The Moment I Realized I Live in the Largest House in the World
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite — only a sense of existence…O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” — Henry David Thoreau, 1865
In my line of work I think about personal finance all day, every day. My special flavor of personal finance has become more of a lifestyle and less of a job. Though much of the advice I give my clients is unconventional, I always strive to practice what I preach.
I continue to be awed and impressed by people I meet and hear about who are taking this lifestyle to a new level. My parents are long-time landlords, and they taught me never to buy a rental home unless I could live happily in the house myself. That same idea drives my service to my clients. If I were in my client’s shoes, would I follow the advice I’m giving them? I only give clients advice that passes this test. That’s why it’s so important to me to continuously learn new ideas and to test my own limits.
This past week two events reshaped my views on housing and led me to realize that I live in the largest house in the world. First, I saw the documentary TINY, in which a couple builds a home under 200 square feet and spotlights a nationwide community of people who also live in similarly sized dwellings. Second, I hosted a large Thanksgiving gathering while some old friends spent the week at my house.
The point of this blog post isn’t to rehash the details of the documentary or my Thanksgiving meal, however. Instead, I want to share how being open to new ideas has changed my perspective on happiness, our greatest and most important luxury. Entertaining guests has always been a personal joy, so earlier this year I sketched a “dream home” for myself that featured a huge dining room where dozens of guests could sit and eat together.
But during this week’s Thanksgiving gathering, I looked around and realized that there were nearly 20 people in my home (which is about half as large as the average American house) and it didn’t feel crowded at all. After watching a documentary in which people discussed how living small changed their lives for the better, and realizing I have plenty of space even for big parties, I had redefined my own concept of what I “need” in a house, and I became happier myself.
Over the past year and a half of first-time homeownership, I have become convinced that my house has all the space I’ll ever need — with room left over! Seeing my home as the largest house in the world took time, but it has made me considerably more grateful of everything I’ve been blessed with in this world.
I can’t yet say I’m ready to live in a tiny house, but I realized that I share a lot in common with those homeowners. Many of them face skepticism, ridicule, and (God forbid) hostile zoning committees. People’s knee jerk reaction to living in a small home, not owning a car, retiring before age 35, or finding other paths to simple living is often “I could never do that, and you’ll soon realize that you can’t either.”
My response to this inability to listen to alternative viewpoints is always the same. “Everything is a choice. Some choices just take a little more imagination than others.” I doubt I could live in a tiny house tomorrow, but I view it as a completely legitimate way to live, and I would never try to persuade someone who does it willingly to come back to the “Real American” way of life.
Humans are highly adaptable creatures, but as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, our fear of losing things — even things we don’t want or need — can prevent us from adapting “downward.” It doesn’t take much imagination to answer the question “what should I buy today?” It takes a lot more creative thinking to answer the question “how can I live a better life?”
Living a better life often requires us to reevaluate our current choices and assumptions about the world. Even then, it’s much easier to recognize that we need to make a change than it is to actually get off the couch and act. It’s all too easy to resign ourselves to our current mindsets and comforts, and to say “when my life calms down I’ll get my future in order. Right now [insert excuse here] is unavoidable. I’ll start tomorrow.”
For years I’ve invited impartial third parties to give me an outside perspective on how to transcend my present challenges and become a better version of myself. Whether they are professionals selling advice, friends talking to me about their lives, or documentarians showing me a world I never knew existed, I’m always trying to learn from people whose beliefs challenge my own assumptions about what is true, what is good, and what is possible. Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power.
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for the time I spent with friends, old and new, who bring me new ideas, new stories, and help me become a better person. I hope to learn more in the new year, and to help teach others some of the things I’ve learned. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to help clients every day, and I’m looking forward to learning more that I can share with them in the future.
What are you thankful for this year? What steps can you take to make a change for the better? Perhaps it starts with a call your friendly neighborhood financial advisor.
Nathan is the CEO of Monte Largo Financial Advisors LLC.