Unconventional Thinking ep.1

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The other day, Mrs. RB40 asked, “You know what the problem is?” I answered right away, “People have no imagination!” Then we had a good laugh. Hahaha. Usually, when someone says this, you just wait for them to complain. But this time, I took the opportunity to vent before she did. We try to laugh as often as possible. That’s the secret to a happy marriage. Anyway, she wanted to complain about organization development and I wanted to vent about the neighbors. The fallen tree saga continues…

Two weeks ago, there was a big rainstorm in Portland. I heard a loud crash in the backyard and ran to see the problem. RB40Jr sleeps in the back room so I was quite anxious. That kind of noise can only be the big willow tree in the backyard. It dropped branches occasionally and caused some damage in the past. This time, the whole willow tree got uprooted. The sustained wind and rain were too much for the old gal. This willow tree was over 50 years old and it was ready to go. The HOA pruned it last year because a big branch was rotting. In retrospect, we should have taken it down right then. (I wanted it gone, but the neighbors wanted to keep it.)

This willow tree was huge. The diameter of the trunk is almost 5 feet long. Luckily, it fell in just the right way and missed all the structures around it. Also fortunate, it was early in the morning so nobody was out in the yard. The kids and the dogs spend a lot of time back there. Now the unfortunate part – it will cost around $12,000 to remove this frigging tree! Damn, that is a ton of money. The homeowner’s insurance won’t pay anything because the tree didn’t hit any structure. I’m still very glad nobody was hurt.

Why so expensive?

Why is it so expensive? That’s because there are multiple problems to deal with here.

  1. This tree is huge. The wood will be difficult to remove. Even if you cut it down to 16 inches rounds, they will still be very heavy.
  2. Access. We access the backyard through the alleyways between the houses. The choke points are about 4 feet wide. Those heavy rounds can easily damage a structure if someone makes a mistake.
  3. Fence. The only easy way to access the backyard is to remove a section of our fence and go through the parking lot next door. This small parking lot belongs to an apartment and we’ll need to work it out with them. The driveway into the parking lot is also quite narrow. Once the work is done, we’ll replace the fence. That part isn’t included in the $12,000 quote for tree removal.
  4. Shared space. This backyard is shared among 4 houses. All of us need to agree on a solution. The nice thing here is that the cost will be split into four shares. That helps a lot. Also, our house is a duplex so we can write off half of our share as a business expense.
  5. Maple tree. The willow tree took down half of the maple tree next to our house. Now there is only one big maple branch left and it’s hanging right over our roof. We need to remove this maple tree to prevent more problems. The quote includes removing this maple tree.
  6. Permits. In Portland, you need to get a permit from the city to remove any tree. We also need to secure a parking permit for the tree removal company. These permits increase the cost and extend the timeline. Oh, we also need to replace the trees. That won’t be cheap because the neighbors want good-sized trees for shading and visual screening.
  7. Landscape. The landscape under the timber will be ruined. Actually, this isn’t a big deal for us. We want to put in a stone patio anyway. However, there is an electric box and a small French drain in the area. These might get damaged.

Whew! That’s a lot of work. With the holidays coming up, the trees might be here until after New Year.

Too expensive

IMHO, $12,000 is ridiculous. My dad would never pay this kind of money to remove a fallen tree from the yard. When I was a kid, people used to leave wood rounds next to the sidewalks. Whenever we saw these, my dad would go ask if we can take them home. We’d split the rounds and use the firewood in our fireplace. It’s a win-win situation. These days, it costs $300 to $500 per tree to remove wood rounds from properties. And people seem happy to pay this fee. WTF has the world come to? For a big tree like this willow, it’ll cost $1,000 just to remove the rounds. That’s nuts.

If this was 100% my yard, I wouldn’t pay to remove these wood rounds. But it is a shared space so I have to compromise. I can never tell my dad about this because he would disown me. Seriously.

You know what the problem is?

The real problem is the neighbors. They have no imagination. They just want a lawn and a few upright trees. Nobody except me even considers keeping the fallen tree. Hahaha… I guess I’m a bit unusual. Here is the proposal I sent to the group.

Hey, neighbors. I have an unconventional proposal. What if we just leave the main trunk where it fell? We can remove all the leaves and branches. The tree trunk is awesome. The kids can climb on it and build around it. Besides, it’ll be a great conversation piece whenever we have guests. It’ll give our backyard a lot of character and save us a boatload of money! What do you think?


As expected, this was shot down right away. People are so conventional. They want to be like everybody else. I checked with RB40Jr and he said he prefers the tree trunk. Kids are a lot more open to different ideas than adults. There is enough open yard space even with the tree trunk there.

A few years ago, the city spent $900,000 to build a “natural playground”. Check it out below. They put a ton of money and effort into this park. There are a bunch of tree trunks for kids to climb around. It’s really great. Our big tree trunk won’t be as complex, but we won’t have to share it with strangers. I think the kids would have a ton of fun with it.

Oh well… I guess we’ll enjoy climbing around while it is here.

Another alternative

I also have another idea that I didn’t share with the neighbors because I knew it will get shot down. Here it is.

  • Buy a big chainsaw.
  • Cut a section at a time.
  • Have frequent backyard campfires.
  • Save $12,000.

Hey, people used to make a canoe from tree trunks. Why can’t we can burn it away a little at a time? But, I know nobody will consider this. It will take a long time and there might be problems with building a big fire every night…


I guess we’ll throw money at it like a good American family. That’s the problem. People have no imagination at all. They go along with everyone else and live unimaginative lives. That’s why most people can’t deal with FIRE. They aren’t willing to think and live unconventionally. Most people would rather work in a career they dislike rather than go for financial independence. FIRE is difficult and it can take many years to achieve. But it is worth it when you get there. You only need to be able to imagine it and put in the work.

Alright, that’s it for today. All I can say is I’m done with HOA and shared spaces. Next house, there will be no compromise.

What do you think? Are you willing to think unconventionally?

*Passive income is the key to early retirement. These days, I’m investing in commercial properties with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the United States. It’s been working so well that I’m planning to sell our rental condo so I can invest more. Go check them out!

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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