I don’t often offer advice to think small or shrink dreams as I find that most people need to get comfortable with embracing their desires, rather than repressing them. But there can be times when your expectations for what you must have in order to be happy are actually based on some unhealthy beliefs or unrealistic notions.
Don’t worry, I am not advocating that everyone make radical life adjustments and move out of your urban dream home for a small rural farm house in Kansas. But I do ask that you at least entertain the thought of scaling back some necessities for the following reasons:
- The location you think you MUST live in may change dramatically once you are doing work you love. No one was more surprised than me that I ended up moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Mesa, Arizona. I was a 4th generation Californian with a deep love for my “City by the Bay” and all of its wonder: great food, spectacular hiking trails and a wonderful, diverse and open culture of people. But another reality is a real estate market on crack, where a small, beat-up shack in a scary neighborhood starts at about $500,000. Contrast this with a 4 bedroom home in Mesa at about $225,000. Do I miss San Francisco? Did it take awhile to get used to realizing Taco Bell is the nearest thing to authentic Mexican cuisine? Of course it did. But the reality is, my life is great because I am doing work I love, am married to a man I adore and I only have to work about a quarter of the time I would if I lived in the Bay Area.
- Your need for expensive toys or vacations is often correlated with your level of loathing for your job. When you can’t stand your daily working existence, your need to escape raises dramatically. Often, you think you must indulge in luxurious vacations with lavish food, endless tropical drinks, and dramatic extracurricular activities in exotic locations. You reason “I must make this one week the absolute antithesis of my daily life the other 51 weeks of the year.” The problem is, at about day 3 you begin to dread the return home, and your frantic need to enjoy every second can lead to disappointment. By contrast, when your every day working life is pretty darn happy, a family Scrabble night can provide as much emotional connection, fun and stress relief as a week-long stint in Jamaica. Minus the sun damage.
- Focusing on the quality of your close relationships is the fastest way to increase overall happiness. The Beatles were right: money can’t buy you love. Our scarcest commodity these days is time to spend with close family and friends. When you reduce expenses or a huge home that takes all weekend to clean, you free up time to hang out with your friends and family. It makes me sad to think of the typical evening scene for many “corporate employee” working families these days: if they happen to hang out in the same room, Mom is on her laptop checking email, Dad is working on a presentation, and Jr. is texting his friend on his cellphone.
- Putting your teenagers to work could be the best thing for their future independence. I am totally biased about this, since I and all of my siblings started working in our early teens. We did it out of necessity to support my single Mom, but I see it as a tremendous blessing in each of our lives. We all put ourselves through college, learned the value of money, developed a strong, healthy work ethic and learned that if we wanted something, we had to make it happen. As long as your teenager has time to finish schoolwork and exercise, work can be an excellent addition to the weekly routine. The income can defray some household costs. Perhaps even more of an important consideration for parents of teens these days is that idle time can lead to scary extracurricular activities.
- Creating a slow ramp-up plan will ease the pressure to produce high sales results immediately in your new business. Your dreams may include a cool new home or life in a favorite city, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Our family plans include a custom-built ecological home in Sedona, Arizona, which ain’t cheap. But until we are ready to handle that financial responsibility, my husband and I have manageable expenses and can grow our businesses at a reasonable pace. If you scale back your life while you ramp up your business, you will have more time and savings to experiment and fail, build relationships with new clients and work the bugs out of your products or services.
Here are three questions to ask yourself to see if some of your “big dreams” are driven by true needs or “social self” expectations based on losing face:
- Am I worried about this change because of how it would feel to me on a day-to-day basis, or what others would think about me? We are often driven by need for approval from those around us. At the end of the day, you inhabit your own skin and life, so make decisions about what would make you happy, and everything else will fall into place. You will naturally shed friends who don’t approve, and your parents will get over it once they see how happy you are. (OK, I can’t promise your parents will approve — but at least you will be happy, so who cares?)
- Where does this belief come from? (Such as “I need a new car every year,” “I must live in a certain neighborhood, city or state,” “My kids (or wife, or husband) can never work,” or “Only Georgio can cut my hair for $300 a pop”) Does this belief serve my higher purpose, make me a better human being, reduce stress in my life or make me closer with my spouse and kids?
- What do I truly crave? While my first response to this question is always high-quality ice cream, digging deeper usually finds more meaningful answers like love, connection, positive impact on the world and good health. Most material things, while making our lives temporarily enjoyable, don’t really address these deep human cravings.
I know my friends Penelope Trunk, Nataly Kogan and Matthew Scott all made the decision to move to a different city in order to have a more fulfilling life. How about the rest of you? Do you have any good “downsizing” stories to share that have led to more day-to-day fulfillment even if you had to nix or defer a dream along the way?
thans you very muck
How apt! We moved from Perth (capital of Western Australia; nearly 2m people) to a small town in the rural southwest of the state (pop. 5000) just under 6 months ago. We took advantage of the booming housing market and sold up to build our dream house in the country. My husband resigned from his job and retired.
My biggest fears were about being able to run my sole person business from this location, the logistics of working remotely with my existing clients, and finding new clients.
Well, so far everything has worked out better than expected. I’m actually working less and making far more than before. Some of this would’ve happened anyway, but the ‘working less’ is a benefit I wasn’t expecting. And my client base has expanded to include a large client on the other side of the country.
My commute these days is 5 steps from the kitchen to the office, not 30+ mins a day stuck in traffic; grocery shopping is 1 minute away and takes minutes, not at least an hour as it was in the city. While food and general goods are more expensive here, the range is less and there’s less ‘need’ for the stuff we used to buy. We use less fuel because we’re hardly using the cars. In fact, the two cars will probably become one soon. Working exclusively from home means I don’t have to maintain an every-changing business wardrobe, thus I’m also saving on clothing, makeup, manicures etc. While this all sounds as though it’s about saving money, it’s not. That’s just been a side benefit.
We have no desire to return to the city. The air is fresher here, people say hello in the street–seriously, supposedly we don’t have to lock our cars (though we haven’t tried that yet!), and my ‘office’ overlooks a backyard full of fruit trees and native birds. I can’t think why we put up with that whole city lifestyle for so long.
We haven’t yet started to build the dream house, but after having lived for close to 6 months in a much smaller house than we had in the city, I’m rethinking our list of ‘must haves’ for the dream house. It really is easier living with less stuff! (though I wouldn’t mind an extra 1 metre of kitchen counter space!)
Oh, and I’m totally with you on kids working. My sister and I worked in our parents’ business from about the age of 7, helping out after school, on weekends etc. Only occasionally can I recall resenting it–mostly when I was a teenager going through typical hormonal imbalances. My sister’s kids and step-kids now work in their parents’ financial advice business, and have done so since they were teenagers. They are the most well-adjusted 20-somethings you’ll ever come across. I can heartily recommend to all parents to actively encourage your kids to work. They’ll learn the value of money, the benefits of saving, and that the world doesn’t owe them a living. And they’ll also learn that there are plenty of people in the world who are not like them – and that can only be good!
Apologies for the long post–you *really* struck a chord with this one.
I’d be interested in an updated GoogleAnalytics chart (may be two with about six weeks coverage), just to see if the effect did wear off after a while and also, did others link to your new name with the same link-text (allinurl:…). I hope you will publish a follow up.
Big business spends billions convincing us to buy all sorts of crap we don’t really need by playing on our anxieties about our status. The sooner you can see through this the happier you will be. Interestingly this all becomes more obvious once you ahev done some marketing yourself. You can start to deconstruct ads and see what buttons they are trying to push.
If you want to be happier, forget about that SUV you have been hankering after.
In the immortal words of Skynyrd:
Take your time… dont live too fast,
Troubles will come and they will pass.
Go find a woman and youll find love,
And dont forget son,
There is someone up above.
And be a simple kind of man.
Be something you love and understand.
Be a simple kind of man.
Wont you do this for me son,
If you can?
Forget your lust for the rich mans gold
All that you need is in your soul,
And you can do this if you try.
All that I want for you my son,
Is to be satisfied.
Boy, dont you worry… youll find yourself.
Follow you heart and nothing else.
And you can do this if you try.
All I want for you my son,
Is to be satisfied.
I’ve been following this blog since the “Open letter…”, but this post really drew me to the comments button.
We – or rather my husband – made the decision one year ago to quit his upper management job, which made him commute 800 miles every monday/friday and live in an overpriced big city place – while our home and my job are in a nature park setting… It’s been hard on him to switch the big company car for a smaller used one. And instead of buying those expensive toys and vacations we put our money into building his own business and realizing his longtime dream. It is quite a difference from our former “double income” life but we thouroughly cherish the time we’ve got together now. It’s so right to sometimes review your life situation versus your vision….!
I think it is a balance. The biggest lesson I learned from the start is don’t over-leverage yourself. When I was buying my first (and still current) home, they wanted to loan me about $30K more than I wanted to spend at the max. Cajoling, rationalizing from everyone from family to brokers..I wouldn’t budge. Now, 9 years later I can say – GREAT JOB PAULA. Because I was able to LIVE and own a home. Vacation as I please. And, while I want something larger and perhaps in a different area, right now it is plain old great with me to know that I can lose my day job, focus on my business, and not have to freak about the mortgage (at least not for a period of time).
Great, juicy comments everyone — I especially love the real life stories from those of you who have made the move!
And Eugene … all I can say about the inherent conflict between #1 and #3 is that there are hard tradeoffs sometimes. I moved away from my Mom and Dad, and it is REALLY frustrating to not have them more active in my son Josh’s life (he is 2). I know it kills my Mom to be so far away from her grandkids. The good thing is that Josh is close to his Dad’s side, as all my in-laws live pretty close by.
I was the last sib to move out of the Bay Area … my sister moved to Texas 12 years ago, and my brother to Pittsburgh about 8 years ago, for work and quality of life reasons. We miss each other terribly, but all have very fulfilling “nuclear family” lives. I guess you can’t have it all, at least all of the time!
(And VERY cute kid Eugene, judging from the pics on your blog. 🙂
Really good advice here, well said, and well done. We moved the family from Palo Alto CA to Eugene OR 15 years ago next month. That’s just your point #1, though … we bought in on all of them, 1-5, and glad we did.
— Tim Berry
A little over two weeks ago, I moved from New York City to Durham, NC to start my virtual assistant practice. I sold my apt and I used the proceeds towards the down payment on my new house and living expenses until I get my business up and running (NYC real estate has been very good to me!). As a single mom (7 yo daughter), with only one income, it’s a very scary thing for me to do, but I was unhappy living in NYC, working a job that I hated and not spending enough time with my daughter. So far, so good. My daughter loves camp and we both love our new house and neighborhood. I’m pretty busy trying to build my business, but I am happy and feel free from the burdens and stress that I felt when I was living in the city. This is the best decision I have made for my family. Thanks for the article!
Great post Pam. I cam to your site via the video interview you did with Amanda Congdon and this post hit home hard. I am a single 35 year old living in the burbs around Dallas smack in the middle of making big changes for all of the reasons you described including selling my house in the burbs (not a great place to be single anyway) and moving back into a 1 or 2 bedroom urban loft or apartment in order to simplify and scale back my life, leaving me more time and money to do the things I love and chase my dreams. For anyone else considering such changes it can be a gut check because we grow emotional attachments to our “things.” But if you can, for a moment shift that attention to making those dreams come true, such changes suddenly make a lot of sense. Success story coming soon.
More on Moving for Financial Fitness
Great post Pam –
I am right on with your theme – before you take action, have a vision for what you want and contrast that with what you need. Involve those closest to you but ignore what “others” think because they don’t want to stretch their comfort zone.
Me – want to be on the beach all day every day (inner mad gringo) – need to get a few kids through school first (they don’t have an inner mad gringo. . .yet).
Life’s a journey – go slow.
Great thoughts Pamela. Your posts always seem to hit the mark.
I had the good fortune of a job transfer from Washington, Dc to Greenville, SC. While there are some things we miss, the move was great and was great for my family. We like the pace of life and the friends we have made.
We do miss the family we left behind. But we also understand that nothing is permanent, especially in this day of mobility. Friends and family may get transferred or move, parents will pass away. Rather than trying to maintain the past, it is about providing for my family’s present and future.
Of couse everybody is welcome to move down here near us, they would probably enjoy i as much as we do!
Hi Pam! I currently have my teenager working and it’s been a very maturing and positive experience for her (No. 4 on your list). I am definitely in favor of teens working. It gives them a better appreciation for money and also an understanding of what work is. We’ve used the job to teach her about budgeting, responsibility and so much more. I know there are days that she envies her friends who just lie around the house and play video games all day, but she is starting to see that, in the long run, this is better for her.
Pam, I love this post. As you know – thanks for the shoutout! – our family changed our life completely so that I could quit a high-paying job I hated and start my own company. We moved to Boston from New York, sent our daughter to daycare vs having a nanny, have reduced our extra spending on stuff. I’m 3 months into this life and have this to report: It’s not easy, but doing something that I am actually excited about does make up for a lot of it.
Great topic Pam…One I have written about and think about often. I, like you, relocated family to get out of the California rat race with limited success.
There are times I miss it badly – but in discussions what I realize is more at issue is often a discontent with current state – how things are. I’ve concluded that I could – and would – live almost anywhere to lower expenses and on the other-side of that have options to travel back to those places I enjoy – and other places as well.
Freedom of direction/vision is a large premium for me.
Another point you make that is critical is in the acquisition of big toys. I have found that my fondest memories are sitting on our front-porch with my kids playing guitar. Home should be a great place to hang out – and bbq a bunch of burgers for your kids friends still cost less than a half-day at the lake.
You were lucky to get out when you did. I still live in the bay area, and I desperately want to move my family out of state to cut our living expenses. But, as is the state of things when you are middle class in the bay area … you spend so much money just living that saving to leave is really a daunting task. So maybe you should add in a bit about keeping the hope of downsizing alive when you feel like the dream is slipping? A slow ramp-up sounds nice, but I had to go at it pretty gung-ho if I wanted to make *any* headway on this longshot dream of mine.
Just browsing the internet, very, very interesting blog.
The funny thing about both 2 and 3 on the list is that they’re sometimes motivated by guilt. We’re feeling guilty about how much we work so we buy things (for ourselves and our loved ones).
When we start spending more time on both (ourselves and those we care about) there’s sometimes a lag before we realize we don’t really need (or in many cases, want) all the things we did before.
Good luck Julia!!
We moved from London, to a smaller city in the UK, to a tiny village and finally to 2 suitcases!
I used to want the big penthouse apartment and the big flashy car with all the gizmos and gadgets (and I still wouldn’t mind it) but having finally left the corporate world behind and now running our business whilst we travel the world, it’s the smallest things in life that I enjoy the most…like being able to go for a swim in the sea & eating fresh, locally grown food.
Our families thought we were mad when we first started and it was a challenge to try & explain that we’d sold our apartment, most of our stuff and were going to live out of 2 suitcases for a while because we had finally realised what we wanted & we were going to look for it.
It was the best thing we have ever done – we are probably the happiest we have ever been, despite owning the the fewest material possessions we’ve ever owned.
Like Smittie, I too am looking to move from Toronto to Ottawa. It’s taken me 11 years to figure out that I don’t really like living here anymore, so it’s time to move. I’m hoping to make the big move in a couple of months. Wish me luck!
I made the move from Toronto to a small town outside Ottawa. (Canadian version of SF to Mesa)….I love the small town community…..I love the work community ….it’s all great for my daughter….working on the “man” part…
I am trying to make a downsizing success story. We would very much like to move to something more rural. I have a vision of how that might work, largely as a result of what I’m reading in this blog. I’d like to apply my 20 years of computer experience to helping SOHO businesses outside the computer industry in information management, especially agriculture related business. I’ve done this once before when I lived in Iowa. I love working with farmers and ranchers and others who have lived their whole life in rural America.
I’d really like to be your next success story. I’m working on it.
We live in SF and so do most of our friends and family.
How do you strike a balance between 1 and 3 if moving to someplace cheaper means moving away from being able to see the grandparents or close friends at a moment’s notice.