Unconventional Thinking ep.1

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.

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39 thoughts on “Unconventional Thinking ep.1”

  1. Would anyone who burns firewood consider harvesting it for free?

    A wood worker may consider those big enough for table slabs.

    Instead of paying $12k, can you figure out some way to get rid of it free?

    Maybe try a Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace free ad?

    Wood is a rare resource and a tree that big would seem to have some value.

  2. Cutting up a large tree with a chain saw is not something an amateur should try. I came within a microsecond of killing myself cutting trees on my property after an ice storm, a microsecond and I’d have been stone cold dead. After that I sold my chainsaw and never touched another one. If you are a Jedi experienced chain saw operator then OK, but if you aren’t it is insane to hone your skills on a giant tree trunk. You could ask one of my neighbors about it but, wait, he’s dead, so you can’t. I’m the guy who tried to administer first responder care and the guy who helped lift his dead body into the ambulance as his mother and girlfriend wailed with grief beside me. Chain saws are more dangerous than a lit stick of dynamite in inexperienced hands.

    • That’s another thing I worry about. If it was a smaller tree and lie 100% flat on the ground, I might give it a go. But this one looks pretty complicated. One wrong move and people could get seriously hurt.
      Thanks for your advice.

    • It’s really cool. I don’t understand why the neighbors want to get rid of it. Kids can do so much stuff with this. They can build a fort underneath. Camp out in the nest. Or tons of other interesting activities. Playing tag would be a lot more fun with this trunk here.

  3. You brought back memories of when my BIL was younger. When he lived in the Minneapolis suburbs he always kept an eye out for downed trees. After asking permission he’d come with a friend, chainsaw and pickup. He tried to keep a 3 year supply of wood in the backyard. You go through a lot of wood in Minnesota. I’d send him over except now he’s 70, had a hip replaced and lives in an urban condo. His wood forging days are over.

  4. Joe, that seems ridiculous! I have a friend in the tree business, he’d probably drive to Portland from Tennessee and take care of your tree for half that price…. Truly, I’d find a jack-of-all-trades kinda guy and tell him you’re interviewing 5 people for this job, and have him give you his best price. Bet it’s a whole lot cheaper than 12K.

  5. I never understood why when we lived in an HOA, they were so detailed about how your front yard is supposed to look. They didn’t even let you rip out the lawn to replace with rocks or xeriscaping! As if they were citing some study that perfectly manicured lawns fetch higher home valuations.

    People certainly need to have more imagination. It’s like we go to charming downtowns and interesting scenic areas, yet when it comes to our homes we want to look like everyone else as to not be “that” house.

  6. Hi Joe, Sound like doing the conventional way may cost you with permits, removal and installation of fence, etc at a guess $16,000 which split between 4 houses would be $4000 each. It’s still a lot of money and as you said the tree may be there for a couple more months. Why don’t you ask your Neighbours if you can hire a small chainsaw and cut off some of the smaller branches so it would be less of an eyesore and clear some space for the holiday season. Put the wood for sale cheap to pay off the cost of the chainsaw or make seats with it. Then ask Joe Jr to gather some friends to decorate the part of the tree left for Christmas. Knock some stepping wood onto the big stump, put some solar hanging lanterns and a swing/slide, etc. Show them your imagination. If they still don’t agree come January, at least the kids had fun for a couple of months and you may just lessen the cost of the removal of the tree.

  7. Wow, that’s one big tree! I’m with you – folks nowadays just tend to want to throw as much money as they can at something just to be done with it.

    $12k is a crapload of money. I’ve heard from friends here in Ohio complaining about exorbitant tree removal prices as well… but without some creativity like you’re suggesting, the choices are limited. That sucks that this needs to be a shared decision with the neighbor.

    I like your idea of buying a chainsaw and slowly getting rid of it. You could even rent a wood splitter to make things a little easier and more manageable. Depending on if your neighborhood allows it, you could even sell stacks of wood with an honor system box out front. I’ve seen (and bought from) folks doing that around here.

    Best of luck – I hope you guys are able to work out something more creative than just dropping the $$$$!

  8. Love the first idea (keep the tree for “playground”)! The back yard fires would be risky and likely shot down. I lived in a community with about 100 condos / 4 unit townhouses and one of the 4 units burned down because a renter left some cleaned up ashes in a plastic trash bin that caught fire and quickly spread to the townhouse, up the attic and to the other units and firefighters were not able to stop it until everything was completely ruined. You may be smart to keep everything under control and leave ashes in the fire pit, but that one neighbor trying to help clean up may not be so smart!
    Cutting up parts of the tree and leaving the main part for a playground would be so awesome for the kids. I bet they would get even more creative than you’re thinking right now – it would be awesome! Maybe the neighbors will be very lazy and you can have that playground for a year 🙂 Start cutting up the branches and maybe they will see the great idea you had. Don’t get an electric chainsaw (they only work for small branches and will get stuck easily with bigger branches). I use a long hand saw for the big branches – that will likely work better. You can read Where the Red Fern Grows for a fun book with a scene about cutting a big tree!

    • We have been cutting up the branches and dumping the leaves in the compost bin.
      I’ve been using a bow saw and it’s working pretty well so far. If we get to the bigger branches, I’ll get a better hand saw. The problem is the volume of the leaves/branches. It’ll take months to remove via the compost bin.

  9. Sorry to hear about the big expense.

    Just curious, when you mentioned that you are going to write off half of the share as a business expense, would you still be able to do that if the rental is unoccupied (that is, if you have zero business income for the year and have only expenses)?

    Surprised to hear that the City requires a permit to remove a tree even if it’s in your own backyard! Do they always require you to replace it as well? If so, that doesn’t make much sense.

    Last thing, since you’re on Twitter, I hope you would consider deleting your account given the antics of their new CEO, a.k.a. Space Karen.


    • I’m not sure. I think you can write off the rental loss against capital gains.
      But if the rental never generates any income, it’d be a red flag for the IRS.
      Portland requires homeowners to replace any tree removed.
      I’ll let Twitter die a natural death. 🙂

  10. After hurricanes here in Florida, I printed fallen tree trunks and then used the trunks as edging in a wooded area. In the past I have hired a mulcher to mulch up and spread it in yard. I also would use it for natural decoration if it would pass HOA issues.

  11. Hi Joe! Too bad I’m not your neighbor – I love both of your ideas. $12,000?!!!! Yowza. That really is ridiculous when people pay $$ for a load of firewood. Can’t you put up a sign – come cut your own firewood? That would probably be frowned upon. I like to laugh every day, too – it keep you young, I think. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. It’s always a pleasure to see an email from you. {{Hugs}} ~smile~ Roseanne

  12. hoa’s are the worst. coordinating with neighbors sucks too, especially when you don’t have much choice. i used to have a tree guy whom i worked with. he was not insured and was able to charge a lot less because he didn’t have that expense. he would tell the customers that and they could decide if the risk was worth it for him to do the work on their properties.

    • I’d be afraid to hire someone with no insurance here. It’s a city lot and the backyard is pretty narrow. That tree could have demolished a house or two if it fell wrong. I’d be more open if we have a big space to work with.

  13. When you mentioned it in the monthly update, I instantly thought about advertising in the paper as “Free firewood. Bring Your Chainsaw!” LOL. Or you could charge people a few dollars like “Pick your own apples or strawberries.” It’s an adventure!

    We had a situation with a much, much smaller tree. The tree removal people wanted around a thousand dollars. Our landscaper did it for around $150 or $200. Because it was smaller they were in and out in a couple of hours. I bet they turned it into firewood for themselves.

  14. Your idea is great and when I was kid I would have loved it!! Agree with Tako, that’s a DIY project you can do in pieces. You say “people have no imagination” and I agree but it’s also “people are physically lazy”. I’m guessing they also pay to have their houses cleaned too. Why burn calories and tend to your own life when you can throw money at it?

  15. I agree. No imagination and $12,000 is ridiculous. Is it possible to get a quote from another company? Or ask the current company what it would cost if you cut it in pieces. They may have no imagination either. Haha Maybe it would make it easier and less expensive for them to remove it in pieces?

  16. First, I definitely like your solution about buying a big chainsaw, cutting a section at a time, and having frequent backyard campfires.

    You ask, “Are you willing to think unconventionally?”
    Yes, I am not only willing to think unconventionally — I am also willing to live unconventionally and have done so for many years.

    Here is an example: In a class in my fourth year of Engineering at the University of Alberta, a couple people came around wanting to measure all the Engineering students’ fingers for an iron ring that is given to Engineering graduates at an iron ring ceremony. I refused to get my finger measured because I didn’t want a ring nor did I want to go to the ceremony. This stunned practically everyone in the class because no one had ever refused to get the iron ring since they had been doing this for decades. Then surprisingly, a classmate of mine named Wayne also decided to join me and not get his ring.

    I can give you scores of more examples of how I have thought and lived unconventionally and prospered because of the way I think and live.

    These are some of my favorite quotes about being creative and unconventional:

    “The great creative individual . . . is capable of more wisdom and virtue than collective man ever can be.”
    — John Stuart Mill

    “We know that the nature of genius is to provide idiots with ideas twenty years later.”
    — Louis Aragon

    “The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.”
    — Mark Twain

    “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
    — Albert Einstein

    “When a true genius appears in the world, you will know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.”
    — Jonathan Swift

    “Creativity varies inversely with the number of cooks involved in the broth.”
    — Bernice Fitz-Gibbon

    “The good ideas are all hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups.”
    — Charles Bower

    “He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would have been enough.”
    — Albert Einstein

    “Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”
    — Christopher Morley

    • Unconventional thinking is essential in investing, it enables one to go against the crowd and select undervalued and unappreciated securities that often outperform the crowd favorites. One example would be from two years ago when oil stocks were considered uninvestable while stay-at-home pandemic stocks were favored. Many of the oil stocks have doubled and tripled since then while many of the stay-at-home pandemic stocks are down 75% or more since then.

  17. Yeah, I totally would just rent or buy a big chainsaw and get started. You could have it done in a weekend with a little hard work.

    Even if you had to buy a chainsaw you could always sell it later when you were done.

    Like you said, people don’t have any imagination, and they’re afraid of a little hard work. It’s rather sad actually. People would actually pay good money for that wood. You could even turn a profit if it wasn’t for your neighbors.

    A misfortune like this is an *opportunity*.


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