Extract Junk, Inject Living


Our Complicated Life

I’m sure anyone reading a blog on a website with a name like “simplifiers.net" would expect that its authors would be leading monastic lives…devoid of all signs of conspicuous consumption or the burdens of accumulation. Unfortunately, our life is anything but simple. 

Through the years, Margaret and I built a lifestyle for ourselves and our four daughters that included a lake house and the associated toys and possessions that make vacations fun. While we were once debt free, we now have a mortgage. When the number and geographic location of our grandchildren grew, we added a motorhome to our list of possessions. And, while we cherish the freedom the coach gives us, and the quality time with family it supports, it is yet another encumbrance, and one that brings with it an additional degree of responsibility. 

In one sense, I could argue that we can afford this lifestyle, and neither Margaret nor I are of the belief that HAVING “junk” makes one any less pure than NOT HAVING “junk”. While one of the basic premises of “simplification” (as was the concept of my book, Tiger Success, discussed in more depth HERE) is that achieving material success won’t, itself, bring you happiness, being  a failure won’t make you particularly happy either. On the other hand, having a lot of junk, and the receptacles necessary to hold all of that junk (houses, garages, basements, rented storage lockers, etc.) tends to complicate life.

There are other ways one’s life becomes complicated, however. I’m frequently amused by the pious tone of some of the adherents of the tiny house and full-time RVing lifestyles, for instance, who have no children and few friends. Choosing to live a reclusive life will, indeed, free you from the obligations of social relationships, but that is hardly a positive thing. Margaret and I have family and close friends in at least half a dozen states spread almost to all four corners of the country. Maintaining these friendships and relationships takes a lot of time and effort, and adds a form of complication for which there is no easy fix. 

Therefore, what you’ll read on the pages of this blog are the musings of a couple of people who consider themselves to have been blessed with an abundant life filled with wonderful family, friends, and experiences, yet conscious that there is one thing we can never have enough of…and that is time. And, since time is something one can’t buy more of, our challenge is to figure out how to minimize the sort of distractions that steal time from the pursuits that are most important to us.

For now, that means simplifying our day to day tasks, eliminating unnecessary possessions that only create clutter, and minimizing our encumbrances to free up resources that can be better applied to travel, entertainment, and soirées with family and friends. 

There’s not much more we can do about the house. We’ve toyed with the idea of downsizing into a condo or townhouse in the past, but given the low property taxes in Tennessee, and the equally affordable association fees in our neighborhood, the change simply wouldn’t decrease our expenses sufficiently to justify the lifestyle adjustment the loss of lake access would require. And we’re certainly not motivated to leave Tellico Village for now, since we have so many wonderful friends and such a full social and activity calendar here in the community.

We have two cars, a Mini Cooper with a manual transmission we use as a tow vehicle behind our RV and I use as a daily driver, and an older Mercedes convertible that is thought of as Margaret’s daily driver and the car we drive for fun. (Tennessee is fantastic convertible country, with roads like the notorious “Dragon,” which snakes alongside a stream through the Smoky Mountains to Georgia, providing hundreds of miles of scenic drives.)  We have a small car loan on the Mini, but at such a low interest rate, we literally felt it was better to keep the money we might have used to pay it off, invested with the remainder of our retirement funds. The convertible only cost us $9,000 in the first place, and given that it only has about 32K miles on it as of this writing, we plan enjoying it for many years, and likely won’t replace it when it dies someday.

Neither one of us spends much on clothing or accessories (a T-shirt without cuss words printed on it is pretty much accepted as “formal” in this part of Tennessee, though Margaret might, and has, disagreed on this point), and there isn’t much in the way of household items or technology that we don’t have or know we don’t need. 

Pretty much the only consistent expenditure, then, is food and beverages. Margaret and I are both good cooks, so we don’t need to spend money on expensive, pre-prepared foods or convenience foods. Given that, it’s amazing how little we spend on fresh ingredients. It’s not uncommon for us to spend less than $10 a day on food for the two of us, while eating quite well, and relatively healthy. Not a lot of room to cut costs there. 

The “booze budget” (as we kiddingly refer to it) is another story. Margaret primarily drinks wine, and (unfortunately from a budget perspective) her tastes have matured through the years. And I can’t really criticize, because after not drinking much of anything for years, I’ve discovered that it wasn’t that I didn’t like alcohol, it’s that I didn't like cheap alcohol. We’ve done our best to reconcile our tastes with our budget first by moderating how much we drink (yeah, I know, no fun), and second by searching for hidden gems (often produced by small, boutique wineries, distilleries, and breweries that simply haven’t made the big time yet). I’ll cover some of them in the food and beverage section of the blog over time. 

I guess what I’m admitting here is that we’re not going to change much about our booze budget. Might as well just accept it.

Obviously, we’re anything but monastic, and I guess unrepentant.

But this, then, is a good demonstration of exactly how challenging this quest (read more about that, HERE) of ours is. As this post is being written, we are attempting to plan our vacation and travel schedule for 2017, and we’re having a hard time balancing enough time with our children and grandchildren, with the desire to enjoy time with our fellow malcontents here in Tennessee as well. And at this point, our already tight schedule contains very little time to see any of the National Parks or other sights that are on our bucket list. 

Were we to sell this home and hit the road in the RV full time, we would certainly have more time to sightsee, but then again we would be adding Tennessee as another destination in the rotation, and we would undoubtedly develop even more friendships in the places we’d spend more time at in the winter and summer months we currently spend here. 

So this is our complicated life. Once again, we’re not complaining. But we are searching for inspiration and answers on how to best simplify it.  —Alan