Multitasking (not living in the moment)

A couple years ago I habitually listened to a podcast recorded at a Buddhist temple. I listened to a lot of lessons and got some good stuff from it. I don’t necessarily agree with all of Buddhism, or know it from top to bottom, if I’m honest, but they are on to a few things. One thing that has stuck with me is the absolute emphasis on being “in this moment” the lessons always had.

That’s something I totally agree with. We live in a time where our lives may not be as difficult as they once were, but they are very complicated and can be even more stressful and mentally damaging. We are constantly thinking of some other (or twelve other) obligations or appointments, some other hobby, something we want, going into more debt for a new toy, some change or plan we want to make, someone besides who we’re with at the time, or any other of a hundred things. Maybe just cat pictures on your cell phone. Maybe it’s even something good, like reading constructive content on a good blog you follow or listening to a Buddhist podcast to ease that wicked-ass temper of yours. The point remains: you aren’t in the moment.

Buddhists, or at least the particular Buddhist monk who recorded those podcasts, emphasized the utility of meditation. What he meant by meditation, or how he explained it, was just sitting there and trying very hard not to think of anything at all. Turn off your stupid brain for a few moments and just exist. I use my head a lot, and that’s very difficult for me, and probably is for many of you as well. That’s okay, but it was interesting and did tend to put me in a better mood and relieve some stress.

I don’t really do it anymore, but I do still think regularly of the main point he was trying to make, which is to try to live in the moment you are currently existing in. It can be harder than you’d think, but helped me even out some of my anger, boredom, and depression issues to one degree or another. It’s obviously not a magic bullet- just another tool to try out in your life. You don’t have to go all hippy with it (if you do, that’s totally cool too), just give it a shot. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Sit down and tell your brain to shut up.

Another thing I like to do when I remember is somewhere in-between that sort of meditation and “normal.” I like to try to make myself became sort-of “hyper aware” of everything around me. I study my environment. It feels weird, almost like being on some sort of drug. It’s sad that we (well, ME anyway) spend so much time not noticing things that it feels strange when we DO. Next time you’re a passenger in a car or waiting in line or doing something boring and menial, try focusing on small details around you. Notice how the paint doesn’t match on that one ceiling vent- must have been replaced. Look at that house hiding behind the bushes over there that you’ve never noticed before. See that the grass on the side of the road is mostly fescue, but there are patches of Kentucky bluegrass in there, too.

It might sound silly, but it’s something that we don’t do often enough. You might be surprised what sort of things exist right under your nose because it’s always blocked from view by your cellphone or pushed out of mind by thoughts of what’s on your eBay wishlist. Humans don’t multitask well the way people pretend we do. We divert our attention from one thing and put it into another area. It’s less noticeable when you’re doing something you do often, but it’s still happening. Stop trying to multitask. You’re cheapening every experience you have when you multitask. Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing. You’ll be happier.

Freedom

 

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Freedom is one of the values I’ve identified and work toward for myself (I mention and link to a great article on values in my post about minimalism). That is to say, freedom is one of the five different areas that I try to steer toward with my actions at any given time- “Does this action or activity direct me toward v, w, x, y, or z?” Obviously, I’m not without my flaws and habits, and this doesn’t always happen, but I do make a conscious effort.

Holli and I have put our plan together to achieve financial independence and a life without debt in three years. I’ve started taking Chantix to finally stop smoking (as of July 2017) and I very much intend to do so this time. We don’t spend a ton of money on useless things anymore, we have things carefully budgeted, and I’m doing productive things with my free time. That said, these two remaining things are, currently, the biggest obstacle to my freedom- especially the debt. Debt is slavery.

Holli and I plan to pay our debt off and then reevaluate our lives and decide our next move. One of the paths we are seriously considering is a mobile one- at least for a while, probably not forever. We won’t know until the time comes, but we want to leave that option open to us while we’re still young and without children. Once the debt is gone (Holli will be done with her second Master’s by then- she’s got a school addiction, in my opinion…), we will be able to live on a fraction of what we currently make. I plan to leave my current job and write for a living, if that looks like a practical option for me at that time. Holli is researching possible careers that align with her values, educational achievements, and that allow mobility.

Ideally, we would either move around constantly and experience different countries all the time, or we would build a second small house further north in the U.S. and move there to escape the miserable Oklahoma summers (and move south to avoid the northern winters) and take a long vacation every year. We aren’t sure which way we might go yet, as that’s several years out, but both are intriguing options and securing real freedom is an important step toward allowing either into our lives.

The specific kind of freedom I have in mind (everytime I say “freedom” in this article) is the ability to wake up at least ALMOST every day and decide what I want to do or where I want to go. Obviously, everyone will have some responsibilities that can’t be dodged, but with planning and prioritizing they can be minimized. My goal is to train myself to think about every decision and acquisition carefully with regards to my values- in this example, “freedom.”

“Does this decision/action/thing/etc restrict or possibly-restrict my current or future freedom?”

“Is the value it provides worth the restriction to me?”

Most things you own or commit to have the potential to be an anchor that weighs you down and restricts your freedom. Before you bring any anchors into your life, be sure to think about it carefully. Does the anchor you are considering add commensurate value to your life to offset the weight it may add? Obviously, anchors become even more important if, like me, you value freedom- or want to move towards that possibility (newsflash, that means you value it, too).

Maybe you are considering children, a puppy, joining a club, buying a new car, buying a home, going to school, or just about anything else. That may be perfectly fine, but it may not. Make sure the commitment you are making is worth all the potential weight that it brings along. Sleep on it. Take a MONTH on it, even, if that’s an option. Don’t take anything important lightly. This is all pretty common sense, but I’ve had trouble thinking this sort of thing through before. Being careless or flippant one time, even for just a few seconds, can drastically alter your life for years. Remember to think it through. Weigh that anchor (ha!). Be honest with yourself.

The Tiny House

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‘Scuse the mess. People live here.

I became aware of the concept of minimalism in 2012. It took several years for things to build up to the point of making this dramatic switch in our lives, but I won’t delve into those details here as that’s a subject for another, or multiple other, discussions. In 2016, we made the transition from our house in town to a sort-of tiny house in the country. As we learned more about who we were and what actually mattered to us, we removed things from our lives and found ourselves with a lot of extra space and extra expense we didn’t really need or want.

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The “big” house in town after we fixed it up several years ago

We started to actively realize that we only used less than half of our house more than half of the time, and our house was hardly large by average standards at around 1200 square feet. At least half of the things filling our home were only there because the space was there. That wall looks bare so we’d better find something to fill it. We need some chairs and an end table here, even if we will barely use them. We better have a dining table and chairs for the dining room, even though we eat at the desk or in bed or just about anywhere else in the house. Look at this huge closet. I bet we can fill this with hundreds of articles of clothing we won’t wear so we have to dig through it to find the things we do wear. That second bedroom needs a use- maybe I’ll make it a hobby room (My fleeting hobbies/obsessions have sapped untold thousands of dollars from our pockets. Probably another thing best left for a separate discussion).

Eventually, you start to accept that you’d be better off cutting out the extra space instead of trying to fill it with crap so it feels normal. We don’t have to spend extra time cleaning those areas. The electricity bill is way down because we don’t have to heat/cool/light those areas. We save money on decoration and furnishings for those extra areas. All these time, money, and energy savings allow us to invest those assets in a more-productive, deliberate, and meaningful way. That could be profound, or it could be as simple as using the money you saved to put better-quality items in the areas of your house or life you do use often. When you think about it, it’s perfectly congruent with basic minimalism. Who knew.

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The new “tiny” house on the day it was delivered

I only reluctantly refer to our house as a “tiny house,” because, like the word “minimalism,”  it is subject to so many preconceptions and pre-formed opinions. When you think of a tiny house, most people imagine a 150 square foot construction on top of a trailer with wheels under it. They think of hitting their head on the ceiling when they crawl out of bed, going to the composting toilet to do their business, turning on the propane stove to cook their breakfast, and folding up the table so they can use the couch to read the paper. That’s definitely one option, and it’s a very impressive use of space- if that’s what you truly prefer and wish for. I’m here to tell you that there is an in-between. A big turn-off for people who would otherwise consider this route is that you really do give up so much space and function- well, some people do. Some people really DON’T use that much space at all, but we are a little more average, I think.

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The finished “tiny house” interior, looking in from the front door. Living room area to the right with a love seat. Full size appliances in the galley kitchen. The door in the hallway leads to the bathrom. Across the hall from the bathroom, you can just see our stacked washer and dryer. Beyond that is the bedroom.

Our house is built out of a pre-fab portable shed in the style of a cabin. You know, the kind you see advertised on the side of highways in every rural area in the country. Extra storage solutions. “Why RENT storage when you can BUY IT!?” Maybe you need a lake cabin for a weekend getaway from the troubles of life. Maybe you want a “glamping” shelter. Perhaps a hunting cabin is in order for your new lease out in the woods. Whatever the application, they offer a mold. We decided the 14’x32′ cabin-style shed would work for our purposes, which comes to about 350 square feet if you don’t count the porch. This is obviously way smaller than most any house in this country, but it was really all the space we needed, if we were honest with ourselves. This floorplan and size gives us the space we need for a separate sitting area and television, a nice galley kitchen with full-size appliances, a bathroom with a full size shower and a flushing toilet, and a good size separate bedroom area that easily fits our queen bed and my work desk, among other things.

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Ye Olde Slumber Chamber

We took the cabin on a rent-to-own plan at 400 dollars, or thereabouts, per month, with no credit check, to be paid off in 36 months. If you’ve got 9,500 dollars cash laying around, they will also accept that. We didn’t have 9,500 dollars cash laying around. Disclaimer: Read this post on DebtConsider any debt you take wisely, and don’t do it unless you don’t have a better alternative. Debt is a tool, but a dangerous one, so plan well and utilize it carefully. End disclaimer.

If you’re a person who absolutely abhors debt, you’re smart (I wish I’d been that way a lot sooner than now). That payment plan on our shell of a house probably horrifies you. Well, I’m sorry to say it doesn’t end there. The house came finished externally (I’ve heard people who know more about construction than I do refer to this as “in the dry”), but the interior was just bare subfloor and stud walls. We had our basic shelter, but the interior was a blank slate. We took a “project loan” out from Home Depot in the amount of 10,000 dollars. Yikes. We also had to buy some land, which cost us 5,000 dollars for a 2 acre plot (owner-financed). I sold my motorcycle to pay for a septic system. The drilling of the water well we paid off in two installments over the course of a month. If you’re wondering about the price for septic and a well, it varies a lot by area. I’d say to expect to pay at least 8 grand combined.

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Drilling the well


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Saved a lot of money by buying and installing the pump and line myself. I had to figure out all the pieces I needed by googling and researching, install the components down into the well casing and above the hole (pressure tank, wiring, etc), build a pump house out of plywood to protect it from cold, and then rent a trencher (not expensive) to run the water line to the house.

So, to summarize our new monthly expenses: we’ve now got a 400 dollar bill for the cabin, 150 bucks a month for the Home Depot loan, and 200 bucks a month for the land. That comes to about 750 dollars monthly. Yikes, but fret-not, friends, for we offset that cost a bit. We “own” our house in town still (you know, own with a 30 year mortgage). We payed about 600 dollars a month on that home after insurance (really not bad). We were able to rent that out to a mature and reliable tenant (Holli’s brother and his young son) for about what we pay for it, maybe a hair over. That means we’re really not out much more than than what we were paying to live in town, but we now have a house accruing equity in town without costing us a dime, as well as a complete, separate property outside of town that will be paid off in-full within three years. Subtract from that extra 100 dollars the water bill (we now have a well), gas bill (we’re now all-electric), and comparably-huge electricity bill (our bill is around 75 dollars a month now) and we are seeing a net positive financial impact on this move of a couple hundred dollars per month. It’s definitely a risky thing to do, since you depend on that tenant maintaining residence to make the whole equation work, so think twice before pulling a stunt like this. I’m just being honest about what we did and how. Glean from it what you will. Now, on to the house project.

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Our 2 acres isn’t huge, but it sits on a 40 acre tract that we have written permission to play on from the owner.

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I’ve always been a handy person. My father and my father-in-law are likewise handy people, and they’ve taught me a lot of things. My wife’s father helped me with the breaker box and meter box installation, as well as answering a lot of questions regarding the wiring when I first started. My father was on-site with me for nearly the entire second half of the project. I couldn’t have done it nearly as neatly or as quickly without his help (and his table saw), so I’m very grateful to him. All that said, you can do it. I promise. If you aren’t trying to be as fancy as we went, you don’t even need much in the way of special saws and tools. With YouTube and all the blogs and forums we have access to today, almost anyone can do almost anything, to at least an acceptable level- if you have the time and patience.

Interior construction is fully underway.

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I wired the house. I installed the toilet. My father and I created a simple pvc drain system under the house and connected it to the septic tank. I plumbed the water lines with pex tubing and Sharkbite connectors (it doesn’t leak, I promise). I restored an old clawfoot tub I got for free. My wife and I insulated the house. My father and I hung the drywall, mudded/textured the walls and ceilings, and cut trim boards for the doorways and windows (I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have two sets of hands for this. Drywall sucks, especially on the ceiling, without special tools). I made two storage lofts- one over the front door and one over the bathroom.

Bathroom in-progress, Bathroom complete.

We cut and hung shiplap wood over the western interior walls, and cut and hung corrugated metal over the eastern walls of the house (using a circular saw with the blade turned backwards). Snazzy. Our budget of 10,000 dollars included the purchase of brand new (but bargain hunted and price-matched) stainless appliances, including a dishwasher (A tiny house with a dishwasher. Is that even legal?) and LG front-loading laundry machines that we got on sale.

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Holli putting up Reflectix

I built the center island in the kitchen with plywood and 2×4 framing. The two cabinets to the left are cheap pre-built cabinets from Home Depot that we painted, but so far they are worth the small amount of money they cost and look just fine. I cut plain 3/4 inch plywood and measured it out for countertops, then sent them to my father-in-law, who is a carpenter by trade. He used some hardwood he had laying around at work and laminated the plywood with 1/4 inch hardwood- it turned out freaking beautifully (THANKS RANDY). Obviously, not everyone has a father-in-law who plays wood like a violin, but you can make something nice without special skills or a ton of money if you need to. Hell, some people even make countertops out of pallet wood– and they look great.

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Measuring the hole for the apron sink before sending the countertop to Holli’s dad for laminating.


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It’s coming along

When all was said and done, we are looking at a total cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 33,000 dollars- including the cost of the building, the finishing of the interior, the appliances, the 2 acres of land, the septic system, the well drilling, the well components, etc. It seems like a lot, but it should all be payable within a few years, which beats the hell out of a 30 year mortgage.

Most people tell us the house looks great, and we agree- the small space allowed us to double-down on quality instead of spreading our resources thin. That isn’t the real point, though.

Holli has the space she needs for her animals.

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She has a place to garden and grow food.

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I have a place to shoot.

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And woods to explore.

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We get to experience nature at will, without driving anywhere. We save a ton on utility bills. We don’t spend much time cleaning or doing unnecessary chores. We aren’t preoccupied and distracted by a million different things. We’re more inclined to get out and have an experience. We may live in a small house now, but we finally have the room, time, and inclination to just live.

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