This last week I ran across a TED video about a couple who had a house full of stuff and $18,000 in debt. They sold all their stuff except what could fit in a couple bags and went backpacking in Australia.
Good for them for having the courage to make a big change. I am impressed, but I’d be more impressed if they had sold their new home and moved into another one 20 years older and half the size.
It’s easier to get rid of all your stuff than half your stuff. If you get rid of all your stuff, you’re deciding to hire other people to meet your needs. You can get rid of your house if you’re willing to rent your shelter from hotels. You can get rid of your pots and pans if you’re willing to pay restaurants to prepare your food with their pots and pans. You can get rid of your car if you’re willing to pay a cab driver to take you everywhere you need to go. Moving into a smaller home, with fewer pots and pans, and selling one of your two cars may be harder.
I don’t know whether these folks are still living as tourists. But if they haven’t bought another house yet, they probably will some day, though maybe one much smaller than their first house. The sequence
large house -> no house -> small house
may be easier than
large house -> small house.
Extreme change is often easier than moderate change, for better or for worse. Extreme change can be more impressive, so people who sell everything get invited to talk at TED, whereas people who cut their living expenses by 20% and slowly pay off their debts get 30 seconds on the Dave Ramsey Show. People who sacrifice to achieve their goals slowly while maintaining their responsibilities are less impressive at first glance, but more impressive after more thought.
Extreme change can also be temporary. Lottery winners go bankrupt. People on starvation diets end up heavier than ever. One extreme change can lead to another extreme change in the opposite direction.
However, you can also use the ease of extreme change to your advantage. The book Change or Die is all about making extreme changes wisely. (The book grew out of this article.) Radical change requires fewer decisions, and leads to encouraging results sooner. Along those lines, I love the story of Eric Coyle, a mediocre student who suddenly became extremely motivated and took up to 64 credit hours in a semester.