Links for Saturday, 5/30/15!

It’s that time of the week again! The weekend, where I like to relax, work on my side projects, and maybe do some reading. To that end:

The Secret to Having a Simplified Schedule by Melissa Camara Wilkins, No Sidebar. We can focus on just the things in our life when we’re trying to simplify, but how often do we look at the things we do? Are we doing things because we want to or need to, or are we doing them to appease other people? It’s your time, and it’s ok to say no to anything that isn’t going to further your goals.

Don’t Buy This Ad by Sam Lustgarten, Frugaling. I seem to link to a lot of Sam’s articles, but they do resonate with me. Not only does he mention Volkswagen (I drive an old Beetle) but he hits on one of the biggest instances of doublethink in our culture today. It reminds me a lot of the “Unilever Controversy” too. Just remember: All companies want to do is make money, and they will do whatever they think will make the most money. That’s it.

Bonus: What I’m listening to right now!

Raggy Monster is a local band from West Palm Beach that I really dig. I try and catch any of the shows they do around West Palm! Really fun an energetic, and a very original sound.

Photo: Mt. Rainier as seen from the top of Crystal Mountain in Washington. I took this a year ago during my first time snowboarding.

Do A Little Bit Every Day

I had a friend back when I lived in Tennessee who always had the perfect bit of folksy wisdom to dispense whenever I found myself in a bind. He lived his whole life right around the border of Tennessee and Alabama and worked numerous jobs, his most recent was as an electrician. One of the more memorable nuggets was when I was stressed over a girl, and he said, in a deep southern accent, “Bryan, I believe you’re chasing something that don’t need chased.”

Since we worked together we had a lot of time to get to know each other. He built his house from scratch using lumber he felled on his property, he worked on classic cars, and I’d get advice and help from him when I got stuck on a project because he had so much practical knowledge. The best advice he ever gave me was during a suspension rebuild I was doing on a truck, and I had been getting overwhelmed with the incredible amount of work that was going to have to go into it. He told me that, no matter what, I needed to do at least one thing on that project every day. Even if it was just tightening a bolt, I just needed to get in there and do at least something. If I did that every day, eventually I’d be finished.

It’s kind of like “divide and conquer”. A project might seem difficult when viewed as a whole, but when it’s divided up into smaller bits each bit becomes a solvable problem. Before you know it, the project is complete. This works on everything from restoring a car to remodeling a kitchen to building a relationship with a person to starting a business. Any big, complicated problem is a series of smaller, easy problems.

The hidden genius here is that a lot of the time we’re afraid to get in and start. Starting is the hardest problem of all, and once we start, we find that the things we want to do are actually the things we like doing. We’ll often accomplish much more in one sitting than simply tightening a bolt once we get started. One thing I enjoy is working on cars. I get intimidated when I start a big rebuild of some sort, and I have to practice thinking about that huge, overwhelming project in terms of lots and lots of tiny projects that I can slowly chip away at.

I’ve also just started this blog, so I have to get myself into the habit of writing a little bit every day. I need to metaphorically tighten the bolts on my writing, rather than sitting around waiting for writing to magically pop out of thin air. If I write a little every day, not only will there be lots of blog posts to read, but I’ll hone my skills as a writer, little by little, and hopefully become better at it. Just as working on cars more makes you better at working on cars, writing more makes you a better writer. (To put it simply, “experience” makes you “experienced”. Nuanced!)

(As an aside,  I really like how Joshua Fields Millburn goes about developing a writing habit.  Two of my favorite essays of his are Creating Daily Writing Habits and How To Improve Your Writing: 3 Tips.  The latter really struck a chord with me because it talks about how he was an “aspiring”  writer long before he actually became a writer.  You have to actually write.)

There’s often no time limit for our life projects, either. You don’t have to fix a relationship right now. You can do it slowly, methodically, and carefully over time. In fact, you should strive to work on projects a little every day. Otherwise you’ll end up with a rusty junker in your front yard that’ll never get fixed. Both literally and figuratively.

So what bolts do you need to tighten in your life? Do you have an empty room in your house that’s been under renovation for months? Do you (like me) have an old car you’re constantly restoring? Do you have a marraige or relationship that needs attention? Do a little bit at a time, at least one bolt a day.

Photo: I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike by helicopter. Florida is very flat. The blurriness in the picture isn’t because I was using a bad camera but rather because the air from the helicopter rotor moves down so fast that it distorts the incoming light. 

Links for Saturday, 5/23/15!

To make a good blog, you have to read good blogs! It’s that sort of “you are what you eat” thinking with which I bring you other people’s blogs. A little late due to the holiday. So it goes.

Are You Making Good Decisions? by Allison Vesterfelt, No Sidebar. A simple guide to making decisions that should really be common sense, but somehow isn’t. (She sold me here: “When you ask people who are dying about the regrets of their life … they wish they would have spent more time with family and friends and less time at work.”)

Cuba Has a Lung Cancer Vaccine, and Now It Could Be Coming to the USA by Caroline Reid, iflscience.com. One of the few axioms I firmly believe in is “Trade Creates Wealth” and this certainly goes a long way towards proving my point.

YOLO for 80 Years! by Sam Lustgarten, frugaling.org. You may only live once, but you live for quite a while. No sense ruining the majority of it by making poor decisions in the beginning.

Bonus! What I’m listening to today, rockin’ it old school:

Photo: Seattle in spring. I caught it on a rare, non-rainy day during their 9-ish month rainy season. 

Procrastination

There’s always something to do first. Something that needs to get done before I can get to the meat of what I really want to do. Should I find the perfect album to put on the stereo before I start painting the walls in my house? Should I buy a house so I have a comfortable place to write? I can’t write until I have that done. Maybe I should go get some lunch, and when I do that I’ll start that book I was planning on reading.

This has always been a big hurdle for me. Usually my daydreams aren’t about wild success or traveling to interesting places. They’re about finding a perfect grassy field, hanging my hammock from a tree, and laying down to read a book. I think that’s really what I want: a comfortable existence with no stress. Just time to lay around, maybe write, or go surf some, or sit in a bar and generally be lazy.

Laziness has its merits, too. I’m an engineer by trade, but I’m convinced that most good engineers, the ones who are really talented and can see the world for how it should be, are some of the laziest people ever. Engineering gives them an outlet through which a machine, process, or program can do work FOR them, instead of having to do it themselves. “If only I could get something to do this piece of work for me,” they say, “then I won’t have to do it myself.” The time they free up allows them to lay around in a grassy field or work on a more complicated project (or write!). (For this reason, if I’m ever a manager and a prospective employee tells me that one of their strengths is laziness they’ll be hired on the spot.)

What I’ve noticed, though, and probably shouldn’t be shocked by, is that I spend more time thinking about doing something, and what I can do to put off doing something, than it would take to simply do that thing. So I’m going to work on doing it, whatever it happens to be.

Or building a machine that can do it for me. But either way, I’m doing something. Whatever you want to do, just make sure you’re actually DOING that, and not just thinking about it.

Photo: From a drive across Florida last summer, from West Palm Beach to Tampa. Florida has wonderfully minimailstic terrain. 

Links for Saturday, 5/16/15!

If I find interesting things throughout the week, I’ll go ahead and share them! Other people sometimes have great things to say.

Let’s Chat About Simplifying by Joshua Fields Millburn, The Minimalists. For me, The Minimalists are the face of minimalism, and give the most concise and clear reasons for why minimalism is a good thing and how to work it into your life. Basically, identify which things add value to your life, even if those “things” aren’t things at all. Get rid of everything else. This radio interview is a great intro to minimalism if you haven’t heard of it before, but also gets into some nuanced views on the movement.

21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own by Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist. I’m an engineer, and as such can really appreciate using numbers to drive a point home. Joshua points out 21 facts that show us exactly what is has been going on with our stuff.

Why I Gave Up a $95,000 Job to Move to the Caribbean and Scoop Ice Cream by Noelle Hancock, Esquire. Noelle explains that you don’t have to have a busy life crammed with a career and lots of stuff to live a happy life. After all, at that point, what are you living for? Noelle basically turned her entire life into the vacation she was always dreaming about in snowy New York, and seems to be the better for it.

Is Buying Better than Renting? by Mr. Frugalwoods, Frugalwoods. I recently did some research on my own blog post about home ownership, and this was one of the most objective takes on the issue I found. Which side do you find yourself on? Is it the side you want?

Bonus! What I’m listening to this week:

Photo: I went to Santa Cruz, California to surf a month ago. It’s beautiful!

I Own a House

Although I guess it would be a little more accurate to say that I own a very very small percentage of a house and the bank owns the rest. That is the state of my life for the foreseeable future, until I pay it off or sell it. But I’m convinced that, for me, this is the best option and is certainly preferrable to renting.

I’d like to point out that there’s no right way to live a minimalist life. Some minimalists rent. Others own. But my goal is to own a house free-and-clear as soon as possible, which will either allow me to pocket all of my paychecks and retire early or allow me freedom to take on another job and not have to worry about a potential reduction in salary. Maybe I could even be a full-time writer!

In West Palm Beach, a mortgage can have about the same monthly payment as renting an apartment, so for me that’s a no brainer. Better my money go to my own investments than disappear paying for the privilege of living in someone else’s.

Not everyone agrees with this though, and I’ve seen some fancy ways to calculate the difference between owning a house vs. renting, or fancy ways to calculate if you’d be better off renting vs. owning, but to me it just comes down to freedom. How do you see yourself being the most free, finances aside? If it’s owning a house without owing money to a bank, and living there with the security of knowing you’re debt-free, then taking a mortgage out and buying a house is for you. But if you feel more free not being tied down anywhere, and you want to move around a lot, then renting is the way to go.

The house I live in now is actually my second house, so I’m no stranger to home ownership. The major difference between the two is that the first house I bought to flip and make some money on (which enabled me to afford to buy the house I have now), and the house I live in now is exactly the one I want to live in, in a great neighborhood by the beach, and it’s in a city that I love. I could live here my whole life and be happy; I’m in walking distance of a great downtown scene and it’s easy to go surfing.

The last apartment I lived in wasn’t bad, either, but it didn’t suit me. It was a high rise in the center of downtown with a beautiful view of the city. Every time I sent rent to my landlords, though, I knew I would never see that money again. That was the driving factor behind owning a house again, because every time you make a house payment, you’re essentially putting that money in a bank account (your house) that you can get back eventually (by selling the house).

Although some of the money does disappear (taxes, insurance, repairs, etc), I get a lot more freedom. I have a garage that I can use to work on any of my projects, without having to take an elevator ride up to an apartment every time I forget a tool. I don’t have to struggle to fit my 9’4″ surfboard in the elevator when the surf’s up. I don’t have to schedule the elevator when I want to move furniture (I have a lot against elevators). I can do whatever I want with the property, which is great for me because I like having projects to work on and my house (built in 1949) is certainly something that’ll need work. Oh, and you can write your mortgage interest off on your taxes, too, so that’s a bonus.

The one downside of having a mortgage is that it is something that ties you down somewhere. So if you’re making this decision, make sure it’s a place that you’ll either want to live in for a while, or that the real estate market will favor you if you decide to sell it quickly.

I also make efforts to pay my house off faster than the 30-year mortgage suggests I should. By paying an extra principle payment a month (which is pretty cheap in the beginning of a mortgage) I’ll be able to cut the mortgage in half, saving about $50,000 in interest. Also, since I have mortgage insurance (it’s a common misconception that you have to have 20% to put down on a house) this strategy will save me about $5,000 in private mortgage insurance payments by allowing me to get rid of this insurance after five years instead of ten. I’ll probably try to get rid of this quicker if I can, though.

The bottom line here is that you can look for blog posts that will tell you that renting is better, or owning is better, and to be honest I think that everyone who writes one way or the other is just trying to justify the decision they’ve made. They both have perks, and it’s up to you to figure out what’s best for your life.

Photo: The backyard of my Key West-style house in West Palm Beach. I’m a big fan of the foliage. 

Links for Saturday, 5/9/2014!

I’m pretty new to the blogosphere here, but I read a lot of them. One thing I noticed is that most of them publish an article at the end of the week with links to other interesting articles they’ve read throughout the week. In what is apparently a blogging tradition, here are my week’s picks!

Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ is Bad Career Advice by Carolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post. As someone who’s spent their fair share of time in a cubicle, this really resonated with me. According to the article, better advice would be to try to build a sustainable career rather than following your passion. Reminds me of that quote from Office Space that there wouldn’t be any janitors if everyone had a million dollars and could do whatever they wanted.

Huffington on Sandberg: To Lean In, First Lean Back by Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post. Huffington’s comments about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book. I was drawn to the observation that the male model of success (based on power and money, according to the author) doesn’t work for women, but it also doesn’t work for men. Stress is up, and no one really benefits in the end, in my opinion.

Facebook Birthday Messages: Pt 1 – The Dunbar Number by Huw, No Surprise There. If you’ll allow me to indulge in some nerdy number analysis and stereotypical “engineers fumble with society” ungracefulness, the Dunbar number is the theoretical limit on the number of relationships a person can maintain. The author finds that even when someone has a huge number of friends on Facebook, they still only maintain relationships with a number consistent with the Dunbar number, based on how many messages are posted during birthdays. Pretty interesting correlation!

Shatter Your Definition of Success by Sam Lustgarten, Frugaling. I’ve followed this blog for quite a while now, and it’s always a great take on living a simpler lifestyle. The definition of “success” is outdated, and not likely to be relevant to as many people as it has been in the past. I completely agree.

Bonus: What I’m Currently Listening To!

Reminds me of spring 2005, right before I graduated high school. Nostalgia!

Photo: Sunfest 2015, an annual music festival in West Palm Beach, Florida. I saw Wilco from the “club” level that day. Pretty awesome show!