Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 449 Free at Last

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

I've entitled this podcast "Free at Last"

“I don’t own a thing”, said Diane Athill, a British editor and writer. She has just recently moved into an assisted living facility. “And I love it. For the first time in my life I feel free,” she added. She went on to rave about the arrangement where other people make her meals, make her bed, clean her apartment, shop for her groceries and do her laundry. This could be the description for the living arrangements of a king or queen, or the rich and famous. But it really describes someone who is ninety-two years of age, of sound mind and body and just moved into an assisted living facility. Sounds pretty good to me now that I think about it.

I know we live in a materialistic world and we seem to always be on track to accumulate more stuff. Why is it that when we get older all of this stuff seems to turn on us? It becomes a weight around our neck; drags us down, becomes clutter.

There seems to be a real advantage to simplifying one’s life. I’m not sure it comes with age just because we are older or if, indeed, it come with wisdom that has taken us a long time to acquire. Perhaps there is no shortcut. Maybe it would be just as advantageous to simplify life at an earlier age but we just don’t know enough to accept it.

It’s hard to understand why it is we expend a great deal of our life accumulating things and then conclude we don' need them. The advertising agencies have worked their magic. Or, perhaps it’s because our parents and grandparents shower us with gifts of every kind when we’re young and we get use to it; conditioned to it; accepting of it. I know every time I walk into my grandchildren’s rooms I’m astounded at the number of toys, games and other stuff. Why do they have so much? I know my daughter some times disappears some of their toys and the kids never miss them.

Whenever we have the opportunity to spend Christmas morning or birthdays with them the quantity of gifts amaze me. I recall getting one gift for my birthday; perhaps three small gifts for Christmas which included two articles of clothing and one toy; always just one toy. I still remember a couple of these toys from seventy years later. If one of my toys came up missing I would know it and look until I found it.

“Times have changed”, I’m told. Well, I’m not sure it is such a good thing. I always wonder how many “gifts” or things will be needed as our grandchildren grow older. Perhaps the effect of getting all of these gifts as children will result in them not wanting so much in later life. Perhaps they will realize at an early age that life can be focused on more than material objects.

I’ve mentioned before in some of my other podcast my friends from Alaska who retired and sold everything they owned except a few cloths and their car. They sold their land, house, furniture, sporting goods (they kept their bikes); they sold their dishes, threw away their photographs unless there were people in them. They gave away paintings & tools. They terminated any investments they had. They put all of their money in the bank in a simple savings account or checking account. They cleaned house – big time.

They said that they wanted their kids to be able to cremate them when the time came and  then walk across the street to the bank  and split any money they might have left and be done with it.

They rent a furnished house. They travel a lot. They travel light with two  small rucksack, bikes and a van that is also their only car. They moved from Alaska to New Mexico. They are free. I always ask them if they miss all of their things and they always reply in unison, “No, Not at all”.

I’m not sure this is for everyone but it has a certain appeal. I know we try to make a conscious effort to throw stuff away. If something comes in the house we try to make sure something else goes out. That’s one thing I like about eReaders – an iPad or Kindle for example. Books can come in and out of the house and not take up room on a shelf or have any physical presence; same with magazines and newspapers. I know some people like to collect books. I have always felt fortunate in that I never really wanted to collect anything. My modus operandi has always to use whatever I get and if I don’t use it then get rid of it. Now that I say that I think I’ll soon take a good walk around the house and see what stuff can be unloaded.

Perhaps Diane Athill is on to something. Being free from things might be a worthwhile goal for we retired people. This past summer I spent time each day for a month or more cleaning out our storeroom. I sat all the stuff our kids had left here over the last thirty years out on a covered patio. When they visited I asked them to take what they wanted but nothing was to go back into our store room. My goal was to make our store room ours and to not leave anything in there that would need to be dealt with when we die. If it is not something we use then it had to go. My goodness how nice that room looks today. Lots of space.

Maybe I’ll do a walk around the house when my wife is out of town and throw stuff away. Then again – maybe I won’t.

This is Retirement Talk with something to think about.

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