You Don’t Have To Own Anything By The Time You’re 30


I’m 32 years old. Even typing that feels really weird. My twenties are, thank all the Goddesses, just far enough behind me now that I can laugh about most of it (MOST of it). And if I could tell you just one thing to get you through this decade, it would be this: You don’t have to own anything by 30.

You don’t have to own nice candles or a car. You don’t need to own sheets besides the ones your parents bought for you in college, or a TV, or any particular make-up, facial products, or sweaters. You don’t need to own a pair of heels. 30 will come anyway and it won’t make a bit of difference what you own. Your 30s will happen to you no matter what you do.

What you can do is use your twenties to figure out what you need and what your money can do to help you get it. If you live in an area without public transportation, you might want to focus on a car that won’t break down, and don’t sweat matching towels. If you live around the corner from a coffee shop and you like to take up space there with a computer or a pile of books or just feel fancy with a nice latte, don’t worry about what kind of coffee pot you keep at home, and also, maybe take a hard look at your clothing budget and adjust to accommodate. If having your friends over is really important to you, put some money into “entertaining” accoutrements; if you like to go out, spend your money on cabs and shoes. Until you have the kinds of responsibilities that truly can’t be ignored, like kids, it’s your money. Pay your bills, try and save a little, be kind, and figure it out from there.

I moved 1000 miles away from my friends and family on the East Coast, and I now live in Louisville, Kentucky with my partner. We have exactly one million times more space than my friends back home, and it is the joy of my life when my loved ones come here to visit. I bought a really expensive air mattress, but we aren’t in a position to buy a new bed yet. I’m still using the same towels I’ve had since college. I have a nice, new car, because that was a practical and unavoidable expense, and it allows me to go home. I know what’s important to me and my partner, and we try to spend our money accordingly. And here we are, in our weird little life, and there isn’t a thing we “need” to own to be happy and in love and responsible adults who take care of one another and pay our bills on time. Your thirties will only be as different as your twenties as you make them; you’ll only grow and change as fast as experience allows.

Creating and reading lists like this truly makes sense. The amount of stuff we need to juggle and keep straight in our minds as we try to find the path we want to walk and then actually do the travelling along it is obscene. Lists give us a place to start and compass points by which we might navigate if we so choose. Sometimes it makes us feel crappy about ourselves because we’re “behind;” sometimes we feel pumped because we’re “keeping up” or “ahead” of the arbitrary notions about where we should be, what we should be doing, and what we should own. We’re all unsure of where we are and where we’re supposed to be. A fixed point — a map with “You Should Be Here” clearly marked — can give us something to orient towards, and that isn’t a bad thing.

And it’s important to keep in mind that we’re all presently navigating a world that wasn’t built for us. No woman, queer person, or person of color in the U.S. is living in a world designed to help us succeed. Many of us are actively fighting structures built to prevent us from succeeding. Few of us have the privilege of a road map for success to follow; we’re making it up for ourselves as we go along. Watching someone else make it up, and the call and response of “I tried this and it worked for me,” and “I tried it, too, and it didn’t” is part of building a different kind of world and new kinds of structures with our needs, and goals, embedded in their very creation. This can seem silly and self-centered, but it isn’t. When people tell you it is, take a long hard moment to think about the privilege that insulates them from the need for communities and conversations like this one.

Use your twenties to test out what makes sense to you financially, and how those things relate to your values, morals, and goals. Try things. Fail at those things and try some new things. Buy some things you don’t need, and try to remember not to buy those things again. Cheap out on some things where you shouldn’t, and try not to do that next time. But always remember that those choices are and should be specific to you — to what matters to you and to the kind of life you want to build.

Maybe you want your friends to be able to visit comfortably, so you spend more on a two bedroom apartment and AirBnB that extra room when you can. Maybe you need privacy to grow into yourself, so you move to a tiny studio on the cheap and spend a lot of time every day commuting. Maybe your hair looks great because you’re 23 and it doesn’t matter what you do to it so you never spend a dime on hair care; maybe you’ve always had problem skin and it sucks so you splurge on face products and can never afford a taxi. Make your choices, and use those conscious decisions to remember that you’re empowered.

There’s nothing more badass than knowing what you want and need, and coming into your own — and no list or map is ever going to save you the glorious trouble of figuring out how to get there.

Image via Pexels

Kaitlyn Soligan is a writer and editor from Boston living in Louisville, KY. She has some thoughts on that transition, bourbon, and life in general that she shares at her blog.
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  • Jack

    This article was a breath of fresh air! I whole heartedly agree with all of it. I’m 29 and until my partner recently moved in, I spent $1525 a month on rent because I spend so much time at home I couldn’t imagine having a roommate. I bought a vitamix and an omega juicer because I value homemade healthy meals. However, I have never ONCE paid for a cab in Vancouver, I don’t drink alcohol, rarely pay for any transportation, and workout for free.
    I think you highlight it well, that everyone has different priorities, and that is ok 🙂 Now if only more people in life would understand that you have to pick and choose your priorities instead of whining about not having it all….

  • nycnative

    Yes! Thank you for this! From a fellow 32 year old, I couldn’t agree more 🙂

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      Thank you for reading! <3

  • Amy

    THANK. YOU. Man, this article is just the thing I needed to read today.

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      That’s basically the most wonderful thing a writer can hear, so thank you <3

  • Lauren

    This is the best article. I love this website.

    • Kaitlyn Soligan


  • tera

    Old towels are more absorbent, and old sheets are softer!

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      Here I will admit that I’m probably afraid to buy new sheets because how many times will I have to wash them before they’re worn down to appropriate softness.

  • As someone who just turned 30 a couple of months ago – this is one of my very favourite posts I’ve read on this site.

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      Thank you so much! And congratulations – I LOVE my 30s.

  • You get all the claps. This is so, so great. I’m not too close to 30 yet (26!) but I really think this applies to all the lists out there. It is a great reminder. Also, shoutout from a fellow Kentuckian!!

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      Hey, from the Bluegrass State! <3

  • Samantha D

    Amen! I spend “too much” on housing because I love it. I don’t drink alcohol, so have fewer spendy nights out. It’s all about what’s important for you.

  • dylansdream

    i loved this article! it reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed. now this is not adressed to people in their 30s perse, but just as this article, i think it applies for people of all ages, those in their 30s too:

    “You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what
    they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan
    to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by
    demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an
    impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those
    things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You
    have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to
    give it all you’ve got. You have to find people who love you truly and
    love them back with the same truth. But that’s all”

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      Thanks so much! <3 Cheryl

  • Phoebe Prentice Terry

    I remember when my parents split up I was about five years old and my Dad must have been in his early thirties . He had just moved into a new apartment and decided to go back to school to do a degree in Design so his pad was seriously bare bones apart from my toys and books. When his Birthday came around my Mum asked me what I though we should get Dad for his present and being the observant five year old I was I told her my Dad kept his tea and coffee and sugar in packets in the cupboard and it may look nicer if he had some containers. So we went out and got him some lovely chequered green tins for his Birthday. More than twenty years later HE STILL HAS THOSE TINS! There is something so inherently sweet and comforting about that.
    I think we shouldn’t be so concerned about upgrading our stuff and instead try to make it last for as long as possible.

    • A.M.

      I so agree. Basically all those “things you should have by the time you’re X” lists come down to a bunch of shit you’re supposed to buy. It reduces adulthood to your life having a certain look rather than the real things you should be acquiring as you age–experience, wisdom, and understanding about what YOU need or want in life. It discounts both the fact that every person’s journey through life is different, and the fact that growing up is at it’s core an internal, not an external, process.

    • JD

      This story is adorable to me!
      I love a story of split up parents still buying gifts (my scenario was so not that) and I love that he hung onto them all these years. After all, if it ain’t broke…

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      That’s so wonderful. I’m still using a ton of things in my kitchen I got from raiding my grand-parents house when I was in college. They were built to last and they make me really happy. There are definitely things I have to upgrade all the time – like, kitchen towels do not hold up, facts – and those let me have a little “re-decorating” thrill when I have a little to splurge with. (I live on a tight budget – not because I’ve got it figured out but because I’m a freelancer – and for those who can re-decorate on a whim, I SUPPORT YOUR CHOICES that seems like fun!)

  • Summer

    Great piece, as so many have commented! I’ll be 32 in November and I can wholeheartedly confirm that 30 arrives regardless of what you do or do not own. It also doesn’t care whether you’re single or in a relationship, whether you rent or own property, whether you have a great job or one you hate, and it definitely doesn’t give a shit about the size of your bank account. What does matter is that you’re living your life and [hopefully] learning a few things along the way. Adjust your budget and your lifestyle to accommodate the things that mean the most to you, and don’t worry about what anyone else’s benchmarks are.

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      Right? Much like the honey badger, 30 doesn’t give a f%^&

  • Sofia

    I am 32 and I got my first car this year. Before I felt weird about not having one like it was a goal I had to reach by certain age. I decided to buy it because I got a new job and public transportation wasn’t reliable in that area. It saves me a lot of time and I am happy with my decision.
    I learned that we have to make decisions based in what makes us happy. I had a roommate for the last 4 years and it helped me to save money and reach other goals like buying my car. It was a decision and now that I finally moved on my own I am enjoying this new experience. We had so many stereotypes in our minds, like we should live on our own by 30 or having a car by certain age but every person’s timeline is different. I am happy to reach these personal goals in my own time and even I see friends in their 30’s buying a house, I don’t feel the pressure, my time will come 🙂

  • JD

    I so love this article as well. 30 year old here..
    I often feel a slight bit of judgement from my fellow New Yorkers when they learn ::gasp:: I don’t live in Brooklyn (or Manhattan, but it seems these days most are in BK). It’s like I’m a foreign creature they’ve never seen before as they struggle to comprehend why I’d choose to commute ‘so far’ from Queens each day. But the truth is, my commute isn’t that far (sometimes the trains suck, but most times it’s fine), my rent is SOOO reasonable, my apt is large, I have a balcony, the neighborhood is quiet and safe, and with all the money I save – at least a $1000 less than most of my friends each month – I can afford to buy a taxi here and there if I’m out, without worry. It works for me like their situations work for them, but I often really feel the judgement swinging my way that I don’t send back to them. Priorities differ for everyone, even when you’re in the minority.

    • Kaitlyn Soligan

      I like to think of other people’s judgments as a moment to examine my own beliefs, confirm I really hold them in a genuine way, and proceed about my life as planned. Also, a great opportunity for day-drinking. <3

  • D. Broussard

    I really appreciate this! I’ve been settling into the apartment I moved into with my boyfriend quite nicely, but have been apprehensive to have guests. It doesn’t feel “together” yet because I don’t have a stockpot, dedicated bar cart, etc. last night munchies family came over for the first time and I realized that I don’t need all of these things just because I’m 25 and I live on my own now. Thank you, thank you for this article!

  • Christine L.

    This article came to me at the perfect time. I am 28 and currently still renting a two-bedroom apartment and sharing a car with my husband (who gets it 95% of the time because he commutes 45 minutes to work, whereas I can walk to my job in about 30 minutes). I just finished my bachelor’s in May and am still in training for my career certificate…and I just feel like I’m so behind where I’m “supposed to be.”

    But when I stop and think about it, we’re actually doing pretty well, despite not really owning anything. We both have IRAs and health insurance, a couple grand in two savings accounts, minimal credit card debt, no kids, and we are no longer living paycheck to paycheck. A second car and a house will come in time. Until then, I can work on being content with where I am now.

    Thank you for sharing!