It helps to have goals

Travel is my passion. What's yours? This is Ayuttya, old capital of Thailand.
Travel is my passion. What’s yours? This is Ayuttya, old capital of Thailand.

A goal is the place you want to get to

Americans are amazingly inventive. If we know what we want to accomplish, most of us can figure out a plan to get there. But first you have to decide where you want to go. Today’s challenge: write down your goal and take one step toward it. I’m on my path. How about you?

I’ve recently shared how I started weaning myself from having so much stuff that I couldn’t find things and didn’t even know what I had. I’ve posted how I subdivided my house and now live in a 500 square foot studio located in the basement of my condo. I’ve explained how my renter pays my mortgage and given you some ideas of how I reduced what I owned to fit the space. This has allowed me to pay off all my bills except my house, AND save a nest egg.

But it’s just money. And this is a lot of trouble unless you have a good reason. Saving money is good. Living frugally is good and even fun for me. But not enough. This post is about WHY I did those things.

Yup, that's the pyramids in the background
Yup, that’s the pyramids in the background

Follow your bliss

My goal started out as a silly thought. I kept thinking I should be happy. I’m healthy. I have a job with benefits. I have friends and family. I can afford to travel on my vacations, have low debt and can afford all the things I really need and most of my wants. I’m lucky. There is a lot to be said about “growing where you are planted” and appreciating what you have.

And yet, I wanted more. I still want more.

I’m bored and I feel unchallenged. Yeah, I know. Most of the world strives to have the kind of problems I have. But I know I’m actually happier when I’m working hard toward something. You’ve heard it said, Follow Your Bliss. But can “what makes you happy” also pay your way? I hope so. Because that’s what I’m working toward. It might not work out. It probably won’t work out the way I plan. Few things do. But I don’t have anyone to worry about except myself, so here goes.

I took this during a balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey
I took this during a balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey

I won’t be bored

I want to be wanderer, fulltime. I want to be a nomad of the world. Hence the name of the blog: Wander For Life. I may never own a home or a car again, nor many more possessions than I can fit into a couple suitcases. I may move to a different place every year, or every month. I want to meet people from other cultures, eat food I can’t pronounce, form my tongue around words I never heard growing up in the Midwest. I expect I’ll have more real problems, but fewer imagined ones. I’ll probably be dirty and lost and confused a lot. I’ll probably never have a lot of money again. But I won’t be bored.

I don’t have every single step figured out to accomplish my goal, but this blog is part of how I’m going to get there. Part of the blog is documentation. It’s also part marketing tool. Eventually. And it’s a place to solicit ideas. My guidance counselor in High School didn’t have “Wanderer” on her list of job titles. Heck, there wasn’t even an internet when I went to High School. I’ll have to feel my way. But I’ll need help. Your help. NO ONE DOES ANYTHING ALONE. I’ll need ideas from you.

That's me in the great Library at Ephesus
That’s me in the great Library at Ephesus

Plan B

It’s not all mapped out, but here’s what I plan, more specifically:

  • First I want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. It will take me about 6 months to walk the 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. I’ve asked for that time off my job next year, but the odds are slim that I’ll get it. I’m selecting my backpacking gear now.
  • I want travel, to live in a different country every year. On the short list is South Korea, Turkey, Thailand, somewhere in the former Soviet Union, somewhere in South America and somewhere in Africa.

I think I can pay my way by teaching English, supplemented by blogging, selling ebooks and tour services online. I’m also willing to wait tables, work at hostels, be a barista at a coffee house or tend bar. I’m willing to try any reasonable/legal means to meet my goals, even some that might seem a bit extreme. None of the ideas will make me rich, but I should have a very rich life.

This will involve a lot of change and at some point I’ll just have to stop planning and step off into it. This won’t be an easy life. As Donna Freedman says, “I can say with some authority that sometimes, change really stinks. But I can also say that while change is scary, it is not the end of the story. Change is the chance to rewrite the story – or, rather, to take it in a new direction.”

So here’s to new directions!

Today’s challenge Write down what you want and take one step toward it. If you write it down, it’s less a dream, more a goal. If you take even one step toward it, it’s a path.

I’ve taken my beginning steps: I’ve chosen a goal. I’ve saved money to fall back on and–aside from my home–have zero debt. I’ve gotten rid of many of my possessions and continue to do so (more on that in future posts). I’ve paid down my mortgage so that the odds are good that I can sell the house free and clear when the time comes. I’m refining the gear I’ll need to hike the AT (much more on this to come)  I’ve started this blog. I’ve connected with YOU!

I’m on my path. How about you?

How to downsize, learning to live with less

Here’s my challenge to you: Free yourself from too much stuff and spending habits that keep you trapped.

This townhouse looks like it has two floors, but there's actually a walk out basement in the back, not to mention a deck and patio under it. How much space does one person need?
This townhouse looks like it has two floors, but there’s actually a walk out basement in the back, not to mention a deck and patio under it. How much space does one person need?

I began the journey of downsizing a few years ago, right around the time the economy took a dive. The radical move was dividing my three-floor condo into two living spaces, a duplex where the renter got 2/3rds of the space and I lived in what was left. I converted the basement into a studio apartment and rented out the top two floors of my townhouse. Though someone else now paid enough rent to cover the mortgage, I was faced with living in a third of the space I’d had.

It’s true that I had already cleared out my storage areas, lightened up the closets and even completely emptied one bedrooms and bath. But it still looked like a daunting task. At first.

I took a deep breath and tried to look at the situation logically. First define your space—the basement studio apartment is less than 500 square feet.

But how much space do you really need?

How big is a home?

Home sizes in the US are HUGE compared to other places in the world. According to Apartment Therapy, these are average square footage of new homes constructed since 2003:

  • US: 2,300
  • Australia: 2,217
  • Denmark: 1,475
  • France: 1,216
  • Spain: 1,044
  • Ireland: 947
  • UK: 818

These are all developed countries, so you can assume even smaller spaces in “the Third World.” Basically, others manage to get by with much less space than we Americans do. One woman doesn’t need over 1,500 square feet! I could find a way.

This is my new entrance. I just walk around the back of my unit of townhomes and my door is under the deck. I have my on patio.
This is my new entrance. I just walk around the back of my unit of townhomes and my door is under the deck. I have my on patio.

Where to start reducing

First you get rid of duplicates. In a three-floor, three-bath house you have a lot of duplicate items:

  • Vacuum cleaner/broom on each of three floors
  • Two floors had “living rooms” so I had duplicate couches/end tables/coffee tables/lamps
  • Television/stereo on each floor (I got rid of cable, so ended up giving all three TVs away)
  • Towels/bathmats/hand mirrors/cleaning utensils in 3 bathrooms
  • Office supplies like scissors/stapler/pens/paper on each floor
  • I didn’t need a bed since the studio apartment had a fold-down Murphy bed
  • I kept only one of two chest of drawers and gave away two sets of shelves
  • I had two writing desks, but I didn’t sit at either of them, so they both went
  • I pared down my kitchen items to fit my new, smaller kitchenette

I sold the furniture I didn’t need through a re-sale shop. What was left was donated to charity (always get a receipt) or gave away to friends who needed them. I could have made more money on the items if I’d held a yard sale or sold through eBay or Craigslist. (I’ve held back a few items to sell this way. hint: future post!). If I’d been unemployed and/or had more free time I would have sold some of this. And if between jobs, it would have been crucial to make money off my unused possessions. But I was (am) working a fulltime job and was running a part time business at the time (Atlanta Culinary Tours, which I’ve closed except for a few private dinners). I had very limited time.

Then I moved into the studio apartment, locked the door to the basement stairway on both sides and learned to live there. The realtor found a renter and I started reaping the rewards.

It’s had its ups and downs, but I’ve made it work. The rental income from the top two floors has allowed me to pay extra on my mortgage so that I am no longer under water! I’ve also managed pay off everything I owe except for my house and save a substantial rainy day fund. What did this hard work buy me? Freedom!

Financial freedom is a good feeling

If living within your means doesn’t sound sexy, maybe it’s time you grew up. I don’t stress nearly so much when things at work look rocky. I don’t want to lose my job, but I’ve got a safety net if I do. I don’t fret when the phone rings or the mail comes because I know no one is hounding me for money. I don’t owe anything but my mortgage. And I spend my money where I want, like world travel. I sleep well at night.

Sure times are hard, but even the poor in American are better off than most of the world. We don’t face the hardships my grandparents did in the Great Depression. We don’t have rationing like in WWII. It’s about balance. Having your needs met plus items that are useful and improve your life. Do you need every electronic toy available? Do you need a new car every two years? No.These are wants and they come after your needs are met and only if you can afford them.

So here’s my challenge: Grow up. Take responsibility. Make the hard decisions. And Free yourself.