New research shows that young professionals in their 20s are resigned to a life of perpetual renting rather than owning a house.
The news is delivered with a tinge of anguish. But I say ‘good for them’. Bricks and mortar don’t make the world go round – freedom does.
Why on earth do the majority of people obsess about tying themselves down, and strap a depressing mortgage around their ankle like a ball and chain? I simply don’t get it. Taking on a mortgage and buying a house was important to my parent’s generation, it was the done thing and a financially achievable path for most to tread without dread.
But life was much simpler back then and followed a straighter path. It tended to go something like this: man courted woman (yes, that’s the right word, Google it if you’re under 30), became betrothed (see previous), got married, bought house and started family. Tick, tick, tick off the checklist of life.
Now, life is much more complicated - more a multi-coloured, layered Kandinsky abstract than a simple, sharp sketch. After school comes an labyrinth web of dating, living with a partner - or not. We might splatter a marriage in, possibly flick in a neon accent of a divorce. Or two. Or… You get the picture. Who wants to add house ownership into that jumble of a decade?
I owned a house in my 20s. Briefly. It was a disaster.
I say ‘owned’, but that’s not precisely correct. I ‘owed’ on a house. A tidy sum too. The two-bedroom house in UK’s leafy Richmond, south-west of London came with a pretty price-tag with big numbers at the front and far too many zeros at the end. It went hand in hand with a relationship, which took an abstract twist and left no one in any doubt about the gallery of debt it left behind - for me to pick up. That is the reality of many relationships in your 20s, and the next decade is often similar.
Fast-forward to today. I’m 41 and couldn’t care less about owning a property. Banks will get not one dollar of interest from me.
Instead, I've cleared my debt, moved on and I’ve never looked back. I’ve lived and worked in London, New York and Sydney, tucking career success alongside my air miles and life experience. You can keep your house and your material belongings, I’m not interested in either. I’ve been in miserable relationships and spent weekends trudging around shopping centres buying scented candles and vases to try and cheer up a disaster.
Now, I pick up my pay check, pay my rent and taxes, stash some in savings and have no idea what the next two years will bring, let alone five.
Funnily enough, my biggest supporter in this flighty freedom and allergy to a the monetary marriage of a mortgage is my mum - the very same mum who encouraged me to ‘find a good man, settle down and live in a nice house’. She saw how that worked out.
My mum, a member of the aforementioned generation, has owned a house for decades, and paid off the mortgage years ago. She worked hard and saved carefully for years of freedom in retirement. Cruises, adventures and golfing holidays were planned, somewhere, sometime, way off into the future. Then my dad was diagnosed with dementia and her retirement freedom was stolen along with his memories. It was totally, utterly, sickeningly heartbreaking.
Unless you’re either incredibly blessed in the banking department or a lottery winner, owning a property in today’s society is hard work and requires constant financial gardening and the sacrifice of 'today'. It often means being locked into a job that makes you miserable just to collect the pay check to clear that month’s debt. Even imagining that makes me feel depressed and claustrophobic.
Take a minute to Google ‘debt helplines’ (aka cashing in on other people’s mismanagement and misfortune) and the proof of mass drowning is evident. To be drowning in debt is to live in fear - this is why I don’t own a credit card and I’m not afraid of the future. Don’t get in too deep and you won’t drown. I learnt that in my first swimming lesson. Don’t eat more calories than you burn off. I learnt that when I busted out of a pair of skinny jeans after a three-week cake fetish. Aren’t life skills transferable?
I don’t owe on a house - I have freedom and I’m perfectly at peace with that.
As Malcolm X said: “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
On whatever scale of freedom we are talking, goodness there’s truth in that.
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