A place of my own

by J.D. Roth

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.

Updated: 16 January 2012

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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