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Changing Your Life- Step One: Get Lighter

Posted by on Jan 29, 2012 | 9 Comments

Many people have been asking Shelly and I about the process we used to get to the point where we could travel around in an RV full time. The process was relatively simple, though it did take some time.  Over the next few days, I’m going to go through the steps that worked for us.  Most people could probably apply the same principles to reformat their lives and follow their dreams.

Step One: Get Lighter

Most of us are bogged down with too much of the things that make it difficult to radically change our lives.  We have too much debt, too many bills, and too many material possessions.  As an example, we had many former colleagues that routinely complained about working for our school district. Teaching is a peculiar career in that moving almost always requires a significant pay cut.  They couldn’t sacrifice their present lifestyle to make a move.  The goal of this step is to create a situation where you will have the freedom to make radical decisions.

We’re going to use a three-pronged approach to solve this problem and make ourselves lighter.  We’ll eliminate excess to gain freedom.  We’re going to address:

  • Debt,
  • Expenses, and
  • Junk

Killing Debt

Our original “plan” had nothing to do with traveling the country in an RV.  We just wanted to stop living paycheck to paycheck.  We were in a situation where almost all of our take-home income was spent on debt payments.  The only way we could afford anything was to finance it.  It sucked.

I did a little research and stumbled upon Dave Ramsey.  I liked his approach (The Total Money Makeover), so we decided to start his debt snowball plan.  He breaks the process down into manageable steps, which includes ideas like starting an emergency fund, paying off the debts from smallest to largest to build psychological and financial momentum, and never buying on credit.

Over two years, we eliminated car payments, student loans, the debt from purchasing our mattress, and a host of other debts.  Eliminating these debt payments allowed us to live on a significantly reduced income, which ultimately gives us the freedom to do what we do.

Killing Bills

Part of Ramsey’s plan involves reducing expenses and directing the money toward debt payments.  For us, this meant reducing our spending on things such as groceries, eating out less, and only purchasing stuff we absolutely needed.  This also involved eliminating bills like our elaborate cable plan.  We went from a $150 per month bill down to $45 (basic cable + Internet).  This also included our land line phone, newspaper subscription, and gym membership.  If we didn’t need it to live, we eliminated it.

Killing Junk

In the beginning, Shelly and I had a ton of crap.  We actually had a storage unit for some of our junk.  We started by eliminating all the stuff we had been wanting to eliminate but never had the motivation.  This stuff was truly garbage.

Next came the stuff we had been keeping around in case we needed it… someday.  This stuff was pretty easy to eliminate, too.

The next wave was more difficult- the stuff we either used occasionally or had some distant sentimental value.  The first few things we eliminated weren’t easy.  For the stuff we occasionally used, like tools, we had to find alternatives if that item was needed.  In the case of tools, we just borrowed them from friends.

The sentimental stuff was more difficult.  We decided to take a middle-of-the-road approach and gave ourselves six Rubbermaid containers to save stuff we couldn’t take with us in our RV.  By the time we were done, we had given away about 80-90% of our possessions.

The Next Phase

The process of getting lighter took us quite some time.  We could have done it faster, but we didn’t have a clear goal in the early days.  If we would have dived in head-first, we probably would have finished the plan in less than a year.

The next phase is another that will take time- building a platform.  I would recommend starting the second phase at the same time as the first.

Stage Two: Coming soon!

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9 Comments

  1. Barefoot Running University » Changing Your Life- Step Two: Build a Platform
    January 30, 2012

    [...] Changing Your Life- Step Two: Build a Platform Posted by Jason on Jan 30, 2012 | No Comments Check out the first step here. [...]

  2. Jason Fitzgerald
    January 29, 2012

    For those out there that have a ton of functional stuff that is too good to throw out but you don’t use it, check out your local freecycle (freecycle.org) group. I’ve gotten rid of a ton of things too good yo put in a landfill. I know “too good” is always relative but for me, if I know it is getting used by *someone* I am mentally alright with parting with it.

    -Fitz

    • Jason
      January 30, 2012

      That’s an excellent idea! I often forget about freecycling as both a method to get rid of stuff and a method to acquire things you need for free. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Erik
    January 29, 2012

    Yah, for me, the secret to a simple life is to keep moving residence. It forces you to throw or give away non-essentials every few years. Plus, it limits one’s ability to set up a life-numbing routine. Finally, Einsteinina relativity comes into play; as spatial change accelerates, time slows down. You end up living more life in terms of bits of information processed.

    • Jason
      January 30, 2012

      Erik, excellent point. We lived in the same residence for seven years prior to the RV adventure and we collected A LOT of junk. I like the idea of moving frequently.

  4. steph
    January 29, 2012

    The steps you highlight in this post are great even for people who don’t plan to live in an RV. We have been living like that for the past 6-7 years, except that we probably own more crap than you guys. If we moved it would be hard to get rid of all out books.
    It really helps us focusing on what is important to us. We have 1/2 our previous income, 2 kids, but we do a lot more than we did before and still have time and money to travel.

    • Jason
      January 30, 2012

      Steph, that’s an excellent point. Traveling around in an RV obviously isn’t for everyone, but these steps will allow anyone FAR more freedom to do anything.

  5. Aaron (aka on BRS Alejandro 10)
    January 29, 2012

    Hey Jason,

    My wife and I really appreciate these lifestyle posts that you post from time to time. Thank you for having them in your repertoire.

    Gracia y paz,

    Aaron

    • Jason
      January 30, 2012

      No problem, Aaron! Glad you find them useful, this is the reason I write about this topic.