Sunday, February 28, 2010

From Supersize to Minimize

We've all heard ad nauseum about corporate downsizing and its ripple impact on the economy. What the media has failed to report are stories of real people who have had to downsize. People who were once in the top 1% of the population with wealth in excess of $1 million who have since been reduced to the verge of bankruptcy.

"Jim and Sophie" and "Kevin and Monica" came to Nevada from Texas and Colorado respectively in 2005. Like my husband and me, they were established builders lured to Nevada by the seeming unending need for luxury homes. Jim and Sophie rode the rising tide in prestigious Roma Hills. They built and sold three luxury spec homes in three years, and spurred by their success, they built two more homes and bought two more bare lots, ignoring the predictions of a sagging global economy. After all, Nevada seemed recession-proof with the unending development of casinos and live entertainment. In fact, Wynn was about to open its second property, Encore in 2008.

Kevin and Monica built and sold their home and upgraded to a larger one and were building another spec home. Then, the financial markets imploded right before the historic US Presidential elections of 2008. As house values plummeted, Jim & Sophie and Kevin & Monica watched their personal wealth dwindle to the point that they could no longer afford the payments on their spec projects for which they had borrowed heavily to build.

In less than nine months, these couples were forced out of their homes unable to renegotiate with the banks on their loans. These banks had been "bailed out" but were in no mood to bail out small business owners who had been productive members of society, providing consistent employment to several construction tradesmen.

Our fate had been slightly better because my husband had been more astute about reading the economic signs. Our loss while great was not as significant. We were able to leave with dignity, offering our home at a loss to us, but not to the bank.

Yes, due to the uncertainty, we decided to downsize and minimize. Who needs a 7000 SF home after all and three dining room sets and five bedroom sets? And all the decorator items we had accumulated but really did not even use. It helped put things in perspective. We are luckier than most. We still own assets and we learned an important lesson. Minimalism is something to embrace. All the household items we collected for years for the kids - they don't appreciate them as much as we do. All the trouble and expenses we incurred storing and transporting them for years were in essense a waste.

Minimizing is good. It frees us to focus on the important things in life and helps us thank God for our health and family and real friends. This is true wealth - that which frees rather than encumbers.

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