His and Hers Clutter

Within our extended family, there is a pair of married packrats. Their house achieved hoarder status long ago, with tall piles of junk lining paths through rooms. No one has been in their dining room for 20 years because the floor is covered with piles of stuff; you can’t even see the table or chairs.

It sets off my claustrophobia to see teetering piles of stuff on every surface. I don’t really like eating at their house on holidays or birthdays because their kitchen counters have so much stuff on them that I don’t see how they can possibly keep them clean enough to prepare food. My adult kids won’t go there anymore because it’s too hard to keep their toddlers safe.

So I have a very hard time visiting these two relatives. I just want to back up the truck and clean that place out. I don’t know how they stand all that mess. But I suspect that there’s some kind of competition going on.

You see, they use each other’s clutter as an excuse for keeping their own. When one brings home more stuff, the other declares that they shouldn’t have to give up any of their own clutter just to make room for their spouse to bring home things they’ve bought. The result is a steadily filling house.

It’s hard enough for an individual to conquer their clutter issues. But it’s twice as hard when it involves a couple. There’s no one there to encourage them to get a handle on the mess. Instead, they keep adding to it.

Interestingly, no one in the family ever comments on the piles of stuff surrounding us as we sit and visit. After all, they’re both middle-aged adults, and we’re not their mommies. But I guarantee, many of us are thinking, “Get a dumpster! STAT!”


How to Get Over Decluttering Regret

It’s been seven years since we completed our massive decluttering effort, and six years since our grandchildren began arriving. What this means is that from time to time, I find myself wishing I still had something I got rid of, usually something that a grandchild would have liked or that one of my adult children who is now a parent wishes I had saved.

This is tough. That regret is painful. I can picture the item so clearly in my mind, but it’s long gone.

The most recent example is educational toys. I once had a fine collection, curated over many years of raising a large family. But I let go of most of it when we moved to the small house we live in now. There just wasn’t any room for it.

According to her pediatrician, one of our grandchildren may be gifted. This child has a very active mind and body and needs to be kept busy; her response to boredom is to get into trouble. Her parents have discovered that keeping her occupied with challenging puzzles and other activities is the key to saving their collective sanity.

I understand completely, and wistfully imagine how nice it would be to give them all those great educational toys we once had. But they’re gone.

I’ve begun to see, however, that it’s a complete waste of time to regret this, and particularly to dwell on it. It’s not as though there are no other educational toys left in the world. Rather than mourn the loss of what we had, I’ve been taking that energy and putting it into finding new educational toys for my tiny tornado, as I fondly call my very active granddaughter.

I’ve been checking out thrift stores and garage sales, and what I’ve discovered is that many kids are given educational toys, but few use them. So I’m finding very nice puzzles, games and other toys in like-new condition for mere pennies. Sometimes the packages are still sealed!

I buy these things and keep them at home until I see my grandchild. Until that happens, they take up space in my little house, so I’m glad to get them out of here. And, of course, my grandchild and her folks are thrilled with them.

There are no strings to these gifts, no emotional attachment involved. They can keep them or get rid of them once she’s bored with them. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m just happy to help out.

This is a new attitude for me. If I’d kept all of my kids’ educational toys, I’d be saying things like, “Give it back to me when she’s tired of it in case another grandchild needs it,” or “Don’t let her rip that, it was yours when you were little.” I would want that collection to be preserved.

But it’s gone. These “new” items are serving a purpose for a time and then they will be gone, too. That’s OK. There’s a lot of freedom in doing things this way, and the end result is that my house stays uncluttered. So much for decluttering regret!

A Tale of Two Downsizers

It is far, far better to willingly downsize your life than to lose everything and to be forced into doing so. I’ve lived the first situation, and have witnessed the second, so I feel that I speak with some authority on this subject.

Someone close to me had a very high income for much of their adult life. I’m talking several hundred thousand dollars annually. Occasionally they would lose their job, which is common in their industry, but they would quickly find another, often at a higher rate of pay, which was also common in their industry.

And so during the 80s and 90s, and for several years after the turn of the century, they lived very well indeed. With houses in two of the five most expensive housing markets in the country, plus land in Hawaii that was going to become the site of their vacation home, they were riding high. There were cruises, expensive cars, designer clothes and shoes, gorgeous furniture….they were living the life they always desired.

Then came a job loss that was not followed by a new job. By then, they were well into their 40s, and soon discovered that getting hired was no longer a sure thing. Before long, one house had to be sold, and then another. The land in Hawaii was sold for a third of its market value. The cars were sold, too, as was the furniture, once a rental townhome became the best possible housing option. But the credit card debt was insurmountable, so bankruptcy ensued.

But they would not give up on getting the dream back again. Even though they own nothing now, they’ve been renting a small place in one of the extremely expensive cities where they once owned a home. They’re working two jobs, and barely surviving. Their sole car is leased, with one year to go. Some of their credit cards are maxed out already; they also owe money to a couple of generous friends and relatives.

I’m very worried about this person, but they laugh off my concerns, even after all they’ve been through. (I could not live with the stress of their lifestyle, and I no longer have the energy to work two jobs, if I ever did.) And with retirement looming around the corner for both of us, I can’t imagine what they’re going to do if they don’t hit it big again (an unlikely event), given their addiction to a pricey lifestyle.

I am grateful for my simple, small house, my paid-off old cars, and having no debts. I don’t know where my husband and I would be today if we hadn’t willingly downsized our lives 11 years ago. I sure wish the person I’ve described here would have done what we did.

(Learn how we and others have proactively downsized our lives in my book, Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility and Financial Peace.)


The Wisdom of Becoming Debt-Free

Every day around three o’clock, local young parents zip past my house on their way to pick up their kids at the nearby school. I am astonished at their vehicles, which are usually brand new SUV’s. These parents whizz by in their expensive transportation while chatting or texting on their not-inexpensive smartphones, as I mentally calculate how much they’re spending each month to live this lifestyle.

This is why I’m particularly proud of one of my younger kids and their spouse. They’ve chosen to become debt-free. They rent a nice duplex while all their friends are out buying houses. They share one old car while their friends drive around town in late-model SUV’s and pick-up trucks. One of their co-workers told them they spend $1000 per month on their new pick-up, including insurance. My kids were stunned to hear this. They had two older cars with car payments, but sold one to pay off its loan, and are about to pay off the car they’re currently using. They’re also working hard to pay off their credit card, the balance of which was greatly enlarged by medical bills that their lousy health insurance from work wouldn’t cover.

I know how hard this is for them because I’ve been there. It’s not easy to live modestly when almost everyone around you is living large. But those living large never stop to consider what will happen if they lose their job and don’t find another at the same income level right away. They won’t be able to make their car payments and their vehicles will be towed off, they’ll fall behind on their mortgage payments, and then they’ll lose their home to foreclosure. This happens every day all over this country, but most people, and especially young people, think it will never happen to them.

So I’m really proud of my kids, but there’s a little self-interest here, too. You see, if they become debt-free, it’s much more likely that I’ll never have to see them suffer the repossession of their vehicle or their home. And that would be just fine by me.