How I Prepared For My Simple Life During My Complicated One

How I Prepared For My Simple Life During My Complicated One

I live a weirdly balanced life these days, with friends and work and a cheap lifestyle that still ends up fun, and adventurous. It’s a good life, I enjoy it – but there is also a decade of my life that was hectic, loud, and stressful – and I still couldn’t get enough of that.

But I always knew that one day, I would „retire“ to the coast like I have done, it just surprised me how quickly I stumbled into this new life. The past two years have been a joyride for me, largely thanks to the life I lived and the skills I acquired in preparation.

So, here goes, the complicated journey of living a simple life.

I demanded life give me power tools and skills

I praise you, cordless friend who changed my life trajectory.

These days, I am the guy you call when you need tools, someone to use them, or just an extra set of hands. I am the desk jockey with the chainsaw, the programmer who prefers angle grinders to Angular, the code monkey who climbs your roof to clean debris.

I was also the guy once who never believed that I could become good with tools, thinking you could only be a specialist, or nothing at all.

I still remember the day when I wanted to build an industrial table, and after spending like a dozen hours with a hacksaw, I got angry and ordered a Makita cordless recip saw. Don’t ask me my exact thought process, I just know that it was the single best bad choice I made with my money. I stood there, in the attic of my big city apartment, and when that hour-long ordeal was reduced to ten seconds per cut, my world changed. I have honestly never been the same since.

Living in the city, buying or renting a workshop was a bit out of the question – but buying an old work truck was not. The whole truck cost me less than two or three months of renting a workshop, and it carried all my tools, was my workbench on wheels, and allowed me to follow my passion of magnetfishing, without having to rely on the city cleanup guys to come pick up what we pulled out. Here, let me show you through this feature real of three years of my life:

Here is half a metric ton of scrap steel, all from the canal in the background. Mud, sweat and tears Your new hobby of making scrap art is just some YouTube videos, two car batteries and a set of jumper cables away.

Honestly, learning to use tools was such a game changer for me, and I never booked a single hour of classes. YouTube gives you what you need, the hardware store gives you what you want – and it all isn’t even all that expensive. I own maybe 2k worth of tools, and I could go much cheaper if I hadn’t bought all cordless tools to work off the truck with no power supply.

These days, my little basement workshop looks like this, and it creates handmade gifts, scrap art worth selling, and I use the tools every other weekend to help some of my friends. It’s really a game changer.

I can recommend watching MyMechanics, and Essential Craftsman, the former does great tool restoration videos that teach you all kinds of skills, and the latter is an old guy who is good at storytelling in addition to a lifetime in the trades.

I used the time to work through the common mistakes

Don’t tell anyone, but I had an old work truck workbench on wheels once, and I used it as a camper van sometimes. Shh, not so loud, someone could hear that.

I ripped the rear seats out, put a tool trunk in, which doubled as a bed to sleep on – surprisingly comfortable.

All kidding aside: I am honestly glad that I got the chance to try things out, and confirm my underlying suspicion that a camper van is fun, but not a solution to anything. Full-timing it is hard to impossible with laws, practical concerns and technicalities – and really, you are sacrificing too many things that don’t need to be sacrificed. Part-timing a camper van is okayish, but really adds too much overhead to a life you originally wanted to simplify. I pay less in rent now than what that van-truck cost me, I’ll leave that standing as it is.

My main point against a camper van though is that my car is actually doing a better job at it, and I have slept more nights in it during the last year than I ever did in that truck. You can sleep in it just fine, it even fits two people if you like, and you can still drive it to work the next day.

In the same way, I went through all the research to determine that neither log cabins nor house boats are viable in Germany – which is a pity – but doing that at a time when I had nothing better to do saves me a lot of time and pipe dreams these days.

I lived and breathed the corporate life

This may seem odd to you, but I am incredibly glad to have spent a decade in the corporate world, I got everything out of it that I could want. I was part of projects, part of the workaholics circle who got shit done, and part of the undertow of rumors, drama, highs and lows. I started out as a mere software developer, and ended with what my boss called „end-to-end responsibility“ as he tried to convince me to stay. I knew the lowest underground storage rooms, and the highest rooftop cocktail parties, the eerie silence of office floors by night.

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I was part of the crowd of people of team leaders, busybodies, overachievers and overworked and still underwhelmed people – and I was still just a programmer, didn’t even have to wear suits to work. I was in the room when the safe was opened, both literally and figuratively, and just in general a guy you didn’t mind being there when important things were being discussed.

I lived and breathed that life, and when the time came to quit I left on a high note, with my system intact and documented, and even stayed long enough to finish one last project with my favorite coworkers, when I could have taken my leave some three months before that. People questioned my sanity, but then, they had done that for years, and I was still functioning and getting a kick out of anything I probably should have hated, it was a really chaotic place at the end.

But I cherish those memories, and the people I made them with. One night, we got a whole chain of industrial printers running, to the shine of our phone flashlights because the light switches were in a locked office. But those letters needed to get out, and there was nobody left from the guys normally tasked with operating those machines, so we reverse engineered and tried things out, printed small batches to test how everything worked – it was just fun, plain fun. And the next day, coworkers pitied us for having to stay so long, and I pitied them for missing out on life and adventure in its truest form.

So, all in all, I really came full circle on the corporate life, and I am incredibly glad that I got to do that in my first real job, I doubt that I would ever get that chance again in the rest of my career. Also, I had the energy then to put up with the less fun times, I am uncertain if I would still want to do all that work a decade from now, no matter how much they could pay me.

I got all the hard work over with

I fastlaned life a tiny bit for a decade or so, stuffing productivity of all kinds into my days. Pushups during the time the coffee took to boil, Spanish lessons on the train, audiobooks when I was doing the dishes, and programming exercises on the days I came home early. At one point, I picked up lockpicking so that I had something to do while watching YouTube videos about crafting, and during one particularly dark winter, I finished a five-pieces paint-by-numbers while watching series on Netflix and chatting with the only chick that seemed interesting at the time. It’s not like I never lived life, hah. And ever other weekend I was out in nature, going on slow walks to make up for the fast week ahead and behind.

I raced my bike through the city in an effort to either find or outrun death, went urban exploring, and discovered my love for photography along the way. Then I bought an expensive camera and ended up using my phone more, because it cost me too much time to convert the images compared to having them right on my phone. Also, carrying a camera on a bicycle is freaking annoying.

There was also a bit of social life, enough to avoid being the workaholic loner, being the workaholic fringe-social-lifer was plenty enough for me with how boring those people were. Bars and clubs don’t come close to barns and logs, I always knew that wasn’t my kind of social life, but having a modicum of that still seemed sensible. But most of the people I knew outside of work, you could have poked them with a stick and not gotten any worthwhile reaction, I found it very disillusioning how boring people can be.

I always knew that I would have to eventually change my life and change my ways, but I never really realized how deep I went, and how close I came to the brink of losing it.

And that is what makes the foundation of my life these days, the relaxed guy who is fun to talk to, has a story to share and prefers listening to yours. I am not so much a different person these days as I am a logical conclusion of the life I lived, the sum of all parts.

The only difference is that these days, I am surrounded by fun people, who make a healthy work-life-balance much easier to consider.

So, to end this post, here is a picture of me on top of a bunch of logs, for no good reason.

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