A place of my own

Two months ago today, I asked my wife for a divorce.

I won’t be writing about the personal aspects of the divorce at Get Rich Slowly. In fact, other than some brief background at my personal site, I don’t intend to write it about it on the web at all. Kris and I are both emotional wrecks right now; the wounds are fresh and raw for both of us.

Note: Kris and I are working together to build the best possible relationship going forward. We’ve seen folks go through bitter divorces, and neither of us wants that. We want to remain close friends. So far we’ve been successful.

That said, I can no longer avoid sharing the truth with GRS readers. Too many of my financial decisions — present and future — are tied to the divorce. I’m hunting for health insurance, for instance, and I’ll have to re-evaluate my asset allocation. And ten days ago, I moved to a new apartment.

Living Small

For the past eight years, Kris and I have lived in an 1800-square-foot house on three-fifths of an acre. The place also includes a large garage, a workshop, and a couple of out-buildings. Plus, I’ve been leasing an office up the street. Despite working to reduce clutter in my life, I have a lot of Stuff. I’ve written a lot about wanting to simplify, about wanting to live in a smaller space, but I’ve been reluctant to take the necessary action.

Now, though, I’m moving. And because I’m moving, I feel obligated to practice what I preach. While part of me wants to find another house (Kris is keeping ours), I know it’s better to find a smaller space and to adjust my life to fit it. Thus, I’ve been looking to see how some of my friends manage to live not-so-big lives.

For instance, last fall Tammy — who writes about simplicity at Rowdy Kittens (and who shared a GRS reader story about the benefits of biking) — moved into a tiny house. The entire home is only 130 square feet! She and her husband had me over for dinner recently, and I shot some video of the space:

I loved Tammy and Logan’s tiny house. The floor plan is well-designed and functional. Still, I’m not ready to live that small just yet.

Instead, I opted to rent an apartment.

The Apartment

While most folks were spending Thanksgiving week, well, giving thanks, I was hunting for apartments. Some might consider going from house to apartment a step backward. I don’t mind. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, I actually believe renting can be a great choice for the right person. In this case, I think I’m the right person.

While searching for a place to live, I tried to take a lot of things into account. Price was important, obviously, but so was the age of the place, the layout, and, especially, the location. Over the past five years, I’ve come to place a premium on walkable neighborhoods, and I know I wanted an apartment with a high walk score.

I found a place I liked in a good location near downtown Portland — the biggest drawback is that it’s right next to a donut shop (danger! danger!) — and signed a lease. But then I started to worry that I was paying too much. By comparing notes with other people, I’ve since decided that while I’m not getting a bargain, my rent is reasonable.

Best of all, the apartment has a walk score of 88 (very walkable) and a transit score of 73 (excellent transit). And because I’m an avid walker, I can reach neighborhoods that the Walk Score app doesn’t consider. (As a comparison, our house has a walk score of 49, meaning car-dependent, and a transit score of 32, which means it has some transit.)

I’ve been in my new place for ten days now, and I like it — but it doesn’t feel like home. Still, I’m trying to make the most of these 705 square feet. Instead of just talking about how much I want to cut back on clutter, I’ve been faced with tough decisions every day. Which books do I keep? Which comics? How many pairs of shoes? How many jackets? Do I really need (or want) my records and record player?

By making judicious choices (and with the help of some new furniture from Ikea), I think I’ve reached a good balance. My new place contains the things I need — but it’s not filled with a lot of clutter and junk. It’s my hope that this will continue for the foreseeable future.

Fear of the Future

Now that I have a place to live — and now that I’m mostly unpacked — there are other problems to tackle as a result of the divorce.

For one, how do I handle health insurance? For eighteen years, I’ve been on Kris’ policy. Not anymore. After the divorce is final, I have only a few weeks (or maybe even just a few days) before my coverage with her carrier lapses. I’m the sort of guy who might risk going without health insurance for a few months or years, but Kris won’t have it. “We are not getting a divorce until you can prove to me that you have health insurance,” she told me the other day.

Meanwhile, what do I do about my office? Does it make sense to continue to rent that space? Should I find someplace closer? More importantly, what about day-to-day stuff like laundry and groceries. Obviously, I’m capable of handling these chores on my own, but due to the division of labor within our marriage, I’ve always relied on Kris to handle most of these chores. Now I’m going to have to budget for food, plan meals, and buy supplies on my own.

Kris has lots of questions about the future too. She’s still in the house, after all. How will she handle the yard work? Who’s going to take care of her car? And so on. But she too is capable of handling these things on her own. Besides, we both agree that figuring out the chores is inconsequential to figuring out the big stuff, the emotional stuff.

For now, Kris and I are still in constant contact. We had dinner Friday night, I drove by the house yesterday, and we’ll have dinner together tomorrow night. Plus, we still plan to share a vacation to Argentina in a few weeks. If one of us gets into trouble, the other will be there to help. Our marriage may be ending, but our friendship isn’t.

All Good Things

2011 was a wonderful year. I met some awesome people, visited nine countries (U.S., South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Canada, Peru, and Bolivia) and five states, accomplished some long-standing goals, and generally lived life to the lees (to quote my favorite poem).

Having said that, the last six weeks have been very difficult. In fact, they’ve been the darkest days of my life. And the start of 2012 is going to be a challenge. Why? Six weeks ago, I asked my wife for a divorce.

I’m not going to discuss the whys and wherefores of this decision on the internet. Kris and I are both experiencing enough stress as it is. I’ll only say that there’s no acute crisis here: nobody’s cheating on anyone, and nobody’s doing anything rash.

This process is harder on her than it is on my, obviously, since I’m the one initiating it; but trust me: the divorce is no piece of cake for me either. I’ve turned into an insomniac. I sleep maybe four hours a night. And three times in the past two weeks, I haven’t been able to sleep at all. It’s miserable.

Kris: “Those are the only two benefits of getting divorced: No clutter and I’m eligible for a Roth IRA again. Wait. Are you writing this down?”

While I’m not going to write online about my reasons for choosing this path, please understand that I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it was in the best interests of both of us. (Kris disagrees, obviously.)

Also, it’s important to note that Kris and I are working together to build the best possible relationship going forward. We’ve seen folks go through bitter divorces, and neither of us wants that. We want to remain close friends. And so far — after six weeks — we’ve been able to do that. We’re still living in the same house (although I move into an apartment this weekend), and we plan to see each other regularly. We’re doing a “kitchen table” divorce, where we make the decisions and then have an attorney translate them into legalese.

Our biggest conflict so far? (Other than the divorce itself, I mean.) Who has to take the TV? Neither of us wants it. Not kidding. But that problem solved itself last week when it self-destructed while Kris was doing her morning exercise. Now neither of us has to be burdened with it!

This news comes as a shock to many people; others are unsurprised. My request is this: Please be supportive of Kris. She needs it. (I need it too, but I know many people aren’t inclined to support me right now. I get that.)

Some will probably view this divorce as a sign of failure. I don’t see it that way. I’m glad to have spent 23 years with Kris, eighteen of them as a married couple. But that chapter has come to a close. It’s time for us to start new adventures, both together — and on our own.

Though our real-life friends have known of this decision for six weeks, and Kris made an announcement on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, this is the first time we’ve put the news out onto the web. I’ll mention it at Get Rich Slowly soon, as I describe the process of hunting for health insurance and acquiring a new apartment.