The corporate dream

I’m going to have to put off getting right down to complaining and take care of some housekeeping first. It looks like this will be somewhat of a second intro post. For those keeping score, that’s two intro posts in only three total posts. I think that’s pretty impressive. Why the second intro? I was recently approached about joining mytrendingstories.com as a contributor. Obviously I accepted and am excited for the opportunity. The venture should be mutually beneficial – I feel I can contribute some unique perspective/content to their site and in turn increase the exposure of my personal blogs beyond what I would ever be able to do myself. I also happen to like what they’re trying to do over there: truly diverse content without censorship. Anyone that’s read TheWhiteboardPig knows I’ll eventually put that claim to the test, but for now… on to complaining!

Not long ago, I read an absolutely amazing article that delved into the true purpose of the 40 hour work week. You really should read it for yourself; it is worth every minute of the many minutes it takes to read. But if you’re feeling lazy or pressed for time and that makes you unwilling to read it, it’s probably because you just worked eight hours and are attempting to live your life in what little time is left over… and that’s the idea the article revolves around. The 40 hour work week drives consumerism as you attempt to treat and convenience yourself to satisfaction (by spending money) in what little time is left over to live your life. Our society is carefully planned and constructed to control labor, and this type of populace manipulation does not stop at the 40 hour work week.

After a couple of weeks of meeting with home builders, speaking with well drillers, realtors, HOAs, and bankers, the future picture of this “living cheap” endeavor is becoming more clear – it’s not going to happen… at least not without a major struggle and a lot of creativity. And it’s why it is not going to happen easily that got me thinking about that above mentioned article. What could be more simple than stripping down non-necessities and living cheap? Surely it’s consumerism that keeps us slaves to corporate America. It’s all my expensive hobbies and eating out that force me into working a higher paying job I don’t like over a lower paying job I would like (or no job at all). If I just gave up my excessively expensive hobbies and stopping buying stuff I don’t really need, I could just drop of the grid and go hiking every day. Well… that’s what I thought. Turns out, it’s far from that easy and that good old “shelter index” lie is back to bite me in the ass. If shelter costs are the best place to reduce living expenses because they’re the average person’s largest expense (by far), then surely they’re also a prime method of labor control.

We live in a society, and after briefly skimming some numbers it appears to be true the world over, in which it is nearly impossible for the average person to own shelter without going into a lifetime of debt. Never until now has it hit me how absurd it is that owning one of the basic tenants of survival is literally impossible to legally achieve apart from borrowing massive amounts of money. It’s just something we live with and accept. Everyone knows how the American dream goes. You become an adult when you buy a house. No matter how old you are, you aren’t “grown up” and living like an “adult” until you’ve strapped yourself with 30 years of debt. We’re sold this “dream” since childhood, along with $200,000 college degrees that score jobs at Starbucks, shiny stone rings that cost two month’s salary but wholesale for 5% of that, and increasingly larger weddings that decimate savings accounts across entire family units. We’re sold the idea that people who rent are in some transient state or somehow adolescent and irresponsible. Responsible Americans “own” (i.e. rent from bank) houses. End of story. Boil it all down and you’re not a “responsible adult” in America unless you’re drowning in debt it will take you literally your entire life to pay off (if ever). And once you’re saddled up with all that debt, don’t forget to consume your entire paycheck away… except that 401k pretax money you give to Wall St. banks to manage at a hefty fee they receive whether you win or lose.

But but but… you don’t HAVE to do that stuff. Almost anyone just can buy a $50 Wal-Mart tent manufactured by starving, Chinese five year olds. True. Where do you propose they set it up? It certainly isn’t going to be in a park or other public property. Even the Forest Service is cracking down on people long-term camping in places where it’s… perfectly legal to camp. So you’re going to need to buy some land. Easy enough. There are still plenty of places land can be had relatively cheaply, and that’s exactly the part of the process I happen to be at. Cheap, nice land located. Turns out even after you get the land, our planned, labor controlling society has ensured you can’t live on that land without spending large amounts of money. Building codes have square footage minimums and structure type restrictions. Covenants spell out what you can and can’t do with your own property. And when you summarize it all, guess what these things tell you that you aren’t allowed to do with your own property? Live on it cheaply. As I mentioned in my prior post, you can forget tiny homes, RVs, small mobile homes, or anything that would be possible without bank involvement for those not independently wealthy. Build a house you’ll need a huge loan for or enjoy looking at your vacant lot.

There is no better way to ensure compliant, desperate labor than to strap everyone to a debt grenade they’ll never be able to remove. Building codes and HOAs conspire to ensure that affordable shelter is an impossibility. Affordable shelter would remove what is, by far, the largest expense every American has. This would make workers less fearful for their jobs, less servile, and less desperate to kill themselves working up the corporate ladder to “get ahead”. Those are things corporate America would never stand for. If the 40 hour work week induced consumerism is the gun to the head of labor, then shelter costs are a nuke. We may have higher living standards than that starving, Chinese five year old, but our corporate masters have still ensured we give all that extra money right back to them whether we want to or not.

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The Plan (intro part 2)

In case you’re one of the people not seeing this an hour after I published part 1, you might want to go read part 1 or this will make no sense. Here’s part 1 right here: part 1.

So far we’ve established that I can’t write stories, I hate the idea of a full-time job, and I’m not independently wealthy, but still trying to work as little as possible or not at all. Where does that leave my life? We’ve come up with countless business ideas and tried to do small stuff to make extra side money. Problem is, almost everyone else is in the same boat we are: trying to cut costs. So unless what you’re selling is a “get rich quick” scheme (or weed), the chances of success are small. So again, with no increase in revenue, we’re down to strictly cutting costs. Where do we begin?

Contrary to what CPI calculations tell us, housing expense (the Fed calls it the “Shelter Index”) is not, in this universe or any other, realistically weighted at 32%. Outside of the fantasy land the Fed must live in (which is the real world for the rest of us), I think that 0.60-0.70 would be a far more realistic range of shelter costs for middle class (at the time of this writing, that was still a thing) Americans. So if we’re going to be reducing costs that’s certainly where the cuts need to start (plus, utilities are already dirt cheap in CO, taxes aren’t bad either, and we both drive paid off, reasonably new cars). Buy a cheap piece of land, throw a tent on it, …., profit. Right? Turns out… no. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So here’s how the “let’s reduce the ‘shelter index'” is going so far…

– Let’s find a cheap place to live in the Denver metro area:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

That idea crashed harder and faster than a Windows 10 computer.

We’ve been toying with the idea of a tiny home for a few years now. When you lead an active lifestyle and are almost never home, you really don’t need extravagant or large living accommodations, just somewhere to shower and sleep. We attended the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs last year shortly after moving to Colorado. After looking at a few $100k+, 400sqft boutique tiny homes, that idea was dead in the water. What’s the point of living in something smaller than a shed if it’s going to require nearly the same mortgage payment as a regular house? Then I found out that the family of a friend from work custom builds tiny homes, so we figured it’d be worth checking out (this company: Tiny Diamond Homes). After touring their model house and a work-in-progress that were far better quality, more well thought out, and far more affordable than anything at the jamboree, that idea was not only back on the table, but seemed like the best way to go. Now it was a matter of where to put it…

– Let’s find a cheap piece of land not too far from the metro area and… live on it somehow:

Amazingly, not all land for sale within a half hour of Denver is bought up and developed. This initially came as a surprise to me. It didn’t take too much effort to find many pieces of land for sale along the I-70 corridor shaped by zoning departments that draw property lines with Spirographs. These were within driving range of our current jobs and downtown, yet far enough into the mountains to be very affordable, quiet, and private. This is an actual 2 acre lot we looked at in Idaho Springs – “gently sloped”, cleared of trees, and mountain views:

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Or maybe it’s the finishing gully of the Sawtooth traverse. It’s really hard to tell the difference. After driving to a few properties, a theme began to emerge… if it’s cheap, it’s probably the side of a mountain (i.e. a “gentle” slope you’d need crampons and an axe to get up in the winter), miles up a totally bombed out dirt road with no winter maintenance, a mine-claim-turned-land-offer shaped like a cut up Picasso painting, or all of the above. Turns out it also costs a small fortune to drill a well through solid rock at the top of a mountain, another small fortune to get electric ran from miles away, and a few kidneys for a septic tank – never mind leveling the hill-side and the all but certain surcharges for getting heavy equipment up a road that would be a challenge even in an ATV. So this attempt crashed and burned fairly quickly as well.

– Now, knowing what to look for, let’s find a FLAT piece of land that already has some improvements (at least a septic tank) and we’ll go as far away as necessary for it to be affordable:

As we soon found out, you have to go pretty damn far from Denver to tick all those boxes. Thankfully, the Salida/BV area is beautiful and both towns are awesome. Sure you’re going to be limited to like one grocery store and it’s going to be far away. Gas is $0.50 more expensive than it should be. There aren’t 200 breweries within a 15 minute drive. There’s no good paying jobs. There’s no jobs at all. But those are minor details at this point.

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OMG FLAT LAND!!!

 

That’s it. It’s flat. It’s cheap. It has septic (and a canoe, a park bench, a broken generator, some damaged wind chimes, a scary looking machine gun nest looking thing, and a pair of Salomon skis w/bindings). Buy it. Now I have nothing to blog about.

If only it was that easy. No matter how far into the sticks you go in this state, it seems impossible to escape covenant controlled communities. Yes, this piece of land out in bumfuck Egypt has an HOA. The fees are at least cheap, which seems to be half the battle (ever-increasing HOA fees that start at $250/month really put a damper on cheap living). The other half of the battle with these HOAs is that it seems no one told them they’re overseeing a rural subdivision two miles up a dirt road and 150 miles from the nearest city – not a gated, mcmansion community in Beverly Hills. So just throwing that tent down? Not going to happen. RV? Not allowed. Tiny Home? That’s too confusing. Is it an RV or a house? No one knows… so we’ll just not allow it… just in case. Manufactured home? I’m not even sure if they understood what that was. Shipping container for easy, cheap storage? Not a chance. Can’t you just build a $2mil custom log cabin like everyone else? Apparently these parcels of land are for the independently wealthy only, because there’s no way in hell anyone is dropping $300k+ to get a regular house up and running on one of these pieces of property, then making the payments off one of the only five, all minimum wage jobs available in a one hour radius.

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The struggle is real.

 

But the saga continues, because we aren’t giving up that easily. The covenant doesn’t actually exclude tiny homes (or shipping containers, for that matter), even though the HOA board wants to try. We’re looking into modular homes or maybe even just building a very small cabin. The jobs issue remains to be sorted out, but with cheap enough living expenses and (please baby jesus) Colorado Care passing, a part-time crappy job might be plenty sufficient. Maybe I’ll eventually feel like a real wise ass and turn this blog into a “can any working class person actually make shelter costs have a relative weight of 0.32 and not die from exposure?” Maybe the Fed will subsidize me researching that.

Until then, I guess this blog will be about the saga of attempting to live cheap and free of ties to a full-time job – with some side adventures thrown in. Unfortunately/fortunately, that will probably provide large amounts of material for a long time to come.

New Beginnings (because every first post deserves a cliché title)

I created this blog a good while ago and it’s sat idle until now. As I wrote about recently on Whiteboard Pig, I’ve always known I wanted to write about something less irritating than politics – preferably my outdoor adventures. I haven’t been sure what direction or angle I wanted to take. Outdoor adventure recounting blogs are a dime a dozen and most of the bloggers have me beat in both photography skill and equipment, as well as story telling ability – a writing style I never have and probably never will excel at. “Stuff to do in Colorado” type blogs/websites aren’t any less common. News9 has someone writing up some bullshit almost every day. I certainly wasn’t going to start simply writing trip reports, because 14ers.com already has those in spades and with all the constant mishaps and questionably non-fiction (read: incredibly dramatized or straight up fabricated) writing in those reports, I’d rather just read them than write my own.

I thought that if I gave it time, some epic climb or misadventure would occur and be worth writing about. But those came and went, and still I never felt compelled to write. I spent twenty minutes that felt like twenty days with only two, extremely marginal points of contact on the side of a 50 foot cliff, sans rope, and never felt like writing about it. We were nearly whited out with storms rolling in at the top of Colorado Mines Peak, and while the moment I heard my trekking poles buzzing is seared into my memory, I didn’t care to write about that experience either. At the end of the day, those would still just amount to trip reports. Even with all the dramatizing I could possibly muster, there are a million and one people out there doing far more hardcore and crazy stuff and writing about it and/or taking awesome pictures. If it’s not even interesting enough to write about, then strangers certainly aren’t going to want to read it either. So what would the point be? Unfortunately, none of that really even put a dent in my desire to actually put some content in this blog aside from the skin’s stock photo/example post that’s graced the front page mockingly for months.

Something most people don’t know or don’t understand (or possibly can’t even comprehend) is that the primary purpose of moving to Colorado was not a change of venue or desire to do new things. Certainly those benefits factored in, but far and away the primary purpose of the move was to take the first step towards a radical change in lifestyle. Most in my generation are slowing drowning while attempting to get a career launched. Some still live with their parents while they milk college for literal decades. Others work what jobs they can get and make the best life they can. The ones unlucky enough to have careers are slaving away to advance them and attempt to save for a retirement that’ll likely never happen. None of these options appeal to me. Not only have I not pursued career advancement, I have actively avoided it – taking promotions only when forced on me. Although I enjoyed college and there are many things I’d love to study for my own edification, I can’t even fathom going back to school while working full time. Being less than a year away from 30 also brings with it a life perspective that no longer includes the “I’m young, I’ll do that later” filter.

This all brought about the idea for a change. A life spent sitting behind a desk at a job that is neither mentally stimulating, nor beneficial to society is a life wasted. When thinking about these things I often recall a story I was read when I was a child. So as not to increase the length of this already excessively long post, the extremely Cliff Noted version goes like so: A young boy discovers a magical ball out of which feeds a piece of thread. This thread slowly feeds out of the ball and disappears. This thread ends up representing his life. He can pull the thread out of the ball to fast-forward his life. He begins by using it sparingly to fast-forward through illness and very unpleasant times. As the story progresses, he pulls the ball with increasing frequency and during increasingly minor inconveniences, ultimately bypassing major chucks of his life until he very quickly finds himself old and realizing he skipped most of his life. The moral of the story was supposed to be about taking the bad times with the good. However, I’ve always looked at it differently. Every day at work I pull that string. Every Monday morning that I wish it was Friday I pull that string. Every time I daydream of that upcoming week of vacation, I pull that string. Every time I do something at work to “kill time”, that’s literally what I’m doing, wishing my life away, killing myself. And when I’m old, just like the kid in the story, I’m going to have all the same regrets about “killing time” my life away and spending 60% of my waking hours wishing it was already the short, five hours of the day I’m free to do as I please.

So why not just get a more fulfilling job? Seems like the obvious solution. Truth is, I don’t want to work 40 hour weeks at any job, no matter how rewarding. We all have one life to live and I want the absolute maximum amount of time to do as I please and actually bond with my fiancé rather than spend five days per week texting on breaks, then staring at a TV at night in a burnout coma. The more fulfilling job is my backup plan, not my goal. But how is anyone supposed to survive without working, especially in Colorado with its absurd rent prices? It’s easy. Wealthy people do it all the time. With a top marginal capital gains tax of 15%, if you have just a million dollars you can easily live a simple life off dividends alone. If you have more than a million, which most do, you can live lavishly while contributing absolutely nothing to society or even actively destroying it… but now we’re getting back into politics and I promised I wouldn’t do that.

Well, I’m not independently wealthy and don’t stand to become so no matter who dies, so there needs to be another way. As anyone with even a shitty CCSU business degree can tell you, if you can’t increase revenue then the only way you’re going anywhere is by cutting cost. Thankfully, my fiancé and I retained decent paying jobs through the move and are not penniless hipsters living in a tent in someone’s backyard in Boulder (jk, faux progressive Boulder would never allow that shit – buy a mansion or go to hell, aka somewhere on Colfax). So we have some money saved and a current income:expense ratio that allows for plenty more to be saved if yummy food and REI could please stop interfering.

You know what? People these days have the attention span of half a goldfish (dead goldfish concentrate even more poorly than live ones). I probably already lost 90% of readers in the first two paragraphs. I’m just going to hit the publish button now and make this a multi-part series (that scores some blogging cool points too). Stay tuned for part two, which will be out in as long as it takes me to write it…

Exploring Colorado one weekend at a time!