How much does it cost you to exist for one hour? Size matters

house How much does it cost you to exist for one hour? Size matters

How much does it cost you to exist for one hour? Have you ever asked?

Just for a rough guess, add up all the expenses of replacing the stuff that breaks, the cost of going to your job, your mortgage, taxes, tuition bills, gifts for relatives and friends, etc. Then divide by 8,904 (the number of hours in a year, assuming an extra 6 hours to offset for leap year.) How much is that? Is it higher than the US minimum wage?* If it is for you, you no longer have to wonder why you are broke. If you work forty hours a week, there are an additional one hundred twenty eight** uncompensated hours your wage does not cover.

It is my goal each year to reduce the cost of my hourly existence by .10 per hour. That is a pretty hefty goal considering all the upward pressures corporations keep heaping on me to buy more stuff or pay more fees to power what I already own. (PNC, Apple, Vectren, DP&L, Anthem BCBS, Amazon; I’m talking about you!)

It’s not all about money even though that may be the easiest scale to keep track of the cost of existence. It also about time and the quality of the experience. A friend of mine remarked to me several years ago that the worst thing she ever did to her life was buy a house and move to the suburbs. She had a baby at the time. (Since grown and graduated from college. They are still in the house she hates.) She had her epiphany while mowing the lawn and weeding the garden. For an average home of 2,000 sq ft, this usually takes a solid morning every week. If you then factor in “recovery” time for hot and humid weather, that is pretty much a solid day every week beating back nature.

She realized that the whole time she was mowing the lawn, she could be spending that time with her daughter, exploring the insides of a library or museum, flying a kite in the park, taking a road trip to someplace new and exciting or biking a trail. Instead, in her quest to give her daughter a higher quality of life in the suburbs where she was “supposed” to raise a child, she traded the opportunity of experiences for an anchor that demanded a day of her life every week. To further depress herself, she started adding up the hours she spent commuting to her job twenty miles away, the cost of maintaining the car and her work wardrobe and daycare. Fortunately, she stopped before any depression set in.

I think most of us live like that, denying how much cost our lives demand of us in time and treasure, simply because this is how we are supposed to live. A responsible parent does not raise her children in the middle of a city. A successful executive doesn’t live in a one-bedroom walk-up and walk to work.

Some people like spending that time in the garden and for them, it is worth the cost in time and treasure. That is ok. For them, that is the smaller life. For all we know, if they did not have a large yard and flower beds to mow and weed, they would be spending their money and time in speakeasies instead of libraries.

Both the New York Times and MSNBC ran stories yesterday on couples living the simple life. I’d link to them, but I already spent the obligatory five minutes searching for them. Too much clutter to deal with, so if you care enough to read them or check my facts, you go find them. I already had the experience. As usual, the media is getting this all wrong. They are focusing on the expense side of thing, i.e., how big a place to live, how much they spend, etc, and ignoring the overall quality of simple. I’d like to see how families are living simply too, not just a couple, but that is probably an entirely different rant.

I predict what we will be seeing in the next several years is marketers and retailers “packaging” the simple life, inflating the cost of it and re-selling it much like they sold the American Dream of a house in the ‘burbs, surrounded by a yard you have to mow every week, stuffed to the gills with crap that breaks on a cycle of planned obsolescence. And most of us will buy into it and never notice our time and money wallets are being picked.

For now, I use a simple formula when adding anything to my life. I ask myself a series of questions: How long will this last? How will I dispose of it when it wears out or breaks? Can I repair this? Will this cause me more time commitment? Will this reduce the time I already spend on ‘maintenance’ tasks? Where will I put this? Will this reduce my hourly cost of existence? Will this make me happy? It surprises me how often the answer to at least one of those questions causes me to put something back on the shelf, click away from a website or hang up the phone.

That is just “stuff.” Julien Smith has the start of an excellent treatise on the “cost and return of friendship” with his blog entry, Follower Hyperinflation. It may not have been the original intent of the article, but it can branch in so many ways. I suppose you can also explore the cost of contracts, volunteerism, family, etc in much the same way.

Ironically, this thousand or so word blog post was originally over three thousand words. If some of the arguments are incomplete and transitions appear a bit choppy, it is probably because they are. I had to hit publish at some point and the keeper of the deadlines was banging down the door. Add what you feel I left out or argued badly in the comments.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about “The smaller life.” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

Veronika Miller, @modenus Modenus, Brighton
Paul Anater, @paul_anater Kitchen and Residential Design, Florida
Nick Lovelady @cupboards, Cupboardsonline, Alabama
Richard Holschuh, @concretedetail Concrete Detail, Vermont
Rufus Dogg, @dogwalkblog DogWalkBlog Dayton, by way of Minneapolis
Cindy Frewen Wuellner, @Urbanverse Urbanverse

Becky Shankle, @ecomod, Eco-Moderism
Saxon Henry, @DESIGNCOMMOTION Chair Chick, NYC
ABC Dragoo, @abcddesigns abcddesign, NYC
Sean Lintow, Sr., @SLSConstruction, SLS Construction, Alabama
Steve Mouzon, @stevemouzonThe Original Green, Miami Beach
AptTherapy, @AptTherapy, Apartment Therapy

*In case you are wondering, my number for 2009 was $5.43. I’m slightly behind my goal for 2010 but not sliding backward. **Yeah, yeah, and some minutes for leap year.

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About Rufus Dogg

I'm a dog who writes a blog. It is not a pet blog. It is a real blog that talks about real ideas. No, really. I do my own writing, but I have a really, really cool editor who overlooks the fact that I can't really hit the space-bar key cause I don't have thumbs. I talk about everything from politics to social issues to just rambling about local problems. And, sometimes I just talk about nothing in particular. Google+
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32 Responses to How much does it cost you to exist for one hour? Size matters

  1. holy cow – this is exactly how i think. In fact my big theory that I have to ask an economist is this. Add up all of the revenue created by the Avg family, including investments over their life expectancy, Then subtract by the total expenses incurred by that same family including total cost of medical care. That number will determine whether capitalism works for the average family, or so my thesis goes. If it is a negative number than that avg family has been subsidized by government, healthier people, etc.

    You also hook in marketers, of which I’m one, on the issue of demand creation. My theory there is this. Capitalism worked when Adam Smith posed the Wealth of Nations because productivity per capita and the number of people were in greater balance. Now, it takes a magnitude of workers less to make products and the global labor pool has provided a radically different wage scale compared to finding a couple local blacksmith shop workers.

    The political line back in the 80s was a rising tide lifts all boats. Well that works if you are in the same harbor. The world has many harbors and the fact is the tide that rises in one part of the world lowers in another. At some point all boats are equal. The tide therefore is relative to your point of view. In America’s case the tide is going out.

    Don’t take my word for it. Try Peggy Noonan’s America’s At Risk of Boiling Over

  2. Pingback: Building smaller – is it the next big thing? | The Homeowner's Resource Center

  3. Rufus says:

    Capitalism isn’t about the preservation of a culture or species. It is about the exploitation of resources for the enrichment of the few. The reason it persists is most people believe they can become a member of “the few.” In the world of capitalism, people are merely another resource to exploit, much like steel, forest timber, water, etc. Families don’t matter; individuals don’t matter. Only the ready supply of labor matters. This is not a value judgement, just an objective fact.

    Saying that, it ASTOUNDS me that given the new marketplace of less human labor that is needed to produce durable goods that capitalists are not clambering to invest in the health and education of human beings. Think about it; in a knowledge economy, what has more value than human beings encased in very healthy bodies who can outthink other human beings creatively and very quickly? Quick problem resolution can be trained.

    Health care and education are not expenses that need to be trimmed. They are the next capitalist investment opportunity.

  4. Ok I now feel like a machine and I am worried that my genes will not pass when we start cloning workers. Unless we start cloning comics in which case I have a chance.

  5. Paul Anater says:

    Terrific points, as usual. As I was writing my piece last night it hit me AGAIN that in the last 30 years the US has gone from a place that makes things to a place that buys things. That shift has enabled a few at the top to profit mightily but it’s left the rest without a future beyond the promise of more stuff. Big or small is so much more than a housing issue and underneath all of it, it’s an economic model that’s broken. I say irretrievably.

  6. Saxon Henry says:

    You totally nailed it when you wrote it’s “about time and the quality of the experience.” Great post; this subject is on my mind a great deal lately having just moved back to NYC and starting anew (somewhat) yet again…

  7. Rufus says:

    NYC is a final destination for me, even if I get there at 90 and live a day. Pave the road for me :-) http://www.dogwalkblog.com/the-hobo-code.html

  8. Rufus says:

    LOL Now I’ve got a reason to start up the underwear and cape factory ;-)

  9. Rufus says:

    You waited until the last minute? :-) We’ve slowly become a transaction-based economy. Making money by moving money. Nothing’s real except an artificial value we place on that transaction. Problem is we have not “re-tooled” the machinery that is likely to make us more money; smart, agile, creative minds encased in healthy bodies.

  10. Saxon Henry says:

    I absolutely will! Us Tweeps gotta stick together, eh?

  11. ABC Dragoo says:

    I was inspired by both this post as well as a few other articles I have seen recently. I wrote about a slow home/a smaller life on my blog today.

    A Smaller Life: Signs of a Slow Home Movement
    http://www.abcddesign.com/archives/2010/08/10/a-smaller-life-signs-of-a-slow-home-movement/

  12. Rufus says:

    Life is lonely enough without friends :-)

  13. remik says:

    Well, well, well.

    Finally America is waking up from a dream. Several people before me made very good points how America is not making anything but mostly consuming. Now that credit cards are not so easily available that consumption is going to decrease and …. this may be a downward spiral.

    What is the solution?
    That is the question? It is easy to pont out problems but it is so hard to offer solution in a world where we are tough from the very beginning that there is only left or right.
    The solution is in the revolution, the same one America started to experience in the 60s. It was a false start, too early,. Now there is internet and I hope this is the revolutionary aspect of it. It will allow us to communicate and resist this unbelievable bullshit all these money hungry corporations and such want us to believe in. A house with a lawn, car, plasam tv,travel-backed by 30 year mortgage, 5 year car loan and bunch of credit cards-non stop stress. How come a working family cannot afford a house after 5 years of saving? This is the dream? This is a nightmare.
    If one just tries recalling the best time of their life it will have nothing to do with money. It will be probably time spent with either family or friends.

  14. Rufus, my dear doggie friend, I am with you all the way – Time is the Great Equalizer! and even more now that space – at least in the digital world – is FREE. We cannot get the last hour back, at least not in this dimension, it’s gone for good.

    I did rather long post about how to use time well – that is, if you have any descretionary minutes – and honestly, it did not get to the heart of the matter. Your list of questions before purchase decisions is spot on.

    Well said, thanks for your ideas, Cindy @urbanverse

  15. Wow. Talk about putting things in perspective!

    I am actively calculating our score, as well as the one for the shop… you’ve got me on a roll now. Thanks for the FANTASTIC insight!

  16. Rufus says:

    Single-handedly stimulating the US economy by creating a demand for calculators. :-)

  17. wait, what if you calculate your score and you can’t afford to be you. I mean you are not a productive contributing member of society. Or is it the opposite. We have achieved so much as a society, more than other societies in terms of technological, medical, and quality of life advancements that it’s the rest of the world who is not pulling their weight.
    This is a zero sum game after all. The total goods produced in the world by the total number of people in the world, the classic who is supporting who equation.

  18. Rufus says:

    The formula is one to get you thinking about consumption cost, not valuation. How do you put on value on art? philosophy? education? literature? this blog? your thoughts? dogs? If we only place value or ROI on things in terms of money, we strip ourselves of a large purpose of life. (I don’t know what the purpose of life is, but I’m damn sure it is not just about chasing money!)

    I don’t really believe the rest of the world is not “pulling its weight.” I just think the priorities are different. They define the “weight” differently as they should. Americans tend to define “weight” as a construct of what matters to us. Europeans are far more advanced in non-fossil fuel technology than the US; they have faster Internet; they value human experience more than human productivity; damn, the Germans build way better cars and are more educated. (23% of Ohio residents have college degrees. 23-effing-percent!) I’m not being anti-America here, but I also think blind chauvinism is not at all productive. Europeans did not get those advancements by just sitting around, so something productive had to be at play there. Americans do tend to run with ideas faster and tend to be committed to accomplishment. While we’re screaming about what we have done and how unfair it is others profit from our efforts, the Chinese are going gang-busters on producing stuff and will eclipse our economy in production and consumption in the next decade. But, they are doing it on brute-force, much like the way America did 1870-1930ish.

    It is not what you’ve done, but what you continue to do. Most Europeans get that; they have the benefit of a long hindsight of history. Americans will eventually get that as well and we’ll be lounging in our deck chairs during our seven week vacations, shaking our heads at the busy, busy earnest Chinese running around attempting to squeeze a dollar out of every activity. “What’s the ROI, what’s the ROI, what’s the…” :-)

    There is no “us” and “them.” There really is only a collective “we.” Countries, cultures, political parties, religions, companies, etc are artificial constructs that we’ve convinced ourselves and others matter. No, I’m not a socialist, “spread the wealth” guy and all that. I get ticked off at my lazy, red-neck neighbors drawing unemployment for three years while drinking a beer off their decks as I struggle with making a buck to pay their share of the road upkeep and streetlight bill and my own. I believe that at the core, everyone is ultimately selfish.. and I understand why people have created walls around groups and banded together into “us” identities.. I get all that.

    Nature is impartial, the human condition is impartial to your cost or value. We all struggle with the same afflictions. We were all born and we will all die. We can spend the time in between including people in our lives or excluding them based on our perceived value of them as a condition of their “contribution.”

    It is only a zero-sum game when we perceived there is a limited supply of wealth. We’re human beings; we make more wealth every day from those intangible assets that you can’t put a cost or value on.

    And this reply was way too long. Please tell me you didn’t spend as much time reading it as I did writing it :-)

  19. funny you said what I said only I postulated it in a theory and you wrote the narrative. More work on your part for sure. I snicker at those yakity yak talk show hosts that criticize europeans in their arrogant tone. Europeans do have a greater context for the human condition and appreciation for the world.

    If we are a selfish lot then we have the best system of checks and balances available in our economy I suspect. Perhaps we need to nick a few dollars off the checks your neighbors are getting so they can’t afford as much beer or to live next to you, but all in all perhaps we have it right imperfections included. We are moving in a direction of greater context and appreciation beyond the ROI, but still have a ways to go.

    Healthcare costs and aging baby boomers is forcing us to face the question of the cost of life and the cost of “living” This reminds me of one of the most read pieces I have written about Aging the Opportunity of a Lifetime I hope you don’t mind me sharing here.

  20. Rufus says:

    Share away!

    Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: Europeans are arrogant, pontificating, self-rightgeous, know-it-all-buttinski bastards who need to shut the hell up and quit telling us how to live our lives. But they already knew that, just ask them. :-)

  21. Bonnie says:

    You know, publicists aren’t that great at math but I’ll try. Do I have to include celeb rags, time spent chatting with contractors about the Rachel Zoe project, lattes drank while stuffing books, etc? Those aren’t really costs, they’re part of the job right? if I include just stuff like toilet paper I think I might be doing okay.

  22. Rufus says:

    When you drink a latte, subtract $1.23 from your hourly cost. When you talk or think about Rachel Zoe, add $82.32 to your hourly total :-)

  23. My poor little publicity head is swimming. Can’t I just go back to the old deal, if I still have checks in my checkbook everything is fine?

  24. Rufus says:

    Checks were always a delusion :-)

  25. Christian says:

    Geoffrey Miller has an interesting look at the idea of “stuff” we buy/parade around in his book Spent. As an evolutionary process we have replaced most of the natural/physiological indicators of a person with their ability to conspicuously consume in America. In that case we keep buying bigger, newer, and better things to show off how good we are. That is a very simplified explanation, the book is worth the read.

  26. Rufus says:

    Very good read. And to save everyone a little bit of time searching and a few trees on printing, http://www.amazon.com/Spent-Sex-Evolution-Consumer-Behavior/dp/B002ZNJWHW/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1281719992&sr=1-4

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  28. Peter says:

    I am in the process of downsizing from about 1200sq ft to 24sq ft (6′ x 4′). I am currently prototyping the space in a marked off section of my now empty apartment.

  29. TB says:

    This may not directly apply to the topic but I have an old friend who works for a company that writes software for mulitnational temp agencies – Contingent Labor he says is the new lovely term for this field. Sounds much friendlier than, ‘using people for whom you wish to provide no support what so ever once you’ve done your business.’ He’s convinced me, it IS the way most of us will earn a living within the next 10 years. Maybe less. Every company on earth learned that the only way to survive is to continually push your costs lower – there is no such thing as low enough. Take a guess what your companies largest cost is. The IT work force discovered this in spades over the last few years (What is technology besides a way to replace a worker with a thing anyway? It’s reached such a pace of advancement that even the actual physical ‘things’ have even been replaced with bits.)

    If you want to survive the new world, learn to do something your immediate neighbors find useful. Fix appliances, make art, walk dogs, grow veggies and chickens, anything. If all you do is collect checks and turn them into things you eat and things you will eventually throw in the trash you will be owned as surely as you own your shoes.

  30. TB says:

    6′ x 4’? Sounds just a bit too much like a coffin for my taste. Don’t give up so easily. Take your 1200 sq ft and DO something with them. Make them work for you rather than the other way round. Just my $9.38 ($0.02 adjusted for inflation ;-)

  31. TB says:

    Not to be difficult Rufus, but just a point of order. This is a country of C-students. Europe has many A-students. But, remember, it’s the C-students who build building and other C-students start restaurants and stores in those buildings. A-students write the restaurant critiques of same. The Statue of Liberty does not say send me your educated, your richly endowed, the best of your best. She asks for the lowest of the low. And look what we’ve done with them so far. Not perfection but pretty good.

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