Minimalism and early retirement go together like peanut butter and jelly. Each item compliments the other. Minimalism helps get you to early retirement sooner because you are lowering your cost structure. Early retirement makes you want to simplify life so you can remain retired and enjoy your time more efficiently.
Since 2012, I’ve worked on becoming a minimalist with uneven results.
Ten years ago, I tried to sell my oversized house, but got no takers. It had two empty bedrooms we didn’t need. In 2017, we finally downsized. It felt much better to not have wasted space.
After giving away most of my dress clothes, my closet is pretty barren. But I still have a difficult time getting rid of old t-shirts that provide a lot of good memories.
Finally, I’ve maintained my one-car household for over 20 years. It’d be nice to go car free, but I’ve got two little kids to shuttle around.
For two years, I gave up on minimalism by buying a larger house in 2020. With the larger house came more furniture, more maintenance issues, and more cleaning time.
Now I’m intent on going back to minimalism and early retirement due to a series of unfortunate events. We have a tendency to collect more of everything. As a result, we naturally complicate our lives over time.
Become A Minimalist Because Everything Always Breaks
The more often things break, the more you need to spend time and money fixing them. Let me recap a list of things that have gone wrong that makes me want to get rid of things again.
1) Car problems
The biggest benefit of driving a cheap old car is better mental health. You can get a door ding at the supermarket and you wouldn’t care!
After a nice five-day vacation in Lake Tahoe, I finished loading my car up with luggage and the children. With an energy drink in hand, I was finally ready to make the three-hour drive back to San Francisco. However, as I swung around to the driver’s side, I was startled by the site of a massive gash! WTF!
My car had been left overnight under the valet’s care and The Resort At Palisades Tahoe had failed to protect it. What transpired next caused me tremendous stress for the rest of the day as I had to 1) explain to my little ones why their trip home was being delayed; 2) spend a couple of hours in a car going to Reno to pick up a rental car; and 3) dealing with the insurance agency, The Resort, and the car rental agency.
In all, I wasted about nine hours of my life over 2.5 months due to this unfortunate situation. When it happened, I remember wishing I didn’t have a car. Dealing with accidents, flat tires, inevitable maintenance issues, towing, and tickets is not fun. Owning two cars would just double the trouble!
2) Random property issues
One of the reasons why I’m only investing in private real estate from now on is because something always breaks with one of my physical properties. Here are several recent examples:
A) In August, my tenant’s bike got stolen. Apparently, my sister and boyfriend left the side door unlocked, but there is no proof they didn’t lock the door. Nor is there proof they stole a $3,000+ bike I did not know was there. Ah, my love hate relationship with owning rentals.
B) In September, I got a notice at my rental from the Bureau of Street Use and Mapping Division. The notice said my planter boxes on my property were too high and had to be taken down. Huh?! The wooden planter boxes looked great and had been around for seven years. I had to spend $3,200 to remove them within two months.
C) In November, a different tenant discovered a cracked kitchen sink pipe on both sides that caused a leak. I had just remodeled the kitchen in 2020. How could the pipe crack so soon? Instead of relaxing on a Saturday, I had to trade text messages with my tenant to coordinate a handyman to take a look. Luckily, my handyman was available the next day and it only cost $150 to fix.
D) On a rainy Saturday in December, all my primary residence electrical outlets in my primary bedroom suddenly stopped working. I found an electrician who charged $145 an hour. After three hours of work, one hour for getting supplies at $85, and $50 in materials he solved the problem. I’m glad to have power again in my bedroom, but now I wonder what other random thing could go wrong.
3) Children getting non-stop colds
Before having children, I might get sick once a year for up to two weeks. Since my son started going to school in 2021, I’ve been getting sick twice a year for four to five weeks total. With my daughter starting preschool twice a week in 2022, she is also getting sick.
Given we’re both stay-at-home parents, my wife and I can’t help but catch their illnesses. For the past three months, at least two members of our household have always been sick.
There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight since parents will continue to send their kids to school sick because most parents need to work. They can’t afford to take too much time off to care for their sick children. I wonder if it’s a good idea to homeschool our kids during viral outbreaks and send them back once things calm down.
One of the reasons why my wife and I decided not to have more kids is because we don’t have the capacity to take care of more in the way that we want. An unhappy home full of fights and potential divorce would be counterproductive to raising kids.
In retrospect, having one kid was easy in comparison to having two. Having zero kids makes life even easier. But, of course, we wouldn’t trade our kids for the world. We just know our limits.
Being an early retiree without kids would probably force me to go back to work due to loneliness and boredom. There’s really only so much traveling and play one can do before both get boring.
4) A more and more complicated net worth
Money is awesome for being able to do more of what you want. The more money you have the more passive income you can generate. However, the more money you have, the more you can lose as well!
2022 is a great reminder of how quickly funny money can disappear in a bear market. At the extreme, people like Mark Zuckerberg have lost over $80 billion in the past twelve months.
Personally, I’ve lost a larger absolute dollar amount in 2022 than I did during the 2008 global financial crisis. Although my percentage net worth decline is not nearly as bad as the 35% decline I experienced in 2008, it still hurts.
The quick evaporation of stock market wealth is why I will likely always have a minority of my net worth invested in stocks. It’s hard to be disciplined to always sell stock gains to enjoy life.
Therefore, I’d rather invest my money in real estate and alternative assets. It’s nice to concurrently enjoy wealth and potentially make money at the same time.
However, the more different types of investments you have, the more complicated your net worth. The more complicated your net worth, the more you have to track. There are also more tax documents to file. Investing can be like filling a closet full of unnecessary clothes.
The thing is, I’ve still yet to meet someone who made a fortune mainly from investing in index funds. However, there’s something to be said for having a simple investment portfolio.
5) Website issues and channel growth
I enjoy running Financial Samurai. It brings me joy and purpose in fake retirement. However, every once in a while, some random tech issue pops up.
For example, in December, my posts stopped releasing to various RSS feeds, like Feedly, every time they get published. My e-mail management system also stopped automatically picking up the posts. So I have to create each e-mail by scratch.
It’s not the end of the world since there are only about 2,000 RSS feed readers. My posts still get indexed by Google. Further, I can still manually send out my posts via e-mail that now take five minutes to create. It’s just annoying things just randomly stopped working.
Now I’ve got to spend up to $400 trouble shooting the issue. In the meantime, I’m recording more podcasts because they release to the RSS feeds. Publishing podcasts is a reasonable solution in the meantime. The show notes of each episode links to the posts.
If I just had Financial Samurai, or just had a podcast, or just had a weekly newsletter or just wrote personal finance books, early retirement life would be simpler. But these are the sacrifices I make to have an omni-channel presence. It’s been hard to prevent work creep over the years, which is why I limit my FS hours to 20 a week.
From 2009 – 2012 all I had was Financial Samurai. I had a minimalist online presence because I had a day job. Perhaps I should return to simpler times again.
A Simple, Minimalistic Life Is Wonderful
The ironic thing about early retirement is that it frees up time to deal with these random problems that consistently occur in life.
Due to early retirement, I don’t need to hire a property manager to manage my rentals. Early retirement also enables us to take care of our little ones at home indefinitely if they are sick.
But even if you have tremendous free time, you still don’t want to deal with these issues. You’d much prefer to have fewer problems so you can do more of what you want. Since you rationally do the most enjoyable things with your free time, the opportunity cost for early retirees not doing things is greater.
For example, let’s say you have to skip work to take care of your kids. A bummer for sure. But at least you don’t have to work and will likely still get paid. As an early retiree, you might have to skip doing something fun for a week to take care of your kids.
Yes, this is a first-world problem. I’m just pointing out that everything is relative. With Lean FIRE, practicing minimalism helps free up even more valuable time.
Once you’ve got almost everything you want and experienced almost everything you’ve desired, it’s best to simplify.
Things I Plan On Reducing Or Not Buying
Here are some things I will offload in the name of minimalism:
- All clothes I did not buy or that don’t fit. I have too many oversized t-shirts that were given as free swag. I’ve also held onto some work clothes for 10 years just in case I return. But I’m never returning now.
- Any shoes over two years old to protect my ankles from rolling over. The heels wear down, creating more risk.
- Donate children’s books and toys to organizations that giveaway books and toys to needy families. During the pandemic, we accumulated a library of children’s books. I know other children between 1-5 will love them too. Giving the gift of education through books is the best.
- If my condo tenant ever leaves, I will sell it if the conditions are fair. The condo is relatively low maintenance given there is an HOA and the condo isn’t big. When the time comes, I will happily reinvest the proceeds into a diversified private real estate fund.
- Sell my primary residence if I ever upgrade our house again. No matter how much money you have, you can only live in one place at one time. No longer will I buy a new place and then rent my old place out since I’ve hit my physical property limit.
- Reduce the average length of my posts by 20%. Shorter posts are easier to edit and easier to read. Further, it increases my chances of not burning out.
Becoming a complete minimalist may be a challenge given we still have two young children. However, we will try to instill in them the philosophy that “less is more.” Moderation is the key!
Reader Questions And Suggestions
Readers, have you embraced minimalism? What are some of the things you want more of and less of? Do you think minimalism and early retirement go hand-in-hand?
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