Sunday, June 29, 2008

Summer Thunderstorms

There is something so essential about summer thunderstorms.

I remember back in college, during one of those tortuously delicious summers when most everyone was gone and the city felt like it was mine and mine alone. I was living with a bunch of guys in a dilapidated 3-story house somewhere off central campus. Between all the pot-smoking, the evening cookouts, and the beer-soaked laughter, there was always the summer rains. It was like an unspoken ritual for us; we would be drawn by air that was stung with the sweet smell of earth and lavender and by the sounds of distant thunder. We would sit on the porch of that dilapidated house on a couple of faded couches and watch the storms come in. In simple silence. The rain would soak the streets, the lighting would split the sky and the thunder would be violent and precious. And I was free.

I thought about those days yesterday. I had been biking all day around the national mall, stopping occasionally to read a copy of The Alchemist. I had read the book before, but given my renewed commitment to simplifying my life, the message of the book has taken on a whole new meaning. Before I knew it a storm had come in and I was completely soaked. Scampering to the back of the Jefferson Memorial, I watched bands of rain soaking the grass as tourists, like sheep, ran every-which way. I suddenly thought about those days in college, about the laughter of friends, and about the hushed silence of rain-soaked memories. Looking up at the darkened sky I calmly walked down the steps to the grass. The rain was warm and welcoming. And I was free again.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Putting It All Together

So, let’s review. To meet my goals I’m going to need to focus on the following:

Getting Rid of Consumer Debt/Student Loans
Start: Ongoing
End: September 1, 2009

I will continue setting aside a certain amount a month to pay down my consumer debt. At the same time, I’m going to investigate the practicalities of having my law school pay for my student debt.

Sale of Stuff
Start: July 2008
End: December 2009

I will start by cataloging all my possessions, taking pictures, putting up ads on craigslist/ebay and seeing what I can sell. I’m also going to talk to friends and family to see who needs specific stuff so that they can have first dibs. I have a feeling that as crazy as some of these people think I am for doing this, in the end they are going to appreciate Santa Jack.

Selling the Townhouse
Start: October 1, 2008
End: September 1, 2009

By October of this year I will start contacting lawyers and real estate professionals to figure out best options. Given the change in administration and the various mortgage-related pieces of legislation floating around congress at the moment, it might actually be prudent to wait to get the ball rolling on this. Who knows…maybe the market will improve enough for me to sell at no loss. Or maybe legislation will clarify what will happen to people in my situation. Regardless, I want to be in a position to put the place up for sale by March 2009 and finally dispose of it by September of next year.

Leaving My Job
Start: December 17, 2009
End: December 31, 2009

Woa, that was sweet; actually had to look at a calendar to figure out when I would need to give two weeks notice so that I could leave my job by the December 31, 2009. That felt good…

So, there is it! I now have a semblance of a plan. All I need to do at this point is put one foot in front of the other and get started. And in between I’m hoping to recruit friends, family and you, my dear reader, to keep me honest and on track.

Up until now, my posts were intended to flush out the practicalities of my journey with a touch of the universal in between the couch cushions. But personal growth does not come about through to-do lists. Having already surrendered myself to this process I have a very strong suspicion that it is the struggle itself that brings us closer to the universal. That’s why I suspect that from here on out this blog will shift focus a bit; practicality will be supplanted by a furious focus on the every day struggle to make that next step on a journey towards the unknown. And it is the unknown that beckons.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Given the crazy materialism of the past couple of years I’m actually in relatively good shape on the consumer debt front. I currently have $18K in debt parked in a 0% APR credit card. To give you some context, at some point, I probably had double or triple that amount in consumer debt. I’ve been setting aside a certain amount of $ a month to pay that down, even as I maintain a savings target every month.

Things are more dire on the student loan front. After 5 years undergrad at one of the most expensive universities in the country and 3 in an Ivy League law school I still have a ton of student debt to pay off. I’m actually way better off than some of my law school buddies, but this is just unacceptable for someone who wants to make it on a limited amount of interest a year.

Simplicity Meets the Enemy
The current plan calls for continuing to pay a certain amount every month toward my last remaining credit card until it is paid off. And as for the student loans, I have a big lifeline that I can rely on. As it turns out, my law school will pay down my student loans to the extent I have a public interest law-related job. I want to treat this in a later post, but basically I want to find a law-related job for a nonprofit that focuses on sustainability and/or environmental protection issues. It looks like I can kill two birds with one stone: transition to a job that I love and pay down my school debt, all at the same time. :)

If all goes well, I should be done paying down my consumer debt by September of 2009. I can probably have my law school pay down my school debt starting in January 2010, hopefully right after I leave my current job.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


What can I say? When you buy a 3000 square foot place you just HAVE to buy a bunch of furniture. Not only do you buy run-of-the-mill stuff like a king-sized $4.5k hand-crafted wooden sleigh bed but you also take a couple of trips to antique shows so you can show the world that you can buy several expensive 400-year old Chinese pieces (for fucks sake, they actually refer to this stuff as “pieces”, not furniture). And, of course, you definitely need rice cookers, tea kettles, hampers, lamps, home office supplies, HD plasma TVs, etc…

If I could just go back in time and grab a hold of that me two years ago I would shake me firmly and scream: “What the hell are you doing!? Why do you even need all this stuff? Are you buying it because you need it or because society thinks you should own it? Do you have any idea how many natural resources were wasted just so that you, one single fucking person, can pretend to own the entire universe?

Simplicity Meets the Enemy
As they say, “everything must go!” The way to handle all this stuff is pretty simple: get rid of it by selling it, giving it away and/or giving it to friends. Going forward I will be cataloguing all the stuff I have, selling stuff on craigslist, and contacting people I trust to given them the heads up.

It looks like the disposal process is going to have to be staggered. I can start on some of the craigslist stuff right away. However, I’ve been renting a room in the house to a friend and he will still need to have access to most of the furniture until the status of the townhouse is finalized. When the house is sold next year he will move out and I can get rid of the rest of the furniture. If all goes well, I could have all the furniture out of the house by July 2009.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I was in the same frame of mind as thousands of other Americans when it comes to homes: buy up to what you can afford and then some. It didn’t help that I had just ended a very complicated, painful relationship and the need to feel secure, to lay solid roots was strong. It also didn’t help that after ending said relationship I spiraled into an abyss of partying, womanizing, and out-of-controlness of epic proportions. At the time, the people I was hanging out with were the materialistic type, always wanting to go to the most exclusive clubs and restaurants so they could order the most expensive drinks and be seen with the richest people around. Gag…

Seriously, what was I thinking buying this behemoth of a townhouse? Four levels, 6 bedrooms, stainless steel appliances, 3,000 square feet etc...Double Gag…

On the other hand, it cost me nothing to buy it. I’m one of those suckers who fully financed the mortgage and had the seller pay all closing costs. I basically paid absolutely nothing to move in and have been paying only the interest ever since. Thankfully, the mortgage rate does not reset for another 8 years but that’s irrelevant; I’ll be gone within a year and a half.

Simplicity Meets the Enemy
If I want to simplify my living arrangements and leave this place for good I have the following options:

1. sell the house outright;

2. rent the place out;

3. sell the house through a short sale;

4. foreclose.

The bottom line at this point is that the place is worth less than what I paid for it. I could try and sell it but will definitely lose quite a bit of money, money I just don’t have. In theory, I could also rent the place out, but I’ve done some calculations and I would still have to kick in $17K a year out of pocket just to meet the basic payments. That’s just not possible for someone just happy to live on a limited amount of interest a year starting in 2010.

It is looking more and more likely that what I will need to do it approach the lenders and try a short sale. The way I see it I didn’t really invest anything into the place and so long as the lender realizes that I will not be able to afford payments after I leave my current job, I can just hand the place over without any qualms.

Given that it takes anywhere from 3-7 months to negotiate with the lender and finalize a short sale, I’m thinking that I will get the ball rolling starting in March 2009. Between now and then I’m just going to focus on my other simplifying goals and lay the groundwork for leaving the townhouse. I will talk to real estate agents, lawyers, etc…and see if they can help me figure this out in the best way possible.

Friday, June 20, 2008


There is nothing inherently wrong with my job as a lawyer. In fact, for several years, I really felt that it was interesting and intellectually challenging. On the other hand, coming into work was a wonderful way to play adult and pretend that I knew all the answers that really mattered. Putting on expensive suits, traveling all over the world, representing important clients, knowing the location of expensive restaurants, etc…were all just a way for me to tie additional knots in an ever-expanding invisible chain of hopeless materialism. For a while there, I was just too busy having a glass of expensive pinot to notice that I was losing my life.

And then I started getting…well…bored. The mind-numbing effects of sitting in front of a computer for 12, 13, 14 hours a day 6, sometimes 7 days a week making very rich people even more rich definitely caught up with me. Even worse were the times that I actually was able to go away on vacation. After spending a couple of weeks a year doing what I truly love most (hiking, mountain biking and climbing, getting lost in the middle of foreign cities with only my perceived decency and sense of adventure to guide me) ONLY TO get back to staring at that fucking computer again was infuriating.

So here I am. Making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in a job that infuriates me and gets me no closer to fulfilling my potential.

Simplicity Meets the Enemy
The way I see it, I need to take advantage of my current salary until I can do the following:

1. Dispose of my townhouse.

2. Get rid of my existing consumer debt.

3. Arrange to sell/give away most of my possessions.

4. Have enough saved so that I can earn a certain amount a year in interest.

The plan at this point is to continue working until December 31, 2009 before giving notice. It’s quite possible that this date may change as things progress. I may meet my goals more quickly. Or I may just be so exasperated with work that leaving early will be my only option. We shall see.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Getting All Forrest Gump on Myself

I’m getting wayyy too Forrest Gump on myself. And not just because I’ve been feeling intellectually- challenged for having gotten so wrapped up in the world of the material, for having spent so much time working a job I only occasionally find fulfilling, for having spent such incredible amounts of money on things that are only fleeting and could never truly touch my soul.

I’m also getting all Forrest Gump on myself in the life-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates;you-never-know-what-you-are-gonna-get kind of way. The bottom line is that I just don’t really know where this process will take me. I don’t even know what kind of person I will be if and when this thing is done. But it’s the not knowing that makes it worthwhile! The not knowing is undiscovered, untouched, totally devoid of any labels, qualifications, and, most importantly, any real prejudices. It just is.

I think I’m going to apply the Forrest Gump principle to this blog. The way I see it, I definitely need to figure out the basics, the practicalities of attaining simplicity through a structured plan. But I will never know what I’m going to get in between the nooks and crannies of structure. Maybe it will be the free-flowing, implicating words on a simple blog that will lead me to where I need to be.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I'm Scared

I’m scared.

I’ve been thinking about doing this, in one way or another, for so long that now that the time has come to get things going I’m genuinely petrified.

I’m banking on a little anonymity in the short term, but I can say the following:

early thirties
working in DC

It’s actually fairly straightforward: stop living a life of excess, materialism, and unnecessary stress in order to gain something much more valuable: unencumbered, simple happiness.

A $300K plus annual salary.
A beautiful, newly renovated 4 level townhouse.
A mix of very expensive antique and modern furniture.
18K in credit card debt incurred as a direct result of owning so much stuff.
Thousands of dollars worth of student debt.
Miscellaneous stuff I just don’t need.

To systematically focus on each aspect of my encumbered life and find effective, practical ways to break the chains of the material. This is not going to be easy. I’m not even sure that I can do this. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s the mere act of rebelling against the enemy that allows a person to secure genuine freedom.

I want to use this blog to focus my ideas, vent my frustrations, and share my successes/failures. My dear reader, I hope you will join me in this crazy, exhilarating experiment. I have a feeling I will need all the company and support I can get.