November 01, 2017 by Greg
Now that the bare bones of this little site are setup, it’s time to focus on some writing. Maureen and I are about three weeks into two-house ownership at this point. I plan to go back and recap the first couple of frenetic weekends as well, but I wanted to kick this off by talking about one of the more interesting realizations I’ve had through this process.
A second house at the beach has been a dream of ours for years now, and the house that is now a reality is a third-generation home at the shore; both my wife’s grandfather and her parents also have houses there.
Our first weekend there was three marvelous and crazy nights with three marvelous and crazy kids. I couldn’t believe how quickly it happened, but in that three days it already felt like home. I thought it would take a few weeks or even months.
It helps that we know the area so well already and that we’d been planning something like this for awhile. But it’s still a weird feeling to be someplace new and have it feel settled. And feeling so settled there, and being able to think deeply about the circumstance, has led me to some fascinating statements.
The biggest one being this: All of our big purchases are now done.
In our mid-30s, this is pretty unusual. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure we will have future big purchases of some sort - we’ll upgrade our cars, or get a small boat to put at our dock, or whatever. But those are different. They aren’t Big Life Steps. They aren’t generally the reason that you work.
And “the work” is the really compelling part of all of this. My wife and I feel like we’re sort of stepping out of the normal upward spiral that most people run. So let me explain..
When most people get out of school, they start accumulating stuff. Early on, it’s shoes or a TV or your first used car. Later, it becomes a condo, then a starter house, then a bigger house as you start having kids. The average age of the first time home buyer now is well into the 30s.. so most people aren’t getting a bigger house for the family until their 40s, if they’re upgrading at all.
Most people price all of these things such that they can pay the big purchases off over the normal 30 year mortgage. Add in all the things we’re supposed to have based on our success - the furniture, the clothes, etc. Then there’s college savings and retirement (something we should probably all be doing more of..) and you’ve got all of the main reasons people work for 40+ years.
The biggest reason is the Joneses mentality. It is amazing how much of what we do is based on the opinions of others. Stop and be honest about that for a minute. We all do it, and it’s a constant temptation that we need to fight against. And it is a very direct inhibitor to leading a better life. The happiest people I know couldn’t care less what other people think. They don’t care at all about making sure they fit into the correct view of “normal” or “successful”.
All those house upgrades and shiny toys are often because of the Joneses. I am as guilty as anyone, especially when it comes to cars. But for the most part, these sure don’t buy happiness. They buy you ego and a nice little hit of dopamine. The entire McMansion movement is predicated on this. Two story foyer? To impress your guests. Brick facade and cheap siding on the other three sides? Impress the people driving down your street. The new retro Air Jordans? Gotta be cool man.
Kids expenses, college savings, and retirement are actually important. So important that I’m going to save them for another post entirely. In the meantime, check out Mr. Money Mustache for some fascinating alternative thinking.
When we take away all of our desire to keep up with others, to fit in, to make sure that we appear normal or successful, what’s left?
Well, we get to be ourselves, and focus on living a Good Life with our family and friends. Really, what else matters? To some of the people privileged enough to be able to buy a second house, it’s just another step up the status ladder. Another way to show your normality or your success.
Not to us.
This is a big purchase, and it had to be for the right reasons. Maureen and I thought and talked about this for years. We talked about the quality of life at the beach, the pace, the happiness we get there. Even more importantly, we talked about how valuable it would be to our kids.. what they would learn, what experiences they would have.
I’m 37 and Maureen is 32. We have a pretty good sense of the kind of life we want to lead. This is more than likely our last big purchase. There’s no more “up” to go. There’s no more Next Big Thing to plan for. There’s no dream of the five car garage or the fabulous estate in the countryside. We’ve got a half-acre in Maryland and a quarter-acre on a canal in Delaware. That’s it.
Do you have any idea how freeing this idea is? And how terrifying?
One of my favorite TED talks is Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful introspection into the nature of genius. She talks about the possibility that her greatest work is behind her and how terrifying that is when she’s still got several good decades of work in front of her. She, like all of us, wants to confront those decades with joy.
No more Next Big Thing is a paradigm shift. We’re all so used to spending our lives driving towards goals. And when you get there, there’s always the next thing. But now, it’s time to settle into this life. We need to figure out the next (hopefully many) decades of life and work, so that we can approach them with joy. We have the puzzle pieces for our life, all in place. We’re so fortunate and blessed to be in this place, but now it’s time to start building.
What does that look like? We don’t know. It’s going to take a lot of work to find out. And terror. And joy. I can’t wait.