When we tell friends that we have actually moved 18 homes in 34 years, they remain incredulous. Not that we designed for it to be like that. Nor is the husband too fond of the nomadic life. We just moved when life and work needed us to do it. What did we learn in the process? First, our careers ranked above all else. We had our back to the wall when we began, as we came from very humble beginnings and had no inheritance. Even the traditional household stuff our parents wanted to give us, we declined. We wanted to build it ourselves. So we went where our jobs took us. Career growth and opportunity ruled the decision about where we lived.
Second, two out of those 18 houses, we owned. We bought one when our parents complained that we had not “settles down” even 15 years after being married. We bought at a location where my office and the children’s school were close. In a year the children went to a boarding school and I took up my dream job that needed 25km of commute one way. So we moved! When needs change, we changed the home too. We did not allow the house to dictate our lives.
Third, every time we moved, we realized how much needless stuff we were accumulating. We began the practice of giving away things. And we slowly learned to consume less. The rule was to keep attics clear at all times. We saved a lot from questioning our purchases keeping in mind that we could move. Our furniture also turned minimalistic as it had to fit into the Third, every time we moved, we realized how much needless stuff we were accumulating. We began the practice of giving away things. And we slowly learned to consume less. The rule was to keep attics clear at all times. We saved a lot from questioning our purchases keeping in mind that we could move. Our furniture also turned minimalistic as it had to fit into.
Fourth, we made a huge circle of friends. These are people who shared our joys and sorrows where we lived. They became part of our lives. We still can return to Hyderabad where we lived 34 years ago, and meet with our friends for a meal and laugh about our times there. The wealth that a diverse group of friends can bring into one’s life is alas so underestimated. In these days of social media, it is strange we call people with whom we have no shared experiences “friends.”
Fifth, we were able to treat many spends as expenses, and manage our assets in alignment with our goals and needs. Tying up money in chunky assets like a house, leaves too little to save and invest in liquid assets. Since we paid rent mostly, we did not pay a steep interest on a home loan, nor did we lock our money in a house we did not have the heart to sell. We liquidated what we did not use and moved on.
Sixth, we treated our rental home like ours. We kept it in good condition, and we inspected it thoroughly to get whatever we needed done before we signed up. Sometimes we split the costs with the landlord and adjusted it in the rent. But we saved ourselves the trouble of ongoing upgrading of the house. Many of our friends habitually find something to replace, renovate or repair in the homes they own. We did not suffer that burden.
Seventh, we lived far away and commuted to work when we began. Then one of us stayed closer and the other commuted. Then we both managed to stay closer to work. The burden of the daily commute can be killing, especially in a city like Mumbai. We were able to upgrade as we moved up the career ladder, renting closer to work, because we weren’t wedded to that house in which we first set foot, or that nook where our first child took her first step. Being pragmatic about our house helped us save time and energy.
Eighth, we did not solve for guests. We were a family of grandparents, parents and children. And the other set of grandparents visited often. We also had siblings and their families coming over, but we all slept on a large padded carpet in the drawing room allowing elders to use the bedrooms and the kids to hole into one room. We did not invest to impress; nor did we furnish rooms that we seldom used. The house was simply functional, warm and welcoming without frills. When some of our friends (yes, from Delhi!) told us we were living in rabbit holes, we shrugged it off in Mumbaikar style.
Ninth, we were happy to leave behind things that the landlords found useful. The air conditioners in one home; the terrace garden in another; the safety grill door in the third; the large refrigerator in the fourth and so on. These were not large ticket items per se. But to a landlord who wanted to rent to a company, or wanted to convert it to a guesthouse, it was valuable. We received our advances in full, and in time for the goodwill. They also spread a good word. Relationships are more valuable than money.
Tenth, our personal finances did fantastically from this combination of decisions we made. We earned more as we grabbed every opportunity that came our way; we spent less as we did not incur the typical house owner’s expenses, and also bought less; we had no loans and crushing EMIs that left enough to save; our assets were liquid, divisible, growing in value, market-linked and thus flexible to access when we needed.
When they tell you that moving homes is a pain, it involves uncertainty, jeopardises wealth and career, think twice. It may not be as bad after all. If you had land you tilled, or a business you own as a family over generations, being rooted might help. Those of us working for a salary can do better with a healthy dose of mobility.
We had only 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 knew it would all eventually even out. We just decided that our jobs and careers won’t be held to ransom by a house even if we happen to own it or a location even if everyone we loved lived there. We remained willing to move to Timbaktoo if that is where a challenge or opportunity lay. Go for it, we will say wholeheartedly to anyone who cares to listen.
(The author is chairperson, Center for Investment Education and Learning)