How Time Disappears in Retirement

To the uninitiated, retirement sounds like a vast stretch of free time with maybe a few minor chores like laundry thrown in. Theoretically, yes.

However, all of the retirees I know are as busy—if not even busier—than we were when we worked for pay. It’s a fundamental mystery of retirement that I have so little free time. Or perhaps I should say “unscheduled” time, because really, I have nothing but free time. But I’m using a lot of it. Having fun.

Now that I can choose whatever I want to do with my time, I’m like a kid in a candy store. There are so many choices: classes, writing, travel, volunteering, two book groups and the associated reading, hanging out with friends, family get-togethers, etc. Why not set a date to make sure it all happens? As a result, I regularly confound my sons and working friends with how booked up I can be.

Here’s how a lot of conversations go:

“You want to stop by on your day off? Great! Oh, wait, I’ve got pottery class that morning.”

Or

“Happy hour? I’d love to, but not that Wednesday—I’ve got Guthrie tickets. How about Thursday instead?

I get that this is annoying to people who have less flexibility than I do. But if another day works equally well, I’d rather do the original activity I planned and paid for.

Of course, I’ll drop everything when something comes up:

“My car is in the shop. Can you give me a ride?”

Or

“Can you pick me up at the clinic? I’m not supposed to drive after my outpatient procedure.”

For years, other people controlled my schedule. The magic of retirement is that now most of what I’m doing I’ve chosen to do. This time feels precious. It’s a gift—not empty hours while I’m waiting for someone to call or visit. Not too put too fine point on it, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have or how long I’ll be healthy.

I want to use my time well.

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Slouching Toward Retirement

I’m not ready to retire yet.  But if I squint I can see it from here. And I don’t like how it looks.

womanondock Baby Boomer To Do List

1. Figure out a retirement that I want to be a part of.

2. Invent a new approach to assisted living/aging in place.

3. Think up better ways to volunteer/give back.

4. Consider my legacy—what it is and how I can help others understand and value it.

5. Resist irrelevancy, crankiness, and being set in my ways.

1. Figure out a retirement that I want to be a part of. 

Trend specialists are always predicting that Baby Boomers will change the face of retirement, just as we have changed so many other institutions (the workplace, motherhood, marriage, etc.)  I sure hope so. Living in a retirement community where golf and bingo are the main attractions does not appeal to me.

Boomers tend to think we’re pretty interesting, and we assume we’ll remain so in retirement. In fact, being cool is probably our birthright! Of course, we’ll invent a better version of retirement.

But I wonder how excited we’ll be about riding our Harleys across the country, when our backs ache and our knees are going . . . . And that assumes we’ll even be retiring. Financial necessity will motivate a lot of Boomers to keep working past age 65. And who will be taking care of our elderly parents and the kids that might not be fully launched?

OK, OK. That’s WAY too much reality. Retirement is years away. Let me get back to creatively daydreaming about how I want retirement to look.

I want it to look like less work, more fun. I want a smaller place (less cleaning, less stuff), but I still want to have a postage stamp-sized yard so I can garden on a smaller scale. I hope to resume some hobbies I set aside for lack of time – pottery, for example. I’d like to learn how to do raku. Making stuff from paper—cards, collages and so forth. Jewelry and stained glass. Quilting and sewing. Maybe I’ll take up canning. Indulge my foodie self a bit more. Start a gourmet dinner group.

Travel. Maybe I can learn enough Italian so I could teach English in Italy while my husband learns the secrets of Italian cooking. Or perhaps I can study abroad (can grown-ups do that, too?), Sounds expensive. Wait, wait. No reality.  I’m daydreaming here.

Be more random and spontaneous. Take back roads and visit antique stores and cafes in little towns instead of always taking the interstate. Go to movies, concerts, plays, art galleries that I’ve never heard of. Decide on a Thursday to visit an airline fare sale city on Saturday—just to see what’s there.

I’ll definitely keep on writing whether or not I get paid. I’ve got a lot more stories to tell and perspectives to share. Besides, I’m a writer to the bone—I can’t stop even if I want to.

Keep thinking and learning. I’ve never understood how you retire your mind.  I’m way too curious and I love learning new things. I hope to audit college classes, take workshops, and read voraciously.

I intend to continue volunteering, but perhaps in different ways (more to come about #3).

I plan to keep active and healthy, but I don’t want to be obsessed with it. I’m unlikely to spend more than an hour per day on keeping fit.

I want to help my kids fix up their homes when they buy them and play with their kids if they have some.

Oh yeah, I’m still hoping to have some lasting impact on the world. I figure I’ve got at least 20 more good years. I ought to be able to change the world in that amount of time, right? I know, I know. Tick tock.

Well, except for the last one, these are pretty modest retirement goals. Sounds like a life I could live.

What do you hope to be doing?

Stuffed

Unlike Elizabeth (I’ve Never Had Something Not Burn), I have lots of stuff—a houseful of it! More than I need. But I have trouble parting with it.

I really like my stuff and so much of it has a story.

I got the 1930’s wrought iron floor lamp from my parent’s basement. Now it’s painted blue, but before that it was red, and at one time it was black. I made the small nine-patch quilt because I loved the 1940’s retro print fabric. My bookcases are filled with books that mean a lot to me. I like the mission style desk I bought and refinished years ago.  I still like this stuff.  It makes me happy to have it around. I feel at home because it’s here. And that’s just my office. Lamp & quilt

Lurking in my office closet are piles of old writing samples and presentation supplies related the freelance writing business . . . that I gave up a year ago. I also have paper, clay, jewelry, knitting and craft supplies that I rarely use.  But I might.

Just a few of my bowls . . .

Just a few of my bowls . . .

Or what about all of the bowls I own? Bowls I made years ago when I had access to a pottery studio. Bowls I bought at art fairs. Bowls I picked up in antique stores. I could dirty bowls for several weeks before I’d run out of clean bowls.

And mugs! That collection is even bigger. I could tell you where each one came from—Spain, the North shore, a friend, and on and on. I love them all, but really, how many mugs does a person need?!? Occasionally I give some away when the cupboard gets too full, but there’s still a box of mugs on a basement shelf (don’t tell my husband).

These are just my favorites . . . I have more!

These are just my favorites . . . I have more!

The stuff I’m keeping is still good. I might need it someday.

The classy interview suit I don’t wear—the pants are kinda tight and I’m not looking for a job right now. Will it be hopelessly out of style the next time I’m interviewing or have a funeral to go to?

My box collection. I save shoes boxes and Amazon boxes so I can send cookies and presents to my family in Toledo.  Really, three or four would suffice, but I’m sure I have at least a dozen. My husband has learned to nest them so they take up less room and he weeds them out carefully so I won’t notice and squawk.

Lately, I’ve realized that having a lot of stuff can be oppressive.

I have to dust it, protect it from breaking, or store it.  Managing my stuff takes time and thought. Not just the housekeeping, but also the emotional upkeep of caring about my stuff—remembering the person who gave it to me and feeling torn when I want give it away. Deciding what to keep and what to give away is hard, so I don’t do it very often.

Even divesting myself of all this stuff will be hard. 

I’ve visited too many estate sales in which old hot water bottles, empty picture frames, spare light bulbs, rusty garden tools and other stuff nobody wants was lined up for sale next to kitschy-enough-to-be-cool Christmas decorations. But the sad useless stuff tainted my pleasure in getting a deal on some cookie sheets or a pie plate that my sons actually needed.

Recently, my sister spent hours cleaning and pricing stuff for a garage sale. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the end, she didn’t sell that much, so a lot that stuff went to Goodwill anyhow.

A good friend just pitched 19 years’ worth of teaching materials—all those lesson plans, readings, exercises, student samples—that treasure is irrelevant now that she’s retired. But I know she was sad to say goodbye to several decades of a profession she was passionate about.

My husband and I talk about moving to a smaller house someday. If we do, we’ll have to shed a lot of our stuff. I wish I could give it directly to someone who needs it—somebody just starting out who wants a lamp . . . or some bowls. I’d like to give my still-good stuff in a more personal way than just having Goodwill or the Vietnam Vets collect it. I wish I could hand it to somebody who will actually like it and enjoy it the way I have.  I daydream about placing an ad that says, “Come get some great, well-loved stuff—FREE!”

No doubt I’ll be sad when the time comes to move, because I’ll be shucking off an identity and lots of memories. But I hope my life will feel a lot lighter and simpler—more carefree.

Free Vase

For more than 30 years, I’ve displayed a hand-thrown porcelain vase in my home. It has an opalescent glaze that I’ve always liked. As an off-again, on-again potter, I admire the skill needed to make the vase. Recently, when I wiped the shelf it sits on, I saw the artist’s name inscribed on the bottom and recalled the odd coincidence that led to me having the vase.  Inside Vase

My younger sister Margo and I are two years apart, and during college, we ran in different social circles. One quarter, we each took an introductory ceramics class at the Toledo Museum of Art (my class was at 9:00; hers was at 1:00). Consequently, we worked in the same ceramics studio but at different times of day.

Two assistants—both accomplished potters—helped students figure out how to use a kick wheel to throw a pot. To do this, you have to balance on your left leg and use your right foot to regularly kick a bar that keeps the pottery wheel spinning fast enough so you can use both hands to center your gray lump of stoneware. I was WAY too uncoordinated to do this, but gamely tried for the duration of the class.

Fortunately, I was better at making hand built pieces, so my grades on those pieces kept me from failing. Margo was a little better at throwing pots on the wheel, but not much. We both produced awkward heavy bowls we should have trashed.

Unbeknownst to us, the two assistants were good friends, and they had taken an interest in us. Jeff was attracted to Margo, while Pete was interested in me.

With her waist-length dark hair and dimples, Margo had been turn-and-stare, good-looking since she was 14. I didn’t come into my own looks and style—honey blonde wavy hair—until I was in college. I wasn’t as used to being noticed as Margo was.

30 years later . . .

30 years later . . .

We both enjoyed flirting with our respective guys, but neither Margo nor I mentioned the minor flirtation we each had underway. We both had jobs and school and didn’t see each other that often. Similarly, the guys didn’t know they were chatting up sisters until one day during finals. After our pathetic bowls and mugs had been fired in the kiln, Margo and I came in together to pick them up. Jeff and Pete were cleaning the studio while they waited for students to claim their pieces.

Jeff was about to discard the porcelain vase he’d made because it had a small chip off the bottom and the some of the glaze on the side was too opaque. We asked if we could keep it—it was so pretty, especially compared to what each of us had made. Pete, in turn, gave Margo two tall porcelain vases.

But although I have dusted it a thousand times, I rarely see it anymore, so I think it’s time to give it to someone who will like it as much as I have. Do any of you want it?

This blog was inspired by a book called The Secret Life of Objects by Dawn Raffell.