In the architectural world, there is the concept of an “irresistible staircase”. This staircase is so magical and alluring that it draws people to take the stairs rather than rely on the elevator. In building design, stairs are often an afterthought – relegated to windowless areas behind poorly marked doors. There is a growing trend in building design to make stairs a more core part of the experience, bringing them from the shadows of a building into the foreground where all can see them.
You can see this in practice at most museums. As you’re going from room to room or gallery to gallery, you’re following a set path. Since they know your path they can design something specifically for you.
I’ve always preferred taking the stairs when given the chance. It’s healthier, it’s a little exercise, I feel better after it. That’s not the case when you’re in a coffin designed only for exiting the building when there’s an emergency.
When we visited The Vatican a few years ago, we were awed by this amazing staircase down at the end of the tour. This is the last thing you saw in the museum before making your way out.
Of course, we decided to take the stairs rather than the elevator down. Along the way, we could admire the intricately decorated banister, the changing views of the Christmas tree at the bottom and growing open space. Even years later I remember this stairwell because it was so jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Every Goal Has an Irresistible Staircase
For building designers, the goal of the staircase is to get people to use it in order to reap the benefits of an office filled with stairs-users: more active users, more social encounters, less energy used by elevators, higher throughput of people to their floor. If they can design the staircase in a way that inspires people to use it, all of those things will happen.
One goal of mine is to write here on Minafi. When organizing my life to do this, I set about to create an area in my apartment that I looked forward to sitting down and writing. For me, that was a desk in a different (but close) room that I could slip away to and write or work on Minafi. I’ll also sometimes work from home here too.
This space, coupled with a cup of coffee at 6 am on weekdays, is my irresistible staircase for writing. When I think about using this area to write, I get butterflies in my stomach because I like it so much. It may sound silly, but that’s the kind of feeling I want with every goal I set out for myself. There are times I haven’t found that, and have instead given up.
Depending on your goals, your irresistible staircase could be whatever motivates you. Here are a few ones that I’ve found help me:
- To read: A kindle, a reading nook, a comfy blanket, a pillow.
- To workout: Clothes that make me feel good, a tasty protein shake after a workout, a gym bag to bring everything in.
- To run/hike: Beautiful views, comfy headphones, a chance to listen to audiobooks/podcasts.
- To take public transit: A backpack or purse that holds everything you need, a bike to ride for longer legs.
Finding your irresistible staircase takes some work – and it may even involve buying something. For the desk above, when we moved into our apartment we already had most of this Ikea desk from a decade ago. It was still missing one peace – the rounded part on the left behind the chair. With the desk discontinued, I hunted everywhere for this piece before eventually buying it on eBay.
As another example, I recently picked up a pair of Airpods – Apple’s tiny wireless headphones. I always laughed at the price of these: $160 for tiny wireless headphones? You can get those for $10 from China! After wearing them for a week solid, I now see the draw. The audio quality has been amazing, their charge has never run out on me, and they recharge while in their case. These tiny earbuds make me want to use them – which has meant taking more public transit or hikes. Knowing that their charge won’t suddenly run out on a hike gives me more peace of mind that I can enjoy the experience.
Perform Then Optimize
One caveat here – it would be easy to get into the mindset that you need to buy something in order to start doing it. I’m not saying that at all. None of the staircases above are going to give you the internal motivation day in day out to read, or to workout or whatever your goal is. If you already have a goal you’re motivated and working towards, finding the right staircase can help be that last missing piece.
I’ve been thinking about learning Japanese recently. I took some classes in college, and we’ve been there twice (and I already want to go back!). It’s a place I’d love to live someday, even just for a few months or a year. Anything I buy now will not be my irresistible staircase. I haven’t put in the time to know what would help me succeed in it yet. Anything I add now would be the wrong staircase. It won’t be until I start actually taking the time to learn that I’ll be able to understand what I need – and only then after some time has passed.
A few months ago I tried a month of slowing down (recap). I quickly realized it was tough to take public transit and do other things afterward with my tiny laptop bag. I could have stopped there and just bought a new bag, but instead, I went through the routine many more times with my existing bag. This helped me understand two things – 1) that I wanted to actually ride public transit rather than drive and 2) what requirements I needed for any bag.
After a long search (online and in persona), I eventually decided on a Peak Everyday Backpack – which I could use as my backpack to work, to the gym and when traveling with a camera. It’s now 2 months later and I still love it – a credit I give to the time taken to understand what problem it was solving before purchasing it. I’ll be using it soon on our trip to Scotland later this year!
What Does This Have to Do With Early Retirement?
If your goal is to retire early, then I have a question for you: what are you doing today that you absolutely love to help get you there?
What are you doing that allows you to wake up with those same butterflies in your stomach and know this is something exciting that you can’t wait to do?
This may be a tough question to answer because it’s going to include all parts of your life – not just the money side. When it comes to the cash side, it might be the easiest to answer though. For me that could include things like:
- Seeing your debt go down as you continue to pay it off.
- Tracking spending over time and seeing goals be met
- Tracking new money put into investments or new money into debt and seeing those numbers change.
- Writing up quarterly investment reports with how I’m doing.
These are all interesting and are exciting (well to me at least), but I wouldn’t consider them my irresistible staircase. If anything, these are the railing on the staircase which prevents falling off.
My Irresistible Staircase for Early Retirement
So what would qualify as an irresistible staircase? It doesn’t have to do with your whys for early retirement but instead has to do with what you do today, tomorrow and the next day. It’s what you’re most excited about. For me, this involves creating a life where I am constantly looking forward to things. I love anticipating something enjoyable is coming up soon.
- Finding a hike to go and putting it on the calendar.
- Finding a new restaurant (or existing one) and booking a reservation.
- Scheduling some time to workout and knowing I’ll be stronger after.
- Thinking of a cool topic to write about and letting the idea stew around in my head before starting it.
- Looking for local festivals and events that are exciting.
- Exploring Utah with Mrs. Minafi.
- Planning a big trip and finding unique and exciting places to see along the way.
- Deciding on the next audiobooks to listen to.
Those have a huge tilt towards future planning. According to StrengthsFinder, my #2 strength is Futuristic, so I guess that makes sense.
You might be thinking: none of these actions have anything to do with early retirement or financial independence! Well, you’d be right. They do share one thing in common though – they are aligned with my financial goals. None of these are about spending obscene amounts of money at the drop of a hat. If anything, by planning these out ahead of time I’m getting more enjoyment out of the experience than if I did them immediately.
The irreistaible staircase for early retirement is enjoying life today.
That’s my personal takeaway from this. Although saving enough money to reach a goal has a finish line, it’s not going to solve all your problems and suddenly make you happy. That’s a job for today. If you can find a way to love the life you’re living, that’ll be the most irresistible staircase you could ask for.
What is Your Irresistible Staircase
While my irresistible staircase to early retirement is based on future planning, yours doesn’t have to be. It’s whatever wakes you up in the morning and gets your excited to live your life.
When you think about planning a perfect day for yourself, what happens on that day? Is that in line with your financial goals? What is it about that perfect day that gets you the most excited? That’s your irresistible staircase.
What is it in your life that you do today to get to early retirement that you absolutely love?
Credits: Thanks to Simon Allardice for introducing me to the concept of an irresistible staircase.