The Tyranny of Assets

In 1979, when I graduated high school in June of that year and moved with my parents to the Portland, OR area, then drove across country diagonally to Chattanooga, TN in August to begin college at the Born-Again Christian enclave of Tennessee Temple University, everything I owned needed fit easily into the back of the 1974 Mazda RX-3 wagon I’d bought from my dad for $1,000 worth of work in his painting company. I didn’t even have to put the rear seats down.

How did I possibly survive with no collection of assets? Perhaps, not being weighed down, I focussed on other things; like: observing the world around me, asking questions, discovering the joy of Very Bad Things-so-called, and even engaging in some study now and then to collect grade assets…and maybe, with nothing better to do than thrive by working in fast-food joints and auto-parts stores, paid the lion’s share of the cost of acquiring a college diploma-asset. Eventually.

That stint lasted only a freshman year, and when I returned to Troutdale, OR that late spring, not only did all my assets still fit in the back, but there was room for the stuff of two other guys from the same Born-Again church, sharing the ride and drive.

After a year with zero asset accumulation—beyond a few computer science, math, and physics courses at Mt. Hood Community College—I transferred to Oregon State University in Corvallis, where I signed up with the Navy ROTC. Though I was increasingly taking on secular liability that would earn me hellfire—while simultaneously denying me fantastical streets of gold and the added opportunity of eternal sycophantic worship at the feet of Jebus at no additional cost—joining the Navy as a junior officer seemed a nice offering to doG & Cuntry. …But, it would be another 10 years before those human constructs would fully become threadbare liabilities for me.

Two and a half years later, with a diploma, military officer’s commission, carnal knowledge, and wicked tendencies, I set forth for San Diego, CA in a brand new 1984 Pontiac Fiero—the largest “asset” I’d ever acquired by a factor of 10. Everything still fit in the car, and it was far smaller than the Mazda I got $500 for in trade.

I somehow made it with no significant assets, and when my initial courses in a plethora of ship systems and personnel management came to a close six months later, movers showed up to the bachelor officer’s quarters to pack all of my assets I couldn’t take on a 747 to Manilla, P.I., destined instead for my eventual home in Hayama, Japan. they fit in a box about the size of the far back end of a wagon, reminiscent of that first cross-country voyage.

Now having a regular paycheck, plus tax-free cost of living allowance (COLA), I spent most of it on complete debauchery; from Olongapo City, PI, to Pusan, Korea, to Pattaya Beach, Thailand, and others. The rest? I wasted that on accumulating assets for my 2-story house on Morito Beach.

By the time I moved out in 1989—nearly 5 years and two tours of duty later—my assets had grown from a 3x3x3 box to a 20′ ship container. Amongst them were all manner of standard furniture, an impressive Onkyo and Nakamichi stereo system that drove two massive Klipschorn speakers, a 1,000 cc Honda crotch rocket, and all manner of artsy nicknacks from all exotic Westpac regions. Destination: Monterey, CA.

While attending the six-month French course at the Defense Language Institute for my next job as an exchange officer to the French navy, I managed to stay relatively asset neutral, merely selling the motorcycle and buying a Corvette. All of that got shipped to Toulon, France.

Then, I got my first true lesson in assets vs. liabilities. I was standing the 16-1800 “dog watch” as officer of the deck of the FNS COLBERT, in station a couple of nautical miles behind the CLEMENCEAU, North Arabian Sea, and the messenger of the watch delivered a communique from my shack-up French girlfriend that in the days before email, read like a telegram. She’d found the keys to my car I’d hidden and got herself in an accident in college & party town, Aix-en-Provence, the night before. The final sentence read: “gros dégâts.”

In the end, I longed for the car-care-free five years in Japan where I owned three used cars bought off guys leaving, never paid more than $1,200 for any of them, and sold each eventually for similar. So I replaced the Corvette—once the insurance company paid me off and I sold the hulk to an exotic car shop for $5,000 cash—with an old, used Austin Mini GT for $2,000, which served me well for the rest of the stint.

I hadn’t even begun to collect assets.

…When I left the navy in 1992 and returned to the U.S., settling where my parents lived, in San Jose, CA, my goal was to start a business. I was determined to do something and after a coupla failed tries, and about $50,000 in excess “tuition,” I got it right. Over the next few years, I managed to build something that generated paychecks for about 30 people, and serviced some particular needs for about 2,000 clients.

It began a process of distinction. There’s assets, then there’s ASSETS. Perhaps that’s why, when you take an accounting course, they call them financial assets or, capital. It’s funny when you think about it. Here I owned a house full of assets the navy had literally shipped around the world and that cost perhaps upwards of $100,000 retail…yet that x386 PC clone computer I bought for about $2,000 at Costco made it possible to generate $250,000 in fees from a spare bedroom in 1994.

After going on to grow the thing to the point where I had to pay lawyers $250,000 per year to deal with State Attorneys General, I closed it down burnt down the house a few years ago.

I reflected a good long while on what was an asset vs. what was really a liability and at that point, I couldn’t help but think there was little opportunity for people like me who really don’t care for venture capital or other means of equity investment such that one gets to become a usual whore. Matters not whether you’re a commie or fascist (democrat or republican, but I repeat myself). Lots of money is all that matters and “consumer protection” is but a ruse to steal it from you, unless you can dance. …Or want to, and I did not.

…I became an expat a couple of months ago. Got up and moved to Mexico. Everything I needed to bring down fit in the back of my car. My wife, Beatrice, who supports what I’m up to but is not quite ready to retire from a teaching career of 33 years too far, supports me enthusiastically and has just secured a new and smaller place with big property for her and the dogs. They used to be two, but now are three, with the addition of a new rescue, Choncho, to the right, who joins Scout (AKA “Butt Hole,” center) and Nanuka (“Nuke”).

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Now, in case you think rat terriers are prissy little worthless muffins of fluff, I beg to differ. Here’s Nuke mixing it up with a male herding dog at one of the hang glider sites I fly.

When I reflect on it, I can’t help but critique myself on a serious misplacement of what assets truly are vs. liabilities. I’ve been lafing at the video of Nuke and Spot for the three years since I recorded it. Asset. Check. Took it with a phone. Asset. Check. It was on a camping and flying trip with family. Asset. Check. But, we began that annual excursion 16 years ago and the first year we had tents, sleeping bags, coolers, and camp stoves. Now, everyone has spent tens of thousands on multiple trailer trades, vehicle trades, and gear such that now, it’s a 5th-wheel village.

Such is the alluring, tyrannical ways of assets. At least Beatrice is solidly on board. For the new small rental place with enormous yard for the loved ones, she’s getting rid of most of our stuff. She emailed today and I gave her a very short list, mostly keepsakes. Sell everything else, because I care no longer to be a steward of stuff.

And now, I have even more to think about. Check this out:

What I Learned When I Gave Up the ‘9 to 5’

It’s about a guy who lives a nomadic life as the head of a company he founded.

I’ve been living this nomadic lifestyle for a little less than two years now. During that time I’ve traveled to 25 countries. I’ve motorbiked through islands in Thailand and the Philippines, hiked an active volcano in Indonesia, learned how to surf, gotten my deep-sea diver’s license in the Gili Islands, explored new cultures and met dozens of wonderful people.

All through this time, my only possessions have fit into a small backpack. (Incidentally, it’s the same backpack that I used to carry to school back in the day).

He quotes a dude named Dave Ramsay.

People buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like.

I find that in about 6 weeks here in Los Zacatitos at the tip of Baja Sur, nearly half of what I brought in the back of the Baja Beemer, I don’t need because I never use it. I might even sell the Baja Beemer.

Since all my income is now derived via an internet connection employing a few different streams that in total probably require an hour or two per day, on average, I’m looking to have a small duffel of clothing and my office in a backpack (MacBook Air, iPad Mini, iPhone 6, Kindle, chargers & cables, and a notebook and pen).

I think it’s time to plan out a nomadic life, because the only thing I truly want to do every morning when I get up is to contemplate what I want to write about and publish that day…pretty much like I’ve been doing for 12 years.

The difference is that now I have no “assets” to pay for monthly and forever.

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. Ron Padot, Jr. on July 13, 2015 at 16:49

    Richard, I appreciate you putting it all out there. All of it. I know it’s helping me towards a change I don’t know about just yet.

  2. AnarkhosRRJ on July 13, 2015 at 18:53

    Awesome entry. Love reading about people discovering and venturing into a more minimalistic lifestyle.

    Besides the stuff in my car – some essential automotive tools, a second gun, towels, and a lunch box with back up foods (tigernuts, honey, sardines, nuts), everything I need, and even some toys I can do without, fit in a small tactical pack that I carry with me almost everywhere.

    Absolutely loving life ever since I made the change to dump all my useless shit.

  3. Baby Girl on July 13, 2015 at 20:07

    Hi Richard, used to read a lot in the Paleo days, found you via the no poo article back when. We’ve on occasion exchanged comments re: baptist fundamentalism and players.

    I just wondered, and please don’t tear me to prices, but do you ever in this big life change look up at the stars and wonder if there is a God?

    I’m still a believer and one thing that seals it for me is the order of the heavens and the stars in their traces.

    I don’t always remember to check your blog, busy mom, career and I sometimes miss big chunks of what happens, but you’ve always been such an interesting read and when I do get a chance to check in I try and catch up with the blog.

    But I just wondered about your ideas towards God now and since you mentioned your believing past, I thought I’d ask.

    Don’t hate me, not trying to flame or start an argument.

    • Richard Nikoley on July 13, 2015 at 21:33

      Baby Girl (a moniker normally reserved for my Nuke):

      We’re cool. I know you’ve always been yourself when you drop in here and in the end, that far better that a lot of stuff I see.

      I’m not worried about it.


    • pzo on July 14, 2015 at 12:18

      That wonder you ascribe to a mythological, unknowable being, only one of thousands worshiped by humans, may be accurately accredited to physics.

      Which is even more amazing.

    • Baby Girl on July 14, 2015 at 21:47

      Thanks Richard! I appreciate the reply. :-)

  4. William on July 13, 2015 at 20:12

    “If you own a rug, you own too much.” – Jack Kerouac

    When I left the Navy in the mid 70’s, I too worked up a Jack Kerouac number, pretended I was Neal Cassady, and hit the road. It was fun at first, but the fact was, I wasn’t either of those two guys. But a wife, thirty properties, mutual funds when that was happening, precious metals, and nearly forty years later, the road once again calls my name. This time will be a bit different. No sleeping at flop houses the way Jack did, no stays at communes trying to hold on to the 60’s, and no hitchhiking. I admit, I do enjoy comfort (61 next month) and a bit of luxury. Been looking at the new Land Yacht, by Airstream. After owning 4,000 sq. ft. houses, this little beauty will be the cat’s ass. A comfortable bed, place to cook, and store food, storage for four acoustic guitars, scuba gear, surf board, and campgrounds with internet connection will do me just fine. Scuba in Florida during winter, surfing on the west coast in summer… I’m ready.

    • Richard Nikoley on July 13, 2015 at 21:12

      Surfing William?

      Just wait until you read my next post in a day or two, then read the book I’m going to insist you read…that I just finished today.

      Hey, that quai minimalist deal you got cookin’ sounds pretty ideal to me. My taste is more I ternational so once Airstream becomes truly airstream, I’m in. :)

  5. Ironthumb on July 14, 2015 at 10:49

    To put much simpler:

    Asset = puts money in your pocket

    Liability = takes money out of your pocket.

    This website is your asset.

    You house is YOUR BANK’S asset!

    So that is why it is labeled in “assets” on your bank’s sheet, – but should not be in your sheet


  6. Steven on July 13, 2015 at 21:11

    With you in sprite.

    I support my mother and partly a sister. Can’t stop doing what I am doing… But as far as possessions go, I have shed so much.

    I have no interest in buying things other than food and tools I need for my trade.

    I have no debt. I have no desire to run that rat race. I sleep on my couch. Fine that way. My hobbies are being outside and being outside and then cooking because I can not really stand the whitewashed restaurants in SoCal. Being in Tijuana is different… Street food. I have no issue eating some good old home cooking from the back of a car.

    I have lived in India and yes the street food there was awesome. China had some good stuff but Malaysia was better.

    I guess I am remiss in the level of antiseptic in my food and of my worldly possessions.

    For me I want to buy a nice parcel, farm it and get the family on it. I am currently finding other ways to support my herd.

  7. sassysquatch on July 14, 2015 at 04:43

    Dogs are such Zen masters. If we could only view and live life through their eyes!

    I’ve had lots of dogs, but never had a terrier. Would never have thought of them as prissy. More along the lines of, pound for pound, fierce and tougher than shit!

  8. Ron on July 14, 2015 at 05:01

    Great post Richard!

  9. John on July 14, 2015 at 06:51

    I was immediately reminded of this George Carlin routine-
    And, of course, the wisdom of Tyler Durden-

    A decent income off an hour or two of work per day that can be done pretty much anywhere out of an office in backpack that leaves you free to travel or roam? Yeah, I think that’s what I really want, instead of more “stuff.”

  10. pzo on July 14, 2015 at 18:28

    If people stepped off of the consumer escalator, the economy would collapse. Fine with me.

    I, like so many, stuck that $$$ needle in my arm decades ago after I moved to L.A.. I crashed, got older, thought about what made me happy, gave me contentment. And “stuff” (assets) had almost nothing at all to do with my well being.

    As I observed even before my L.A. descent, all the best things in life start with the letter “F.”

    Food & Drink
    Faith (of any kind, even non-religion)

    Darn, there was something else, too, hmmm……

    No bling, no fame, no pretentiousness.

  11. Skyler Tanner on July 15, 2015 at 05:24

    We’re currently moving from our 3/2 house into a 2/1 bungalow that will net out evenly for us on a mortgage/rent basis but buys so much more in the form of a super short commute and easier access to all Austin has to offer.

    Sold simply because:
    1. The market is silly hot; my house needs a roof and was bid UP in price.
    2. We wanted to pay off debt and actually put that equity in our pocket (or as I say “There’s no equity ATM”)
    3. To stop being fragile; if we wanted to leave, we could pay the cost and move out in a couple weeks. Try that with a mortgage.

  12. FrenchFry on July 15, 2015 at 05:48

    I never owned much, coming from a poor immigrant background (was born in the 70’s in France). I still don’t own much, nor do I care because I grew up with the “right” spirit. My mum managed to guide me through this during my childhood. Before having my own little family, I was traveling light. The biggest item that I kept regardless of my whereabouts was an acoustic guitar. I still have it and today, I have a little more but just enough to continue composing and playing music. I rent a little house and am debt-free. I will pass on this material lightness to my kids if I can but it seems a lot harder today than 30-40 years ago.

  13. Doug on July 15, 2015 at 06:06

    Even if you pay off a mortgage you don’t truly own your property…..there are always those pesky “rent” payments (property taxes) to your government. Unfortunately, there is no way to get out of those :(

    I like renting much better. One less “asset”

  14. TR on July 15, 2015 at 10:10

    “Home. Where my love lies waiting silently for me.”
    Better than a house asset.

  15. Katscan on July 19, 2015 at 12:21

    Up until I read this post yesterday, I never could express in words what I was experiencing. My husband and I made the conscious decision three years ago to downsize and simplify. I was working for a government agency (give me a chance) and began to realize that I was part of a vast network of oppressive thugs. After much self loathing, I just quit. I wasted an entire decade in that place. Cashed out my “good benefits” and walked away. Then, we sold my husband’s successful, profitable, and honest business. We were sick to death of predatory bureaucracies. Paid off most of our debt with that money, got rid of one of our cars, and are on our way to getting out from under our little slice of the American Dream – also known as student loans and mortgage. It’s so liberating to have nothing that anyone wants to take.

  16. MissMcGillicuddy on July 20, 2015 at 06:51

    Fantastic post, great comments. We’re all moving closer to free.
    I seem to have passed my own “material lightness” (great term FrenchFry) onto my adult daughter. Don’t care much for leaving behind any sort of legacy, but if there is one, that one makes me smile.

  17. MissMcGillicuddy on July 20, 2015 at 06:54


    I prefer renting as well.

    Whenever I read about other countries where renting is more prevalent than “owning”, I ponder that.

  18. Jerker on July 24, 2015 at 06:08

    I love the feeling of selling or throwing away stuff you don’t need – the feeling of having less to worry about, less things that require maintenance, that just the few things you need and have are working well. Every once in a while when I drift off I know it’s time to watch Fight Club again…

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