When we tell our friends that we have actually moved 18 houses in 34 years, they are incredulous. Not that we designed it to be that way. The husband is also not too fond of nomadic life. We simply moved when life and work needed us to. What did we learn in the process? First of all, our racing was above everything else. We had our backs to the wall when we started, as we come from very humble backgrounds and had no heritage. Even the traditional homemade things that our parents wanted to give us, we reject. We wanted to build it ourselves. So we went where our work took us. Professional growth and opportunity determined the decision on where to live.
Second, two of those 18 houses were owned by us. We bought one when our parents complained that we hadn’t “settled down” even after 15 years of being married. We bought from a place where my office and the kids’ school were close by. Within a year, the kids went to boarding school and I accepted my dream job that required a 25km one way trip. So we moved! When needs change, we also change the house. We did not allow the house to dictate our lives.
Third, every time we moved, we realized how many unnecessary things we were accumulating. We started the practice of giving things away. And little by little we learned to consume less. The rule was to keep the attics clear at all times. We saved a lot by questioning our purchases considering that we could move. Our furniture also became minimalist as it had to fit into the Third, every time we moved we realized how many unnecessary things we were accumulating. We started the practice of giving things away. And little by little we learned to consume less. The rule was to keep the attics clear at all times. We saved a lot by questioning our purchases considering that we could move. Our furniture also became minimalist as it had to fit together.
Fourth, we made a great circle of friends. These are people who shared our joys and sorrows where we live. They became part of our lives. We can still go back to Hyderabad, where we lived 34 years ago, meet our friends for a meal and laugh about our time there. The richness that a diverse group of friends can bring to one’s life is unfortunately greatly underestimated. In these days of social media, it’s strange that we call people with whom we don’t have shared experiences “friends”.
Fifth, we were able to treat many expenses as expenses and manage our assets according to our goals and needs. Tying up money in bulky assets like a house leaves very little to save and invest in liquid assets. Since we primarily paid rent, we didn’t pay high interest on a home loan, or lock up our money in a house we didn’t have the heart to sell. We liquidate what we don’t use and move on.
Sixth, we treat our rental house as if it were our own. We kept it in good condition and thoroughly inspected it to do everything we needed to before we signed up. Sometimes we split the costs with the landlord and adjust it on the rent. But we are spared the trouble of continuous home improvement. Many of our friends routinely find something to replace, renovate or repair in the houses they own. We do not bear that burden.
Seventh, we lived far away and commuted to work when we started. So one of us stayed closer and the other traveled. So we both managed to be closer to work. The burden of commuting to work can be deadly, especially in a city like Mumbai. We were able to improve as we moved up the career ladder, renting closer to work, because we weren’t married to that house we first set foot in, or that corner where our first child took his first step. Being pragmatic about our house helped us save time and energy.
Eighth, we did not settle for guests. We were a family of grandparents, parents and children. And the other group of grandparents visited often. Brothers and their families also came, but we all slept on a large padded rug in the living room, which allowed the older ones to use the bedrooms and the children to squeeze into one room. We don’t invest to impress; nor did we furnish rooms that we rarely used. The house was simply functional, warm and welcoming with no frills. When some of our friends (yes, from Delhi!) told us that we lived in rabbit holes, we shrugged it off Mumbaikar style.
Ninth, we are happy to leave behind things that the owners found useful. Air conditioners in a house; the garden terrace in another; the security gate door in the third; the big refrigerator in the room and so on. These were not high value items per se. But for an owner who wanted to rent to a company, or wanted to turn it into a guest house, it was valuable. We received our advances in full and on time for goodwill. They also spread a good word. Relationships are more valuable than money.
Tenth, our personal finances have performed fantastically from this combination of decisions that we have made. We earned more as we took advantage of all the opportunities that were presented to us; we spend less since we do not incur the typical expenses of homeowners, and we also buy less; we had no loans and crushing EMIs that left enough to save; our assets were liquid, divisible, of increasing value, linked to the market and therefore flexible to access them when we needed them.
When they tell you that moving house is a pain, involves uncertainty, jeopardizes wealth and career, think twice. It may not be so bad after all. If you had land to farm, or a business that has been in your family for generations, being grounded might help. Those of us who work for a salary can do better with a healthy dose of mobility.
We only had one rule: we wanted to stay together as a family. So when one moved, the spouse made adjustments. We had our ups and downs, but we knew eventually it would all balance out. We simply decide that our jobs and careers will not be rescued by a house, even if we own it, or by a place, even if everyone we love lives there. We were still willing to move to Timbaktoo if a challenge or an opportunity arose there. Go ahead, we’ll tell it wholeheartedly to anyone who wants to listen.
(The author is president of the Center for Investment Education and Learning)