Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Progress So Far (Q1 2009)


I figured you guys would appreciate an update on how the war against the Enemy is going. The bottom line is this: the Plan, while still active and very much on target, is starting to run its course. Most of the goals I set out for myself last year have been met. I genuinely feel as if I am on the cusp of breaking free from all the physical/material impediments to “freedom,” however ephemeral that term may be.

Pretty soon, I won’t have any “thing” left to dispose of. At that point, I will have no choice but to look inward for additional ways to simplify my life.

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

STATUS: Now that I no longer have any consumer debt, the focus continues to be on paring down my expenses. Will continue paying off my student loans, though, I will probably rely on support from my law school when I start working again.


Sale of Stuff

Start: July 2008
End: December 2009

STATUS: What a difference a couple of months makes. After some tentative activity on Craigslist, I’ve been selling all sorts of stuff non-stop. I think part of the reason for the turnaround has been a completely new perspective on this process. The focus is no longer on making $ from these sales. With a few exceptions, I’ve marked down all of my items at far below market value. This ensures that things will be sold quickly and efficiently. I’ve also decided to give away part of my belongings to charity.

What I’ve come to realize is that, ultimately, it is the ABSENCE of stuff that I am seeking. Maximizing any monetary gains from these sales would be counterproductive to what I am hoping to find: simple happiness.


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

STATUS: One word: nowhere. The house has been on the market for several months now and while I’ve gotten some interest, it doesn’t look like it’s going to sell anytime soon. The reality is that we are still in the middle of the biggest housing downturn in 70 years and potential buyers are just too cautious. I think I will wait through the middle of the summer and then explore my options. Let’s see what happens.


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

STATUS: All I can say is that leaving my job was the single best decision I have ever made. Period.



Anonymous said...

If your townhouse isn't selling, it's because it's priced too high. I also live in an area that had a tremendous RE boom and now is going through a RE bust--but houses that are priced correctly still sell. There's a whole other market of buyers around now, specifically because prices are dropping.

Your house is a bigger investment than motley stuff, but the answer is the same here as it is for the things you've sold on Craigslist: if your goal is a quick sale, list it at a lower price. You may even wind up with a bidding war.

Anonymous said...

1. Good progress.

2. I don't understand this part:

"though, I will probably rely on support from my law school when I start working again."

Does Harvard assist in underwriting or deferring student loan payments for their graduates?

Or is it a special program available only to those who burned their diplomas?

Anonymous said...

Or the other option is that you rent it out. It worked for me, and trust me on the relief it will afford you. In my simplification process, giving up on selling, and just compromising by renting it out, was my best decision to date.

Meg said...

Congrats on your progress! My husband and I just freecycled a huge pile of stuff today (part of our own minimalizing) and it felt so great that I can only imagine how it must feel to be simplifying on your level. We still look forward to a time when we're out of debt and my husband can quit his job, but that will probably be a few years.

Sorry about your townhouse not moving, but that's really understandable right now. I hope things work out quickly enough for you, but patience is both a virtue and a luxury right now.

Jerry Critter said...

Well done, Jack. You are making amazing progress.

Debbi said...

All I can say is that leaving my job was the single best decision I have ever made. Period.

Boy, do I hear that. Congrats on your progress, Jack. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

"I’ve made a decision. It terrifies me, even as it exhilarates me. More to follow ... "

Congrats on your progress, but could you finish the above some time soon? :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous #1 -- if your primary goal is to be rid of your townhouse and the responsibility that comes with owning it, lower the price. Not sure about the renting idea; that seems to me it would complicate your life rather than simplify it. But if you need the money, then I guess it's a good option.

Either way, I don't think the grade of "D" is warranted. Some things are just out of your control, and you can't grade yourself on them, only the way you react to them. So I guess if you're really pissed and anxious about the townhouse, then maybe a "D" is right, but if you're being patient (it sounds like you are) and you're not uptight about it, then I think maybe at least a "B" is in order there.

Sounds like you're heading in the direction you've envisioned, which is great. I'm still waiting to hear about that terrifying decision that you alluded to a couple of posts back. Surely it wasn't the purchase of exercise bands--you seem a bit braver than that!

Anonymous said...

Don't be too rash with the townhouse, and don't get yourself into trouble. I think you mentioned, in an early blog post, that you would consider a short sale or foreclosure. But life gets very complicated (not simple) when down the road your credit is shot, you get in trouble, and you have no other options but a credit card.

You bought the house and you have the responsibilty (to yourself and the greater economy) to take the necessary time to dispose of it properly. Plus, if you have any chance of pulling equity out of the house (after you've waited a bit for the right buyer or a slightly improved market), think of how far that equity could go in simplifying your life (or, if you're so inclined, helping a charity).

Simplification is the goal, but it will take time and patience. And it shouldn't come at the expense of prudence. Slow down, rent the townhouse if need be, and feel fulfilled when this part of your jouney is past, and you have finally, responsibly simplified your life.

Benny said...

I think Jack's problem with selling at a lower price might be that he might not have had much equity to begin with. If you sell for a lower price than your outstanding mortgage, you have to deal with the bank. That's not the end of the world, but it's a different story (and may impolicate certain moral issues for some).

Jack said...


I'm with you. Already reduced price a couple of times and probably heading there already. But the reality, I have come to realize, is that I am probably underwater on the mortgage. Let's see where things go. Don't want to think about alternatives (shorts sale, deed in lieu, etc...) unless it becomes necessary.


Thanks. As I mentioned previously, Harvard has an assistance program if you work for a non-profit and make below a certain amount. Even if you burn their diplomas.


Renting is still an option, but as someone else has mentioned, renting could complicate things further. Besides, the fact is that I probably won't be able to rent the place for enough $ to cover the mortgage (meaning I would have to kick in extra every month).

Jack said...


Thanks and congrats on your own progress.


Thanks man.


Glad you approve.

Jack said...


No worries. I think I'll be spilling the beans on my next post.


Agree; renting could actually complicate things further. See my comments to the first Anon above. Thanks for the grade inflation. :).

And yes, just wait for the next post. All will be revealed.


Bingo. And don't think I haven't thought about the moral implications you referenced.

Jack said...

@Anonymous (between Amy & Benny)

I think you captured my perspective on this whole house selling issue perfectly.

Debbi said...

I haven't read all the comments about renting, but being a landlord can be complicated, burdensome and expensive. And, as I recall, you're looking to simplify your life. Yes?

I suspect there's a buyer out there for you. The real estate market has been hit in the DC area, like everywhere else--but not quite as badly as everywhere else.

People still flock to this place for jobs, so they need places to live. The government keeps the government workers and contractors in business. Not to mention the trade associations, lobbyists and (of course!) the lawyers.

Yes, it's a buyer's market. But someone in one of those jobs is probably looking for a place like yours right now. I guess the question is, how low are you willing (or able) to go?

Benny said...


I am glad you have thought of them. I am also a BIGLAW (slave) associate and have thought at times about leaving my job for a less stressful and hours intensive one, but I personally don't think it would be appropriate for me to disregard my obligations, whether they be to my wife and children or to home and student loan lenders. The reality is that even if I may have chosen a different path, there are people out there with whom I have a deal, and as long as I can pay them, I will. I may have chosen a different life, but I don't think I have permission to force my bank (and the American taxpayer) to choose the same when they have to bear the economic hit from my decisions.
(of course none of this applies to people who leave work because of health or who are laid off, I am just talking about those who chose to leave---even if it is because they hate their job)

Anonymous said...

First time visitor on your blog, Jack. Very interesting. And inspiring. Reading about your journey here makes me want to start dealing with my own excesses (and there is a lot to deal with, admittedly). Will explore more and definitely stop by again.

Anonymous said...

I find voluntary simplicity fascinating. My maternal grandparents immigrated from Czechosolavkia in 1920. They had little more than a large trunk when they came to the USA. My parents weren't big on consumption. They bought a two flat on the southwest side of Chicago after WWII and lived on the second floor. There was no basement and my mom washed clothes on a wringer washer and rinsed them in a clawfoot bathtub. Bathroom had tub, toilet and a medicine cabinet above a clothes hamper - no sink. We had an "eat-in" kitchen, living room, two small bedrooms, one walk-in closet and a great walk-in pantry. There was an enclosed porch with doors leading to the back yard or up to the unfinished attic. No dryer - washing was hung in the attic in winter, hung outside in the summer. Only electric outlets were one each in the living room, bathroom, kitchen and porch. Heated by two huge oil stoves. When my parents finally bought an air conditioner, after many years of relying on a single window fan, it was placed in the kitchen window. To enjoy the cool air my father would sleep on the kitchen floor and move up to the porch couch near sunrise.

I watch HGTV and am blown away at the couples that look for houses with multiple bathrooms (who's going to clean those bathrooms), stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and rooms as large as my entire childhood home. When the bottom (of everything) fell out last year, I realized that I had been ever so lucky all along. To be raised in such a frugal environment I was so appreciative of what I had. Every sunrise and sunset is amazing and every moment needs nothing more than the basics. I get excited when my crocuses bloom and my tomato plants produce.

Nicola said...

i have been MIA from your blog, but am catching up now. the townhouse D grade is understandable given this market. you are doing fabulously! and i think canceling the gym membership was wise.

Jack said...


Absolutely. Focusing on simplifying everything as much as possible, which is why renting is not really preferred. Will go as low as necessary, believe me. Just have to follow the process until all options are exhausted.


I wholeheartedly agree and like the way you have laid your perspective out. I suspect that this moral issue will play a more prominent role in a future post if and when it is clear a short sale/deed in lieu becomes a necessity.


Thanks for the kudos. BTW, I'm actually digging your blog at the moment.

Jack said...


I can almost see that childhood through your words. Do you have a family of your own? How are you inculcating these values to the next generation?


Thanks! And glad you are back.