I was stumbling through my living room the other day, catching my feet on various building blocks, puzzle pieces, and a tangle of fishing line that had previously been used to suspend our homemade space station from the second floor balcony, when the thought occurred to me, “Damn, I sure wish this house wasn’t such an enormous mess!”
Mrs. Money Mustache must have read my mind, because right then she joked, “It looks like we really need to hire a house cleaner!”
All of us know this was said in jest, because come on, Adm Karpinsk would not be seen outsourcing his floor sweeping even if he had wealth one hundred times greater than Warren Buffett’s bridge playing group. But just for a second the idea seemed comforting.
You see, we’ve been busy lately. I did a push to finish the carpentry work on the foreclosure project, we went away on vacation for part of the holidays, and Mrs. M. has been sucked into some honorable but rather draining work helping out her parents with a worker shortage in their family business. This means that nobody has been cleaning up the house for the last few weeks, and things have gotten crazy.
But instead of masking the problem with a housecleaner, we left it there to stare us in the face to remind ourselves that there is indeed a problem.
“Wake up, Mustache Family! You’ve overcommitted yourselves, and it’s time to scale things back to become more reasonable.”
Every day should include some time for peaceful reflection and reading, exercise, cooking good food, and a good night’s sleep.
If you scoff at this idea because your life is far too busy to allow it, let me put it this way: “Every person who is trying to saw through a twenty-foot thick tree trunk by hand, needs to take time occasionally to sharpen the saw blade when it gets dull”.
“But I’m too busy to sharpen the saw!!”, you say.
“Ok, fine, you keep sawing with that dull toothless saw, and I’ll take a rest while I sharpen mine, and we’ll see who gets through first”.
(hint: it will be me).
So we made some adjustments to our lifestyle, and today I had time to do a wonderful cleaning and reorganization of the whole main floor of the house. It’s beautiful again, and my whole schedule has opened back up to include more free time.
Our next example is a thirtysomething man who is busy advancing his office career. His metabolism isn’t automatically keeping him slim anymore like it did at age 18, and he doesn’t have time to exercise. He has started to gain weight, to the point that his favorite office pants are now getting tight at the waist.
What’s the solution? Does he buy bigger pants? This would solve the immediate problem of belly pinching, and allow him to get on with more pressing matters, like continuing to perform well at the office, right?
My solution is the opposite: put those damned tight pants on and keep wearing them. When they bite at you, it’s a reminder to take the stairs instead of the elevator, eat a piece of grilled salmon instead of a chocolate bar and bologna sandwich, and to start walking and biking more. Those tight pants are your biggest ally in addressing the underlying problem – if you give them up, you’ll be allowed to forget what the real problem is: your lifestyle has become unhealthy and you’re doing everything with a dull saw!
And there are so many more examples, once you start to view your life this way:
If you find it takes too long to get to your office by bike, you won’t solve the problem with a car. The problem is not that biking is too slow. It’s that you live too far from work! Keep biking to remind yourself of this, and the problem will solve itself, either through fitness or switching houses or jobs.
If the stairs to your 20th floor office leave you out of breath, the solution is not an elevator – it’s a stronger body that can get you up in a timely manner! Keep walking the stairs and the problem will be solved properly.
If you find you don’t have enough money to pay the bills or to afford something you really want, the solution is not borrowing the money! You have a problem of your wants not being aligned with your current financial reality. There are only two ways to fix this: earn more, or in many cases in wealthier countries, gain control of your wants, and therefore your costs.
On a bigger scale, when a city finds its road network overrun with automobile traffic jams, the solution is not to build more lanes for the traffic. The problem is that too many people are living somewhere that makes it easy to take a car to get to work. The solution is to reduce both the need and the incentive to drive! If the zoning allows plenty of housing to be built near the jobs and stores (increasing supply which drives down prices), and the roads are left crowded and unexpanded (which makes people dread the thought of buying a far-away house), guess what choice they will start making more often?
In all areas of life, embrace your problems. Solve the easy ones as quickly as you can. And as for the more difficult ones: let them build up around you and stare into your face so you can do battle with them like a real man or woman. Make no mistake about it – you can either have a good honest boxing match with each of your problems, and win eventually. Or you can turn your back on them, and they will walk over and punch you in the back of the head when you forget about them and start watching TV instead.
If you keep your problems visible, you’ll automatically keep your life from getting unnecessarily complicated.
“Oh yeah, I can’t buy myself a horse for mountain trail riding, because I don’t have time to ride it – my time is already occupied by keeping myself in good shape. Hey! Maybe I’ll take up mountain trail walking instead!”
Problems are often incorrectly thought of as our enemies – things to be avoided and warded away with credit cards. But really, they are our best teachers. Do you like learning? There’s no better way to learn than to be forced to solve your own problems.
Once you stop masking problems and truly realize that they won’t go away until you solve them properly, you will find that you suddenly get serious about fixing them. And when it really comes down to it, all of the most serious problems of modern life are caused by not solving their precursors when they first come up.
Because of all this, I still have a fence that I’ve been planning to build for three years, and the vegetable garden went unplanted last year. I have not yet attained the Vin Diesel level of fitness that I promised myself back in the Health=Wealth article, and I’m not yet the drummer in a funk band even though I deeply desire to be one. I’m far from perfect, but I leave all these shortcomings out there staring me in the face and challenging me to get more organized.
Every year I am getting a little bit ahead – and so are you!