When Susan and I decided to retire a year early, I worked out a comprehensive financial plan for early-retirement. The plan called for us to conscientiously economize for two years, our last working year and our first retirement year. With some strict economizing we’d be able to cut out early and still leave our retirement accounts and Susan’s social security untapped and growing until we reach age 70. We called it “living small.”
Little did we realize that our decision to live small would trigger a profound transition in how we lead our lives, think about our roles in the world, and how we make decisions.
We’ve had time to explore more deeply our life values…
The end result was that Susan and I developed a genuine appreciation of our home life and had time to deeply explore our life values. As Susan and I spent winter evenings in quiet discussion of our plans for the transition from workaday life to living on gentle cycle, while we gazed at the fire during quiet interludes, we came to realize how our spending decisions are links in chains of cause and effect.
We took time to consider how our spending choices affect our human and nonhuman neighbors and how we felt both physically and emotionally as a result of those choices. We eliminated a lot of unnecessary consumption, but the biggest change we made was our food purchasing habits.
During the year our food purchases gradually shifted from vegetarian to vegan as we gradually altered our dairy purchases at first to organic products until we finally eliminated milk, butter, and cheese from our grocery list. Similarly, the proportion of our spending on processed foods fell dramatically too.
Our experience while living small over the past months has been overwhelmingly positive. I think in large part because we committed to it together, we monitored our progress, and we talked about how we wanted and needed to adjust as our experience unfolded.
Living Small in Retirement
If you’re considering living small in retirement, it may be helpful to talk with your partner about:
- What you’d like to accomplish. You may need to reduce your expenses to avoid outliving your assets, or you may focus on independent self-reliance. It’s nice to have a shared idea of what your objective or goal is, whatever it may be. It keeps you working together.
- Identifying your ideals. Thrift may be laudable but it’s not the only thing you should consider. We found our shared commitment to respecting our resource heritage is more important to us than the money we save by living small.
- Being flexible. If spending 95 percent of your food budget on meals prepared at home sounds good in theory but your social life slipping away bothers you, find other means to reinforce your values.
- Maintaining awareness. Notice how your spending decisions are both cause and effect, internally influencing how you feel about your well-being and how your decisions affect other people and the planet.
Through living small, we’ve come to realize that our material wealth is only a small component of our ability to lead fulfilling lives. We spend more time on nearly every purchase. We embrace a more carefully considered set of guidelines that reflect our most important values.
Living small began as a budget plan to get us to gentle living more quickly but it evolved into a philosophy of mindful consumption.