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I Became Mortgage-Free At 36 But I’m Not Retired

Retired ≠ Not Working

By Katharine ChanPublished about a year ago 5 min read
Top Story - July 2023
I Became Mortgage-Free At 36 But I’m Not Retired
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

My parents retired in their 60s.

For over 40 years, they were clocking in and clocking out every single day, from Monday through Friday. They’d rush home, drop us off and pick us up from whatever activities we were in, all the while trying to cook dinner so that it was ready for 3 hungry children.

Then they’d madly clean up and get us to bed so they can relax for an hour before starting all over again. They were like rats chasing their own tails.

Then as their kids grew up and left home, they were finally able to stop working. They now spend their time at leisure, watching shows, going out for dim sum, shopping for groceries…pretty much anything they want.

All this fun for the rest of their lives…at least what is left of it. Old bones, sore joints and bad backs creep into their daily routine. They are tired and easily tired. Their zest for life can be satisfied with a salty MSG-laden snack.

This is what they worked so hard for. Now they’re enjoying the fruits of their labour. When I recently asked my parents about it, they said they wouldn’t have done anything differently. And I absolutely believe them. They really do enjoy doing nothing. They are fulfilled because considering what they know and value about the good life, they really are living it up.

But I’m not them.

I don’t want to work my ass off for 40-plus years and then enjoy myself for 15 years (maybe 20 years if I’m lucky) before my health starts to deteriorate and my physical abilities become increasingly limited. That’s not how I want my life to be because I grew up in a different time and place than them.

I’ve always been a planner. I like visualizing my life 5, 10, 20 years into the future. And to be honest, I’ve gotten everything I wanted for where I am. I worked very, very, very hard to get here. Trust me, I came from humble beginnings and I have an incredible work ethic.

Yes, there were detours, setbacks, pivots and a ton of disappointment. But I changed gears when I needed to and took the lessons with me. Dreams changed. Goals changed. People changed. But my act of planning never stopped.

I believe that if you can’t picture yourself in the future, you will always be stuck in your current state. In other words, you’ll never move forward and the past will become your present.

So I want to visualize a day in actual retirement.

My Definition of Retirement

First, I have to define what retirement means to me. There are a few conditions:


Having those monthly payments are like serving a life sentence. The bank holds you as a prisoner in your own home. Having a mortgage basically means the walls aren’t mine. I’m taking a loan to close my bathroom door so I can piss in privacy. I’m borrowing money to have a roof over my head.

A mortgage is the first thing that must go before I can even think of retiring. And last year, I murdered the thing. That was hard to write. It’s hard for me to share good news.

I planned the kill. I pulled the trigger. I sold half my portfolio right after multiple interest rate hikes and made the monumental deposit. I couldn’t take throwing more and more money down the drain every month (the chunk going to interest, not equity).

Poof…it literally disappeared from my bank account overnight. I hugged my walls and dry-humped the floors. Now, I can breathe a little easier.

Passive Income = Expenses

My books are selling enough to pay for my Netflix subscription and my writing on Medium is letting me go out for lunch once a month. So most of my passive income comes from dividend-paying stocks. Yes, it is boring.

Since I sold half my portfolio last year, I have a lot to make up for it. It was heartbreaking to see it get gutted. I opened my first savings account when I was 8 years old. I got my first paycheck at 14 and I’ve never stopped working since. My Asian parents taught me to always save a portion of my income and spend it within my means. And I did that, even as a teenager.

I was late to the game of investing; however, when I did start almost 10 years ago, I had a decent amount to deposit into my portfolio. After that, it grew slowly and steadily.

But then after pressing the sell button…it was like where did it all go? Oh right, into this damn home I’ve been living in.

All those years of planting seeds, watering them, giving them sunshine and watching them grow into a thick tree with ripened fruit went away in a few seconds. I feel like Groot when he became baby Groot, starting all over again. But this time, that freaking mortgage isn’t sucking up my resources.

So when the day comes and the amount of passive income I’m generating is enough to pay for my expenses, I will officially call myself retired.

Working Income = Fun Money

Currently, I am freelance writing. And that pays the bills. Yes, I still have bills, obviously. There are things like electricity, insurance, groceries and property taxes that still need to be paid. Oh, plus I have kids…and they depend on me. They’re called dependents for a reason.

But once my previous condition is met…I’m not going to sit around like my parents, passively watching the sun rise and fall as they wait for their end of days. I’m still going to write. I’m going to find projects I’m passionate about. I’m going to work. I’m going to learn and grow and do things that challenge me. The only difference is that I will be only working for fun money.

So once I meet all of these conditions, I will consider myself officially retired. And from how things are looking right now, I won’t have to be in my 60s for this to happen. But my kids will be old enough that they don’t need me to pick them up, feed them, bathe them etc.

Anyway…what would that look like?

Wake up when my body naturally wakes up

Drink a large glass of warm water


Write in my journal

Make coffee unless it’s a day when my husband and I go out for coffee

Go for a walk outside while listening to a podcast or audiobook

Come home and prepare a meal

Write or work on a passion project

Take a physical activity break (yoga, weights, dancing, swimming, running etc.)


Write or work on a passion project

Prepare dinner

Have dinner with my family

Clean up

Go for an evening walk

Watch TV or movie or attend a class

Get ready for bed

Read my book

Go to bed

And that’s a regular day in retirement for me. Inject some travel days/months and fun meet-ups with friends and family…I’m as happy as a clam.

Having written this down and reading over it makes the hard days feel worth it. I’m still in the grind with little kids and a baby Groot to nurture. But now that I have defined and can visualize retirement, that day seems much more attainable and closer than I realize.

So Readers, how would a day in the retired life look like for you?

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About the Creator

Katharine Chan

Sum (心, ♡) on Sleeve | Author. Speaker. Wife. Mom of 2 | Embrace Culture. Love Yourself. Improve Relationships | Empowering you to talk about your feelings despite growing up in a culture that hid them |

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Comments (19)

  • R N Sharma5 months ago

    Genuinely written. I see some of my own desires in your write up (so selfish of me, haha). All the best Katharine!

  • Wells Fargo5 months ago

    Beautiful words to pay tribute

  • Justine Crowley9 months ago

    I am with you. I realised that I got out of the rat race in my late twenties, yet I kept working (mainly part-time) with the exception of working full-time for 7.5 years in a sales management role. That ended in late 2019, and it is a joy to say that I have been self employed since. I do not need to take on any more Government temp gigs, unless I wanted to. No mortgage. No other debts. Passive income is building - royalties, bank interest, and stock dividends at this point. I mean, why wait until 65 to enjoy the good life? Have it now in chunks, while your health is around as well. Great work.

  • Manisha Dhalani9 months ago

    Love your routine - mine would be similar. Congratulations!

  • The promotion of debt in our society is sickening. I have strived in my life to assume no debt at any cost. Debt is marketed to us in many different forms and it is made to look fancy and attractive, however, it is killing all of us slowly. Our earning power is eaten up by debt on a daily basis. Try, in your best endeavors, to eliminate debt and you will take a huge weight off of your chest and just feel happy. Thanks for your article.

  • ARCabout a year ago

    Really thoughtful article, Katharine. Your writing is accessible and bright, nice and friendly to enjoy a few moments’ break while reading. The content of this article also left me feeling inspired and uplifted. Beautiful work. You have a new subscriber :) (Oh, and congrats on a worthy TS!)

  • This was very fascinating! Retiring early is always the best! Congratulations on your Top Story! I've subscribed to you!

  • Babs Iversonabout a year ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!!!❤️❤️💕 Living my best retirement now, I did most if my traveling before retiring!!!🥰

  • Stephanie J. Bradberryabout a year ago

    Your approach to this topic is a nice balance of narrative, facts, introspective reflection and motivation. Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Jazzy about a year ago

    I’ve been on a debt free journey as well bc like you I don’t want to be 60 when that happens. My husband and I have been dabbling in never owning a house for a chance to travel after th kids are grown. We will see. I’m so happy for you and good luck 🖤

  • Morgana Millerabout a year ago

    It’s funny reading this, I temporarily “retired” one year ago (cashed in acquisition equity to take a year off that has bled into a longer duration) and many of my days have looked a lot like your list, but I feel antsy and purposeless. I don’t want to return to a career that I did not enjoy, and for what it’s worth I do not have children, but I find that the one thing I didn’t recognize would be missing from that list is this deep urge to be of service. When I was working 70 hour executive weeks, I was starved for self care, but now that my cup feels full, I want to care for others. It’s interesting to me how difficult our society makes it to find that balance. Good luck on your financial journey and your journey of enjoying your life! :)

  • Heatherabout a year ago

    "I hugged my walls and dry-humped the floors." This made me laugh so hard! 🤣 Seriously though, congratulations! It's so motivating to hear about people becoming mortgage free.

  • Raghavendra S Raoabout a year ago

    Thanks for sharing this story.

  • LC Minnitiabout a year ago

    Love this! You just described the perfect day in “retirement” for me. (And I’m sure a lot of people here!). Sounds lovely!

  • Kendall Defoe about a year ago

    A lot of questions, but only a few to pose for now: How do you start investing with these companies? Do you have to go with the stockbroker or can you do it privately? I really know nothing about investing and I only have safe investments through the bank. Great article, by the way. You have a new sub...and a great Top Story!

  • Sylvia Emmanuelabout a year ago

    Beautiful ❤️

  • D. ALEXANDRA PORTERabout a year ago

    Great read & I am cheering for you!

  • Ruth Stewartabout a year ago

    That was a very interesting read. Well done.

Katharine ChanWritten by Katharine Chan

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