Simplify life one room at a time

“The true cost of a thing should be remembered as the amount of life it required to be exchanged for it”


A regular simple living behaviour should be decluttering and reallocating under-utilised possessions.

Homes, minimalist or otherwise, are magnets for things. Even anti-consumer families can receive more than enough junk to fill a 3 bedroom house each year in birthday presents, thank you gifts or hand me down pieces of furniture or appliances.

There are lots of ways to declutter. The books by Elaine St James are some of the best that we have come across for those serious about cutting to the essentials in life.

Our own technique is a rather simple, but effective way of culling the horde.

Each month we fill a box with stuff we don’t need or aren’t using enough to justify retaining as a permanent possession. We try to put similar things in the box. The easiest way to make the contents uniform is to declutter one room every month. We include our basement and roof space as rooms. We can often fill several boxes from these out of sight out of mind spaces.

Once we have a full box we write a date three months into the future and a destination on the box. Then in three months we dispose of the box.  As an example, our January box that we have just filled will be removed from our house in the first week of March. The trick is to not have to open the box when the strike date rolls around. Another trick is to reallocate rather than to dump.

In March we will take our January box to a local opportunity shop run by a church. This trust uses the money it makes to help families in need. They provide budgeting services, drug and alcohol counselling and safe houses for people affected by family violence.

It is a nice way to feel good about giving away things that we might otherwise keep as dust collectors in our house or chuck into refuse. Any nagging twangs of doubt can be easily overcome by feelings of goodwill from the knowledge that our junk might help make a big difference to someone else’s life course.

On occasions where our box has a rubbish dump destination I am often compelled to open the box and re-examine every item. The bricoleur in me always holds some faint hope that the broken of disused junk can somehow be upcycled rather than dumped to landfill. Most often this isn’t the case and it is just a matter of being tough with oneself and of seeing the bigger picture of simple living.

Whatever method you choose decluttering and thus decoupling your identity from the possession of things is essential step on the simple living journey. You are not your possessions. Possessions are often the anchor that is holding you from moving forward.

A nifty way to buy that house

“If you want to steal don’t rob a bank…found one”

Mr Simple

In the last little, well forever actually… I’ve been pondering the stupidity of property ownership and mortgage debt.

Now I can understand the first family in the history of the world discovering a plot of land and saying: “This is ours!”.

So they build a little castle on it and live happily. Fast forward a few generations to the next family says: “Nice castle. We should buy that…oh but it is going to take the wealth from our entire life to afford it…boy that really sounds like a swell deal!”.

Its crazy stuff!

We don’t own houses. The banks do. After 30 plus years of paying them we finally get the keys. Then and only then does the house become our home. Problem is that it’s long past time to save for our retirement. Ultimately we lose our house. Sold to pay for the old age care that we need. So what was the point?

Also exactly what is this ownership that we believe we have? This sense of ownership for which we are prepared to waste our adulthood in mundane occupation? In the case of property it is really just some conventions that allow us to alter and amend our homes so long as it is permissible under local planning law. We don’t even have the full freedom to remodel our castle as we see fit. But, we see it as a better deal than having some landlord intruding into our lives whenever they please.

A thought I’ve had recently goes like this:

Sell your mortgage to your retired parents. This gives them a guaranteed income that is safer than the financial planner running off to Seville on their life savings. Instead you pay your parents the equivalent of market rent (a lot lower than mortgage repayment). When they pass they leave their house and your house to you in their will. You do the same for your children by letting them occupy and rent one of the properties. Basically your family takes the step of cutting out the bank completely. That way you get to keep all the wealth and all property within our family and grow it with every generation.

In a normal mortgage arrangement you pay the bank enough to buy two houses because of the cost of money (interest) that they charge you. In this arrangement, since there is no bank, your family would get to concentrate a consolidate a considerable sum of money. Your retired parents would also have a very safe stable income that would carry them into their twilight years.

It beats the alternatives like freedom camping, RV living or being a 90 year old couch surfer! Or maybe it doesn’t. But is sure is a better idea than donating 50% of your salary to the bank every month.

Mortgages usury bondage and freedom

“Usury once in control will wreck the nation”
William Lyon Mackenzie King

Perhaps the single reason why more people feel they can’t join the leisure class is that they must earn the money that they need to pay off their mortgage. The mortgage being the primary cause of their wage slavery.

When does mortgage lending become usury?

Usury is the practice of making unethical, immoral or unfair loans to people that really can’t afford to pay back the debt. Usury is bonding for life.

Before we move on I’d like to run this up against the definition of structural violence which is the form of violence that occurs when a social institution (say a bank) harms people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. I don’t really think about needs as absolute. They are a continuum, but for the sake of the argument shelter from the elements could be considered a basic human right.

The case may be made that the forces within society that deny my basic need for shelter are a form of structural violence against my livelihood. The banks then exploit this opportunity by lending me money that I cannot afford to easily repay in the short term (usury).

Some will argument that if I am in horrific mortgage debt it is of my own choosing and that I could live more modestly or that I am not sufficiently wealthy to own property, but what of those too poor to rent? Why should their basic need for shelter be denied? The people that make such arguments generally believe in personal responsibility. Poor individuals have chosen and actively choose poverty while successful folk, like themselves, are rightful home owners.   Those making such assertions should suspend their mortgage payments for two months and test whether they really do own their own homes. If poverty or wealth is simply a matter of personal capability then why don’t more wealthy people agree to trade their personal circumstances with a homeless person. Surely if the world is a meritocracy as they claim it will not be long before the homeless person has lost their gifted wealth and the newly poor has recovered to their former level through application of their brains and sweat equity.

Silly ideas aside I think everyone should view debt or mortgage debt as voluntary wage bondage or knowing usury. That way we are not deluded into believing that the banks are our friends or that they are doing us any favour by lending us sums of money that require a life time in labour to repay. More might chose a simpler shelter than they elaborate walls and roof they currently work to pay for.

Fundamentally, don’t we all have the right to meet our need for shelter more simply that we can currently and more affordably? Shouldn’t I expect that living in a civilized society affords me the opportunity to be able to meet this very basic?  When we were savages the tribe ensured caves for all. As barbarians we came together to build dwellings for each new family added to the clan. In the middle age the village sheltered all of the town’s people who cared to live there harmoniously. Many hands were turned to the task of constructing the shelters of village members without money or debt or bondage.

Yet here in the period of history that we occupy and after some 10,000 years of social, scientific, spiritual  cultural and technological development people who lack the means to bond them self to financial institutions must sleep in a doorway in the street.  From the perspective of access to shelter our street dwelling homeless (who do not actively choose this free way of living) would have been better off born a neanderthal.

Natural Gas…excuse me…

“You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap!”
Dolly Parton

Our cabin is fuelled by a combination of natural gas and some electricity. I’ve previously discussed our thoughts on generating the little bit of electricity that we need.

Like electricity, our gas bill is comprised of a fixed line charge = $30 per month and a variable charge based on the gas that we use. After several months of monitoring this it became clear that our variable charge is very low. Around $5 per month. We only use gas for cooking and our gas usage is less than 14% of our monthly gas bill. This tells me that we are paying too much for line charges.

Refilling a 9 kg gas cylinder costs around $28  so I decided to experiment by unhooking from mains gas and setting up two cylinders connected directly to our house. We discontinued our gas utility bill and monitored the difference for just short on 3 years.  It has saved money because now we only pay for the gas that we use. We no longer have to pay a bill for gas when we go on holiday for a month.

Our annual gas bill has gone from $420-$550 per year to $56 for refills of the cylinders. The refills actually lasts us for about 14 months. So it is costing us an average of $48 per year (an 87% saving!). Sure there is a bit more of a hassle filling the bottle. I think I have mentioned previously that our cabin is about 250 steps (stairs not strides) from the street, but it’s only two bottles (18kgs) over 12 months so I think I can handle it [Ms Simple: what a hero!].

We always have the option of reconnecting mains gas, but frankly if we are saving 87% on our bill why the heck would we?

Right size your residence: A how to guide to building your own thermonuclear money bomb

“It is better to live across the street and gaze at the nicest house than to live in it”

Mr Simple

The choice of where and how you live represents the largest single expense or the greatest proportion of your lifetime wealth. It seems that we are desperate to get into our own homes and we often buy a far nicer home than we can afford.

It’s not uncommon for young homeowners to fork out 60 or 70% of their total income to cover high mortgage payments on low equity home loans. With this much in outgoings it is impossible to save. It is actually very hard just to live!

A typical family pays more than double the cost of their house over the life of their home loan. We eagerly agree to buy a new home for $500,000 and the banks are equally eager to lend us the money knowing we will pay them back the $500,000 plus an additional $650,000 in interest payments.

I’ve often thought it would be good for consumers if retailers had to put a price sticker on a flat screen TV that said:

‘Cash price $2,087. Hire purchase price $7,860 after all costs’.

I think people would save bigger deposits and buy smaller homes if the price tag on their potential purchase read something like: ‘$500,000 + bank costs of $650,000 ($1,150,000) for small 3 bedroom bungalow’ instead of ‘buyer inquiry over $500,000 considered’.

Going back to basics a home is just a shelter. To survive humans need some form of shelter although in a benign climate it may be entirely possible to live freely in a meadow without any shelter.

Acquiring a large house, and with it a large mortgage, is a right of passage in our culture  Our home is not just the place we live in. Its a status symbol and as status symbols go bigger is definitely better. For this reason choosing to live in a tent may sound to many homeowners  like a ridiculous or childish fantasy not fit for the homeless. Consider though that as a short term measure nylon accommodation could allow you to save 2/3 of your income. In one year you would have stockpiled enough loot to drop a thermonuclear money bomb on your first home mortgage. If you bought the smallest home to meet your needs you may be debt free and retired from working 40 years ahead of the herd.

Who’s laughing about the year you spend in a tent now?

I’m not saying go live in a Tipi. What I am saying is that most people could save the full cost of a typical house after in three years  if they got deadly serious about retiring dirty rich damn early. Why not make sacrifices for a couple of years now to avoid suffering through work you dislike until you are 70?

The first house that we bought was for income. We saved hard and bought a fixer upper. We did all of the improvement work ourselves and now we have this place rented out as a regular source of income. The rent covers all of the mortgage costs and returns a small profit that we reinvest to decimate the remaining debt.

Our second house is the cabin that we live in. It is very modest. Two small rooms. It was really hard to find a two room house. Most houses where we live are 4 or 5 bedroom standard, but we simply didn’t need the extra rooms and we weren’t prepared to pay an extra $100,000 per bedroom. Our two room place works for us. There are only three in the family and we don’t have a lot of stuff. We prefer to have a household (to live together in) instead of a warehouse (to store and horde stuff).

Being smaller its easier to heat, simpler to maintain and requires less life lost working to own the roof and walls.  Our smaller space also offers a more intimate family life. Some of our neighbours have such vast family homes it’s almost as if they don’t like each other and need the separation.

The thing that we really love about our house is that it is in the heart of the city, but virtually off the grid.  It is located deep in a mature forest reserve. The original plan for the city was to build a street to access our home, but that street never happened. Consequently our neighbours are large trees and a mossy Lorax. We got a free health plan with the house thanks to a 250 step (think stairs not strides) walk to our front gate. Goodbye gym membership.

We also have a sizable piece of land that has allowed us to plant fruit trees and a large vegetable garden.  This supplements our grocery costs. In time it will reduce our food costs considerably.

By local standards our house is the smallest house in the street (that we are supposedly on, but don’t actually live anywhere near).  Our mortgage is about 1/3 the size of other houses in the neighbourhood. Mostly because of the access issues, the small size of the house and our deposit.  We bought it with a very good deposit and we will try to pay it off as quickly as we can.  In writing this I estimated that if we had the standard 5% deposit and then only made the minimum payments over the 30 year life of the loan we’d gift the bank 109% in additional interest.  This would have consumed about half of our monthly income for every month  until age 67 when we would finally own this dwelling. No time for celebrating. We would not have been able to put aside anything for retirement. At 67 I’d be looking to bank up something to live 20+ years off before we were too infirm to work any longer. Moral – only buy with a good deposit!

We are happy in our cabin, but that doesn’t mean we don’t actively consider the options – and there are plenty! Our place was built in 1924 and needed work. We’ve completed structural and cosmetic works. If we resold it we could make a profit and so we are actively deciding do we dig in for the long haul…or further reduce our living costs (which means we build up our money bomb and can retire sooner).

Some of the options:

Paid: Can we be paid to live in someone else’s accommodation for free (hotel manager, travel writer, accommodation reviewer, house sitters)?

Free: If we can’t find a way to make money is there some way to live for free (free lease, handmade home, tent)?

Mortgage free: Could we build an affordable family home and be entirely mortgage free today (nano architecture, tiny house, prefab, modular)?

Cheaper: Are there any opportunities to share our house and cut costs (renters, ESOL students, live with extended family).

We will let you know once we decide on the next step.

To sum things up…Right sizing your home is the smartest financial decision you can make! A few years living in a smaller place is like putting your personal finances on Dianabol. The only person who won’t love it is your mortgage manager when you pull the pin two decades early! By saving more of your take home pay (we like to keep about 75% of ours) you can build up a big enough nest egg to retire early or have the financial freedom to do with your life whatever you like.

Love to hear your creative ways to drive down housing/renting costs or tales of how you became financially free. Drop us a line in the comments box at the bottom of the page.