Spying on RVs in the City


I spied on this RV so hard…it looked so…livable.

We went on a bike ride down to the beach with the intention of spotting RVs stealthily parked on the beachfront.

I never used to notice the RVs–just casually taking them in as part of the scenery. I mean, there are quite a few RVs just hanging around Seattle, parked in the various neighborhoods that I’ve lived in for the past twenty years or so. Now that I think about it, how many of these RVs are actually the full time home of the people who own them? It’s amazing to consider!


Why wouldn’t you want this view from your house?!

At this point, I’m confident that the people living in them full time are more than I imagined, and the benefits of doing so include getting a beachfront property (which many people would pay millions for) for almost nothing. Parking there for under 72hrs is usually free and legal, or even longer, as long as “concerned citizens” don’t complain.

Why should any of this matter? Well, I’m secretly planning to purchase an RV and roadtrip across the U.S. one day, and I thought that doing research now would help me become fully prepared. I’ve been mentally preparing for a couple of months now, putting myself in the position of someone who lives in a small space, but treats the outdoors as an extension of their livable space.

(Extremely) Early Retirement

You can find my new obsession in the title of this post. I stumbled upon the concept about two months ago via a blog called Mr. Money Mustache. I found this idea (retiring really early through very achievable means) because I was searching for a better way to live life.

Society dictates that normal American life means that you go to school for a fair number of years, kindergarten through college, then graduate and pop back into yet another system of corporate work for 40 or so years, and at the end of all of that you’re finally able to “retire” and finally do whatever the heck you want.

I originally had a small taste of a different way to live out life. A few years back, Tim Ferris’ concept of mini-retirements surfaced. Tim questions the model of retiring later in life when you’re least able to enjoy your time off, and poses the question—“What happens when you take lots of small retirements throughout your life?”

Others, like Steve Pavlina, shared similar sentiments—they worked hard on things they liked doing and were good at (for Pavlina it was programming games), then they fell into a business model and got popular on the internet and made some money that way. It all seemed too easy for them, and not very practical for the average Joe (or Jane!).

Then, when I came across the extremely early retirement community, something life-altering happened. My research and reading told me that anyone—even the most average of people, could retire very early. It does not matter what your gross salary is, as long as your savings rate is high (50%+), and you invest your money well, you can completely retire in less time than most people currently believe is possible.

The appeal for me is the idea of extremely early retirement. Why not just use your younger years to work really hard, save really hard, buy very little, and come out in 5-15 years done with your ‘accumulation phase’ as the early retirement community calls it? Let time do the work for you. Let your money make money. Ugh, it’s so disgustingly simple I’m not sure why I didn’t see the light sooner.

Before I stumbled upon the early retirement community, I had already had previous obsessions with the minimalist movement, tiny houses, ultralight travel, and a whole community of people who were focused on less consumerism and less environmental impact. This has really helped to set me in the right mindset to believe this is possible—I mean, I legitimately like this stuff. And although I’ve suffered from some lifestyle inflation, it’s not too late for me to turn back since I’m young, healthy, and without dependents.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve slashed my expenses back to the bare minimum and I calculate everything in terms of how much money I would need saved up in a nest egg in order to have that item or service just by living off the interest of an investment. For example, if I consider purchasing a subscription to a service like Spotify at $10/month, it sounds reasonable initially. I mean, I’m a professional white-collar worker, working in downtown Seattle. Obviously I can afford such a luxury. But, am I really willing to if I consider that it will cost me $3,000 in savings to maintain this habit?

Here’s how I make the calculation—if Spotify costs $10/month, I will multiply that by 12 to get the yearly cost. This is $120. I will multiply the yearly cost by 25 to get $3,000. This is the amount I will need to have saved up in my nest egg to fund a Spotify subscription habit. (I am using a 4% safe withdrawal rate calculation). I’ll then ask myself if it’s worth a decent chunk of my life to work to collect $3,000 just so I can have access to Spotify forever. The answer in this case is no, it’s not a worthwhile trade-off for me. My life energy is way too precious to spend on a random expense like that which is not very valuable to me.

I always thought being able to do whatever you want with your day required huge sacrifices. Either you would have to return to work every so often just so you could have enough money to pay your bills. Otherwise, you would have to create some kind of business that would generate “passive income.” I thought the only way out of the rat race was to be an entrepreneur. So I focused heavily on that for a couple of years. I started up this blog, had dreams of making money from this baby, and crafted all sorts of business concepts. I read loads of books about businesses, entrepreneurship, psychology, and subscribed to all the top email newsletters from advice-giving gurus.

I was so deep into it that I didn’t realize that the most important factor that I could be controlling at the moment wasn’t the money I could be earning from my (non-existent) business, but rather, the money I should be socking away in savings and investments.

Are you currently at an ideal savings rate for your goals? Have you ever run across the concept of extremely early retirement before?

Here are links to other blogs that have also shaped my perspective on this early retirement deal:

  • Jlcollinsnh – awesome concrete investment advice (essentially, stick to Vanguard with their low expense ratios, and invest in mostly a total stock index fund that matches the market, with perhaps some bonds and REITs thrown in there).
  • Mad Fientist – wonderful podcast that features lots of faces from the early retirement community; great retirement calculator tool that he programmed
  • Afford Anything – I love seeing women in the space–I feel like women in the personal development/entrepreneurship/minimalism space are extremely underrepresented; she has great insight on how she is on a path to wealth by investing in multiple instances of real estate
  • Brave New Life – lots of interesting philosophy about what it means to work, live, and retire, and taking back time for yourself; kind of reminds me of the book Brave New World in a way…
  • Lacking Ambition – great posts about living with very very little and learning to love it
  • Early Retirement Extreme – one of the blogs that really popularized the notion; he really takes things to the extreme by living off of a trivial amount of about $7k per year or something awesome like that; on minimizing the need for being “on the grid” and plugged into society

Decorating as a Minimalist

minimalismI moved into my own apartment not long after I got my first full-time job. I don’t regret this. I love every minute of being able to make my own decisions and choosing my lifestyle. Funny thing is, I hadn’t decorated at all since moving in. This is pretty much the norm for me.

Even in college, I always found myself decorating places like my dorm room haphazardly and halfway through the year. Friends of my old roommate used to come over to our dorm room and ask if she lived alone because my side of the room was so sparse.

For the past few months at work, I used to joke with my coworkers that if there all of a sudden were an earthquake (a likely occurrence in Seattle), I would have nothing to worry about because the two big items I owned—a card table and a futon might fall over, but I would just pick them back up and move on with my life.

Recently, I decided I wanted to add furniture to my place. This was because I found my aparmtent to be cold, uninviting, and not very functional. We had no couch, so there was nowhere for guests to sit or any place for us to relax in our living room. It wasn’t making me happy. And I decided that’s not what I wanted. I’m frugal, but I’m not cheap enough to deny myself material possessions if they would actually add to my happiness.

As I began to gather ideas and concepts for decorating my apartment, I found it difficult to stay minimalist and still have a cozy and comfortable living space. In my research, I bookmarked pictures of nice, friendly looking apartments that always included an overabundance of textiles and storage space that created a lot of visual clutter.

Just thinking about buying all of those things and caring for all of those things made me uneasy. Sure, it might be nice to sit in an apartment will all sorts of knick knacks, but would I really want to deal with all of that stuff?

Finally, I began searching for keywords like “cozy minimalist apartment decorating ideas,” which yielded much more relevant results. The key to decorating the interior of an apartment with a minimalist yet cozy twist is to stay away from furniture that has a cold color scheme. Anything that’s too grey, black, or white tends to create a cold and uninviting environment–something I definitely want to stay away from.

I used some of these classic colors for our large furniture items, but also mixed in natural wood elements (our coffee table is a light wood color), which absolutely helped to create an earthy and cozy feel without adding clutter.

We bought a few other key items that upped the potential for functionality and comfort in our home, but passed on the items that were unnecessary and could be considered clutter.

We bought a couch, a coffee table, a couple of very simple desks, a lamp, a (real) bed, and a couple of bar stools for dining. We found many items on Craigslist to cut down on costs, and still retain the ability to own quality items on a budget.

The thing I liked most about buying furniture secondhand from Craigslist was that we were able to eliminate much of the extra packaging that comes with new items and at the same time wreaks havoc on our natural resources and the environment.

So far I’m happy with our purchases and don’t feel like we have anything we don’t need. Everytime that feeling comes up for me and I feel like I own too much, I get out a bag and start putting things in it for us to take to Goodwill or any other conveniently located charity.

Now we’ve got a few different areas in the apartment, all functional, and although the apartment is sparsely decorated, there’s just enough warmth and pieces of furniture that it’s comfortable to me.

The purchase of a few well thought-out items has made all the difference in my happiness about my home. And that’s what we should be really thinking about: only accumulating the items that would make the most impact on our happiness and nothing more.

Creating a Clutter-Free Life

I’m a hoarder. I’ll admit it.

I’m not all that sentimental, but when I believe that holding on to an item can save me some money down the road, I usually keep it. This means that when it comes time to clean up the rooms in my apartment, it’s a big hassle.

That’s why for 2012 I’ve decided that I’m taking the route of minimalism. After being inspired by the book Life Nomadic by Tynan, and reading blogs such as Zen Habits, I’ve come to realize that the way I’ve been living doesn’t mesh with my future goals. I want to travel, and I want to be less materialistic.

I’ve already packed up tons of my stuff, ready to be given away to the local Goodwill. My apartment—and subsequently my life—already feels lighter and freer.

Pulling the Trigger

It’s hard to give away stuff that you’re used to seeing all the time, or even stuff that you hardly see but paid a lot for. When you paid $60 for a dress, but it’s no longer in style, it’s difficult to let go. However, this could be the perfect time to reevaluate your purchasing habits.

This process of giving unwanted items away makes you think long and hard about future purchases. Will I ever buy a $60 dress again for just one night of wear only to have it go out of style in the next couple of years? Nope. Lesson learned. I can dust my hands off now because I’ve had a good learning experience. It definitely takes reflection and going through your items to be able to consciously decide if a purchase was worthy or not.

Taming the Materialism

I’m sure most of us find ourselves lusting after things on a daily basis. If you shop online and buy on impulse without a particular purchase in mind, you’re probably well aware of this phenomenon.

As I went through my large pile of stuff to try and give away all of my unnecessary possessions, I found myself wondering why I held on to all of these items throughout the years. Each unnecessary piece required my attention at some point during the day. I might move a piece of broken or undesirable jewelry out of the way to get to a piece that I wear often, or I would move a hanger with a piece of clothing that I never wear just so I could get to my favorite jacket. These little bits of effort all add up, and I’ve even lugged this unwanted and unused stuff around as I moved from my dorm to home to my new dorm to my current apartment.

I like this new way of living because life is simpler when you have fewer choices about what to wear that day, which pen to use, or even just walk around your living room without tripping over anything.

If people can live out of a backpack for months on end, I’m sure I can go without 10 extra towels. Case in point.

Starting With Inner Peace

What is it that calms you down in the midst of chaos? If your mind is at peace, it sets the foundation for the rest of the activities that you pursue.

I recently played a video game called Fable in which there was a sanctuary you could go to anytime you felt the need to escape from game play. With the push of a button, you were in a place where no one could harm you, and where you could gather your thoughts. Everyone should have a crevice of their mind to which they can return if things become overwhelming.

Places to find inner peace

The mind

As I’ve stressed just a moment ago, the mind is the safest and most reliable place for you to keep a calm reservoir. Ultimately, even with the variety of techniques you could use to find inner peace, it must end up in the mind to be effective. This is because you never know where a chaotic situation will present itself to you, and if your inner peace is in your mind, you can carry it with you. This is your mobile option.

A physical space

The preschool classroom that I work in has a small nook with a comfy chair that children can go and sit in when they feel like they need some quiet time. This is a grand idea for two reasons: 1) children need to de-stress and there isn’t always a developed spot in their mind for them to do that, and 2) when there are less stressed children in a classroom, the flow of activities runs more smoothly.

A calm environment is highly influential on your mind. Therefore, the physical space that provides inner peace will be the closest thing to having peace in tactile form.

In a routine/methodical chore

Some people do yoga. Some clean their house. Some drink tea. Depending on how you react to each of these methods, they may or may not work for you. Keep in mind that the act or acts that comprise the routine bring a sense of calm into your life, and not duty. You should feel free and comfortable during this time.

Why is inner peace a good starting point?

Comfort allows you to reach levels of discomfort

Again, starting with inner peace has ample effects upon your life. If you have a safe place to return to, you’ll be more apt to take risks that might bring discomfort, but also promise great rewards. This can include public speaking, business ventures, networking, and anything else that allows you to expand your horizons.

Growth requires discomfort

If you never push yourself you won’t know what you’re able to accomplish. So take this opportunity to think about the ways that you can bring inner peace into your life.

Reflection: Which methods work for you? Do you start with your environment, a routine, or inside your mind?