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Friday, July 1, 2016

Quantity of Life Versus Quality - Another Perspective

This past week I was reading an article about Toronto's housing bubble. For years now, experts have been saying that there is a real estate bubble in both Toronto and Vancouver that will eventually burst with disastrous consequences. One of the "go-to" rebuttals that many people reach for is, "they've been saying this for years and it isn't happening - prices go up each year". This latest article though made one very salient point. The author talked about other examples of market bubbles throughout history, such as the tulip bubble in Europe in the 17th century. He noted that in every single case, the events that preceded the crash were exactly the same and the decline inevitably started when everyone in the market bought into the belief that the market couldn't collapse and then threw all caution to the wind and got in. That is what is happening right now. Think about it. How many people can truly afford to own an $800,000 house? The cost of carrying the mortgage alone is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4,000 a month and that is with the current low interest rates. Property taxes and utilities can take that up to $6,000 a month - that is $72,000 of after-tax income  just for your house - for 25 years! How much do you need to make to pay for that? $150,000? $200,000 per year? Sure, if you are frugal and work at a super high paying job, this is probably not an issue, but usually those kinds of jobs leave you with very little time left to do the other things that are important in your life.

My reason for starting this blog and leaving my old profession was because I felt that our quality of life was lacking and for some time now I have been having trouble with the idea of Steph and I not being able to buy a house. So this issue got me thinking again about the whole quality-quantity of life issue and this seems to be a good jumping off point to present another perspective on this.

To Steph and I, quality of life is simply having time to do the things that matter to us:

  • Building a profitable, but service oriented business serving stamp collectors;
  • Contributing to the field of stamp knowledge by writing blogs about stamps;
  • I am writing a book about life from the perspective of someone on the autism spectrum;
  • Steph having time to pursue her interest in comedy;
  • Spending time with those we care about and being involved in their lives;
  • Having time to spend loving our two cats;
  • Spending time in nature;
  • Being creative in various other ways;
  • Spending quality time together.
These are the most important things to us. But we recognize that our priorities are not the same as everyone else's. It's not that we cannot appreciate material things - we can - just as much as anyone else. But what Steph and I have come to realize is that the true cost of many of the material niceties that people so often seem to think essential, is often most of their available time. All the above things require one to have a lot of available time, especially when we think of maintaining relationships with people we care about, since there are so many. Most high paying office jobs leave you with very little time for the above and certainly not enough for all the above. As an example, in my old job, if I wanted to have time to work out and be healthy and get all my work accomplished, I typically had to be up at 5:30 am to have enough time, to eat, shower, get dressed, go to the gym and then drive to work. Then I would have to work until 6 pm most days, which means on a good day I'd be home by 7 pm. On the surface, it sounds like I would have a lot of time, but I didn't. Preparing and eating a nutritious meal would take until 8, and then if I wanted to not be sleep deprived, I had to go to bed by 11:30 at the latest, which would give me 6 hours of sleep. Experts say that most people need 8, so that would mean that I really should have gone to bed at 9:30. So after all that, I'd have 1.5 hours each weekday, or 7.5 hours to Friday. Then there is the weekend. However, unless I ran all my errands such as grocery shopping, laundry and cleaning during the week, I wound up doing it on one of the weekend days. So after this,maybe I had 12-18 hours on the weekend. All told I had 19.5-25.5 hours out of 112 waking hours in a week to do what was important to me. 

If you are the type of person who has lots of relationships in your life, those can take most of that available time. Being creative requires a lot more time than 25 hours a week. My average blog post can take me up to 3 hours to write, so on 100 posts, I have spent well over 300 hours. Now, I obviously didn't write those in a week, but I like to post twice a week to each of my blogs. So for three blogs, I'm looking at 10 plus hours a week. Experts say that mastering any new skill takes 10,000 hours. So if all you have is 25 hours a week, then to accumulate 10,000 hours of experience would take you just over 7 years, if you did nothing else with that time.This, I believe, is why in cities we are surrounded by people who are too busy to maintain relationships, especially casual ones, or develop creative interests. The reason is that they must ration their time, spreading themselves too thin. 

Consumption on the other hand takes very little time compared to creating. Think about it. You can spend all day cooking a wonderful meal and eat it in under an hour. You can spend years writing a book, but only a week to read a novel that someone else has written. The list goes on. So what tends to happen when people have so little time is that their consumption - of all things, goes up. They have the money to spend combined with very little time. It is very easy to get into this lifestyle and actually feel on some level like you are living, when in reality what you are doing is sampling the creations of others, without ever creating anything of your own. I'm not saying this is wrong - not everyone is creative. But for those of us who are creative, this type of life is the exact antithesis of happiness. This is what I mean when I speak of "Quantity of life". Inevitably, what happens is that no matter what comforts one has, it always feels like something is missing. 

After reading this article Steph and I started talking about how much we loved the Maritimes when we traveled to the Bay of Fundy and Nova Scotia two years ago. We started talking about moving there. Conventional wisdom is that this is a bad idea because of the lack of jobs there. But our business is online. Our customers don't care where we live. We are actually in a position to be able to take a business there and could wind up creating jobs for people there, who would genuinely be glad to have them. We couldn't believe the cost of housing: beautiful, 1,900+ square foot heritage homes for under $150,000. Now, that is a price we can live with. Sure, we probably won't make money on our house, but that is not what owning a home is all about in our view. Indeed, most so called real-estate profits are only notional anyway because the homeowner is usually either always trading up or buying another place in an equally expensive city. Making a profit on your home that you can actually spend on other things generally only happens when you are moving from an expensive area to a cheaper one. 

So we are going to start looking for properties in St. John, New Brunswick. If we can get financing, then by the end of the year, we will move there and continue developing the business there. From a business perspective it is an excellent move because we can lower our cost of living significantly, which means that we can pay ourselves less and retain more of the profits in the business for future expansion. So this next week will be a busy one as in addition to the E-bay conversion, we will have to prepare financial statements to take to the bank. 


  1. Question - How does moving to NB help with:
    - Steph having time to pursue her interest in comedy;
    -Spending time with those we care about and being involved in their lives

    I would thing that moving 1500 km to a place where you know nobody would be quite isolating - no particularly helpful in terms of staying connected to people you are close to.

    I understand the affordable housing aspect totally, but it is a big tradeoff.

    And I would think that the stand up comedy scene would have more opportunities in TO as opposed to Saint John.

    Have you started the 'Autism book'?

    1. Good questions. Basically the answer is that a large number of the people that we care about live far away from us already. Yes, we do have some friends here, but we can always come back to visit. It is a 12 hour drive, so it is a weekend trip.

      The reason for the move is to ease the pressure on the business. My premise is that there is nothing wrong with a start-up business that is already generating $3,500 per month. But things in cities like Vancouver and TO have become perverted to the point where people really believe that unless you are making 6 figures you aren't really economically viable because that is what it costs to make a life here. I have reached the conclusion that staying here is not a viable option for us because it is simply too expensive and I'm not willing to go back to a life where I'm somebody else's lackey for a paycheque.

      I am about 53 pages into the first draft of my book.

    2. Another thing is that when it comes time for the business to expand and hire people, there are government programs available to subsidize their wages. So it will be more cost effective to hire them and they get jobs - win-win.

      Finally we do intend to try and become part of the community there and I suspect that if we bring a viable business there that can employ people, that we will develop new relationships as well. It is very hard to make friends with your neighbours here because everyone is so focused on themselves.

    3. Hi there, Steph here! :) To answer your specific question regarding my interest in comedy, NB and NS both have surprisingly large comedy scenes. I am looking forward to jumping into the culture very much and feel that my brand of comedy will jive well with the scene there. Thanks for the comments. :)

  2. Are you performing any time this summer?

  3. Hello again! :) I'm going to switch gears and focus on acting so, I don't think I'll have the time but I'll certainly make a post about my comedic adventures at some point in the future!