Well, I’ve been doing this Early Retirement Thing for almost eight months now, so it seems as good a time as any to step back and evaluate how it’s going. I looked back at my earlier post (“The Great Experiment: Early Retirement….or Now What?”) in which I outlined my objectives for this year:
- To finish long-ignored cleanup projects around the house;
- To learn how to “do” retirement happily; and
- To discover rewarding activities that feed me physically, spiritually and emotionally (and perhaps financially).
In the same post, I also set up a “To Do List” for myself that I intended to complete this year:
- Visit Paris for the first time with my husband (a life-long dream!)
- Clean out the garage and a storage shed
- Inventory my deceased parents’ belongings (in said garage and storage shed), work out with my brothers what to keep and what goes to who, and get rid of the rest
- Pack up the parental items for my brothers in our new SUV and…..
- Do a Route 66 driving trip with my husband (another life-long dream) to deliver the goods
- Determine what our next big trip will be and when
- Rest and recover from the corporate world!
- Beyond that, I will go with the flow, open myself up to new experiences, not make any commitments for a year and purposely let things evolve.
As I look at my lists, it’s surprisingly heartening to see that I am generally on track (since some days I don’t even know what day it is or what I am supposed to be doing). And here’s my lessons learned so far:
Clean-up projects: I’ve done a good job of cleaning out closets and drawers inside the house and my husband and I are off to a good start on the garage. (Its now organized but we haven’t thrown much out.) But, I will be shocked if we have the garage and storage shed completely cleaned out by the end of the year. It is highly unpleasant and emotional work and there is nothing in our immediate future (like an imminent downsizing or move) forcing us to purge. Furthermore, we have differing ideas about what to keep and what to toss, so I am finding it is best to take it slow. Life’s too short!
Family heirlooms: I have been much more successful in weeding through my parents’ stuff, deciding objectively what to keep, and we will be taking a load to St Louis to deposit with my brother. I am finding it much easier, with the passage of time, to be able to part with things that were hard to even look at a few years ago.
Travel: Our trip to France was indeed a dream come true. As expected, there were a few bumps along the way, but we saw and did everything I hoped, and we both have great memories to last our lifetimes. We also enjoyed our trips last fall to Annapolis for Navy football games. We are now planning a cross-country road trip (Route 50 eastbound and Route 66 westbound) that should be quite the adventure and have decided our next big trip will be Ireland in the fall. In general, I have found travel to be the best part of retirement. It takes my husband and I out of our normal routine, encourages us to work together on the planning and execution, and gives us a shared sense of adventure.
Home life: I have found one of the biggest adjustments has been to a 24/7 marriage relationship. When I was working, I was gone much of the day and traveling quite a bit, so it was a big change (for both of us) to suddenly be home all day, initially with nothing to do. This is one of those areas where “experts” advise extensive pre-retirement planning and communication as to post-retirement activities, expectations and roles. However, despite our best intentions, we found it difficult to anticipate exactly how things would play out until we actually found ourselves thrown together in the same house all day. I suppose those with more perfect marriages would find the adjustment effortless, but for us it has taken (and will continue to take) work to find the right balance (e.g., things like individual v. joint activities, time apart v time together).
My husband and I are very different in several key areas, which we already knew after 25 years of marriage, but it became more pronounced the more time we spent together. For example, he is more of an introvert than I. He can go hours, days (weeks!) with very little social interaction; whereas, I am quickly climbing the walls after too much quiet time. What has evolved is that I am often out of the house on my own – at exercise classes, lunches/outings with friends, book club, study groups, etc., while my husband putters around the house working on his projects. We do have some lunch or golf dates, but we have learned to give ourselves freedom to have plenty of separate time. When we are both home, we are often working in opposite ends of the house – I have taken over the den as my “office” and my husband has his “office” in the family room. Most days when we are home, we have breakfast together, go our separate ways during the day, and then come back together for dinner in the evening. I suspect other couples may have different routines that succeed for them but this seems to work for us – it gives us each space to do our own thing, and we have things to talk about when we come back together. As with so many other areas of my life, I am finding this year to be a journey of self-discovery and a time to devote effort toward deferred relationship issues (both with myself and significant others).
Friends: Unfortunately, I have not kept in touch with as many of my work-friends as I’d hoped. I suppose it was inevitable, but as time passed we had less in common without the shared workplace, and we have not put in the effort to build personal relationships. Over the years I developed many on-the-job friendships with colleagues and clients strictly over shared work projects and interactions (many of them long-distance and some of them I never or rarely saw in person). Without the daily professional exchanges, it takes time and effort to maintain all those relationships! The few work friends I do keep in touch with regularly, however, have been those with whom we reciprocate with time and energy, and who have developed into close and cherished personal friends.
Because of this, I am grateful that I maintained strong personal friendships outside work throughout my career. Post-retirement, I turned to a solid core of friends whom I am now happily spending more time with and deepening those bonds. In some cases, I reconnected with good friends from high school or those I’ve collected in the area over the past 25 years. I’ve met a few new people, but close friendships take time to develop so I’ve never been more thankful for my old friends, my golden friends.
Physical health. I have never felt better (knock on wood!) My stress level is way down, I’m exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and I’m usually pretty happy!
Work prospects. Never say never! I am starting to feel like I wouldn’t mind holding down a job again someday. It wouldn’t be the type of work I previously did, but I do miss many aspects (going to an office, the camaraderie, challenging myself, the sense of satisfaction with the mastery of skills and accomplishment, self-esteem, and of course, the paycheck). I can also see myself becoming bored and/or restless at some point. So, another part of my journey is to be open and imaginative about work opportunities; to find something I love that affords me flexibility for travel and other activities I enjoy.