Image: Airstream trailer in Arizona © Corbis

Jon Myhre didn’t intend to be retired on a shoestring budget. That’s how life turned out, though -- and it’s OK by him.

Myhre, 78, lives mostly on his Social Security income of about $20,000 a year, which doesn’t go far in pricey Southern California. But his days are filled with activities and friends. He says he doesn’t miss the luxuries he’s had to give up, including international travel and the big house with the pool.

For most of his career, Myhre was a landscape architect with his own business based in Pasadena, Calif. He designed parks, a college campus and even part of  La Casa Pacifica, the San Clemente compound used by then-President Richard Nixon as his Western White House.

Business took a nosedive starting in the early 1990s, when Southern California suffered a traumatic real-estate recession. Many of his competitors closed their doors. Myhre moved his office into his home in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of La Canada Flintridge to save money and to better care for his wife, who was dying of breast cancer.

Then Myhre did something he regrets: He tried to replace some of the income he’d lost by day trading. Soon, the $50,000 he had saved in a Simplified Employee Pension, or SEP, was gone.

Myhre’s wife died in 1995. He was ready for a new life.

In the next few years, Myhre sold their house “with the pool and the spa and the nice landscaping,” applied for Social Security and moved to Ojai, a small town about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles that’s known as a center for artists, music and spiritual retreats.

After reading Duane Elgin’s “Voluntary Simplicity” in the 1980s, Myhre was intrigued by the idea. He began exploring the voluntary simplicity movement, which suggests that people are more than just consumers. Instead of working too hard to buy too much stuff, advocates of voluntary simplicity look for ways to declutter their lives, make more conscious spending choices and live according to their most important values.

A core tenet of voluntary simplicity is to reduce monthly expenses to such a low amount that a practitioner can opt not to work for money, if he or she so chooses.

That led Myhre to live somewhere he never expected: a trailer park. A friend, artist James Menzel-Joseph, lived in a mobile home development dotted with oaks and let Myhre know when the unit next to his was for sale. Myhre used $60,000 of his home sale proceeds to buy the somewhat dilapidated place and spent an additional $20,000 fixing it up.

His simply furnished living room and small kitchen are painted a bright, happy yellow. A portrait Menzel-Joseph painted of Myhre, depicting him like an Old Testament prophet with robes and a wooden staff, hangs on the wall. Outside, Myhre built a small deck covered with a canopy, where he can sit with friends and enjoy a small rock garden.

“I didn’t have a view, so I created one,” Myhre said with a smile.

Another change: no car payments. He proudly indicates the 1997 Acura Integra that occupies the attached carport. He bought the car for $12,000 after a six-year lease, and has no plans to replace it.

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