How to quit working and find meaning in a simple life. Practical advice from someone who decided to drop out of consumer culture.
Bernie was one of the first people Brad met in Grad school and was the one person we were guaranteed to be sharing beers with on Friday and Saturday nights.
He is best described by his particular lack of interest in societal norms, which I’ll admit is common among engineering grad students, but was particularly pronounced in Bernie. The rest of us at least pretended to blend in. While Bernie would scoff at anyone suggesting his fashion choice of socks with sandals was a little unconventional during the wet west coast winter.
Viewing societal norms as mostly about peer pressure, he always chose what was practical, comfortable, and moral (within the boundaries of his vegan, car-free, and anti-consumer lifestyle).
This tendency continued upon graduation, where he eschewed his educational background, choosing instead to move back to his relatively isolated hometown and retrain for a job as a database administrator.
More recently, Bernie has decided to quit working altogether and become a stay-at-home husband.
Why would you quit working?
Lots of people talk about taking early retirement, but that brings up visions of a beach vacation home, exotic travel, and painting classes. Bernie hasn’t saved up for this nebulous idea of freedom. He views his choice to quit working as a reflection on the purpose of working just to support a consumer-based culture.
While I can’t help but compare his choice to that of John Galt in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, his sentiment is completely the opposite.
Here are a few reasons why Bernie decided to quit working:
- After working in the same industry for 10 years, he was bored by the lack of challenges and learning opportunities.
- Most of the companies he worked for were focused on selling cheap and relatively useless consumer goods rather than contributing to something worthwhile.
- His life was spent staring at a screen for 12+ hours a day, then repeating it all over again the next day.
- Most significantly, he was required to be on-call to ensure 24/7 operations. When he was in his twenties, it felt good to be relied upon, but after a decade, he and his spouse came to dread the alert his phone made in the middle of the night.
As Bernie said:
I’ve always been very conscious about the pros and cons of things I choose to do. After a particularly rough week, I recognized I wasn’t enjoying work anymore, so I gave my notice. That was 14 months ago, and I have no intention of working somewhere where I have to sit at a computer for 8 hours a day.
The Financial Cost of Not Working
Saving up for maternity/paternity leave, a year-long trip around the world or early retirement is a luxury that few city-dwellers can afford.
However, Bernie does have some financial advice for anyone wanting to quit working:
- I’ve been a saver all of my life. A few years ago, I stumbled upon the financial independence / retire early (FIRE) community. It became clear to me that having a predictable budget and investing in a relatively low-risk manner would enable financial freedom.
- We bought a small house (the smallest of everyone we know) in a low-cost city. And we chose to live within walking distance of our employers and commuted to work on foot or bike for 10 years.
- We minimized unnecessary monthly costs. No bank charges, no cable, and work paid for our phones, although I now use Public Mobile.
- Choosing to not have kids wasn’t a decision to reduce costs, but it undeniably contributed to our financial situation.
- It’s worthwhile noting that we’ve never played “Keeping up the with Jones”. We keep our purchases modest and intend them to last.
How to avoid being lonely and bored when you quit working
Bernie’s spouse still enjoys working and isn’t ready to leave her desk quite yet. So I asked him whether he was lonely or bored staying home on his own. Here’s what he had to say:
To be honest, I was more lonely at work than I am now. With all the online collaboration tools available, I used to be able to go through an entire workday without needing to verbally communicate in a meaningful way with anybody.
However, I have noticed that I don’t have a natural peer for the first time in my life. In school, there were schoolmates going through the same hoops. During my career, there were coworkers who were going through the ups and downs and transitions that happen in the workforce. All the parents I know have “parent friends” to share the developments of their kid(s) with. Now, I find myself without an in-person peer group for the first time. I’m ok with that, but it is different.
Bernie isn’t a sit-on-the-couch and watch soaps or play video games sort of person. He’s really embraced his role as a househusband and is as busy as ever.
Here are some of the things he’s started doing now that he has quit working:
- I am the primary homemaker now, so the groceries/meals/laundry all fall under my purview. It doesn’t sound like much, but allowing my spouse to get home and actually relax after working offers a huge improvement in the quality of life for both of us.
- It’s fun to learn new stuff and do some hands-on problem-solving. So I’m now doing most of our home maintenance.
- landscaping, outdoor structures (deck/pergola/gardens/fence), window and door replacement, flooring, plaster/drywall, painting
- appliances (repaired faulty sensor on a furnace, swapped out my hot water tank, swapped out elements on the oven, replaced a capacitor on my air-conditioner)
- basic car maintenance, plumbing, and electrical work (Emillie’s note: Bernie does have a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Electrical work isn’t the sort of thing just anyone should do).
- finances and taxes to avoid perpetual management fees and understand how the systems work
- There’s more time to get deeper into hobbies that I had less time for before. I’ve tripled the size of my garden and usually have a couple of projects going in my fermentation station. Most of our meals are made from scratch.
- I’ve been able to significantly increase the time I devote to jogging; it was hard to find an hour to get in 10km before, now I can get that in regularly. Similar with going for long bike rides; I was able to get in a couple of 100km days last summer.
- It’s a chance to get into more creative endeavors such as miniature painting and relearning the guitar.
- I’m volunteering with local festivals and causes that I’m interested in. Plus, festivals usually offer the perk of being able to attend the event for free.
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