In the spirit of the minimalist part of this project, I wanted to start writing about what we’re doing to simplify our lives. However, to tell that story on the day to day small things, we need to talk about the big thing; the house.
Making conscious decisions to have a smaller lifestyle started with getting rid of our 2200 square foot house on 2 acres in Southern NH. It was by both our reckoning a great house. Hell, we loved it. It was big enough for all of us to have our own floor (wife, dog, and myself). It had space for two offices, a home theater, 2 whole porches, a whole room for plants, a massive outdoor garden, a whole room for stuff we didn’t need, a whole other room specifically to store more things that we rarely used, a whole section of that room just for brewing supplies, a room that contained nothing but a giant wood stove, a garage to store more stuff we barely used, and a shed that contained stuff we stored primarily as a condo complex for various rodentia.
There were whole spring, summer, and fall days spent at this house hanging out on one of the porches, migrating to the back yard, and then down to the theater. I absolutely loved lazing around in the backyard with the wife and the dog. It was a great pattern, but it wasn’t used all that frequently. We mostly spent time in the theater and in our vacation condo in the mountains.
What we really spent time on in the house was working out the problem of just how stressed out a human could be. It needed: a new roof, all new windows, a new driveway, new siding, landscaping (we tried ourselves and failed), persistent attention to the lawn, constant vigilance against wasps living in our friggin walls, and the never-ending battle against the mouse army that threatened to take over our domicile for nefarious rodent activities, one assumes. All of this in a single year could cost $40-50k easily. That’s not even counting the $8000 tax bill and the ridiculous cost of heating/cooling 3 floors when we barely used one.
So here’s the calculation that made me rethink the concept of living in a house I loved: We needed, let’s call it $40k in updates so our house wouldn’t turn into the slanty shanty and fall apart. If we were to take all of the $40k we invested into the house and toss it into the stock market, by retirement time(27 more long years for me), we would have a not insignificant sum of $250k(roughly 7 percent returns compounded annually)! If you make the median salary in NH that pile of repairs turns into 3.5 years of your working life! Tack on the $8000/year for the taxes and we’re adding in an additional $645k! So let me get this straight… we have a house that we love, but use less than 10% of at any given time. It will cost us nearly $900,000 until I retire, or 12 whole years of working life but only if nothing ever needed repairs again and our taxes didn’t go up.
As I was making this calculation for the first time, we moved into winter. Did I mention that the driveway was around .1 miles long total and on a hill? No? Well if you ever wanted to know what it’s like to attempt to snow blow a foot and a half of snow uphill in a blizzard I can tell you: it’s awful. Pretty much what you expect. Once the driveway was clear(1 hour minimum) we had to shovel the roof on the porch, which made it so we could roof rake the roof. Then we would have to shovel the roof raked stuff off the porch roof. Then we would have to snowblow the snow from the roof that was raked onto the driveway. Then we would have to clear off the bulkhead and gas tanks so we wouldn’t die horribly like rats in a well appointed theater that was sinking into the…something…I lost the metaphor but you get the picture.
So much of our time in the winter was spent dedicated to watching the weather, preparing for the weather, drinking fairly heavily, and then dealing with the weather. One year we spent a thanksgiving week without power curled up around the fire pits in the house with headlamps on. It was a great place to live, but at times it really felt like it hated us.
Even with all of the issues there, we still loved it. The trails around the house were great. I ran my first ultra on a trail at the end of our street! All seasons except winter were pretty great. At some point though, we figured out that keeping the house was a purely emotional decision. Owning a house will never be a good financial decision, and we finally realized this. So we started unloading stuff at an alarming rate. We filled two dumpsters (maybe three?) sold, gave away, or threw out a metric ton of things we barely remember and simply do not miss and then sold the house.
We have since moved into our 1100 square foot condo in the heart of the Western White Mountains and realized we still have tons more stuff than we actually need. Instead of pounding all our savings into the stock market we have decided to also travel. It turns out without a house you have spare cash for both. That’s what spurred this site on: Living in the mountains and minimal living. When we realized we missed none of the things we gave up (except the house, we do miss it occasionally), we realized that there’s probably still more to part with. The plan is to keep removing unnecessary items from the condo and our lives to see how we can further uncomplicate our already fairly uncomplicated lives.