My Year of Homeless Living

Next month, my wife and I will take a huge financial step — we are going homeless. But don’t worry. I won’t be on the street corner waving a sign, “Will preach for food.”

By homeless, I mean we’ll no longer own a house or owe for it. By homeless, I mean “less of a home,” downsized in a big way.

Yes, we’ve gone minimalist. We’ve sold our 2,800-square-foot home where we’ve spent 13 years raising four kids, three dogs, two guinea pigs and one corn snake.

No more McMansions for us. We’re renting a doublewide mobile home for the next year to help us transition into an itinerant retirement. We aren’t taking any children or animals, only what will fill two bedrooms. The move slashes our living space by 1500 sq. ft. and our monthly housing budget by $1000.

I can hear a sympathetic chorus of readers asking: “Oh my, Norris, what happened? Why would you leave such a lovely subdivision? Doesn’t your writing pay the bills?”

Actually, it never really has, but that’s not my point.

If you ask me what happened, I’d have to say that Ecuador happened.

Last month we went to Ecuador to visit the Galapagos and explore the idea of overseas living in retirement. In Cuenca, Ecuador, 8,000 feet into the cool Andes, I met scores of expats who’d drastically shed the consumerism that dominates American life.

With the cost of shipping or storage prohibitively high, they left most of their belongings behind. When they boarded the plane to Ecuador, most carried their life essentials in three suitcases apiece.

Within a few months of getting off the plane, most managed to furnish their new home with utilitarian essentials from local sources. No longer stuck in the revolving door of StuffMart or CostlyCo, many resourceful expats built their own furniture or made their own clothing.

If shedding that kind of material wealth is something you find unimaginable, you’re in good company. The truth is that this level of sacrifice inspires us, but few of us actually do it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sacrificing very little. I’ve managed to sell my home and belongings at a fair price and will receive a sizable tax deduction for what I’ve given away. Most of what I’ve shed hasn’t been used for years.

Nevertheless, our life change has made me take a hard look at the value I place on my stuff, especially the stuff I so drastically thought I needed, but never used. The whole event has me asking myself, when will a person feel satisfied that he has enough stuff or enough money?

The answer is — never. You’ll never be sure you have enough.

The only thing you can really do is draw a bottom line on your net worth and determine that it will be enough. You must resolve, “This has to be enough. I will make this work. I will make it so.”

To make such a decision, I take some guidance from the homeless Galilean man who declared in his Sermon on the Mount, “Don’t store up for yourself treasures on Earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

You might say this was Jesus’ version of the modern truism, “You can’t take it with you,” or “You’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer.”

In the meantime, I will admit that my newfound minimalism isn’t a complete transformation. We both find ourselves holding on to all we possibly can. Does anyone know where I can rent a cheap storage unit?

 dorington home

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