As a service member transitioning out of military thinking about starting a more self-sufficient lifestyle, I think you need a solid starting point. As I preach in my Primal Power Method nutrition and exercise book series, it is always better to have a plan and take it slow in the beginning.
Many people today, service members and civilians alike, with our instant gratification thought process, forget that great things come with time and perseverance.
The journey of what I’m attempting with my “off the grid project” started several years ago when I decided to downsize and simplify my life. After owning several homes that were much bigger than I needed, and filled with crap that I would never use, I decided it was time for a change.
Up to that point, I had spent my life being just what society and the system wanted me to be: the ultimate consumer. I think it is no secret today our lives are driven by suffering through a maximum workload to make money, and consume as much as we can. Now, I’m not saying there is no value in work, and I don’t begrudge working hard, and earning an honest wage. But, I do think we have our priorities way out of whack today.
Why do we purchase the biggest house we can obtain a loan for, why do we buy that sports car that we really can’t afford, why do we have a closet full of clothes and shoes we hardly wear? In the end we stress ourselves out, so we can obtain all these items, and for what? Exactly. You can’t answer that question because there is no logical or reasonable answer.
To me, the answer is simple to why we do the above, and drive ourselves crazy in the process. It is because that is what we have been told to do in order to obtain happiness. So in today’s society, stuff equals happiness. Trust me, I followed this mantra with gusto, purchasing all kinds of junk I didn’t need.
Where to Start? Stop Being a Junkaholic
So where do you start? Well just like an addict, start with admitting that you want to make a change in your life and committing to it. I like to give the moniker “junkaholics” to label what we suffer from today. As humans, it seems like our primary goal in life is to compile as much useless stuff as we can, and then die amongst the heaps of our non-gloriously obtained items, hoping someone finds us before our cat starts eating our face. I know that is a little over the top, but I think you see my point.
For me, I just had to realize that less was more. For some, living off the grid means building your own dwelling by hand, having no running water and growing or raising all of your own food. Many service members coming out of the military are already well-prepared for this type of lifestyle. For others, that might mean buying a smaller house and installing some solar panels, while some of us might want to be somewhere in the middle.
The starting point for me was to greatly downsize my living space. At the time I was paying a ridiculous mortgage for a 1,700 sq/ft house in Southern California, and losing sleep constantly trying to figure out how to pay for it.
That is one important point I want to make about our modern maximum consumption lifestyle: Instead of making us happy, actually in the end it makes us less happy, takes away our time from those we care about and pursuing our true passions in life.
If that isn’t true irony, I don’t know what is. We spend a great deal of our lives pursuing the things that we have been told will make us happy, but in the end they make us miserable and unfulfilled. Wow, the joke is on us.
The great news is that we can change this, and I want to share with you my experience, and the steps to take in order to happify (my made up word) and simplify!
Evaluate Your Current Living Conditions
The first thing you need to analyze is your current or ideal living conditions. Can you get by with less living space?
Most of you might think my example below is rather drastic, but I will assure you once I got settled in my new place it was anything but. I was living in the typical Southern California residential neighborhood in a three-bedroom, two-bath and two-car-garage house. For a single guy, this is just way too much space, heck I think it is too big for the average family, I will explain why later.
The first thing back then I did was simple; I analyzed my monthly cost of living expenses. This included my mortgage, insurance, utilities and general upkeep expenses. It came out to an astounding $3,500 a month.
For me, I still had about 27 years left on my mortgage, so that meant I could look forward to spending over a million dollars if I maintained that type of lifestyle, for the remainder of my mortgage. Here is the kicker: Most of us don’t maintain, we upgrade, so that total for most of us actually goes up.
Is Renting an Option?
After analyzing how much my house was costing each month, I decided to take a look at renting, and see if that made sense. The first place I looked at was on Craigslist.com. I will tell you it was very discouraging in the beginning, as renting in California is fairly expensive, when compared to the rest of the country.
So what did that mean? Instead of renting in my general location, I had to cast a wider net in order to find more options. Having pets meant I had to look in more rural areas, where people didn’t really care as much as renting to people who have pets. At first, I started by looking for two bedroom places, and quickly realized the price difference between what I was currently paying was not big enough to justify this choice.
What this made me do was to really start looking outside my perceived comfort zone at the time. I started looking at studios, granny flats (small attached apartments to houses) and cottages (basically a studio house – all living space is in one area like a studio apartment). While this may sound like more unnecessary stress for service members having to already deal with the anxiety of transition, the extra time and effort makes it worth the trouble in the long run.
This opened up an entire new lifestyle that I had never experienced before, because it simplified living far more than what I was used to. It is amazing, having less space forces you to have less stuff, which ultimately makes you happier. And I’ll be honest I really didn’t see that happening in the beginning of my search.
Sometimes you might get lucky and find the place you want right away, but from my experience making this drastic of a change takes time. Here is why:
- Unless you have lived this way before, these are places you have never experienced before.
- You will more likely have to search in new areas you are unfamiliar with, and have to determine which works best for you current situation.
Here is the key (I have discussed this in some of my YouTube videos and other blog posts): Change is always painful in the beginning, and there is no getting around this. You have to realize you are making a major life change and it is going to be uncomfortable. All great things in life always come with some scrapes and bruises along the way.
My search for a rental home in Southern California took several months, six to be exact. I did a lot of research and soul searching during this period and ultimately it paid off. I found a cottage with a full-sized yard, located in a rural part of San Diego.
When you take your time and are patient, a little luck will come your way.
I will emphasize that when renting you need to really evaluate whom you are renting from, just like they are evaluating you. For most, moving is not a pleasant experience, so my philosophy is, why do it more than you have to!
That is another key to think about. How long do you plan to live in this current place? Can you stay long term if need be? Can you sell your house if you own, or will you have to try and turn it into a rental?
In my situation, I was unsure how long I would be there, but I made sure it was something I could do long term if I needed to. Thankfully, I thought that through because I ended up being in the cottage rental far longer than I originally expected.
Simplifying your life doesn’t come without challenges, you have to keep your eye on the prize at the end. More financial stability ultimately means more freedom.
I’m not saying that by minimizing your living space and having more disposable income is the solution to all of your life problems. But I can promise you this: It is easier to figure them out without additional self-perpetuated stress.
The Pay Off
I’ll be honest, I ended up selling my house for a significant loss, but I had to make a critical choice: let the house eventually push me into bankruptcy, or sacrifice short-term loss for the long-term happiness. These were incredibly tough circumstances, but I don’t regret what I did for a second. I want to emphasize this is the decision I made, but I’m not a financial expert. You will have to weigh your own circumstances, and make the best decision for what is best for you and your family.
Do I recommend everyone make this drastic of a change? Of course not. Again, it depends on your situation, and what you are comfortable with. I will tell you this, I have no regrets and the thought of ever again living in a big house has never crossed my mind since I made the change.
Another bonus was that I had to sell a lot of stuff, because there was no way it was going to fit into the rental cottage. I made close to $10,000 selling all my extra crap on Craigslist, and I sold most of it in 48 hours.
I can’t explain the cleansing effect this had on my psyche and life. After selling all those useless possessions it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I give the above as my real life experience, as most of you know from my Primal Power Method book series, I never give you advice about things I have never done myself. With that being said, I know my experience is not for everyone, but I will say renting gives you a great deal of freedom until you figure out what your next move will be. For many transitioning veterans still making career decisions, this is a safe way to avoid stress in the future.
I have learned that home ownership not only costs you financially, but can put you in a situation where you can get stuck. I used my time in the rental place to plot out my next move and to make sure I would not be not rushing into anything I would later regret. I know not everything can be planned for or work out perfectly, but I like giving myself the best odds possible to avoid as many pitfalls as I can.
I can now say my patience paid off big time, and now I have the property of my dreams. Sure it is going to be a lot of hard work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Gary Collins, MS, is a veteran and former FDA special agent turned author, nutritional expert, and self-sufficiency advocate. You can contact him through his website Primal Power Method, or follow him on Twitter at @PrimalMethod.