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!

The Beginning

About a year ago I lived alone in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in a town in South Florida full of retirees. The house had a sunroom and a two-car garage. I needed the garage, I said, because I’m an engineer and I like building things, working on cars, and having large side projects. Immediately the house and the garage were full of… stuff. I had a piano and an electronic organ as a side project. I had two beds mostly because I had so many bedrooms. I had three or four stereos in various states of disrepair. I had two TVs, and one of them was in the bedroom. I had more video games than any girl would ever want to see in her date’s house (although most were in boxes). Shortly after I bought the house I took out a loan and bought a two seat convertible. Everything I had was interesting for a time, but after I stopped using it, it stuck around. Taking up space in my house and in my life.

There have been moments in my life that, looking back on them, make me think I should have come to this point before now. Like when my freshman roommate saw my extra computer monitor and big stereo and mentioned in passing that I seemed to have two of everything. Or when I spent $500 to trailer my old, weary car to my first job in Tennessee behind my nice truck that would have been just fine as my only vehicle.

The biggest kick in the pants, however, was the Christmas after I bought that first house. I flew up to Virginia to get the rest of my furniture and belongings from my parents’ basement and I rented a UHaul to drive it down to Florida. Something was nagging me at the back of my mind though, since I hadn’t had this stuff in a few years, why did I suddenly need it now? Was it worth the plane ticket and truck rental and fuel to bring it all to sit in my house with me? I already had a bed, clothes, stereo, and everything else I needed back in Florida. Did I need more stuff? But I quietly pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind, like I always had, and pretty soon I had a giant house that was full of everything I needed to be happy. Only I wasn’t.

I don’t remember how I stumbled across minimalism, but I do remember feeling very disconnected with my life a year ago, like I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. A lot of people have a defining moment that brought them to minimalism, but mine slowly crept up on me. A pretty drastic change occurred in my life as a result. I put almost everything I owned on craigslist and cleared over two thousand dollars in a few months. I started selling more valuable (and easily mailed) things on eBay. I sold my other car and put my house up for sale. Who needs three bedrooms to themselves, anyway? It was creeping me out at night.

My house sold and I moved to a smaller place a little further south in a city that I love. I have less things, but my life is more full than it’s ever been. I try to live more deliberately, and I actually finish projects that I start. I’m still working on paring down the excess, but I’m an engineer who still likes to work on cars and electronics and who occasionally lets things get out of hand. I’m a work in progress, though, just like everyone else. I’m hoping this blog will be somewhere that I can be accountable to myself, and maybe some others will get value out of the things that I learn.

Photo: My real, former garage. I actually parked my truck and car this way to make the picture look better, because at the time time I felt like I should have been proud of my accumulation of stuff. How much could I fit in there?