When we tell our friends that we have in fact moved 18 houses in 34 years, they remain in disbelief. Not that we designed it to be that way. The husband doesn’t really like the nomadic life either. We just moved when life and work needed us to do so. What did we learn in the process? First, our careers were above everything else. We had our backs against the wall when we started, as we came from very humble beginnings and had no heritage. Even the traditional household objects that our parents wanted to give us, we refused. We wanted to build it ourselves. So we went where our jobs took us. Career growth and opportunity determined where we lived.
Second, two of those 18 houses belonged to us. We bought one when our parents complained that we hadn’t “settled down” even 15 years after our marriage. We bought at a place where my office and the children’s school were close. Within a year, the kids went to boarding school and I took my dream job which required a 25km drive one way. So we moved! When needs change, we also change homes. We didn’t let home dictate our lives.
Third, every time we moved, we realized how much useless stuff we were accumulating. We started the practice of giving things away. And we slowly learned to consume less. The rule was to keep attics clear at all times. We saved a lot by questioning our purchases bearing in mind that we could move. Our furniture also became minimalist because it had to fit into the third, every time we moved we realized how much useless stuff we were accumulating. We started the practice of giving things away. And we slowly learned to consume less. The rule was to keep attics clear at all times. We saved a lot by questioning our purchases bearing in mind that we could move. Our furniture also became minimalist because it had to fit in.
Fourth, we have formed a huge circle of friends. They are people who shared our joys and sorrows where we lived. They have become part of our lives. We can always go back to Hyderabad where we lived 34 years ago, and meet our friends for a meal and laugh about our time there. The richness that a motley group of friends can bring to one’s life is sadly so underestimated. In these days of social media, it’s strange that we call people we don’t have shared experiences with “friends.”
Fifth, we were able to treat many expenses as expenses and manage our assets in accordance with our goals and needs. By tying up money in large assets like a house, there is too little left over to save and invest in liquid assets. Since we were mostly paying rent, we didn’t pay high interest on a home loan, nor did we lock our money away in a house we didn’t have the heart to sell. We liquidated what we weren’t using and moved on.
Sixth, we treated our rental home as our own. We kept it in good condition and carefully inspected it to do everything we needed before signing up. Sometimes we split the cost with the landlord and adjust it in the rent. But we saved ourselves the trouble of the continuous modernization of the house. Many of our friends usually find something to replace, renovate or repair in the homes they own. We did not bear this burden.
Seventh, we lived far away and commuted to work when we started. Then one of us stayed closer and the other commuted. Then we both managed to stay closer to work. The burden of commuting can be deadly, especially in a city like Mumbai. We were able to evolve 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 steps. Being pragmatic about our home has saved us time and energy.
Eighth, we have not solved for the guests. We were a family of grandparents, parents and children. And the other group of grandparents visited often. We also had siblings and their families but we all slept on a large padded rug in the living room allowing the elders to use the bedrooms and the children to squeeze into a room. We didn’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 we were living in rabbit holes, we ignored it Mumbaikar style.
Ninth, we were happy to leave behind things the owners found useful. The air conditioners of a house; the terraced garden in another; the security screen door on the third floor; the large refrigerator on the fourth and so on. These were not bulky items per se. But for an owner who wanted to rent to a business or who wanted to convert it into a guest house, it was invaluable. We received our advances in full, and in time for the goodwill. They also had a good word. Relationships are more valuable than money.
Tenth, our personal finances have done fantastically because of this combination of decisions we’ve made. We gained more by seizing all the opportunities that came our way; we spent less because we didn’t incur the typical expenses of a homeowner, and also bought less; we didn’t have crushing loans and EMIs that left enough money to save; our assets were liquid, divisible, growing in value, linked to the market and therefore flexible to access them when we needed them.
When they tell you that moving is pain, involves uncertainty, jeopardizes wealth and career, think twice. Maybe it’s not so bad after all. If you had land that you farmed or a business that you’ve owned as a family for generations, being grounded might help. Those of us who work for pay can do better with a healthy dose of mobility.
We only had one rule: we wanted to stay together as a family. So when we moved, the spouse made adjustments. We had ups and downs, but we knew it would all balance out. We have just decided that our jobs and careers will not be held hostage by a house even if we own it or a place even if everyone we love lives there. We remained willing to relocate to Timbaktoo if that was a challenge or an opportunity. Go ahead, we will say wholeheartedly to whoever wants to listen to us.
(The author is president of the Center for Investment Education and Learning)