At the end of 2015 I realised I had to stop ignoring my ever growing credit card debt. It was out of control. With two maxed out cards and a third nearly there, I needed a plan to get out of the debt cycle. I looked at my cash flow and realised that I was lacking both cash and flow.
Living in Sydney is expensive, not only the housing crisis has pushed rental prices so far up that it is getting hard to share an 2 bedroom apartment between only two people. Suddenly, the idea of not paying rent for a year seemed like a good way to start. I decided to leave my comfortable apartment and amazing, colour-coordinated, walk-in closed to tough it out.
I would spend 12 months couch surfing and house sitting, redirecting rent money to paying off debt. Sounded simple enough.
1. Comfort Zone Smash Down
I was completely thrown out of my comfort zone. It was strange, at first. Every week, I would “move” to a different place. All routines seize to exist. The drive to work would be different every week, and so was the supermarket, the park where I would go exercise, the coffee shops. Everything. Truly having a fresh start, all the time, was amazing. I felt more productive, even though I was living out of what I could fit in my car. Not having “all my things” around me was liberating and I felt more creative and energised. That leads to the third lesson.
I went from a walk-in closet full of clothes and shoes to carrying only seasonal clothing in my car. I haven’t donated all my possessions (yet) thanks to a kind friend who lent me some garage space. However, after 12 months on the road, I’m seriously considering a bulk donation to charity. All of it: clothes, shoes, books, utensils… You name it. Those items we keep because one day “we may need it”. It’s all going. I realised what I need is a roof over my head, clean clothes to wear, and food. I dream of buying a sailboat to live in it. Disposing of all clutter now will certainly make way for that. If you are thinking you could never do it. Stop. Minimalism can be tailored to you. You don’t have to throw away your book collection, for example — I saved my favourite ones for when I have a house again , but I certainly don’t need more than 10 pairs of shoes!
3. Debt Free Freedom
The most important lesson was that debt decreases your freedom. That shiny credit card that arrives in the mail with the promise of “free money” isn’t free at all. You pay a high price for it: your independence. You turn that over to the bank, and you are forever scared of doing spontaneous things, like quitting your mindless job to volunteer in Costa Rica, or take an extended break to go surfing in Indonesia. Those amazing experiences that enrich your life and help you grow. Instead, you become addicted to the instant gratification of buying things you don’t really need. At least that was my case. No more.
The best two best things about this whole experience were not exactly lessons.
The first one was living in different suburbs completely changed my view of this city. I’ve got to experience the best places all over Sydney. I learned to drive everywhere. I no longer “make a face” when I’m invited to a party that is more than 10 kms from my suburb. I can now say I truly know this city.
The second, and most important one, was spending time with my friends on a regular basis changed our friendships. I feel much closer to most of them now. I always made a point of not treating their house as a hotel. I cooked dinners, I helped clean, I shopped. We had countless hours of great conversation over food and drinks. Politics, economics, movies, bitcoin, sailing, relationships… you name it. It was fun and it was real, and I’m forever grateful for their kindness and friendship.
The 12 months are up and I’m not 100% debt free yet. I’m getting there. There is no doubt in my mind that it will happen, mostly because the cycle is broken. I now understand the difference and hope to have inspired you to check it out and make room for change in your own financial life and to also get to know your surroundings and connect with your friends.