Change Is The Master Key

November 03, 2018

Last weekend was a great weekend back in coastal Delaware, and I want to tell you about a myth I’ve finally given up after a whole year of clinging on.

I don’t want to move to Delaware after all. At least not yet.

This whole year of owning two houses, I’ve been completely intrigued and engaged with our lifestyle there. When we go to the beach, we tend to live more simply. We need less stuff in our house, we eat better, we’re more active. We are even able to spend more time on our hobbies and projects - basically better all around.

In addition to the lifestyle, it’s been hard not to think about the money differences between Maryland and Delaware as well. Delaware has no sales tax and the property taxes are amazingly low. And if we sold our Maryland house, picked up everything and moved, we would immediately pay off the beach house. The idea of having no mortgage, no car debt, no sales tax, and living at the beach year round is.. compelling. It sounds almost like retirement.

But it’s a myth. It’s not The Right Thing.

I’ll cover the financial aspects of the whole situation in another post, but suffice to say that Delaware has effectively become an Escape Hatch. What I want to cover right now is the fantasy of living at the beach year round vs. the reality.

First, let’s cover the seasonality. The beach is beautiful and amazing in the summer. In late spring and fall, it’s majestic, serene, and fulfilling. But from Christmas to early March, it’s a pretty brutal place. The cooling breeze of the summer becomes an ice-cold gale and time outside is minimized quickly. The population near the shore is quite a bit lower in the winter and there’s just less to do in general.

Next, the changes that actually need to be made to move to the beach full-time are… considerable. If you’re working, you need to be able to work at the beach, either remotely or locally. Local work is probably not going to cut it, and remote work is not yet a reality for me. I’ve talked more generally about the options and what it will take to do this on my own blog.

But most importantly, it’s the idea of living there full-time that’s actually a myth. As long as we’re going there for weekends, weeks, or summers it remains a special place. Right now, it’s exciting every time we go down, and we feel like we can get away from the stress, strain and frustrations of our normal lives. If Christmas were every day, it would get boring quickly.

If we lived there full time, the beach wouldn’t accomplish the same thing for us that it does now. It would still be special, but in a different way. And the way it’s special right now is incredibly valuable to where we are in our lives.

I’ve found no better explanation than this passage from Winston Churchill:

Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental overstrain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale. Some advise exercise, and others, repose. Some counsel travel, and others, retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is Change.

Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated.

It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’ — if one may coin such an expression — I will give you a good rest,’ ‘I will go for a long walk,’ or ‘I will lie down and think of nothing.’ The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on weighing and measuring. If it has been worrying, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.”

—Churchill, Painting as a Pastime

Our lives are very busy - three growing children, a career as an engineer and an executive, and a rich fabric of family and friends. A move to the beach would change the pace of that - and there’s a strong draw to believe that slower would be better - but it would eliminate part of our ability to seek out change and use other mental muscles.

Change is the master key. For us, that change is the beach, but for others it could be a boat or a cabin in the mountains. We think and do things differently there. We indulge in our hobbies. We don’t just rest and retreat, we keep busy and develop new fields of interest. This may be the single biggest utility of a second house: the very fact that it is distinctly somewhere else but still just as comfortable and relaxing as home.

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