Designing Our Kaleidoscope

Last month, Harmony over at Creating My Kaleidoscope, offered a challenge to design your own Kaleidoscope. In short, the challenge is to discuss what you see when you look at your future through your kaleidoscope and how you’ll get there. Since I’m a planner and a schemer, I love this idea, but I also love the imagery she’s created. There is a big difference between a telescope and a kaleidoscope. The telescope allows us to see things that are far away close up. Through the telescope, we can see details as if we were right there. Through the kaleidoscope, you see something that isn’t really there. Most kaleidoscopes show just color and shape and when you turn it, those colors and shapes dance and change and create something that wasn’t there before. In some kaleidoscopes, you can actually see what is on the other end of it, but through a distorted, fragmented lens. You might be able to see a face. Sometimes 30 images of the same face. And sometimes, when you turn it, the face disappears completely.

The future isn’t predictable. If I had looked through that telescope ten years ago and found myself working in economics and as a personal finance blogger living in Alaska with three kids, I would have been sure it was the wrong telescope! But isn’t that wonderful? When I first started dating, I immediately realized what a ridiculous game the whole thing was. I had a great time, but I also realized how great it would be to just know who I would marry. If it wasn’t this guy, I didn’t have to bother with him anymore. But then I realized it was a kaleidoscope, not a telescope. I COULD CHOOSE. The fates hadn’t already decided one day that my soul mate was out there and I had to find him. I had the opportunity to decide who that soul mate was going to be! This changed everything.

Life isn’t about being stuck where you are. It’s about looking around where you find yourself and looking through the kaleidoscope to see the possibilities. It requires creativity and imagination. The kaleidoscope isn’t going to provide you a specific end-goal. It won’t clearly show you your future. The kaleidoscope allows you to ignore reality a bit and put your eye up to something wonderful, magical, and transforming. With one turn of the hand, you realize your whole situation can change. 

Eventually, we realize someone else can turn the kaleidoscope, too. Life is also full of funny turns and surprises. Some of these aren’t ideal. But they all have one thing in common: we find ourselves looking at an entirely new image of our current and future lives. We never saw ourselves there. And then it’s time to look through the kaleidoscope again to see where we could go from this NEW image.


When trying to look through a telescope, we calculate where we’ll be financially and when and what that allows us to do. This is a good exercise and we recently ran through all of these recalculations ourselves. But when I started looking at rolling 4-year periods in my life, I realized even more how unpredictable the future really is. I’m grateful for this unpredictability. Looking through the kaleidoscope allows me to ignore the numbers for a bit. I can ignore the conservative calculations, the amortization schedules, the compound interest calculator, and I can craft possibilities.

Image 1: Mr. T and I live in this house. All three of our kids are off at school and we sit down to discuss the day’s work. We run a small business. It doesn’t make a whole bunch, but it pays the bills and allows us to travel with the kids. We divide the tasks, turn on some music, and we work side-by-side for a few hours. Most of the time, we only work in the mornings 5 days a week. When lunch time rolls around, we move into the kitchen. I chop vegetables. Mr. T toasts the bread. And we get to eat together. After lunch, we go for a long, brisk walk ending up at the elementary school to pick up the kids and walk home. We travel every time the kids have a few days off school and for long periods in the summertime.

Image 2: Mr. T no longer works full time. We run small side projects for fun, but mostly live off of my income working the same job I do now. Somehow we manage to move to the UK legally (again, a kaleidoscope doesn’t require all the realities). We live in a small village in a small house. The kids attend the local school and I wait with the other mums outside the schoolyard before school lets out. We mostly ride our bikes or walk around the village. On weekends, if we stay at home, we take the train to church. Other weekends, we travel around. Cornwall one weekend. Cardiff the next.

Image 3: We’re financially independent. We’ve stuck stateside, but live close to cousins. Our kids go to school together. Mr. T and I spend our days creating without a worry of income. Because we’re both able to be home, we get to be the ones to drive the kids to their activities, attend all of their games and performances, and focus on helping during homework time. Our house is the hangout because we’ve got popsicles in the garage freezer and space to play. Summers and school holidays are spent jet-setting all over.

When I look through my Kaleidoscope, there are so many possibilities. We live all over the globe, our income situations are varied, and each one is totally different. However, specific themes start to emerge. I see the same colors/shapes in each of them and these become the goals:

  1. More freedom. Time and location-independent.
  2. More time with the kids. Each image has Mr. T and I able to be there before and after school for our kids.
  3. Travel. Showing my kids the world and being there when they see it is a constant.
  4. We spend our time creating. Mr. T and I are certifiable “project people.” We can’t spend a weekend doing nothing. If we had our days to ourselves, there would be so many possibilities to explore! We would create and experiment.

Throwing as much money as we can toward freedom allows our future image to become clearer. Seeing where we actually end up will be exciting!

What do you see in your Kaleidoscope? 


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  1. I LOVE how you expanded on the Kaleidoscope Challenge! The images you envision are so different, but pretty equally wonderful . . . and all of them are possible because you’re investing in a future with more flexibility. I felt the kaleidoscope provided such perfect symbolism for our journey, because life is constantly changing and I didn’t want to be too focused on overly-specific and rigid goals. Our dreams may change, over and over again, but frugal living and ample investments will give us plenty of options. I’m so excited to see what vision comes true for you <3

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks for the awesome challenge, Harmony! I loved the symbolism of the kaleidoscope as well! I’m excited to see what amazing future is in store for us. So many options!

  2. That was the similar realization that we had when we were imagining our future after FIRE. We realized we didn’t necessarily want the retired part of it, but just the Lifestyle Change that comes with it, and being able to spend more time with the kids, more time cooking from scratch again, and more time working on projects that are fulfilling to our souls.

    Like you pointed out, there’s no telling what that will look like exactly, like you, if ten years ago someone showed me “the current me”, I’d laugh, and laugh, and thnk – umm no way… 🙂 Even just 4 years ago, things are so different than they are now, and in 4 more years, we should be into our Lifestyle Change by at least 1-2 years.

    Who knows what the future will be then though? Definitely not me. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Maybe in 4 years we will have created that Lifestyle change for ourselves as well (though ours won’t be fully-funded!).

  3. PhysicianOnFIRE

    I see you’ve stood under the Bean in Chicago. Mesmerizing, isn’t it?

    When I think about the future and how it might be affected by our FIRE plans, I have more questions than answers. Having kids in school and a desire for some continuity for their sake narrows the list of possibilities for us. But when you start to think outside the box… different images appear in the kaleidoscope.


    • MaggieBanks

      Good job recognizing the picture! I’m so excited to see where we end up!

  4. I’m four weeks in and life has changed a lot already. I think as much as we talk about planning for retirement, we really need to plan for plural retirements. I can see our life changing a lot this fall when our son leaves for college, again if we decide to move somewhere warm (a few years), or again when grandkids enter the picture (next 10 years?). That is the fun of the kaleidoscope!

    • MaggieBanks

      I know! Even after such a big change, change will continue. That’s one thing we can count on in life. And I’m sure nothing is exactly as you predicted ten years ago!

  5. Love this idea and your ‘pictures’. Great way to clarify the themes and important things for you. I’m really trying to ensure my ‘today kaleidoscope’ also includes some things in my ‘future kaleidoscope’ too – as even though I can’t predict the future I have written a Letter from my future self where it dawned on my my values won’t change (but my goals and situation will). I will still be chopping vegetables too but maybe they will be grown by me too …

    • MaggieBanks

      So true. It’s important to add those elements now. Those priorities are the reason for the future… they’re no less important to us today!

  6. I love everything about this post, M! I love your parallel visions, and the way you describe the nature of the kaleidoscope. Such a perfect metaphor.

    Can I go off on a little tangent for a sec? I think one of the things that’s scary in a way about planning for ER is that we’re so focused on this PLAN that it can feel like we’re already writing the script before we’re even retired. Or like we’re boxing ourselves in somehow. Just like you said, ten years ago, I don’t think I would have envisioned most of the big elements in my life now, and some of the best changes came about because there was no plan. The lack of plan was its own kind of freedom. And now, ironically, the plan for freedom feels constricting in its own ways. (No idea if this is making any sense! But that never stops me. Ha!) As usual, I think I’m just overthinking this, and I’m really just reacting to plan vs. no plan, not working life vs. early retirement. But your post made me think about all of that. Sorry for the random diversion! 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      I completely agree with you. That’s why I love the kaleidoscope metaphor. Saving money gets us wherever we want to go/need to go/end up. But the priorities are the same now and then. We still care about family, travel, creation. Those things are the things we focus on now as well. The point is to live your life with the important things now and then plan to be able to do more of those things in the future. Our plans are all wibbly-wobbly. I have no idea what they’ll end up being. And I’m excited about that! I love change and surprises!

      • Such a good way to put it: saving gets us wherever we end up. Though we blog a ton about our plans, I’d still love to believe that a lot is going to happen in our lives that we can’t begin to imagine. 🙂 I’m not surprised to know that you feel the same way!

        • MaggieBanks

          Isn’t that so exciting!? (and obviously, we mind meld)

          • Good discussion here… The unplanned things are often the best things. We also have a lot of plans. It is sure that most of these will be different… In place, we will get other unplanned things.

            My original plan when I was 20 regarding my 30ies did not make it. What It had in place was very surpising and exciting. The key is to be open minded for new things!

          • MaggieBanks

            It goes back to the idea behind the fill-the-bucket list. If we don’t look for opportunities and take them because they’re not on our “list” or in our “plan” we’ll miss out on so much along the way.

          • Spot on…. Bring on the unplannec items!

  7. Very nice concept and cool idea to think about things in this way. There are a lot of people out there in the world that say something as a dream..and never do anything about it. But there are some of us who have a goal..and then we realistically plan how we are going to get there. I like how you’ve done this for yourself.

    Our kaleidoscope involves getting our IVF baby, setting up our life to be working from home, the blog does well and our investments do well 🙂


    • MaggieBanks

      I love how all of your kaleidoscope images involve your baby! It’s great to have the makings of a goal… but life is unpredictable. It’s good to have a solid idea of what is most important.

  8. Your vision of traveling, focusing on family, and your home “being the hang out place” is similar to aspects of our kaleidoscope. We definitely like to create, and volunteer. I like that this concept allows for life’s variables.

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s a great way to envision the future… isn’t it? Plan for the important things and figure the rest out along the way!

  9. Our kaleidoscope provides a mesmerizing array of color with the brightest being Time and Freedom. I often ask myself what a day would actually look like in FIRE and you know what, there is no answer. Time and Freedom will bring the answers. And like time, those answers won’t stand still.
    Wonderful post and thanks for sharing your creativity in expression.?

  10. What a fun post! Like Kalie above, ours would have a lot of similarities to yours. I can see us living and traveling all over the world for varying lengths of time. I imagine staying in little villages where we can walk the kids to and from school. I’d have the time to explore all the crazy ideas and what ifs floating around my mind. I’d probably have several little side businesses bringing in a little money here and there. However the details play out, everything would be a lot simpler. That’s for sure!

    • MaggieBanks

      A simpler life! Yes! (Also, I will try not to yell at you for getting to live in little villages in the UK… I’m coming to terms with it!) 🙂

  11. Rue

    I love this idea. It’s so easy to get caught up in one future path and this is such a great way to figure out which parts will be really important to you

    • MaggieBanks

      And life is so unexpected! If we’re not ready to be thrown off the planned path, we’ll be so disappointed!

  12. How it is to use kaleidoscope to picture what you want to have in the future. Like you, I would love to travel the world with my wife and possibly my daughter if wants to. I can see living and retiring in Las Vegas because we lived there for a year and we loved it so much. I can also see retiring in the rural where it’s quite and away from toxicity of the city life.

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s great to have a few “pictures” of what your future might look like. And it’s also good to realize the important elements that are the same in each one.

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