Decluttering, Denial and Retirement

(The third of three posts on Decluttering and Denial.)

We were pushing 50 when we were forced into downsizing our lives. Our kids were going out on their own, and while we still had a few years before the younger ones left home, it was clear that we no longer needed our 5-bedroom house. Empty nests don’t need to be that big.

So we discovered the freedom of living small, and we love it. But the act of giving up so many belongings, and moving to a much smaller house (so long, two-story foyer and giant master suite) made perfect sense for a couple heading toward retirement age. That said, accepting that we were that couple was kind of hard. I much preferred to think of the whole exercise as a prudent financial move than something that was appropriate for people our age.

The fact is that most people our age don’t have unlimited funds. Buying ever bigger houses and nicer furniture, and redecorating every few years, is fine for millionaires, but for us normal people, well, we don’t have that kind of money. For those of us who lost livelihoods in the lousy economy of the 2000s, it’s imperative that we live carefully, even frugally, because we don’t have a big, fat retirement account or pension awaiting us. We put everything into our businesses and our families, and now that those are gone, we need to look out for ourselves.

But those who are in denial about the fact that they’re nearing retirement age, and live like they’re still young and amassing houses and possessions, are putting themselves in danger.  It used to be common sense that you paid off your mortgage before retirement so that no matter what happened, you’d always have a roof over your head. Now people are retiring with mortgages, multiple car loans and several credit card accounts nearing their limits. Retiring on a fixed income with that kind of debt load is a recipe for disaster.

Denying what I see in the mirror, that I am getting closer to retirement age, would be an exercise in futility. Time marches on. Those of us who can admit that and make the tough decisions that will minimize future pain (including decluttering and downsizing as well as paying off debt) are doing ourselves a big favor. Those who remain in denial had better have ample retirement funds.

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