Reflections on Minimalism, Hoarding and Moving House on the path to FIRE

For those that have been following the blog, I have been embarking on a journey to whittle down my physical possessions to only the things that really matter, and a little side goal has been to get them down to below 1% of my net worth figure.

This way I can concentrate on living a deliberate, low footprint life, be a completely portable global citizen (I hold three passports), and focus my wealth into productive assets rather than liabilities.

During my career I have moved 10 times, as well as spending significant periods (3 months +) interstate doing training courses and also living and working abroad. These have really helped me on the path to Financial Independence as it has helped me to understand what I really need to function and be happy.

How moving frequently helps with FIRE

Since starting my journey to FIRE back in 2016, I have moved four times – an annoying but exciting process where I have picked up my life and relocated all around Australia in pursuit of exciting new jobs to leapfrog my way through the aviation industry.

Actually, since finishing high school I have moved 11 times, 8 of which have been interstate – I’m a bit of a nomad! I have even trained interstate and been away from home for months at a time (the longest period was 3 months), and worked abroad – such as common in the Aviation industry.

Moving is actually an awesome process to help pare down things in your life that don’t matter. It forces you to consider whether the things in question are worth all the effort to take them with you. The TV? Sure. That electric dog polisher? Maybe. The gasoline powered turtleneck sweater? Probs not…

For all of my moves bar one, I have done it 100% myself with my station wagon and trailer. My biggest moves were from Newcastle (New South Wales) to Perth in Western Australia, where I lived and worked for a year.

This is pretty much the furthest distance you can travel in Australia – a drive of around 4,000 kms and a road trip that I will always cherish. I was between jobs so did the drive over 6 weeks – only driving as far as a few hours per day from camp site to camp site. I remember it as one of my most awesome beach-bum-hobo holidays.

After that I drove all the way back to my current home in Sydney, New South Wales. The Drive back was not so leisurely – I was on a deadline to secure my job in the ‘big smoke’, so I did the drive over 3 long days – which is crazy and I would never drive so much in one day again – around 15 hours per day for 3 days! Because of the time frame I was in Perth, I had picked up a very expensive bed and mattress ($4000!) which I wasn’t prepared to sell – so I used a moving company to transport all my stuff.

The first apartment I lived in Sydney was TERRIBLE. It was a very old heritage building and was extremely cold in winter and hot in summer. I lived there purely because the rent was so cheap and close to the airport! It was a beautiful old building but it was crap, the floors creaked, there were pests, lots of stairs and no elevators. After 6 months my lease was up and it was time to move – to the amazing brand new apartment I am in now – I pay a bit more and commute a little further but the quality of life is worth it. I will happily rent but not buy due to Sydney’s crazy prices.

Being prepared to move helps you cut down on your clutter and crap because to be honest, with most distances, its just not worth taking most things. It also forces you to do a complete inventory of your stuff! Sell the unwanted or un-needed stuff online on Gumtree, eBay or Facebook Markeplace and then put the cash into your investments. When you reach your destination, look to get furnish your place for free when people give away their stuff, or buy it second hand for massive discounts.

The other bonus is because your prepared to move, you can chase jobs with higher salaries – this is super helpful on the path to FIRE, since we know the ‘big income shovel’ is one of the three key tenets to financial independence (with the other two tenets being low cost of living and index fund investing). Having FU money and being willing to walk away from a job in search of a higher paying role also gives you tremendous bargaining power to negotiate with your current employer.

My secret shame: hoarding

So, I have a bit of a hoarding streak in me. I don’t like to call it hoarding… I like to think of it as ‘being prepared’. I love the idea of having an item or stuff ready just in case I need it in the future, but sometimes this can be a bad thing, when you take it to the extreme.

I’ve even earned the ‘affectionate’ nickname of “Bower-bird” amongst some of my friends as a result of these home making tendencies…

One of the funniest Characters (and actors) in the Classic British Cult Comedy Red Dwarf. Easily my favourite Childhood show!

Some examples of things I still do (and I’m not necessarily defending them all as being the right thing to do) include;

  • Having 2-3 months worth of dried and canned food in the pantry
  • Stocking 1-2 weeks worth of frozen meals (meal prep) in the freezer
  • Somewhere between 100-200 bottles of home brewed Beer, Cider or Ginger Ale in various stages of conditioning / brewing.
  • Soap, dishwasher tablets and laundry powder for 6 months
  • A fully stocked liquor cabinet and wine rack… for… guests…?
  • Having contributed way more to my Superannuation than I probably should
  • Amassing a large portfolio of Index fund ETF and LICs outside Superannuation
  • Building IP1 (with plans to buy IP2 and IP3 over the next few years)
  • Having way too many plants on my balcony (up to around 100 pots currently with a variety of food plants and fruit trees)

Perhaps this is why I have really identified with the FIRE and index fund investing movement; I like the idea of being able to ‘tuck away’ money into investments for use later on, should something happen to go wrong with my ability to earn income (such as deciding to retire, or losing my class one aircrew medical).

I also like having a good supply of things, and this helps me save money by buying in bulk. The unit price is always cheaper when you buy a big quantity of stuff – which is why grocery shopping at CostCo and Aldi can be so lucrative.

I know my personality tends to be quite full on and I jump into things with both feet at once, so I can tend to be a little brash at times. When I finally found the apartment I loved here in Sydney, I immediately set about my ‘Bower-bird’ instinct to try and fill out the apartment with cool stuff, collect everything I would need to impress the missus, and slowly obtain stuff for starting a family in the future…

As we all know this didn’t end well and suffice to say now I am probably the most ‘Dad-like-single-childless’ bloke in Sydney, with a repertoire of incredible puns and the whitest new balance sneakers you could possibly pair with a fresh pair of blue jeans. OK just kidding about that last part – I cant bring myself to get on the ‘Sneans’ train but I am a super awesome Uncle and look forward to having kids one day.

Surrounded by stuff… again

I woke up one day to find myself surrounded again, by crap I had accumulated. Stuff I told myself I liked, but that I didn’t use or need or really even want. some of the big ticket items included my Motorcycle, some expensive aviation equipment I didn’t use, and a heap of other toys and furniture which just cluttered the apartment without really value adding.

How the heck did I get into this position, again! I was pretty mad at myself since I was so passionate about Financial Independence yet I had wasted so much of my life energy on accumulating this crap.

Well three months ago as I was recovering from *THE WORST* breakup (although heart break always feels that way, right?) I made a commitment to myself to really focus on what was important and to cut down on necessary stuff. Its been going really well, and after a massive push (or purge?) I have gone from having $40,440 worth of possessions, all the way down to under $15K worth of ‘stuff’.

I have used online classifieds like eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace to sell down most of my ‘stuff’ that I don’t need or want, as well as gifting or donating a huge portion of it to people who could actually use or need the stuff. I have been doing this for years now, but the past three months I have been exceptionally aggressive about it – part of me is using this as therapy to fill the void after my relationship breakdown and I think its working well.

I have made back about $20,000 in these sales which has gone straight into the IP1 build or into index fund ETF and LICs. I have also ‘written-down’ some of the ‘book values’ of my possessions – in line with the Australian Tax Office’s depreciation schedules. A big example was my car which I thought was worth a lot more than it actually was.

On average, over the past few years, I have been selling around $200 worth of my things per week. This is a combination of decluttering, re-selling (flipping) and selling things that I make. The past 3 months have been exceptionally higher but it s not sustainable – the $200 per week is a good figure, and I would estimate it will probably halve in another 3-6 months as I finish up clearing out my ‘inventory’.

$200 a week is $10,400 a year, or equivalent to having $260K invested in ETF / LICs according to the 4% rule. Its incredible when you look at the numbers this way, and compare your lifestyle to what investments it would take to fund them. It also highlights just how important a side-hustle can be to help you reach FIRE and then ultimately, sustain yourself during FIRE.

What stuff do I own?

So as it stands my physical possessions total in at around $15K. That is still a shit load of stuff, but its now only 1.7% of my Net worth which is currently around $860K. I have valued this at ‘market price’ which is what I think it would be worth if I sold it. My goal is by the end of the year to get this under 1%, and achieve a Net Worth of (AUD) $1M – making my ‘possessions’ total to under $10,000. Selling possessions helps both metrics progress!

Things which I can’t sell or are worth under $10 I haven’t really included in the totals – yes these would have replacement costs… but for example I have 40 t-shirts. I am not joking, and I have only ever bought about 10 of them. For some reason I keep getting given them as gifts. Same for socks, I have over 50 pairs of stocks. It just seems ridiculous to even write. I only have one pair of feet! I don’t know what to do with them, so each time a pair ‘wears out’ with a large hole or something, I get really excited because I can cut it up and use it as a cleaning rag.

I don’t think you should count things for their ‘replacement cost’ as per what insurance companies tell you to do. Sure, if your house burns down its useful for your insurance claim – but when considering these as part of your NW I would just focus on their actual market value. Insurance companies in general want you to think you own more than you do, so they can charge you higher premiums for larger plans.

Anyway, this is my most recent inventory of ‘stuff’ which I have included for transparency – feel free to criticise away!

Transport: $9050

  • Station-wagon: $8K [I have plans to sell this and buy a used Kia Carnival 8-seater minivan]
  • E-bike: $1K – One of the BEST purchases I have ever made.
  • Mountain bike $50 – The second BEST purchase I have ever made
  • Tools: $100 – to work on car, bikes, home projects etc

Electronics: $1020

  • TV: $50 – 42 inch Second hand
  • Desktop computer set up: $400 – dual screen helps with writing the blog
  • Laptop $50 – Bought new for $3000 I have had this for over 13 years
  • iPhone: $200 – Purchased through a ‘plan’, have had this for 7 years
  • iPad $50 – Purchased new for $1200 I have had this for 11 years
  • Sound system: $100 Second hand
  • Bose Sound-sport gym headphones: $100 – guilty purchase whilst overseas but very satisfying and I would buy them again if needed.
  • Bose sound bar: $50 Received as gift
  • Electric shaver: $10 Paid about $200… 13 or so years ago?
  • Electric hair clippers: $10 Received as gift

Furniture: $1810

  • Bed frame: $200 Second hand
  • Mattress: $1000 The BEST purchase I have ever made – helped immensely with sleep – it cost about $4000 new in 2017
  • Bedside tables: $40 Second hand
  • Couch: $200 Second hand
  • TV unit: $50 Second hand
  • Book shelf: $20 Second hand
  • Liquor cabinet: $20 Second hand
  • Coffee table: $20 Second hand
  • Outdoor setting: $20 Second hand
  • Computer desk: $20 Second hand
  • Computer chair: $20 Second hand
  • Washing machine: $200 Second hand

Kitchen: $900

  • Kitchen island: $50 Second hand
  • Fridge: $300 Second hand
  • Coffee machine: $40 Second hand
  • Microwave: $20 Second hand
  • Kettle: $10 Second hand
  • Toaster: $10 – Bought new for $40
  • Sandwich press: $10 – bought new for $20
  • Blender: $20 – Bought new for $100
  • Dining table and chairs: $20 Second hand
  • Crockery and cutlery: $100 Second hand / Received as Gifts
  • Knife block and knives: $100 Second hand
  • Kitchen accessories and storage containers: $100 Second hand
  • Homebrew gear: $100 Second hand
  • Pasta maker: $10 Received as a gift

Balcony Garden: $970

garden
  • Dwarf Fruit trees x 10: $500 All on discount from Bunnings and revived back to health
  • Garden hose: $20 Second hand
  • Large pots with potting mix to grow veggies x 70: $300 Full price from bunnings, I mixed potting mix with dirt from ground and kitchen scraps
  • Home-made Irrigation system: $100 Full price
  • Seeds: How can you value seeds. I buy some, I collect some, I get given some… I have no Idea. $50?

Clothes: $1500

  • Tuxedo / formal dinnerware: $300 Traded a ‘great coat’ I bought at an opshop for $50 for this. Its probably $1000 new.
  • Black suit: $100 Paid $700 for this in 2006 for my first job interview
  • Blue suit: $100 Paid $600 for this recently for a wedding
  • Polo shirt collection: $100 Paid ~$500 for all of these new
  • Jeans collection: $100 Paid ~$300 for all of these new
  • Snow gear: $100 Paid ~$200 for all of this on discount at Aldi
  • Nice pants: $100 Paid ~$300 for these slacks/chinos new
  • RM williams boots x 2pr: $500 Paid $500 for these on discount and then a further $200 for them to be re-soled to extend their lives.

Summary

As I progress on my Journey to FIRE I find myself reflecting on decisions I have made in the past. Lots of dumb decisions. Lots of dumb purchases. Rather than agonise over them I am just trying to use this as fuel to make better decisions in the future.

My unique employment situation and many career changes led to lots of moving, both interstate and even working overseas. I have done lots of overseas flying and now spend the majority of my working time away from home, which has forced me to ‘pack light’ and periodically inventory and purge my physical possessions.

I am planning to keep ‘living light’ and paring down my possessions so I can achieve my goal of a $1M net worth in 2020, as well as having only 1% of that as liabilities / possessions – I want to have 99% of my net worth as invested assets!

I would love to hear what your thoughts are on minimalism and living light, especially to see how I fit in with the rest of everyone in the community. If anything I said or did has stood out, let me know why and we can chat about it!

CaptainFI

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