Thursday, 8 November 2012

#318: The Retirees' Report

On our recent road trip, Bruce and I stayed primarily with friends and family, and in doing so, we managed to connect with 16 of our favourite people, folks we have known for a very long time. We didn't stay with all of them, but we we did visit with every one, and caught up on one another's lives. As a newish retiree, I was very keen to see how they were all managing to be happy and fulfilled while dealing with the challenges of aging.

But first, here is some background on this relatively homogeneous group:

Who they are:
Our 16 friends/family are all well educated, 70-ish, and a mix of couples and singles equally divided between men and women.  This is a reasonably healthy bunch, too.  There were a couple of major complaints and the expected minor ones (knees and hips topped this list) but by and large, there was no whining.  So far, the afflicted have adapted well.  Can't kneel in the dirt to plant the garden?  Raised beds are the answer. 

Where they live:
Only one person has downsized dramatically:  Alexis, retired and single, wanted a smaller space temporarily, but now she thinks it makes permanent sense.

Bruce's cousin Jim and his wife have moved, though their new residence in an "adult lifestyle" community is probably the same size as our detached house.   Their attached bungalow is a good choice, however, because it allows them lock-up-and-go flexibility when they set off on another travel adventure.

BTW, no-one had pulled up stakes and moved to a new "retirement town".  (Around here, moving away is not uncommon and usually begins with the following declaration:  "Guelph is getting so big that we are moving to Wiarton/Fergus/Bracebridge....."  This makes no sense to me.  Especially because the speakers invariably keep their Guelph physician, dentist, hairdresser and lawyer.) 

And here is where it gets interesting-- how they spend their time:
Once we got How are you? and How are the kids? out of the way, we moved on to What are you up to? 

We discovered that none of our friends and family is whiling away every afternoon in front of the TV.  Better yet, men as well as women are equally busy with yoga, tai chi, reading, volunteering, knitting, playing and writing music, flower arranging, scrapbooking, watercolour painting, language learning....... their activities are as diverse as they are.

There are very likely 7 volunteers in this group, 6 hobbyists, and about 12 are really committed to some sort of fitness. (Numbers are approximate.  We were just chatting.  I didn't have my clipboard.) Three people are continuing to work several hours a week!   And if there was a house, a garden, a pool, a pet -- I knew how these people spent their time.  Throw in illness, a few grandchildren and an aged parent (amazing genes in these families!), and that is a very full life.  Hobbies, lunches with friends or cultural outings are squeezed in if possible.  But regardless of what else was going on, everyone was able to travel.  We were delighted to discover that every one of our friends made at least one trip last year.  Not everyone went to Burma like Dale and Elizabeth who have a son living there, but they had all been tripping.  The top destination?  Ottawa, to visit friends and family.

Conclusions about a balanced retirement?
As a retiree who has trouble achieving the right busyness balance, I was interested to hear what other people had to say about the amount they do, and how they might change it.  What feels right, it would appear, is a mix of useful, satisfying, stimulating, and social pursuits.  Elizabeth (Seattle), who has a large house, a garden, 2 nearby grand kids and an elderly mother, feels a bit over-committed.  As a painter, she sighs over a half finished canvas down in her studio.  She'd like to do yoga more often, but what can she give up?   John (Edmonton). with a house, a garden and a dog, recognizes that he needs at least one more outlet, and has plans to do some volunteering this fall.  Sandra (Dauphin) teaches music but she is a big-time reader, helps with her grand kids, and goes to yoga.  She just knows that one more commitment would be waaay one-too-many.

I heard this story often enough to wonder about an unwritten retirees' "rule of 4".  That is, most of this youngish, relatively healthy and motivated group, regardless of what they do specifically, have the energy at this time of life for about 4 different commitments.  For example: House + trip + volunteering + grand parenting = A Full Plate.  The combination is different with every person, but on average (give or take health problems)  4 seems to be the optimum total.  Italian lessons + volunteering + elderly mother + dog = Enough Already.  The same for trip + trip+ trip+ trip.

What I learned:
The lesson for new retirees?  Start slow.  Do not commit to every darn thing that comes your way. If you are already busy with the usual house and garden responsibilities, you may not have as much discretionary time as you think.  Be warned: if you take on too much,  you will not have much fun.  You will be stressed and anxious and you will wonder why the basement is still as messy as ever.   

The lesson for me?  More Arithmetic practice is indicted. Nancy knows how to count, and she is very proficient at addition!   But she needs to work on subtraction. 


  1. Fascinationg insights and, as far as I'm concerned, timely.
    I'm fairly fully committed, but only because, at p0resent, I have lots of grandparent commitments, which are a huge pleasure. I am so lucky that I have this transitional time to really plan my retirement.
    Meanwhile, I keep busy. Today, I thought was going to be quiet: only the driving comitmeent (what was I going to do after I'd done my hour of gardening and my walk to the shops?), until Jim gently reminded me that today we join with our grandson and his fellow 'bush builders' at his school where we have some hard labour clearing scrub from the undergrowth in the'arb'(oretum)in the outer schoolyard.
    So I guess the time does get gainfully used.

  2. And the thing I really wanted to comment on: 16 friends in Canada, western seaboard US is going well. In addition you have all your good friends whom you visit regularly on your overseas jaunts. Perhpas that's another secret to a successful retirement: maintenance of good friendships which you and Bruce seem to have sussed.

  3. And we want all of you to come and visit us in Guelph! Not all together, mind.