What Home Buyers Get Wrong

Six months on in the new crib, I’m ready to educate my brother who is allegedly studying design. This is for him, but I’ve been posting so infrequently of late, feel free to eavesdrop. Bro, just send a check for whatever you think my insights are worth.

Home buyers focus too narrowly on total square feet, too often thinking the bigger the better. We moved to a slightly smaller home, but it feels larger because we regularly use much more of the total area. In other words, there’s no wasted space. And even though there’s less total square footage, the kitchen is quite a bit larger. The beauty of the kitchen layout is you can open every drawer and the dishwasher and the refrigerator and still have two-three feet all around. No more sucking everything in when moving the silverware from the dishwasher to the drawer. In fact, now there’s nothing stopping me from packing on an extra 40-50 lbs this winter.

Our new master bathroom is about 60% the size of our former one. And it’s perfect. That other 40% was wasted space for the purpose of what, a slightly higher sales price? The new one has just enough room to do everything comfortably, and when it comes time to clean, it’s a breeze because damn near everything is in reach.

Homebuyers don’t realize small things make a big difference. Especially when combined together. Case in point, dimmable lights. Mercy me, how did I live in an on-off world all those years? There’s nothing like entering the bathroom at 5:30a, flipping the switch, and being met by a faint pre-dawn-like light. Same when preparing to retire at night. There’s nothing like brushing one’s teeth under a faint post-sunset-like glimmer. Every light should be dimmable.

Another lesson. You can’t put a value on genuine quiet, and on natural beauty, and on the edifying result of the two combined.

Another lesson. You can’t have genuine quiet and natural beauty without sacrificing some community. There are always trade-offs. Long time readers of the humble blog will know I value community. Is sacrificing some community worth the return in quiet, natural beauty, peace? Stay tuned, time will tell.

What else do home buyers get wrong?

 

What Endurance Athletics Has Taught Me

Most people want to get in shape in a fraction of the time it took them to get out of shape. A vast majority also want to win the lottery and fall in love over night.

The key to success in endurance athletics is building strength, stamina, and mental toughness over time. The key is taking the long view towards incremental improvement, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year. Am I stronger, fitter, more confident this week, month, year? I’ll never be strong, fit, and confident enough. When most successful, there’s positive momentum, movement along the continuum. Positive momentum requires waking up and getting out the door, even when I don’t feel like it. Especially when I don’t feel like it.

How to create positive personal finance momentum? The key is incremental improvement which results from saving more than I spend month-to-month, year-to-year, and then investing in passive index funds month-to-month, year-to-year. Building the strength, stamina, and mental toughness to hold on for five, ten, fifteen years. Rebalancing on occasion.

How to be a better human being? By being a more active, patient listener this week, this month, this year. By being a little more friendly to others, more empathetic, more curious, more understanding.

It’s much easier to write about the long view and incremental improvement than it is to apply it consistently. In some important ways—including as an endurance athlete, as a blogger, and as a close friend—I’m lacking positive momentum right now. This is the point in the post where I wish I had an inspiring insight to close with.

Postscript: Alexi has momentum in her life.

 

 

A Life Built on Service and Saving

If my ticket gets punched sometime soon, I’ll have lived a life filled to the brim. Almost disorientingly so. I’ve crouched in the final passageway of a West African slave fort, been drenched by Victoria Fall’s mist, walked on the Great Wall of China, ran around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, hiked in Chiapas, and cross country skied in Norway. I’ve lived in the Midwest, the West, the Southeast, and as one six year old here says, “the Specific Northwest”. I’ve interacted with thousands of young people, the vast majority who appreciated my efforts on their behalf. I’ve cycled up and down mountains in the Western United States. I’ve taught guest lessons in my daughters’ elementary classrooms. I’ve been blessed to know lots of people more selfless than me, some who will read this today. I’ve been loved by caring, generous parents, and been privileged to know my wife and daughters and their friends.

My life has been so full that I tend to think about whatever my future holds as extra credit. Everything from here on out is a bonus.

Maybe I don’t look forward to too much anymore because my cup has been overflowing for some time. Apart from a story well told and nature, not a lot moves me these days.

So getting choked up in church yesterday, during the announcements of all things, was totally unexpected. A guest was invited to the front to make a surprise announcement. A tall, dapper man in his late 30’s began describing his relationship with ChuckB, a member who had passed away a few months ago. He had been Chuck’s financial planner for eight years.

I didn’t know Chuck until I attended a celebration of his life that was planned nine months ago after the church community learned of his terminal illness. He worked as a forester for the Department of Ecology for a few decades and kept a low profile at church, driving the van, tutoring after school, doing whatever was needed behind the scenes. At his celebration I was struck by how everyone described him as one of the most humble, caring, and giving people they had ever known. He lived a simple life in a modest neighborhood that revolved around participating in church activities.

The financial planner announced that Chuck and his wife, who had passed away previously, were leaving the church $925,000, divided four ways, the largest portion for international aide, another for local charities, another for Lutheran World Relief specifically, and about $220,000 in the church’s unrestricted fund to use as the Council sees fit. A Council that has been seeking about $35,000 to fund a half-time position dedicated to strengthening our ties to local people in need.

There was an audible gasp. Two people stood and began applauding and soon everyone followed. My favorite part, and probably what moved me so much, was that Chuck wasn’t there for his standing ovation. Shortly before he died, he confided to one member that he was leaving “the bulk of his estate to the church,” but that person said she had “no idea it was anywhere near that much money.” No one did.

The most beautiful and moving part to me is that Chuck intentionally passed on his standing ovation. He didn’t need it. A life filled with service and saving was more than enough. Blessed be his memory.

 

 

What William Morris Didn’t Factor In

William Morris was a 19th Century English textile designer, artist, writer, socialist, and Marxist. I imagine him as a calmer, more serene Bernie Sanders.

Among other memorable quotes, Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Same goes for cars, work offices, garages.

Wonderful goal, but most of what’s stored in our residences was helpful once, but isn’t anymore (ethernet cables, college texts, the golf shag bag). Or we think it may be helpful at some point in the future even though it hasn’t been for a long time (a gazillion screws, nuts and bolts; a road atlas, the golf shag bag). When it comes to our possessions, we mostly live in the past and future.

Similarly, we’re surrounded by stuff we found beautiful at one time. If we’re honest, a small subset of what we’re surrounded by is beautiful or particularly useful with any regularity (the Gal Pal just suggested I look in the mirror). What purposes then, do the majority of our things serve?

Like historical landmarks, they create order and bred familiarity. Like old photos or friends, subconsciously, they remind us of the past. Often, they are the product of nostalgia mixed with inertia. A sedentary sentimentality confounds efforts at genuine minimalism.

Knowing that, we can be much more selective about what we save as links to our past, scanning and digitizing much of what makes the final cut. Doing that, our living spaces will grow and we’ll enjoy them more.

 

 

Assigned Reading and Viewing

• You’re interested in adolescent mental health and like long-form, non-fiction journalism. The Silicon Valley Suicides.

• You wonder what it would be like to be a young Syrian woman who escapes from The Islamic State. ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish, and Escape.

• You dig athletic excellence and redemption stories. After rehabilitation, the best of Michael Phelps may lie ahead. Mid-story, I wondered, has there ever been a more physically dominant athlete in any sport?

• This Thanksgiving you want to be more intentional about giving thanks. Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.

• You’re thankful Adele is back. “Nannies talk very slow and very calm to try to make the world make sense.” Who knew?

• You’re grateful Adele is coming to Thanksgiving dinner.