The Minimalist Game

Nightstand light with marbles powered by a 9 volt battery
I just finished hauling out another days worth of stuff from my house, another load of things that I had been holding onto for quite some time for one reason or another but I didn't really need. It all just seemed to be clutter and junk in my life that I wasn't going to use but I had a hard time getting rid of. Last month I decided to play the Minimalist Game, for those of you that don't know the game I will explain the rules once again:

The Minimalist Game
Find a friend or family member. Someone who’s willing to get rid of some of their excess stuff. This month, each of you must get rid of one thing on the first day of the month. On the second, two things. Three items on the third. So forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day.
It’s an easy game at first. However, it starts getting challenging by week two, when you’re both jettisoning more than a dozen items each day. Whoever can keep it going the longest wins. You both win if you can make it all month. Bonus points if you play with more than two people.
via the minimalists
Like it says in the description, it's easy at first, until it gets really challenging during the second week. I think it was somewhere around day 8 where I started thinking, oh shit, all the easy stuff is gone, I'm going to have to fall back on what I was "saving" for the end (old clothes), and I'm barely just beginning. The funny thing is, each time I got to a point where I didn't know what I was going to get rid of next I looked around and really thought about it and I could always find stuff I didn't really need. Sometimes the hard part was just figuring out how to get rid of it. If there was a decent monetary value to the item that's when it got tricky. I typically strayed away from those items since selling things on craigslist takes more time and one at a time was not going to get me far with my daily goals.

I had a hard time throwing out the art supplies that I intended to make something with. So for this challenge, I counted the items that I used as things that were purged from my house even though they did not completely disappear. As seen in the picture above, I made a nightstand light made out of a cigar box and marbles, the box is filled with a hard resin coating so the marbles and the light inside cannot move. It is all powered by a 9 volt battery that is hooked to a switch that I fixed to the side of the box. Technically the marbles did not leave my house, but the bottles that were holding the unused resin were thrown out after so that counted as a purged item. When I started that project (years ago) I didn't know exactly what I would fill the box with, just that I wanted a light and a resin coating. I think the motivation of throwing out (and wasting) my supplies was the trick I needed to finally putting it all together.

I still have a couple of items that I am counting as purged even though they are still technically in my house. I have a fish tank along with fish supplies that is awaiting a donation pickup.

What Did I Learn?

I learned pretty quickly that there's a lot of stuff that I have that I just don't need. And most of it is stuff that I never needed and could have done without to begin with. I think that this game was a real eye opener for my consumption habits and I hope that because of this I will think about it more in the future when I am considering purchasing things.

I also have a hard time getting rid of things that I think I may use in the future. For example, I had an entire drawer dedicated to miscellaneous cables for electronics, perhaps 2 times in the past 8 years that drawer has helped me out, but for the most part it's just a place for stuff that I could have gotten rid of a long time ago. From now on I'm going to think before I store stuff for unknown periods of time.

I also learned that I when it comes to clothes I have a hard time throwing things out. If it still fits and it doesn't have major holes in it, I will keep it because I can still wear it. What was once about 3.5 drawers full of t-shirts has been reduced to 2 drawers. This doesn't count the multiple drawers of "undershirts" that I have acquired for my work wardrobe over the years. I also came to the realization that each year my parents will buy me new undershirts whether I need them or not, and since I don't throw things out if I can still wear them... I had waaaay to many of them. This has been cut in half too.

In case you were interested in what all I got rid of here is the full list:

Tron Costume
Finally retired the Tron Costume
4x Leftover Paint, 2x Leftover Resin, Bottle Pour Spout, Travel Waterproof Wallet, Elmer's Glue, rubber snake, glass dish soap bottle, backpack, watch box, automatic fish feeder, fish food, charcoal, giant gummy bunny, extra dresser hinge, water bottle, string of Christmas lights, dustoff, wi-fi antenna, dress shoes, travel book, paint brush, 18x pairs of socks, 6x pairs of shorts, 10x pairs of underwear, 10x beanies, 7x pants, extension cord, 3x art sketches, costume materials, 3 tie clip boxes, 7x needlepoint supplies, scarf, 2x art supplies, 2x old cellphones, 1 old charger, screen protectors, 11x old computer software, puzzle, card, bookmark, 12x under shirts, Tron costume (6 pieces seen below), old computer battery, planter, gnome lamp, 5x wood shelving, dead ecosphere, 2x dog brushes, dog harness, 2x shoe bags, 17x books, 25x college text books, Computer TV Card, camera, mousepad, wireless network card, 2x cigar boxes, 24x art supplies (used in project), 44x old copies of Vice Magazine, 4x pairs of shoes, portable DVD player, 6x CD's, 2x college notebooks, old pet insurance papers, 3x college posters, Elvis impersonator kit, address book, 4x old work notebooks, art from college, 2x misc. chargers, book, 3x packing tubes, earring box, incense holder, 3x travel alarm clock, box of dreadlocks, old camera, 4x hats, 2x compass, figurine from a friend, 11x  misc cables, 4x misc hardware, belt, ipod case, 24x misc cables, 27x t-shirts, belt, 6x misc hardware, sunglasses, 2x old cards, accordion filing folder, Printer, animal carrier case, earring box, 5x Christmas ornaments, flask, 2x duffle bag, boots, 4x jackets, snuggie, blanket, 2x disposable cameras, picture frame, 5x framing hardware, 4x copies of old tax returns, 4x expired medicine, fish tank and supplies x5 (pending pickup)

Tron Costume
Tron Costume
For those of you counting, you may realize that I'm 55 items short of making it to 30 days (stopping on day 29) that's because while I want to get rid of more things I still have a hard time letting go of items I still might use. If you count the amount of stuff that I just threw out and counted as garbage and not part of the challenge I'm sure I would have completed the game. Or then there's things like my last 8 years of old pay stubs. I keep these for some reason, I was told I might need them for something but besides for when I've had to deal with my mortgage I've never needed them. That was a lot of old paperwork to get rid of, but I didn't count that as an item on the list.

I highly recommend trying this game. Even if you don't make it a full 30 days it's a very eye opening experience on your personal consumption. To see what you've spent money on that is no longer necessary in your life is very interesting. Even if you only make it 2 weeks you will probably see how much clutter you don't need in your life.

So how about you? Do you have a lot of stuff in your life? Will you try the minimalist game? You don't need to complete it to win :)

Ignore socially responsible investing, focus on responsible consumption

Dilbert By Scott Adams
By Scott Adams
It may have been said before but the first time I heard it was in an article by Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert), “Invest in companies you hate.” of course in his article he also states not to take investment advise from a cartoonist, so you may want to take it all with a grain of salt. But his many points about betting on the bad guys really backs up why many of those companies are good at making money and therefore good investments.

I guess one of the first questions that may come to peoples minds is, what is socially responsible investing? Sometimes it's called ethical investing, others call it following your personal morals. I guess the simplest definition that I can think of, is investing in companies that hold values of importance of the investor. Some of the most common ways people approach socially responsible investing is to not purchase stocks from companies that produce or make money off of war, cigarettes, alcohol, GMO foods, or things that could be bad for the environment. There are many other socially responsible ideas, but those are usually the most common ones that come up.

Financial Flexibility

Rebirth by Hannah Yata
I was at work, and it was just one of those days where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The not so uncommon occurrence of my coworkers not knowing how to properly do their jobs meant I had to step in and fix their problems for them. It was a long day, and I couldn't wait to be done with it.... And then suddenly I was. I woke up, realizing that it was all just a dream, but then the nightmare began because I  had to get ready to actually go into work for the day.

Right then I knew I needed a vacation. It has been about 2 years since I've taken a "real" vacation. I've had some smaller few day trips but they weren't really trips about escaping for a while and really unwinding. That dream happened a few weeks ago and immediately after I started thinking about vacation, it took me a little time to decide where and when I wanted to go but today I booked my flight and on November 27th I will be flying to Japan for 24 days to truly recharge for a while.

This is one of the main reasons that I save a large portion of my income, so that I have financial flexibility.

Overestimation Versus Underestimation

Kelly McKernan - Illusory
Illusory by Kelly McKernan
I was recently reading about long term goals and some other peoples planned journeys to financial independence over at Frankly Frugal Finance and Big Guy Money. They had some fairly detailed analysis of what their long term goals were, going out 15 to 25 years even. While I have gotten out the spreadsheet from time to time and plugged in numbers and calculated out 10 years or so I've never really put much weight into it.

Every year for the past 4 years I've put down a financial goal for myself. I get the balances of all of my accounts, tack on a percentage rate of how much I think it will grow, add in how much money I expect to add to that account myself, and then tack on a smaller percentage rate of how much my new money will grow throughout the year. Each year I seem to get more and more detailed with this because each year I find that my estimates are significantly off. Every year, including this one I have beat that initial goal. But I shouldn't get ahead of myself yet, the market could tank before the year ends and I have a significant vacation coming up that will not be cheap, either way, unless something major happens my financial goals for the year look like they have already been achieved.

The main reason I'm off is because of stock market returns. The market has been very kind to us in the past 4 years so I never plan for the market to grow by over 20% like it did last year but it's a nice bonus when it does. Since every year I seem to beat my goal, each year I make it more aggressive. But I know that this bull market can't keep going for forever, so one of these years (possibly very soon) the market won't do well and I will fall short. Maybe I'm a pessimist, or perhaps I've been listening to all of the gloom and doom warnings about how the market can't keep going up like this forever, but I'm guessing that next year I won't be so lucky.

But all of this got me thinking about why we might overestimate or underestimate our goals and what that might say about the person making them. In the business sense of things this may be easier to measure which route you should take:

Learn From Others Mistakes

Jinkx Monsoon By Chad Sell
We all make mistakes in life, and it's actually a very healthy thing to do provided that you learn from them. Learning helps our brains stay sharp and keeps our life fuller. Occasionally someone close to you makes a mistake that affects their life so profoundly that it touches yours, you realize that you never want that to happen to you. Sometimes it's a parent or a sibling, and other times it can just be a friend or coworker. Either way, you see their mistake and you make sure that it will never happen to you.

But there's already a lot of good advice that you hear everyday that most people ignore, I know that I did. It's so common and you hear it all the time that for some reason we just tune it out like, "Blah, blah, blah, I've heard that grandpa, of course I wouldn't do that." But we go ahead and do it anyways. We think that the older generations are telling us something so obvious that we of course would never do it ourselves. Here are some common ones that you should avoid, many of these I did myself, learning the hard way instead of from others.

New Game: Live like you're Unemployed

Naughty Boy by Brandi Milne
Near the end of 2009 I was fired from my job. It wasn't anything specific that I did or didn't do, it was just that the recession hit my company pretty hard and they had to downsize by about 35%. I was one of the newer people there at the time so I'm surprised that I lasted as long as I did but in the end. I lost my job.

At the time I received the maximum unemployment benefits allowed which I believe was $400 per week or $1600 per month. Depending on what part of the country you live in that might be more than enough to get by, but in San Francisco, that's not a whole lot. After I paid all of my fixed bills such as mortgage, HOA fees, utilities, internet (I still had to look for a new job so the internet was an absolute must). I was left with about $300 to spare for all of the other stuff.

Keep in mind that I said, all of my "fixed bills" I hadn't counted food for the month yet. For me, $300 is plenty to get by for a month, but if I wanted to do more than eat then things got a little dicey.

It shouldn't take a special day to do something

by Sylvia Ji
Most people know areas of their lives that could use some improvement. It can be diet, finances, work, etc. I don't know about you but even though I know what areas I could improve I tend to get lazy and postpone a lot of these things because why start today what I could do tomorrow?

It's this way of thinking that leads people to need a special occasion to start making the changes in their lives that they want to see. For many people that special occasion is New Years Eve.

But why does it take a special day to start?

Sometimes that "special" day isn't so special, sometimes it's just significant. Some people start to fix their lives when something breaks or goes wrong. Sometimes people are forced to exercise or fix their diet after an event such as a heart attack or other medical emergency. Or they will begin to fix their finances once they realize that they can no longer cover their monthly bills.

Don't wait for an emergency to force you to make a change you already know about!

Right now I see a lot of clutter starting to build up around my house.  Some of it is art supplies that are left over from the last time I was inspired to paint, others are just small knick-knacks that have been given to me over time that I feel bad throwing out since they were a gift. Either way, it's building up to a point where I know that I will have to do something about it soon. Instead of waiting for the day to come when I am forced to clean it up (i.e. my girlfriend making me) I decided that I will take action before I am forced to. I've decided to do this by playing the minimalist game.

The Minimalist Game

Find a friend or family member. Someone who’s willing to get rid of some of their excess stuff. This month, each of you must get rid of one thing on the first day of the month. On the second, two things. Three items on the third. So forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day.
It’s an easy game at first. However, it starts getting challenging by week two, when you’re both jettisoning more than a dozen items each day. Whoever can keep it going the longest wins. You both win if you can make it all month. Bonus points if you play with more than two people.
via the minimalists 

So instead of waiting for a special day to start this game, (the first of the month) I've decided to just start today and try to go for 30 days straight.

In the past when I've decided that I needed a change such as working out more or eating better I just decided one day to start, I feel like if I'm postponing it for a special day then I must not really be dedicated to the change that I am looking for since I'm already looking for excuses not to do it.

Do you wait for special days to start new life improvements? Feel free to join me in the minimalist game, or even better just decide to start a new change that you already know you need to make. Let me know if you do it!


Hope by Jeremy Fish
Hope By Jeremy Fish
I only have a few people in my real life that know about this blog. I keep it to a minimum for a number of reasons, and based on the number of misinterpretations by the few people that know, I feel like I made a good choice for now. People tend to think that once you start working towards a goal like retirement and you're so fanatical about it that you write about it multiple times a week that you are obsessed with not spending money. Therefore you are cheap. They believe that anything that costs money is something that you avoid like the plague.

Perhaps in some situations they are correct, I know that I could live in a fancier house without roommates, buy nicer food, or even just pay for the convenience of driving to work to save time avoiding public transportation for an extra $200 per month. But I choose not to do any of those things.

I actually think that I am horrible at being frugal. Yes, I will not buy things that I don't really need, but if I feel like it's something important then I will most likely overspend on it. My rationale usually follows along the lines of, "if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it right." That's also part of the reason that I take this blog seriously, since I'm going to do it, I'm not going to half-ass it. I'm going to do better than the "good old college try" I'm going to see if I can make it work.

Early retirement is ruining my life.

Breaking Bad Bear By Lora Zombie
**Apparently I wasn't very clear that most of this was sarcasm. Please note that none of this stuff is really ruining my life, in fact I think everything I mention is a postive thing rather than a negative. I guess I need to work on my sarcastic writing tone more!**

I always thought it was silly that most people worked from 9 to 5 to 65. Society pretty much set this standard that everyone is meant to live by, and for some reason I haven't been listening to those rules. But a few years back I decided to save over 50 percent of my income so I could reach financial independence early. Only recently have I stared to realize how this is ruining my life, and I'm reminded of it every single day.

Because of my saving habits I don't have extra money to buy stuff that helps me fit in with my friends and co-workers. First of all, when I'm going out to meet up with them, many times I end up taking the bus or even *gasp* walking. When I'm hoofing it to meet up with them at a restaurant or bar I have nothing but time on my hands to think about the poor decisions that led me use my own two legs to get me places.

Surround yourself with like minded people

Indian body building village
The argument of nature versus nurture - which one is more important is ongoing. I think that both sides of the argument have valid points. Mental illness, hereditary diseases and physical traits can all be passed along by genetics and in some cases it can produce children that have natural physical abilities that put them ahead of others.

The other side of the coin is who you surround yourself with. I have no doubt in my mind that the development of my personality was heavily influenced by the friends I went to high school with (and yes, I am still good friends with them to this day). Have you ever noticed how good friends have the same sense of humor, sometimes that's what draws them to each other, but other times that part of themselves grows with that other person.

Not Pulling the Punches

Perhaps it's because I was out drinking after work tonight that I'm in a feisty mood. But I've sort of had this half written for a while but tonight seemed like a good night to finish it.
Here are the reasons why you aren't getting ahead:

Troy By Jessica Joslin
Troy By Jessica Joslin (Animal Alchemy)

You lease an expensive car... Actually, you lease any car.
I personally don't know anyone that has leased a car in the past that thought it was a good idea. My only friends that have ever leased a car regretted that decision when their lease was over. I believe they compared it to having a permanent rental car. You are basically renting a car for 3 or 4 years at a time and you can't return it if you don't need it. And at the end of your lease you don't even have any equity in that car, you just give it back and hope you don't get charged for any dings or scratches.

You go to Starbucks regularly - It's even worse if you go multiple times per day
Look, if you need your coffee get your coffee. I know a few things about being tired and it sucks. But if you're a regular coffee drinker invest in a coffee machine and make your first cup of the day at home. I have a hard time justifying any drink that costs $5 and does not contain alcohol. And even with alcoholic drinks I still feel like most of that is paying for atmosphere, otherwise I'll be at home or a friends paying less than half the price at a bar.

The easiest way to early retirement is to fast forward life

Fuck You by Marion Peck
Fuck You by Marion Peck
It's no secret that the older people get the more they start to save for retirement. There's a number of reasons that peoples savings increase as they get older: You start to earn more, you've paid off all your debt, you have paid off your house, you no longer have to support kids.

But I think another reason that doesn't get much credit is that as people get older and closer to retirement they start to realize that they haven't saved as much as they would have liked for retirement. When you're 30 years old most people think they have another 30 years to go before retirement. That's as long as they have lived to that point! If I had to live my entire life again before I retired I would think I had a LOT of time to figure it out before I got there. But the years start to go by, you get busy with new house projects, or your kids always seem to need new clothes because they are growing so fast! The next thing you know you're in your mid-forties and you realize, oh crap! I need to save how much in the next 15 or so years?

Sure you might have saved some by that point, you were diligent, but a lot of financial advisors are saying that for millennials their retirement will cost them 2 million dollars! Wow! That's a lot just to write. So you start ramping up your savings as you get older because you know your future self will not be able to work forever and you need to have something saved.

Once you're in your fifties you are getting into the home stretch, you can start to actually visualize the finish line so you keep making that last push to up your savings to last you the rest of your life. Most people can cut some fat from their budget, they just don't bother trying until they start realizing they need to.

And that's the secret to early retirement. It's pretty simple. Fast forward life. Save like you're 55 years old. Save like you only have a limited amount of time to work. Look for the finish line early, don't put your head down and go with the flow, that's the way you approach a marathon. If you want to reach early financial independence then you need to push like a 4x4 race. Every year you pick it up a notch until your last leg you make that sprint for the finish.

I know that you have bills to pay and other things to save for, but so do I. So do a lot of other early retirees, it's not impossible. If leasing that new car is high on your list of priorities then go ahead and do it, but don't expect to save money very quickly with monthly payments that you could probably avoid.

What do you think? Would you fast forward life? It doesn't have to be everything, I'm not fast forwarding the health problems, I can wait for that.