Plan. Renovate. Escape.

by Nate

When you’ve got paradise on the brain, enduring the grind of normal life can be challenging in the time between the dream and the reality. But, as the date draws near, there are many realities that must be faced before the first big step can be taken to extract ourselves from this life and to enter the next.

It varies with each situation, of course, but there are some common experiences among people go through when planning their expatriation. Reducing belongings, tying up loose ends, gradually informing your network -these are just expat rights of passage.

Those of us with homes face a significant ordeal; extracting ourselves from the financial and legal trappings of a major investment is neither quick nor simple. In our case, not only do we need to sell the house, but it requires fairly significant remodeling first. Fortunately we saved enough to fund the renovation in cash and we’re prepared for the disturbance in our lives (we hope); so we were able to take on this challenge in full confidence.

Still it took a long time to save for our renovation and it’s very important not to fuck this up -or lose money in the process. Since my construction experience is extremely limited, finding a contractor and riding shotgun on this project is, in itself, a daunting proposition.

Nevertheless, our project is underway now so I’ll share the learnings thus far and keep you updated as our success (or failure) unfolds.

The renovation consists of three full bathroom remodels, expanding closets, adding a beam across the open-concept living room, fixing post-foundation repair cracks, retexturing and painting every room, replacing doors and repainting the cabinets, repainting the wood parts of the exterior, fixing cracks in the brick, and updating the landscaping (which I’ll do myself).

Renovation Is Freedom

The more steps you take down one path, the more steps you have to take again to leave it for another. Buying a house in 2009 meant that I was, consciously or not, buying into the “American Dream”. That is, the vision of the future which includes a prosperous America, viable for all its inhabitants, but most especially, Sarah and I.

Building six-figure careers in the intervening years involved taking many steps down a path that we assumed was the right one. Things change. The last few years have rearranged our priorities and we just don’t have the same trust in the future value of our dollars that we did before the p*ndem*c.

Obviously our incomes are a major asset (enabling us to fund the renovation, among other things) but they represent a high water mark of financial stability which may not translate to Mexico intact.

Each of step we took to improve that life is, in a sense, a burden that must be carried as we walk back those expectations and adjust for new ones. We’re not just expatriating; we’re reducing, conserving, and moving towards a regenerative life. This requires a different set of values and focusing on different aspects of life.

This is all good stuff, and exactly what we want, but I dare you to do the same without encountering a few of your own personal demons along the way.

Reducing our current situation down to simple next steps helps us keep going despite feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. When I look at this project with that perspective, it’s clear that renovation is freedom.

On the other side of this ugly, expensive process; we’ve no major financial or technical hurdles to overcome and our expatriation can begin in earnest. All that remains is to buckle down and do the thing, lest we become delayed by fear or fate, and be put off our path to paradise.

Our contractor is a hard working dude and his guys have been very polite and accommodating. So far it’s been a pleasure working with them.

Get A Referral From A Trusted Source

We got very lucky after seeing seven or eight different contractors over the last eighteen months trying to find a remodeling company we felt we could trust. Star-studded Google reviews are great but a personal referral is better. Ironically, I was given the name of an old friend when I asked the contractor, that I later selected, for a reference. My friend also happens to be a fairly successful real estate agent and had done several projects with my guy, so all the better.

What a “coincidence”!

Prior to meeting this contractor, I’d already met five or six others, and went on to talk to two more. Each conversation was roughly the same and the costs were in a range that didn’t make the decision immediately obvious. I had my instincts, of course, but I prefer to trust and verify whenever possible.

We were fortunate enough to know someone that had done business with our contractor, but that was just beginner’s luck. In the future I’ll work much harder to find the I need resources I need through my network.

We moved into one half of the house while the other half is being worked on and, in a few weeks, we’ll swap to the other side.

Purge, Store, And Go!

In the end, what to do with all our stuff was a big question with a simple answer. Get rid of it. At least, mostly. The reality is that one of the best ways to get your stuff to a foreign country is in a suitcase. If you’ve amassed a house worth of stuff, like us, this is no small effort.

We purged two-thirds of our belongings at a local donation center, gave to our friends what they could take, and sold what a resale shop would take off our hands. In retrospect, donating and just leaving stuff outside on the curb during the day was the most productive way to declutter our lives.

What we couldn’t part with we stashed in a Public Storage a few miles from our house. Dallas is the major hub near Sarah’s family and both of our friends, so we’ll have ties to DFW long after we move. Through a process I outline in the post “Three Horizons Planning”, we boxed and stored the stuff we’re keeping according to “which horizon” we’d need to reach before that item would reemerge.

Very little can come with us at first. So we packed all our clothes into one big suitcase each. What didn’t fit we didn’t keep. Then we packed a couple boxes of books each and later we’ll try to cram them into suitcases and personal items on flights. Next the wishful thinking items like our favorite dishes and nostalgic stuff (aka “memory boxes”) is in storage, along with my book collection, most of Sarah’s art supplies, and our many pounds worth of crystals. We won’t see these latter items for quite some time if all goes well.

We’re staying in the house during the renovation, which is a “fun” challenge, but allowed us to approach our first horizon with a little grace, at least. Having a garage to stage everything into, in addition to the storage unit, was very helpful. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve had to unpack an item while living here, in limbo.

Shortly we’ll swap to the other side of the house, as the construction crew finishes on the bedrooms and bathrooms and starts remodeling the communal areas of the house; living room, kitchen, and so on. When they do, it’ll signal the home stretch on both the remodeling project and our time living here. Once the place is as good as new, we’re going to put it on the market immediately.

Don’t judge…we’re living in a state of half-purged catastrophe trying to work full-time jobs with jackhammers and construction crews on the other side of the living room wall. Even Zoom calls are a challenge…

Living In Chaos Creates Chaos

I can tolerate a great deal of inconvenience in exchange for achieving the goals I set for myself. So much so, in fact, that I can fairly easily lose perspective and direction in the chaos that such inconvenience causes. In the current example, our home is ransacked. Half of everything is already in storage and the other half is in partially packed boxes strewn about the half of the house not currently under construction. We’re stepping over and around things everywhere we go and it’s making us a little crazy.

More importantly, the psychological effects of clutter are a chaotic and unfocused mind; and this to is taking its toll. Sitting amongst the detrius of a past life while trying to stay sharply focused on what comes next is…spiritually confusing, to say the least.

A somewhat energetically-sensitive person, this wreaks havoc on my sense of alignment with the space I occupy. Bumping into things in the dark that used to be put away somewhere else is just an annoyance. Crashing into old bad habits and climbing over obstacles formed by out-of-date logic I know to be inappropriate for these times we’re living in and the road ahead -this is wearing me thin as I’m forced to tread the same paths I’ve already vowed to leave.

It’s not just the space, it’s what we’re doing in it…treading water waiting for opportunity to reveal itself in the unascertainable unfolding of the universe in real-time. What doesn’t come right away is added to a growing pile of concerns for which there is no apparent answer.

Is this important to us? Is it coming with us? Do we even know what thoughts, possessions, or passions will have a place in our future? Can we say, with any certainty, that we are prepared when we are still not quite sure what to prepare for, yet? Chaos…maddening, confusing, almost-spiraling-out-of-control –chaos.

If I were to do it all over again I’d have moved piles fruitlessly to and from the garage and storage even more aggressively, to clear space for clear-thinking and clearly sensing what’s ahead.

Staring at the shell of my once-bathroom, I can start to see the future start to take shape in the skeletal framing the contractors have in place. One day soon I hope to be able to exhale and relax my sphincter, once we’ve sold the house and refilled my depleted savings account.

One Foot In Front Of The Other

I can’t lie. It has been a struggle to enjoy this phase of our journey. The renovation is tolerable, but disruptive. Our work has been financially stable, but a stressful grind. The path ahead is anything but clear and the desire to leave has never been more intense.

One foot in front of the other will get us from here to there…

There are so many unknowns: financial, occupational, legal, and maybe even political. The world is an increasingly bizarre and volatile place and my spidey senses are just about constantly tingling.

One foot in front of the other…

Patience never was my virtue of choice but it seems that the universe wants to give me ample time to practice in this uniquely liminal space I find myself in; half out of our home, halfway to another state of mind, yet tethered in place for the moment.

We’ve a few more challenges to face before we can begin our escape; a home sale, occupational hazards, travel restrictions, and other crossroads to navigate. For now, we’ll take it one step at a time, I suppose, and try to take the time to appreciate this huge step we’re taking -and the toll it’s taking on us.

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