The Arizona Experiment! – Shield Smart

The thing that drew me to early retirement is freedomand that’s still the best part of it.

Back in 2005, the primary reason for this freedom-seeking was being able to devote my best hours to being a Dad – I had a feeling my career in tech would be too demanding to sustain once the full-time job of raising children kicked in.

Eighteen years later, wow has that guess ever turned out to be right. Early retirement has proved to be the most amazing, worthwhile adventure and it’s still just getting started. It was an astonishing thirteen years ago that I wrote to you about Little MM starting kindergartenand now he’s done with high school.

It has given me the space to enjoy so many new experiences, working hard and playing hard sometimes, but also slowing things way down when necessary, to deal with and grow through some real hardships.

But now, with that child-raising phase finally almost done, I’m cashing in a few of those Freedom Chips for a particularly big change: moving to a warm sunny place for the winter to try out a new life in the walkable, bikeable, car-free community you’ve probably heard me raving about in the past: Culdesac Tempe.

So on the first of December I’ll be packing up the essential clothes, tools and gadgets, and throwing my very best mountain bike onto the Model Y to make the epic road trip across the mountains. Just in time to escape the incoming Colorado winter. And my son will be joining me for the trip!

Looking for updates? I have added a separate tracker page here.

Heading West…

We’ve booked ourselves a spacious two bedroom apartment there, for four full months. Little MM will be roughly alternating his months between Arizona and Colorado so he can still have time with both parents, while I’ll be there the whole time.

A big part of the fun is that this will force me to invent a whole new life for myself, away from the easy comforts of the big community and plentiful construction sites that keep me so busy here.  It will be both a big change and a significant challenge, which is exactly what all of us need on a regular basis to keep life full of meaning and joy.

So What Are You Going to Do in Arizona?

Looking forward to replacing this with a *real* Arizona mountain biking picture I will be taking soon.

The exact details are still in the works, and I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback (see the “get in touch” note below. But here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Meet as many new people as possible, and answer the burning question we all have: what kind of people choose to move to a car-free neighborhood in the center of a super-car-based metropolis?
  • And of course hang out with existing friends who live in the area – did you know our own Coverage Critic (aka Chris Smith) already lives in Culdesac?
  • Share some of the experiences, whether good or bad, here on MMM and on places like Twitter and Instagram so you can live vicariously through this experience.
  • Use my newly liberated extra free time to visit their kickass on-site gym to get in extra good shape.
  • Use more of that free time to write more blog posts and sweep some of the cobwebs off of this neglected online persona of mine.
  • Look at the weather app on my phone periodically to cackle at the blizzards I’m missing in Colorado and celebrate my good fortune in comparison (the typical “winter” day in Tempe is typically in the mid-70s which means sandals and palm trees and outdoor dining the whole time)
  • Host a few meetups in Culdesac’s outdoor plazas like we did last March
  • Start a quirky free handyman business where I help new residents set up their IKEA furniture and move heavy stuff and hang paintings, as a combo of meeting people and being useful and exercising my compulsion to build stuff.
  • Ride bikes! A lot. Explore the distant corners of the Phoenix metro area and the surrounding desert valley and mountain trails on mountain bikes, regular bikes, and the e-bike that comes included with the first 200 Culdesac apartments.
  • And perhaps most importantly, help my almost-adult son get all sorts of new experiences during his visits, by living in a brand new city for the first time since he was born waaaay back in the same era as my own early retirement.
One of Culdesac’s main “parking lots”, adjoining a restaurant patio
My future gym (specifically the stuff in the far background)

Is There a Bigger Picture To All This?

Okay, you’re onto me. If I’m going to go to the trouble of typing shit into the computer and sharing it with you, there’s usually a purpose behind it other than just journaling my own personal life, and this another one of those cases.

First of all, there are the first-layer selfish goals: I want to have the best winter ever, meet a bunch of smart new people, and I also want Culdesac to be a huge success so they will build more neighborhoods like this around the country and set an example that permanently improves the way US cities build and expand themselves in the future.

Much Better than Parking Lots

But even if you don’t care about all that, I also want to use this as a little statement about trying deliberate life changes.

By throwing myself into a new community which aligns so nicely with my own values, I hope to serve as a reminder that maybe you might want to try the same thing. Or just try anything new.

In a comfortable, prosperous country like ours, some of the built in tendencies of Human nature tend to work against us, saying,

“Hey – I’ve noticed we have plenty of food and reasonable shelter and that’s good enough.
So let’s just double down on the Netflix, comfort foods, and occasional luxury purchases and that will keep us safe.”

Instead, I want you to set your life treadmill to just a bit of a steeper, healthier incline setting.

That means questioning the status quo and doing your best to keep at least one little experiment on the go in the background. Maybe that means forcing yourself to move to a better place, or taking steps towards getting a new job that gives you a better work-life balance.

The biggest move I ever made was leaving family and friends and my old job behind to move to the US, alone, at age 24. Looking back, I’m shocked I had the courage (and the organizational skills) to pull that off back then. I’ve become older and a bit slower, and so comfortable that it’s hard to imagine doing something so bold now.

But even today 24 years later, I thank my past self every single day for doing it. My present life is an incredibly different and better thing because of that past bit of courage.

The spirit of positive experimentation might also mean starting to challenge your body more regularly – giving it harder work and exposing it to a wider swath of temperatures and movements. Or joining new Meetup groups to expand your circle of friends and experiences.

It doesn’t really matter exactly what you do, as long as you point your feet in what feels like a good direction and just start moving. Create some purposeful change, which will surely feel a bit difficult, simply because change is hard. And hard things are good.

Future Arizona Neighbors: I’ll see you in four weeks!

Further reading: I’ve been reading books, doing life experiments, and writing about the value of strategic hardship for a while now. But the latest is a book called Dopamine Nation by the talented psychiatrist/author named Dr. Anna Lembke.

To summarize: your brain creates a baseline for happiness based on the HARDEST thing you do, and then compares everything else to that. So if you do hard things, life in general seems fantastic because of this perspective. If you eliminate all hardship, suddenly even the pleasures of life seem bland, and you live a spoiled and unmotivated life.


To get in touch: send me a DM on Instagram or use the email address “newsletter” at the domain of this website. (Newsletter subscribers can also just reply to this post if you received it via email.)

Interested in stopping by for your own Mini Culdesac Experiment? They have a few short-term rentals available at rather reasonable rates (less than nearby hotels) – check em out at book.culdesac.com

What will you do with your car?

I’m bringing the car just as a convenient electric moving truck to carry two people and four months of living supplies. Once I get there, I’ll find a safe place to park it offsite and live the full car-free lifestyle of Culdesac, much like I do when I’m here at home. I typically only use cars to carry really heavy stuff or for trips to other cities and states, but it’s even easier to accomplish this in Tempe with its location right on the light rail and with their onsite bike, scooter and even car sharing lots.

What about your house?

My place in Colorado is currently set up as a two bedroom house on the main floor, plus an apartment with a separate entrance on the walkout lower level. When I’m at home, I use the whole thing as one home – the apartment just makes a great place to host a fairly constant stream of visiting friends. But for the winter I’m hoping to rent out one of these spaces to a friend or trusted acquaintance who will take good care of everything, while I leave the other section free for the occasional visits I’ll be paying to this area over the winter. Aside from keeping an eye on the place, it will be a great way to practice the age-old Mustachian technique of making money while taking vacations!

What Happens at the End of March?

As it stands, I have no plans beyond this point. I’ll head back to Colorado for my home base, but with this being a new phase of life I’ll be layering on new adventures. Aside from the two mountain properties that I’ve been helping to build out, I just teamed up with a friend to help him create an intentional (and somewhat experimental!) living community in Denver called Wild Life Ranch.

We’ll have to cover more of that in a future article, but the basic idea is that he is converting a 13-acre former horse ranch in a relatively prime part of the Denver area, into a future village of higher-end tiny houses and other dwellings. These will be arranged around nice common amenities with a big emphasis on people actually enjoying the process of living together, as opposed to just living separately side-by-side as we tend to do in normal neighborhoods.

#Arizona #Experiment

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