Midlife crisis?
January 28, 2007 7:39 PM   Subscribe

Midlife crisis? So, my husband and I have spent the past few years working to live more simply. We recognized that we did not want to spend our lives working very hard to have more stuff. So, we have simplified and are thinking about what to do next.

We both work sort of ‘corporate jobs’. I am a Project Manager my husband is a Web developer. We are working on finding ‘the sweet spot’ on balancing living simply and doing the stuff we enjoy.

We are in a place where we could go almost anywhere and do almost anything. We are young, in our 30’s and have zero debt. We would like to tap into the hive mind on what sort of lifestyles are out there that we might not even know about.

We are looking for ‘outside the box’ ways of living and making a living. Neither of us is too keen on spending the rest of our lifes waking up every morning to go to a ‘normal’ job.

Our main constraint is we have a dog who needs some space and a chance to exercise every day. Other then the dog and our laptops we can live without pretty much every thing we have.

Ideas we have considered.
Traveling by RV to sell things at festivals etc. Moving to a foreign country. Building a tiny house in the middle of no where. Doing seasonal work in a resort area.

Have any of you tried any of the above (with a 70lb Labrador retriever)? Is there something amazing out there we haven’t thought of? Also, we know this will be give and take. What are the pro’s and con’s of your experiences?
posted by kantgirl to Work & Money (21 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Try this site.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:47 PM on January 28, 2007

I've done all of those things except the festival one. The main drawback is lack of health care. This is not a small drawback, especially if skiing is in your future.
posted by fshgrl at 7:50 PM on January 28, 2007

Last summer, we rented out a cottage on a lake in Ontario. The family who was running the resort/cottage business owns about 10 cottages in total along their strip of the lakeshore. They rent them out between April/May - September and occasionally in the winter, for the folks interested in ice-fishing and the likes. They bought the business from the previous owner when there were 8 houses and had added two more since then. They themselves live in a bigger cottage right alongside the others. I'm more or less ignorant of the logistics et al, but it's an idea.
posted by Phire at 7:57 PM on January 28, 2007

Maybe something like this?
posted by wierdo at 8:07 PM on January 28, 2007

Head for the Scottish Highlands and work a croft (not terribly easy to find, however). You can live like it's 1883, except you have broadband and free healthcare.
posted by bonaldi at 8:14 PM on January 28, 2007

It sounds like you are in the same spot that we are - except that in addition to the lab, we also have a toddler.

I think that the secret is to develop multiple income streams, so that you are not reliant on one source of income. This allows you great flexibility.

I sell soy candles at festivals and craft shows, and I must say that it is a lot of work for not much money. You would probably be better off picking up a temp job here and there than trying that route, unless you have something really unusual to offer.

If you have any money to invest, real estate can be wonderful. You can pay a property management firm to take care of it for you. But you have to find the right property in the right market. It's a tough combination to get right. We bought our 2nd house a couple of months after Sept. 11th, when everyone was too scared to do anything and houses were just sitting on the market. We got it for a steal and sold it for a nice profit a couple years later. In between, we rented it.

Some areas, like Omaha, NE are so desperate for teachers that you can teach with just a few additional hours of college credit if you already have a degree. The upside to this is that you would have summers off. The downside is that the pay isn't much.

I have read about people that learn to prepare taxes and work just a few months per year ... in fact, that's what my tax guy does. He's crazy busy for four months, but the rest of the year he spends fishing and engaging in other recreational pursuits.

Insurance is tricky. We have found insurance that will cover our family for $180/month with a $2500 deductible per family member. That's not that bad.

Feel free to email me. I can certainly relate. In our case, I think we're just going to take some time off and travel the country before finding new jobs.
posted by Ostara at 8:17 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have not done any of the above with a 70 lb dog, but I have done similar things. I am in my (now late) 30s and live in a rural location in Central Vermont. I used to live in Seattle where I did tech work. I bought a house out here for five figures that came with 40 acres of land and lived there for a while before I moved into a larger [N=2000 people] town. As Ostara mentions, it's good to have multiple jobs, especially seasonal ones. I like it out here. Here are some things to think about.

- health insurance is a deal to think about. In Vermont I get it cheaply because I don't earn a lot of money. This year I'll be earning more and will have to make some tough choices. There are social safety nets in some ways for people without insurance but I would not want to rely on them.
- urban vs rural. If you're not used to the country it may be weird for you. It may bore you, you may be annoyed at how uneducated people are (depending on where you go) or how young all the new moms are. You may wind up going in to the Big City to get your cultural fix and/or shop and/or see friends. There is a pervasive stereotype out here about the people who move here "from away" and then come to town meeting and try to change things (more streetlights, leash laws, whatever) so it's worth considering what a culture shift might be like to live someplace where everyone knows everyone and where closing your shades is a sign of "something to hide" and where the lady at the post office reads and comments on all your postcards. I like it, it's not for everyone. Moving to a town just a little bit bigger [N=5000] is a totally different sort of place. Coming here and complaining about how provincial everything is is not terribly appreciated but people do it all the time.
- self-reliance. it can be hard to remember, if you're plugged in to an urban community what it's like to buld up a support network. And I don't mean just friends to hang out with and people to talk to, but people to help fix your car, a dentist, a plumber etc. One of the hardest things for me living in really rural noplace was the "hit the ground running" aspect where I bought a little house and it needed a little work and I could do some of it but not all of it and I was holding the yellow pages thinking "who are these people?" since you can't look them up on epinions. Plus once you've pissed off the only electrician, you can really get yourself into a jam.
- work. If you're web savvy and committed to a simple lifestyle there are a lot of teeny jobs for tech people as long as you don't demand big city prices. I teach adult ed classes at a local high school at night and make some little web pages. It's not enough to make a living, but it's some cash. Doing resort work here is not fun. It's usually rock bottom wage jobs done by international students who get paid almost nothing but get to travel in the US and do a lot of skiiing. One of the htings that is hard for people to adpat to in a small town way is that a lot of low-end jobs are terribly unfun and worth avoiding if you don't need them. If you're used to being a project manager, you might have a hard time working in a real estate office, or at the food coop, or at a local farm. Then again you might not.
- network You talk about having your laptops and not needing anything else, but do you have connectivity? Pretty much every third town out here has no broadband options besides satellite which is still sort of expensive, so choose carefully if you're looking at moving to a small town. There are few internet cafes and even the public libraries that have wireless (I set up a lot of them around here) don't have a ton of open hours. Cell phones don't work at my house. I don't mind, but others might.

So in summary, there are a lot of cool ways to do what you are thinking of, in my opinion, but it's important to know what you are getting into at least somewhat before you leap into anything. You guys live in Texas. If you want to come up and visit Vermont, my email is in my profile. I love big dogs.
posted by jessamyn at 9:01 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

This might provide some inspiration: A Low Impact Woodland Home.
posted by androse at 9:41 PM on January 28, 2007

My wife and I are in our mid-late 30s and live in east central Texas. We both have science degrees and have steady, self-reliant income. In our situation, several years ago we began taking a hard, serious look at the culture of suburbia and sprawl (I think James Howard Kunstler sums it up quite well), and it became clear to us that we needed to make a change. We had a kid on the way, and saw our relatives getting on the "move to the subdivision with good schools and take on two jobs with 45-minute commutes to afford it" treadmill. Hell no. We short circuited that prospect.

We moved to a town with a population of 18,000, bought rural property, and built a 2-story house with our own sweat, all paid in cash with weekend trips to Lowes. It's significantly cheaper living out here, our auto insurance is peanuts, the post office is a piece of cake (important for my business), and we don't have to plan around rush hour anymore. And no mortgage payment... my income is all gravy, except for the IRS's share.

The downside of getting out of suburbia and the big city is you pretty much abandon the intellectual community. We've found some semblance of like minds around here, but we're in an ocean of borderline education and Bible belt culture. We don't yet know anyone our age who has a college education -- I can only conclude most such folks get the itch to leave when they're young. Not surprisingly my MetaFilter profile consistently shows "nobody near you, sorry". It can feel really isolated at times, but the Internet is a huge boon and makes it tolerable, socially. But it's a small price to pay, and we do have some good friends, though not what we'd call our peers. And we can always drive to the city to get a dose of culture.

I think what you have to do, if you're having any ideas of uprooting yourself, is to find that sweet spot between a tiny town and the big city. If you're set on big city life, that's fine. But you -can- downsize and still get the best of both worlds, and perhaps get on a more manageable treadmill or discard it altogether.

It's noteworthy that when we dumped the city, my wife initially had more of a sustainable living and "back to the land" attitude, and even mentored under a permaculture teacher in North Carolina, but in recent months she's been intent on staying in the town. Conversely, I've been warming up to our rural property. But my wife does have valid concerns about isolating our son too much... he's now 3. It goes to show that you probably shouldn't jump onto any extreme ideas. A compromise might be what the doctor ordered.

I'm in Texas halfway between Houston and Dallas... if you want to talk just email me in my profile.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:30 PM on January 28, 2007

I should also add that we're peak-oil aware, which factored into the decision to move where we are.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:31 PM on January 28, 2007

Me and my wife are in the process of something similiar.

It's me, my wife, and 3 cats. We decided to simplify our lives and move to London.

We sold most of our stuff, Moved into a smaller apartment, are in the process of selling our house, and once our cat's are past their 6 month blood test period, are going to finalize the move.

I'm over in London now, working at a new job. I'm fortunate in the sense that I can be mobile, especially since some of my skillset is needed overseas. (I make online games).

The impetus for all of this was waking up one day and feeling overly complacent with my work. Since work is such a huge part of our lives, I took a step back and re-evaluated what was important to me.

It was -
My wife
Making video games

I talked this over with my wife, and we decided to see what we could do to maximize this.

We also considered the fact that we actually had the luxury of doing such a major move.

The final consideration was the question of whether we'd do this kind of move if we didn't have to work. The answer was emphatically, yes, so we made the choice.

I'm under no assumptions that this will be the promised land. In fact, all I'd like is an adventure, change of pace, and different lifestyle.

Of course, It'll be easier once my wife gets over here (End of March), but so far, so good..
posted by Lord_Pall at 11:10 PM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

I once met a retired couple who worked as volunteers for the US Park Service. She had been a teacher and I don't recall his background but they told me they would volunteer for a few months at various national parks, and in return the parks would basically put them up and give them living wages. They lived and traveled in an RV. After their few months were up at one park, they'd move to another, and do some other sort of job. They said the Parks Service network was good about helping find the "next place" to go to, and they also got to see a lot of America doing that.
posted by Brittanie at 1:14 AM on January 29, 2007

> ...and are thinking about what to do next.

I suggest you get the book Radical Honesty and read it. It has the potential to transform your life, and in my opinion it's a great read.

It's not only good to prevent a midlife crisis - I wish I had discovered it a few years earlier.
posted by ideaguy at 6:05 AM on January 29, 2007

You should do this. Live sustainably on a Fijian Island. It seems a little gimmicky, but it's a better way to be a tourist.
posted by rmless at 6:37 AM on January 29, 2007

A friend of mine grew up on her parents' tree farm outside of Madawaska, Maine. That always struck me as something worthwhile, although you have a few decades to keep yourself busy depending on the type of tree you're raising. Nordic skiing is big in Aroostook County, you could be instructors in the winter, work a local potato or broccoli farm in the summer. Or, you could get licensed as a Maine Guide (or some other state eqivalent), and lead hunting, fishing, kayaking, and various other backwoods outdoors trips.

If you like the outdoors idea, the Appalachian Mountain Club has lots of seasonal to year round gigs, including being hut caretakers (more info for the White Mountains huts). You meet an amazing diversity of people along the AT, along with day hikers to the various summits. A grungy type of existence, but perfect for some. You could also save up for a time and train so as to hike the Trail yourself! Great way to get out of the world for a year, and dogs can go too!

Alternatively, if you'd love to travel, my boss' in-laws are attached to a U.S. university but travel to all their exchange universities around the world to be the students' liason to their host school and back home. They are currently living in Italy, near Torino. I have no idea how you go about getting that gig, but that seems just about perfect for any one academically inclined who wants to see the world.

And, on a more personal note, my aunt is coming home after 30 years operating sailing and scuba tours, along with owning a glass-bottom boat on Guam. Your dog will have to go through quarantine, and you'll need to learn some mechanical and boat skills, plus geting various licenses, but if you want to live in a tropical paradise with American amenities (albiet at a price), that seemed like quite the life.
posted by nelleish at 6:44 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

My first thought on reading this -- honestly -- was that you're too young to call it a mid-life crisis. On the other hand, if you wait another ten years without making these sort of adjustments, you may feel even more angst. So, go for it. Follow your dream.

In my case, I quit my job when I was 38 and I'm now self-employed in my mid-40s. I second everything that people say above about having multiple income streams, especially if you can have one or two that are steady and reliable if one of them tapers off. Also concentrate on your savings -- financial crises will occur, and you'll need to be ready for them. It's great that you have so little debt; keep that habit.

About health care, it's not just the insurance, which can be expensive in itself. If "something happens," your coverage may only be "catastrophic," meaning that you must meet a deductible of a few thousand dollars before insurance starts to pay. For example, a year or two ago I had to pay close to $2000 for a routine procedure. As you get into your 40s and beyond, these things will come up more and more.

More on health care, access is another issue. You may dream of living on a mountaintop or a remote island, but is there an ER nearby? In our case, we moved to Galveston (smallish island city) four and a half years ago. Now we're getting ready to move closer to Houston to get better access to better health care. YMMV of course.

At your age, I think the idea of traveling, doing seasonal work at resorts, then moving on, etc sounds great. If you can keep moving now, maybe by the you're (cough, cough) my age you'll find the perfect place to settle down. Or maybe the traveling life with agree with you. Give it a go!
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:16 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a side note, I highly recommend zazen, for help in living more simply.
posted by koudelka at 7:41 AM on January 29, 2007

I have a good friend in NC who is a CPA. He works three months of the year in Chicago, doing taxes, then works his own non-profit, animal welfare project back at home.

I did something similar on a daily basis... working from 4 AM util noon on revenue work and after noon, on my non-profit activities.

One thing to consider if you can is that income doesn't have to come in steady streams; chunks are just as good if you can husband them well during the dry times.

There is no reason to have to enjoy your work either. The most lucrative things are sometimes the least enjoyable. If you can stand the stress in the short term, you get to live as you wish the rest of the time. For instance, an electrical engineer (EE) who worked for me once made his money changing out bulbs on transmitter towers... he charged $1/foot of altitude. Sometimes, he'd make $1500 in a day. He paid for his college education that way.

Another EE, one of the most distasteful SOB's I ever worked around, made MOST of his annual income from maintaining slate roofs. What he would charge made EE work look silly.

Last item in this list... another friend (Anapolis grad, Wharton MBA) makes his living now as a recruiter. Works from home... money comes in in HUGE chunks, infrequently.

There are many ways to accomplish what you want. Be creative and open to a 'why not?' attitude. Good luck. I applaud your ethic.
posted by FauxScot at 8:26 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I expected "What Color is Your Parachute?" it to be trite like most career choice guides but was pleasantly surprised. Deciding which of myriad potential options would work best for both of you is a complex task and potentially daunting. The book is a little quirky but gives you a workable, common sense framework for doing this.

PS: Personally I like your approach of narrowing down your options in terms of "lifestyle must support dog" - I think you'll find that helps filter out a number of poor choices.
posted by rongorongo at 8:39 AM on January 29, 2007

moving somewhere cheap could help make it easier to support yourself and live simply. there are urban and rural options that seem nice. we live in pittsburgh where we bought a decent-sized house with a small yard outright for $20,000 and where there is a $30 per month decent health insurance program. our neighborhood, while not considered to be the best, is very nice because while it is in the city we still have many friends and most of the places we go on a regular basis within walking distance. basically it's a self-contained neighborhood that just happens to be inside a larger city (although that can be convenient too on the rarish occasions when we want to get out of our area, and because it's a city we can generally take public transportation to those places). on the small town or rural side, it might be worth looking into small university towns and the surrounding areas. these places tend to have more going on culturally than the average small village. the obvious plus of living anywhere cheap (especially a foreign country where it is really, really cheap), is that you will have to work a lot less and have more time to do whatever you like. also, if you're able to be self-employed you'll have more flexibility to travel for months and so on.

or you could join a commune. twin oaks is a nice one, and they take some pets.
posted by lgyre at 1:00 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

also, if you're the right sort of person, housemates are nice. they reduce your ecological impact and expenses because you can share a lot of things, and are also really enjoyable if they are good friends.
posted by lgyre at 6:12 PM on January 29, 2007

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