Career Loss Amplifies the Need to Be Completely Debt-Free

We paid off our last mortgage when we were 44, one year earlier than this guy says you should pay it off.

His reasoning is this:

“The reason I say 45 is the turning point, or in your 40s, is because think about a career: Most careers start in early 20s and end in the mid-60s,” O’Leary says. “So, when you’re 45 years old, the game is more than half over, and you better be out of debt, because you’re going to use the rest of the innings in that game to accrue capital.”

I agree with him, but let’s take it a step further. For an increasing number of people, “the game” was over by the time they were 50 or 55 or 60. Their job went overseas, or they were let go in a downsizing, or younger people willingly to accept much lower pay were promoted over them and then they were sent packing. Now they’re working at a job beneath their capabilities and earning far less than they did in the career they spent most of their life on.

When you’re in that position, there’s no time to “accrue capital.” You’re in survival mode. And when you’re in survival mode, the very best place to be is debt-free. When you own your home outright, no one can kick you out unless you don’t pay your taxes (which is why if you’re forced to downsize your life, you should move to an area where you can afford the taxes). So you’ll always have a roof over your head.

We were forced to sell our paid-off house five years after we paid it off, because a career loss meant that “the game was over” for us, and we could no longer afford the skyrocketing property taxes. We did not reinvest all the money we made from the sale of that house in a new house; in fact, we spent less than a third of that money on the next house.

This worked out very well for us. But the point is, we had the option of doing this because WE WERE AND ARE DEBT-FREE. So whether your “game” ends at 50 or 80, pay off all your debts as soon as you can, including your mortgage, and you will be in the best position you can be.

“I Was Gonna”

Were there ever three words that got more people into clutter trouble?

“I was gonna learn to paint so I collected all these paintbrushes, paints, books about painting, and canvases I bought on sale that are sitting, covered with dust, in my basement.”


“I was gonna start a jewelry making business, so I started collecting tools, stones, books about making jewelry, magazines about making jewelry, and display cases I was going to use at craft sales, all of which are now parked high up in the top of my garage rafters.”


“I was gonna start an in-home daycare, so I bought up toys on sale, including big climbing toys that fill a corner of my backyard to this day, but I never did get that business off the ground.”

Sound familiar?

Here’s one of my own (many) “I Was Gonna” stories. Years ago, I read a book review in a magazine like Glamour or Mademoiselle (remember that magazine?) for a book about making your own wedding gown. So I special-ordered it from Kroch and Brentano’s bookstore.

As it turned out, not long after I got engaged, I found my dream gown on a mannequin in a bridal store. It was only $50, so I snapped it up, and thus didn’t need the book after all. But I kept it just in case.

A few years later my sister got engaged and I thought I’d make her a wedding gown, but I became so busy with my new baby that I quickly realized that I didn’t have time to take on such a project. But I kept the book so I could make my baby girl’s wedding gown someday.

And I kept that book for 30 years. Finally, during our big purge several years ago, I admitted defeat and donated it to the local Goodwill.

Since then, two daughters have gotten married. One eloped, and the other wanted a specific gown that she saw in a bridal shop. So I never would have used the book anyways!

How many things do you have that are “I Was Gonna” items? Things you were gonna do but never did. Have you gotten to the point that you can admit that you’re never gonna do them? That you had good intentions but life got in the way?

It’s OK to admit that, by the way. It happens to everyone. The important thing is what needs to happen after you admit that you’re never gonna use that stuff: you let it go.

That’s right, just move it along. Donate it, give it to someone who wants it, or pitch it (especially in the case of very old, dried-up tubes of artists’ paint.)

Let yourself be who you are today, not who you were back in the day or who you intended to become. The space you reclaim will be your reward.


Taking Minimalism Too Far

While everyone can benefit from an uncluttered home, I have to question this woman’s decluttering effort. Scroll down to the photo of the child’s room with just a few items on the shelves. There’s hardly anything there for the poor child to play with!

It’s one thing for the woman to pare down her own possessions, but making her child live a minimalist lifestyle is unfair. Kids learn so much from books and toys; in a world where smartphones are sucking up their free time, they need plenty of good books and high-quality toys to stimulate their brains.

Since they outgrow these items quickly, an astute parent will allow them to own a wide variety of books and toys that can regularly be thinned out as they are outgrown. This will limit clutter while allowing their children to develop properly, feeding their brains and growing their imaginations.

Minimalism is fine for adults without children, but those with children need to rethink the concept, especially when it comes to their children’s bedrooms.

One Reason for Hoarding

There’s always a reason why someone becomes a hoarder. For some people, it has to do with a particularly traumatic upbringing. Others may have extreme difficulty making decisions about what to throw out, or what to keep. Some people find security in owning every single thing they might possibly need someday.

Then there’s this guy. He was supposed to share an inherited New York City brownstone with his brother. Instead, he holed up in the $10 million home and spent the last seven years filling it with….well, with everything. This worked for a long time, but now his brother is taking him to court.

When someone lives with so much accumulated clutter, there’s always a reason for it. Some reasons, however, are more obvious than others.