster bust. Years later, she still believed that it could be fixed somehow. What would a new one have cost, $40? $15? Why would anyone want the crushed, demolished old one rather than a new one that actually functions?
I used to have a storage unit. It cost me about $20 a month and I had it for, off and on, a total of five years. That’s $1200. Not much? In 2000, I actually earned less than that. What’s worse, I was paying storage fees for a bunch of old school papers, used books, a box of childhood toys, a totally unsuitable cheap desk, and three boxes of kitchen stuff. I doubt the stuff in that storage unit was worth twelve dollars, much less twelve hundred. Doing this kind of calculation was completely outside my wildest dreams at the time. It simply never occurred to me.
When I met my current husband, at some point, the subject of my storage unit came up. He immediately said that I should get rid of it. “But then I would be destitute and I would have nothing!” I replied.
These days, I actually believe in money. We make these calculations together because it’s our policy as a couple. Money is where vacations come from!
Do the math. If we save $2500 by not renting a van and taking stuff to a storage unit for a year, that’s $2500 we can (and do) leave in the bank. We could use it to buy replacement stuff any time we like. If we save $500 a month by renting a one-bedroom instead of a two-bedroom (and sadly, where we live it’s more like $1200 a month), that’s then $6000 a year that we’re able to save. (Or $14,400!). One day, maybe we’ll buy a house. If we ever do, we’ll plan around the idea of buying suitable new furniture and housewares and doing all the upgrades and landscaping. Why pay thousands of dollars to store old, outdated, banged-up, deteriorating stuff that might not fit that house, anyway?
Scarcity mindset. Scarcity mindset! We hang onto our old stuff, paying to keep it even when we aren’t using it, because we don’t believe in money. We don’t believe that saving money actually works. We don’t believe in our own earning power. Downsizing is an act of faith and trust, belief that we can increase our earning power and accumulate wealth.
***NOTE: I formatted and scheduled this post on Saturday, January 13, 2018. BTC was trading at about $14,100.***
I thought it was 2014, but I went rooting around in my Sent folder and found the email trail. My husband and I seriously considered getting into Bitcoin in November of 2013, and decided against it. It had jumped that month from about $200 to about $600 the week we considered it. As I write this, in January of 2018, a BTC is valued at nearly $15,000. We could have made 24x on our investment!!! Right?!?!? The natural emotional response of most people who looked back on this kind of decision would be deep regret. “The one that got away.” We stand by our decision, and in some ways we’re even more confirmed that we did the smart thing.
The short version is that I had an extended conversation with a good friend of mine who was a Bitcoin miner. She and her husband had been into it for a couple-few years, and they had already made a bunch of money. Technically, kind of literally they had “made money,” in the sense that they were creating new Bitcoins. I already knew what Bitcoin was. Through this conversation I grasped the premise that we could set up an extra computer in the office and, over time, it might generate a tiny amount of this speculative figment called cryptocurrency.
I went home and told my husband about it, which I will discuss three paragraphs from now.
Then I went into a research black hole.
When something ignites my curiosity, there’s no stopping me. I will open two dozen tabs, read 800-page books, speed-listen to podcast episodes on 3x, talk to anyone and everyone to find out what they know, and basically let the topic eat my brain. Sometimes this goes on forever, and other times I find out enough to satisfy me in a few days or hours. In the case of cryptocurrency, it went on my news radar and stayed there in the background.
One of the constant themes my husband and I have in our conversations is “Walking Dead Future vs. Star Trek Future.” Cryptocurrency definitely fell on that track. I can and do research and make my own investments, and if I had wanted to go into Bitcoin alone, I certainly would have. I knew my husband would be interested in it, though, because he’s a numismatist. That means he’s extremely interested in coins. In fact, he makes museum-quality replica hammered coins. Anyone with that level of fascination in the history of money would obviously take note of cryptocurrency. Would we jump on the bandwagon, though?
First, we looked over the extra computer equipment we had sitting around in the office gathering dust. We quickly figured out that it wasn’t robust enough to generate any BTC. If we wanted to do this at a serious level, it would cost us nice flat green American dollars to upgrade our computer setup. There is little short-term risk in this kind of investment, because if we wanted out, we could either use that rig for something else or we could sell it and recoup part of the cost. (Until three years went by and the whole lot of it became laughably obsolete). Digging a little deeper, we learned that people were already dealing with the problem of dispelling the extra heat from their rooms of dedicated Bitcoin machines. Getting started as miners would cost us a lot of real-world money, and we’d be competing in an ever-escalating computing arms race.
At that point, we pivoted. Mining wasn’t a strategy for us, so what if we just speculated and bought some BTC?
The reason we passed was that in 2013, Bitcoin couldn’t buy anything. We couldn’t pay our rent with it. We couldn’t make our car payment with it. We couldn’t buy groceries with it. All we could really do was to save it and hope it was worth more one day, and that at a certain threshold, mainstream retail establishments would start accepting it. To my knowledge, that has not yet happened at even one single business entity where we routinely make transactions.
In 2013, we were still catching up financially. I married a man in recovery from a disastrous divorce settlement, and he married a woman with student loans. (Well, two in a row, actually). We had a guaranteed 16% rate of return from continuing to pay off our credit card debt. We had money in the market that we weren’t even remotely planning to pull out, which is great, because we did well between 2013 and 2018. We had everything to gain from continuing to earn, spend, and invest traditional US dollars, and only a dim future to imagine with Bitcoin.
Then I kept doing research and waving my mental antennae.
There were more potential pitfalls with cryptocurrency than we had realized at first blush. First off, cryptocurrency most likely will be a key player in the AI-flavored, robotic, Space Age near future. The question is, which cryptocurrency? There’s been significant drama among the people who run the Bitcoin show. What if the real winner winds up being Dogecoin? Second, international fiscal policy and potential currency manipulation. Third, the wallets. There was no guarantee that the company we trusted to store our BTC would continue to exist a decade later. I also read stories of people being hacked and robbed, and you know you’re living in a libertarian paradise when there’s no legal enforcement and nothing anyone can or will do about it. Fourth, loss. Lost BTC is already legendary; even Elon Musk has lost some.
Hold that thought, because what Elon Musk does is highly relevant to the way my hubby and I make strategic decisions. Study hard, work hard, create value, create the future. Don’t act like Elon; think like Elon. But I digress.
The funniest thing about cryptocurrency is that so many of the players seem to be worried about that Walking Dead Future I mentioned earlier. Um, what are you going to do with your BTC when the power goes out and stays out? Seriously! Might be better off at that point trading bottle caps.
The thing about the history of money is that it’s gone through a lot of very weird phases. What we’re looking at with the dawn of cryptocurrency is just like the early days, in Colonial America, when people issued their own competing currencies and scrip. Many cultures and eras have produced cool museum artifacts in the form of “money” that is only “worth” anything due to its status as a rare collectible. Exactly, exactly like postage stamps.
Stuff is only worth what someone will pay you for it. Or the use you get out of it.
If you believe in the Walking Dead Future, build your physical stamina, work on your wilderness survival and food preservation skills, and put the bulk of your effort into learning communication and leadership. If my game is Get Allies and your game is Anarchy, I’m going to be your new queen. You may kiss the ring. Guards, deal with him. If you believe in the Star Trek Future, what makes you think money is going to be such a big deal anyway? Part of why my husband and I still deal in ordinary American dollars is that we’ve already lived through the beginning of the Information Age. We remember when long distance phone calls were very expensive, and now they’re virtually free. Pretty much the same thing happened with minimum viable food and clothes. Next it’s going to be electricity, wi-fi, and transportation. This isn’t the post for the full gamut of my futurist predictions, but they’re relevant to why we passed on Bitcoin.
We’re not really skeptical about cryptocurrency. Of course it will be relevant in the future, of course it will! (Which one, though?) Still, we’re glad we didn’t buy in back in 2013. We would have made anywhere from $15,000 to maaaaybe $45,000. We paid off our credit cards and increased our earning power significantly in that time. We also realized far larger gains in US money with our strategy than we would have by using it to speculate on BTC. Also, how would we know when to cash out? What would be the point of a virtual wallet that was only “worth something” as long as we left it in there? What about the transaction costs? What about a false sense of security? If we’d bought BTC four years ago, I’m sure we’d be squabbling right now about whether we’re in a bubble (probably) or whether it’s just a hockey stick. We’ll have a better idea about that in another four years. In the meantime, we’ll continue to focus on building our real-world earning and survival skills, as well as our real-world financial wealth.
The rent? It’s too damn high, as I’m sure we can all agree. When I first moved out on my own, my rent equaled precisely 100% of my income. Two months later, I had it down to 80%, and eventually 50%, which is the case for 11 million Americans today. I have a deep distrust of property management companies. This is true even though I have a perfect 25-year track record of always getting my cleaning deposit back. I’m a great tenant with great credit. Even so, I only learned recently that you can negotiate your rent.
I’m not just saying that you can negotiate your rent with a private landlord, such as when you rent a room in a house.
I’m saying that you can even negotiate your rent with a big property management company.
What? How can this be?
The first principle of negotiations is that it’s possible for all parties involved to get the thing they want the most. The act of negotiation itself, when done with skill, can even bring all interested parties closer together. They’ve had a transaction of mutual benefit and demonstrated that it’s a smart idea to talk to one another. A good negotiation sets the stage for further good negotiations.
In the case of rent, the landlord or property manager has the goal of maximizing revenue from the property. This includes keeping reliable tenants in the unit as long as possible, minimizing maintenance and turnover costs. Reliable tenants also displace the unknown quantity of new, unproven tenants. Every month that a reliable tenant occupies the property is a month of income, rather than a month sitting empty with no rent coming in. An empty property is also vulnerable to squatters and vandals.
A tenant obviously has the goal of minimizing rent and utility costs, while living in the nicest neighborhood with the shortest work commute. My position is that many people tolerate conditions or deals that they should not. Skilled negotiation can help the owner or manager to understand that it is in everyone’s best interest to maintain and improve properties and to encourage civil behavior among residents.
By that I mean, neighbors who don’t clean up after their dogs, neighbors who fight on their balcony at 1 AM on a work night, neighbors whose car alarm keeps going off at 7 AM, neighbors who continually blare loud music out their open window, and this list is so far only covering one building in our complex.
It’s like this. If you want me to pay higher rent, I’d better be getting more value from it.
This is what actually happened.
We got an email saying that our lease was coming up in March, and that the rent would be going up $200 a month. Like fun it is! We had the option of renewing for six months, ten months, or month-to-month. Not even a year?
Was this rent increase to be coupled with a property improvement? Say, the removal of the fugly popcorn ceiling? Upgrading the oatmeal shag carpet to, perhaps, bamboo flooring? Putting in an air filter or air conditioning? Free wi-fi? Maybe just refreshing the battered, squealing equipment in the gym?
Haha, no. None of that.
WE are going to charge you MORE RENT, because we can. YOU are getting nothing except for the opportunity to PAY MORE RENT.
The thing is, this is not a fixed, final position.
Even they don’t think it is!
They just increase the rent, again, because they can, and also because most people never question it.
Most people are stuck. They’re either trapped by a mortgage, constrained by lack of savings, or emotionally attached to the neighborhood or their kids’ school or something. People will tolerate absurd commutes, homes that are not energy efficient, obnoxious neighbors, lack of amenities, and all sorts of persistent problems. Why is that?
Why do people hate moving so much? Because they have so much stuff!
My husband and I live in a 680-square-foot apartment. Everything we own fit in 65 boxes in one 20-foot moving van last time, and we’ve gotten rid of quite a bit of stuff since then. Our starting position in these negotiations was that we can simply find a cheaper place with a shorter commute. Pack in three days, move in one day, be completely unpacked in a week.
We’ve got the credit, we’ve got the savings, we’ve got the references. We are totally unafraid of relocating; we’ve already moved six times in our eight years as a married couple.
There’s a funny part to this story. When we got the letter claiming that our rent was going up (no, not if we move away it isn’t), my husband did some research. There were two one-bedroom units in our complex coming up for $500 LESS than what we were CURRENTLY paying! What’s more, the photo in the advertisements was of the unit that we actually occupy right now. Not just a similar unit, a unit with the same floor plan, but the same one!
Just to be cute, we can say at the beginning of the negotiation that we want to pay that rent for the unit we’re in. How about if you go right on ahead and LOWER our rent? We’ll pay the rent you’re advertising and you won’t have to bother vetting a new tenant. How about that?
The property manager claims not to be the decider. She does come back and offer us an increase of only $100, rather than the $200 we were initially shown.
See? It works! You can negotiate your rent!
Or at least, my husband can. I have to give him all the credit for this. I tell him I’ll pack the kitchen. Come on. It might not be saving us $5000 this year, but it will take a lot longer than the negotiating conversation did...
It doesn’t stop there, though. We learned that our building has higher rent than other buildings in the same complex because we supposedly have “a view.” *cough* We have a “peek view.” This means that because we can go to the very edge of our balcony, lean way over, and see a postage-stamp sized glimpse of the ocean, we have the luxury of paying an extra six thousand dollars a year in rent.
Well, forget that.
What we actually do is to apply for, and get, a “junior one bedroom” unit. (Popularly known as a “studio.”) It’s over $400 a month cheaper than what we’ve been paying. The layout and built-in shelving makes it feel larger, even though we’re dropping 70 square feet. The best part is that the new unit is right next to the pool, hot tub, and gym, as well as the nearest park, and it’s even slightly closer to the library, grocery store, bus stop, and post office. For our purposes, we’re getting a better apartment at a better price.
So there you have it. We decided to stay in our overpriced apartment complex because we like the location and because the property managers were willing to entertain our negotiations. If they had not, we would have simply found another place a couple of miles up the road and enjoyed both lower rent and a shorter commute. As of February, we’ll be saving over $400 a month rather than paying an extra $200 (or $100, the first result of negotiations).
We counted it up. The difference between what we will pay vs. the default we would have been charged is a full $8160 a year. This is part of why we 1. Don’t carry consumer debt and 2. Get to go on all these rad vacations. Because we put our financial independence first and because our physical possessions are expendable.
We have a month before our move-in date. We’re not going to bother even thinking about packing for three weeks, not because we’re disorganized or procrastinating, but because we already know how long it takes us to pack. We’ll spend the time hanging out in the hot tub and gloating because we’re such ace minimalists. We’ll also high-five because we’ve already finished one of our New Year’s Resolutions, which was to lower our rent. High five, babe!
How about you? Are you satisfied with all aspects of your current living situation? How about your finances? It’s always good to pause periodically and analyze your circumstances. This is where strategy begins.
Anticipation, right? Suspense? Excitement? These are all part of the reasons we enjoy buying and wrapping gifts for people, true? Draw on these feelings and you can make it even more fun for next year. Set a reminder for yourself at some point during 2018, so you can save a little bit extra in advance. Maybe thinking about gift-giving in October, or July, or May will give you the nudge you need to put aside more of a slush fund. However much you splurge this year, you could be extravagant next year.
Future Self always seems so greedy and demanding. Dang it, Future Me, what do you want from me? Always judging and finger-wagging and tsk-tsking. I’m just over here trying to live my life. Now you want me to *switches to nasal voice* PLAN AHEAD and BE RESPONSIBLE and ngngngngng. I prefer to switch this around and think of myself as giving gifts to Future Me.
Oh, Meeeeee! I gootttttt something for youuuuuu! You’re going to liiiiiiiike it! But you can’t open it until next year!
Past Me! You shouldn’t have! *gasp* Oh my gosh, an extra $500 for gift shopping? It’s so me. I love it!
($500 between now and next year is less than $10 a week).
Of course, the other secret behind this idea of saving in advance is that it’s purely unselfish. We’re planning to use it all to buy lovely things for other people.
For some reason, most people can’t bring themselves to save money. Well, yeah, because we’re all broke! Ahh, but buying stuff with credit cards and paying interest on it makes us even more broke, even faster. The kind of savings I’m talking about, over the time span I’m talking about, can be achieved with really small tweaks or a very modest extra income source. Or both.
As a broke college student, I had several mini-side hustles that brought in a few dollars here and there. Added up together, it wasn’t nothing. Pet-sitting, babysitting. I used to charge $10 to clean someone’s bathroom. $1 to sew a button, $5 to hem a pair of pants. I made a little extra buying books and clothes at thrift stores and reselling them to used bookstores and consignment shops. I made significantly more taking notes for a disabled student and doing transcriptions for grad students. I actually had two official job-jobs, both part time. Even for a full-time Dean’s List student with no car and a lot of all-nighters to pull, it’s not really that hard to find ways to earn extra cash on the side.
(I’d charge more now; those were 2002 prices).
(Also, if I were a college student today, I’d learn how to repair smartphone screens. I’d charge $50 each and, as a bonus, I wouldn’t have to pay anyone else whenever I smashed my own phone).
It’s far easier to earn more than it is to cut spending. You can only cut back to zero, but you can earn until they run out of numbers. There’s no maximum wage.
That being said, there are tons of ways to cut expenses in small ways. If you have a very specific dollar amount with a very specific deadline, such as a scheduled holiday, you have the advantage of thinking of this as a game or a contest rather than...
We keep reminding ourselves that this is not deprivation, that we are voluntarily choosing to do something nice for someone else. We can go on to remind ourselves that we’d much rather spend our money buying sweet gifts for our favorite people than giving it to the banks that issued our credit cards.
How do you come up with $500 in a year?
Occasionally check out a library book rather than buying a new book
Pack a lunch or cook at home occasionally when you would have gone out
Quit buying soda
Bulk-buy snack food at Costco instead of stopping at a convenience store
Continue to go out, but cut back on appetizers, drinks, OR dessert
Get rid of your storage unit, or downsize and move into a smaller, cheaper unit
Clutter-clear your house and sell off extra stuff
Cancel cable TV
Do your own mani-pedi instead of going to a salon
Ask a friend to help you color your hair instead of going to a salon
See how long you can go by eating what’s in your kitchen right now before you buy more groceries
Weatherize your windows with shrink wrap and see if you can get your heat bill down
I don’t make these suggestions idly. My husband and I live in a 680-square-foot apartment and we don’t own a car. We also save 35% of our income and we have no credit card debt. In fact, as soon as I finish paying off my student loan, we’ll be completely debt-free.
Being debt-free changes your attitude toward buying gifts. We’ve been able to make family visits almost twice as often, and most of that extra money has come from the interest payments we no longer have to make. Sometimes I ask a friend for their address and send them a present, like a book we were just talking about or a random gift that just makes me laugh really hard. One year, a friend posted a picture on Facebook of a sign she’d found, from some little girls in another town who attached their letter to Santa to a bunch of helium balloons. It had their first names and their home address, along with their entire wish list. I looked up one of the items, a big pink foo-foo dollhouse, and I ordered it and sent it to them anonymously. Every time I look at the list of shipping addresses I have stored on Amazon, it cracks me up all over again. THEY SHALL NEVER KNOW IT WAS ME, MUWAHAHAHAHA!
Money is just a number. It’s a weird way we have of recording and transferring energy. We convert our life energy into work, and that work causes numbers to be tallied somewhere, which we then use for objects and services and our baseline lifestyle. That being said, money can also be a magical way to grant wishes and spark spontaneous smiles and laughter. (There is nothing I could have done in my physical form to delight two little girls I’ve never met; someone would probably call the police! But with money I could cast a spell of awe and wonder). Thinking of money in terms of bills and fees and fines and obligations is depressing and frustrating. Thinking of money as a sort of wand of power, a creative force that turns thin air into gifts, is an entirely different form of discipline. I wish you joy of it.
Giving lavishly is a major part of abundance mentality. Not necessarily the giving of cash or material goods, of course not; just giving. We give our time, our hugs, our patience, our compassion, our service, our ability to listen attentively. There is plenty and there will always be plenty more. A lot of the time, though, it’s more efficient to give material items than hugs. Being able to write a check or drop off a donation for something important feels amazing. Charity can light us up and affirm our sense of financial okayness like nothing else.
I’ve been lectured about discussing charity before. Apparently, if you admit in public that you gave to a cause, it’s... bragging? But then how does the charity get advertised? If it’s something you truly care about, wouldn’t your first goal be to advertise it as well as you could? My purpose wouldn’t be “hey, look at me, I gave five dollars,” because who cares really. My purpose would be in saying, “GUYS! Did you know that someone is doing this?” Someone is dealing with this issue! They’re letting us participate! Why didn’t we think of this ourselves?
I’ll try not to brag about myself, but can I brag about my mom? A little? She has always been the model of altruism to me. She used to be concerned about a homeless man who hung out in an alley near her work. One year, when she was making her annual batch of holiday breads, she put together a gift bag for him: Homemade bread, some fruit and nuts, new socks and gloves, and, I think, a handful of candies. He accepted the bag. She cried as she was telling the story, and it made a big impression on little grade-schooler me. So of course I went out with her this weekend to fill gift stockings.
There’s a charity here called “Fill a Stocking, Fill a Heart.” Volunteers make the stockings from quilt fabric, and donors can pick them up, fill them with little gifts for The Less Fortunate, and drop them off for distribution. Naturally, my mom couldn’t take just one of these stockings. She had to tell everyone she knew about them. And get a head count, and pick up enough stockings for everyone, and coordinate distribution. We dropped off fifteen on Sunday night, and there are a couple more still in circulation. Since there’s still over a week left, I’d be astonished if she doesn’t sneak over there and fill a few more.
I went along on the first “we need more stockings” run. A fun little outing with my mom, a little girl time. I wondered if she might start sewing the stockings herself next year, and I could easily see my niece getting swept into this. That’s the thing about charity; it spreads and starts setting roots down everywhere.
Then I went on a shopping trip to fill my stocking. At this time of year, this involves Christmas music, so you have to understand that I did my maximum that day. I elected to fill a stocking for a homeless person, and I meandered through the aisles looking for things on the checklist. I have a pretty strong visual of what homeless in winter looks like. Honestly, I can’t bear the thought of one person sleeping in the snow, much less thousands, and when I know there are homeless veterans out there it really starts to mess with my own sleep. This was a task I could do with a sense of purpose.
Do I get “credit” for this? I don’t think so. I spent about an hour with my mom, all told, helping out with this little errand. I would have gone with her if she’d dropped off her dry cleaning or gotten a haircut. I spent a total of $43. That’s about what I might have spent if I’d treated her for an afternoon, or bought her a present. I won’t miss it, and I probably won’t even remember it a month from now. Things are busy, you know? I guess I only feel like I “earn points” if I do something truly challenging or demanding, like adopting a foster child or rescuing someone from a fire.
(If you’ve done either of those things, I raise my glass to you).
Hugging the full (and rather large) gift stocking was a nice feeling. I have the genuine desire that my bundle of little gifts will make a difference for someone. I’d like the recipient to feel that someone cares. I’d like to hope that whoever it is, he or she feels at least a minor thrill of excitement in pulling out each item and realizing what it is. I would have felt better, though, if I’d had a specific profile to work with, if I’d had an “ask” of something specifically frivolous and a name, a bit of personality. I would have written a note. Dear Someone. Hang in there.
Winter is coming. There will be some moments when things might get a little rough. This can be a time of disappointment, envy, and resentment as materialism and consumer culture start to overtake our real values: Love, generosity, delight, wonder, and the thrill of setting up little surprises for others. Taking a moment to give a little something to someone can be like a pressure valve. It can be a way to release some of the workaday negativity and get back to where we want to be, feeling warm and cheerful.
Consumer pressure is supposed to work the other way. Stores are supposed to respond to our desires and stock the stuff we want. Instead, everything has reindeer and pine trees on it by November First at the latest. Apparently they think that if they can stretch Christmas out to at least two months, we’ll respond by buying twice as many gifts. Make every store look like a red and green casino! I deal with this by holing up at home. Christmas music makes me break out in hives, and every winter, as soon as it kicks in, I start crossing retailers off my map. I don’t go to the movies or the mall or the pharmacy. I completely boycott Starbucks for the four weeks after Thanksgiving. No mercy. This is why it’s easy for me to do what I call a buy-nothing.
A buy-nothing means I am on a voluntary moratorium of spending on anything other than true necessities. We pay the rent and utility bills, of course. Otherwise, we plan meals around what’s in the kitchen and hang around at home. No movies, no restaurants, no recreational shopping, not so much as a pair of replacement socks. The point of a buy-nothing is to save money, and that means looking for savings wherever possible.
“Savings” is a poorly understood concept. Most people act in such a way that it seems they think “savings” is actually “spending.” Buying something at a different price than normal is not saving. It’s spending! Maybe, just maybe, it’s bargain hunting. Usually it’s just a way that stores trick us into opening our wallets. They inflate prices temporarily so that we think the “sale” price is some kind of deal. This can be really comical when the item in question is so frivolous that nobody would buy it with full retail markings.
As an organizer, I almost always find that my clients have a habit of buying things and then setting the bag down somewhere in the house, still packed. Not only are the tags still on, but the bag has never been opened, and often the client can’t even remember what was in it. “Oh, I was going to return that.” I don’t care, honey, it’s your home, not mine. If you want to spend your vacation money on bags of stuff that you never use, that’s your business. It’s such a common practice that I see it as an ordinary part of our consumer culture.
The point is to be in a store, churning through consumer goods and engaging in commercial transactions. The point is not our experience of owning these items. The point is not whether they’ll fit in our homes, or whether we can afford them. We go to the temple and we buy. We buy and we buy. We stop for snacks. Then we go home and try to find somewhere to put our shopping bags. It’s not our fault that they aren’t holograms, which they might as well be for all the good they do us.
I do it backwards.
Rather than respond to advertisements and sales, I start with a plan.
I want the experience of living in my home to feel a certain way. I like having all of my flat surfaces free and open for when I want to use them. I like having available space on my closet rods and bookshelves. This is why I only buy and bring home items that I know I will use. I only buy things if I know where I’ll put them and how I’m going to clean them.
I want the experience of being me to work out a certain way. That includes Future Self. I want Future Me to have plenty of money, and maybe even be more financially comfortable than I am today. This means I’m always going to make my savings the priority - priority is singular - and plan my finances before I plan my purchases. If any! Most of the time, I don’t need to buy anything at all. I have all the furniture, housewares, clothes, and entertainment I need. I have plenty of food. Prioritizing money instead of stuff means you’re more likely to have the funds when you need groceries, gas, or anything else.
I want to spend my time doing what I want to do. In our culture, some of us are out of ideas for how to spend our time other than driving around to stores and restaurants, watching TV, or messing around with our phones. It’s pretty common for someone to get drive-thru fast food rather than stop at a grocery store and then cook. Going shopping as a way to spend time is also a way to work in as many fast food stops a week as possible. I prefer my own cooking, or my husband’s, and this makes going out and shopping on weeknights more of an inconvenience. The less we shop, the less we spend.
One secret to a buy-nothing is to avoid knowing that something exists. Since we don’t watch TV, we don’t see TV commercials. Since we listen to playlists instead of the radio, we don’t hear radio commercials. We don’t look at fashion magazines that would mess with our body image. We don’t wander through stores wondering what they might have. We stay out of the naughty aisles at the grocery store. We feel better off not knowing when there’s a new flavor of snack food. A life with less craving is not a life with less passion.
The result of the buy-nothing habit is pretty predictable. I’ve had no consumer debt for over a decade. My husband and I both have credit scores over 800. We know where we are on our path toward eventual retirement. Our minimalist apartment is easy to clean, and we don’t squabble over whose turn it is to do chores. Most importantly, we have fun hanging around and talking to each other or doing projects. We don’t feel deprived when we buy nothing, because it’s our natural state. The feeling of deprivation comes from desire for stuff we can’t afford, and we simply choose not to want anything we don’t want. Financial security, yes, domestic contentment, yes. The endless hamster wheel of consumer desires is not for us.
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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.