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Author: Mary Lloyd

I run a company dedicated to providing useful, current, relevant resources to those who want meaning and satisfaction in the years after they retire. To address the non-financial aspects of planning for and living this stage of life we currently offer: Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love, A practical, fun to read book with exercises to help you chart your own course. www.mining-silver.com, a content-rich website on the topic Planning Tools for Bold Retirement, a workbook of exercises to help you figure it out, and Living Silver, a four-part, eight-hour course on how to make this phase of your life sparkle. I left an executive position in the natural gas industry at 47 thinking I had it all figured out. After 13 years of working on how to make it work, I am now ready to make sure I can help everyone I can reach learn that the current "Golden Years" model falls far short of what we need to thrive for as much as another 30 years once we no longer have to go to work.
Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

This was originally posted on Dec. 19, 2010. It’s still relevant, so here it is again. (Happy Holidays!)

This time of year, stress is everybody’s “best friend.” No matter how hard you try to “keep things under control” the holiday season seems to devolve at some point into a meltdown, a blow up, or both.

Why?

Probably 80% of why things go wrong is because we are pushing so hard to make them go right. “I have to get my cards out in the next two days.” “Little Jennie is going to be so disappointed if I can’t find that baby doll that cries real tears.” “It’s the holidays, I need to bring something more interesting to the office potluck than veggies and dip.”

The overload comes with the best of intentions. And the worst of consequences. When things go very wrong at this time of year, it feels a thousand times worse. Not only have I not done that thing that everyone was counting on me to do, I have now come unglued in front of God and everybody during “the holidays.”

You don’t even see it coming, most of the time. Suddenly, someone does something minor, and you react in a major way. A few days ago this became very clear to me when a guy in a pick-up half a football field behind me when I changed lanes pulled up behind me at the next stop light honking and waving his middle finger. Did he really think he had exclusive rights to the lane? Or was some “holiday thing” getting the best of him.

I have discovered that, left to automatic responses, I tend to find fault more at this time of year. (How’s that for “Happy Holidays?!” )  Maybe you’re doing that, too, and don’t realize it.

At a minimum, let’s all do each other a favor and throttle back on all the huge elaborate plans. We don’t need to have prime rib and lobster for Christmas dinner. Expecially not with Yorkshire pudding and drawn butter and seven different sides. We don’t need a huge tree, seventeen gifts for each family member, and four family events within the same 24 hours.

Whatever holiday you are actually celebrating, it didn’t start because of a need to outdo the next guy with yard displays and open house spreads. So instead of rushing around trying to get every elaborate idea you’ve come up with accomplished,  stand back, take some deep breaths, and think “Goodwill” or “Peace” or “Bless us one and all.”  Or maybe “What, of all this, am I enjoying?”

The twelve-foot tall wooden solder to greet your party guests on the porch really isn’t worth it. That Grinch, Mr. Stress, is waiting behind it, and you don’t need him.

RIP retirement?

RIP retirement?

It’s time to admit the obvious. Retirement has outlived its usefulness.

New labels for what comes after fulltime work continue to proliferate.  Instead of “retire, it’s “rewire.” Instead of leisure, we’re urged to take on an “encore career.”  We should see it as a transition to a “portfolio life.”  We have become the Third Wave or Second Halfers.  We’re in the Third Act. Instead of the old “golden years” we’re really stepping into the “silver years.”  Every one of these terms has been used by a well-meaning author and advocate to help clarify “what you really need to get retirement right.” Except they don’t.

The sheer volume of alternatives to the word “retirement” is fascinating.  “Retirement” doesn’t really capture the realities of this stage of life, so why haven’t we found a better word and gotten on with it?  For almost a decade, I’ve been assuming we just hadn’t found the right new word—that we were on the right track but hadn’t stopped at the appropriate station yet.   Daylight has finally dawned and guess what.  The train is just plain going to the wrong place.

We don’t need a catchy new label for assuming roughly the same thing.  It’s time to retire the concept of retirement, not just the word.  We’re moving in a whole new direction in how we choose to live our years after tthose we spent in the conventional workforce.  It’s not a matter of repainting the signs with new names.  We’re not all going the same place.

Yet we continue to hold onto the old paradigm (“retirement”) when reality has us doing a whole lot of other things. People who “don’t have enough money to retire” are tarred for being bad planners or impulsive spenders. That may be true. But they may also be onto something those who “got it right” so they could retire with financial security have yet to discover. Buying into traditional retirement might turn out to be like buying 8-track tapes or typewriter ribbons.  The world has moved on to new options.

There are many ways to live life well no matter how old you are. The options don’t all evaporate the second you stop working fulltime. And continuing to work fulltime is not the mark of an inept person. Some of us are just going to work until our last breath–for a wide variety of reasons. These are personal choices based on individual situations and preferences. The notion that those who are not doing the traditional version of retirement are “wrong” is, itself, very wrong. As long as we’re still here, we have as much of a right to craft whatever life we want as the twenty-somethings.

So what does this new world include?

Work–at least some of the time.   To keep life interesting and to avoid mental, physical, and emotional decline, you need some kind of work.  (This is as true at 27 or 48 as at 68 or 82.) If you don’t need the money, it doesn’t have to be for pay. But it does have to get you jazzed. Whatever work you do needs to make you want to get up in the morning. Sometimes, it can be as mundane as cleaning the garage. It may not be all day every day. but over the long haul it has to be FUN.

Balance.  One of the big differences from career years is that you can pay attention to whatever you decide is important. You’ll run out of interesting things to do in a hurry if all you focus on is what you haven’t been able to get to though.  There’s a reason you haven’t gotten to this stuff–it didn’t have the priority.  Build a lifestyle that gives you time with those you love, time to create, time to reflect, and time to play–and time to work at something meaningful.  Get your minimum daily requirement of fun. Stay open and try new things.

Flexibility.  This is the central tenet for replacing the old retirement model.  In fact, finding ways for every worker—not just the oldest ones—to have more control over when they get the work done would probably unleash a wave of creative genius and productivity to rival the Industrial Revolution. But this is not just about the work piece. Learning to adapt effectively (and gracefully!) to new developments will get you past health detours and relationship changes as well.

Curiosity. The happiest people are the ones who want to know more…. who notice that something has changed and explore why that happened….who want to meet the new person in the building….who see an unfamiliar make/model of car or a word on the page and learn about it. Life presents opportunities to be curious all day every day. It’s a matter of noticing and acting on the ones that most intrigue you. No matter what the date on your birth certificate happens to be, curiosity keeps you vibrant.

Traditional retirement is about stepping away from life into a familiar, comfortable world.  More and more research is sounding the alarm about the negative impact of doing that. We have better options. If you need to keep it in the closet for a while to be sure, do that. But you probably don’t need “Retirement.”

Beginnings are messy…

Beginnings are messy…

This was originally posted on Dec. 19, 2011. It deserves another read.

The farther you move through life, the more tempting it is to want to have everything under control.  Bad plan.  That strategy is a nice straight road to boredom.  Being a beginner until the day you die is an important piece of creating a good life.  And beginnings are not controlled situations.  Beginnings are messy.

Sunrise 1.28.19 M. Lloyd

When you move, things are total chaos for a while.  When you start an art project, everything you might need gets hauled out of drawers and closets.  To renovate your yard, you usually create a mud bog at some point in the process.

To make something better, most often, you need to make a total mess of what you already have.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it may be an essential piece of appreciating what you have once you’ve completed the change.  My mom’s yearly version of this process was the family camping trip.  Dad was great about getting everything needed by a family of nine packed in–and on–the car, getting us there, getting the tent set up, etc.  He was really good at making order of the inevitable chaos.

Mom, however, was better at appreciating the chaos.  “Going camping” was our vacation and that meant new adventures for us kids and the chance to break from the routine for our parents.  But “going camping” also made us all appreciate that routine when we got home and had everything put away.

The disruption and confusion of going in a new direction can be unnerving–and almost always is when you change anything significant.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t do it.  It’s just wise to realize what you’re getting into.

Beginnings involve going in the wrong direction.  When  you start something new, even if you have a full set of instructions (which most things in life don’t have), you make mistakes because the whole idea is new and a challenge to grasp.  Mistakes are every bit as much a part of getting things to go the way you want as the things you get right the first time.  Wrong turns help define the context of what you’re doing and help make it work well.  They’re most valuable if you use them–figure out what they’ve taught you and then move past them.  But if you can’t get that far about what went wrong, at least relax about the fact that they happen.  When you start something new, there are going to be mistakes.  Sometimes lots of them.

Beginnings usually involve a few restarts.  Thinking that it’s going to be smooth sailing from the get-go just invites frustration.  Redirects are inevitable. Sometimes, you don’t even know where you are trying to go when you start out.   And when you need to change course, you often need to just plain stop before you do so.  So if the project doesn’t keep going at a steady pace, don’t be surprised.  And for heaven’s sake don’t get all torqued about it.  Starting something new takes courage.  Finishing something new takes patience and tolerance–for clutter, confusion, and starting again….and sometimes again and again.

Beginnings often don’t look like beginnings.  Starting in a new direction is often disguised as something old ending.  This probably makes the messiness of a beginning even harder to endure.  When what you had worked for  you and was not something you wanted to change, it’s very hard to get on with the messiness of starting over.  That old reliable version of life was…well…yours, whether it was with a mate who died–or left, a job you lost, or health you took for granted. Pining for what was makes getting on with what’s next a lot more difficult.  Letting go of what you don’t have any more and stepping into the chaos of a new start is the only way to get on with your life.

Know that the disruption is essential and temporary. It’s easy to begin to feel like the turmoil is never going to go away, but that’s not what’s going on.  Psychologically, being able to predict what’s going to happen is as calming as being able to control it.   Reminding yourself that there’s an end point to the chaos gives you that predictability.

Beginnings are essential.   Beginnings can be intimidating simply because of the disorder and confusion they engender.  Begin anyway.  Having a good life is not a matter of having everything under control.  You need to keep your world expanding and to do that, you have to begin something new.  Again and again and again.

Life’s Little Train Wrecks

Life’s Little Train Wrecks

Over the weekend, a group for which I have written grants in the past blew up. Not literally, but in terms of the cohesion of the volunteers. One of life’s little train wrecks. Sometimes it’s a community effort, as this is. Sometimes it’s a work group. Sometimes it’s a family. What’s the lesson when it happens?

I’d like to believe that as we get older, we get better at not only staying out of the middle of this kind of stuff, but of also being peacemakers–the force that helps knit the group back together. In this case, the older ones were nowhere near that. I’m not central to this group, and my role in the weekend disaster was as a spectator. But there are positive things to learn just by watching.

The group is a niche historical society, tasked with maintaining and providing access to a lighthouse and related structures in a city park. They have been diligent over the last 25 years. Six of the seven buildings in the compound have been restored, and they are in planning to do the last one–the lighthouse itself.

One of their annual community events has been an afternoon tea at the lighthouse keeper’s cottage during the month of December. These folks weren’t spring chickens when they started doing that, and they’ve been at it a while. They’ve been thinking they needed to stop hosting the tea because they didn’t have the stamina anymore.

Then several new volunteers agreed to do the tea. Problem solved, right? It should have been. Instead it turned into this train wreck. Usually, something trivial triggers this kind of disaster. In this case, it was two words–“Holiday” and “Christmas”.

The email I watched spool out was to okay the flyer announcing the tea. What should have been a routine nod, turned into a major email argument over whether they were going to call it a “Christmas Tea” as they had since when they started doing it or a “Holiday Tea” as the team planning the event deemed appropriate.

At first it was civil: “Please change it back to Christmas.” Then people started to “vote” with more heated words. Then Santa (the guy who said he would BE Santa for the event) said he wouldn’t show up if it wasn’t “Christmas.” My thoughts ran in two directions as I watched: “This is so sad” and “This would be really funny in a sitcom.”

Except it wasn’t funny. I also don’t think it was political. (I live in the Pacific NW, a proud part of “the Left Coast.”) No, the problem was an inability to let go that the longtime members couldn’t even see in themselves and a frustration with that for the newcomers who had to use their energy and enthusiasm to deal with the roadblocks instead of the event.

I tried to defuse the situation by asking whether they were planning a community event for our diverse, current community or a reeneactment of what the lighthouse keeper would have celebrated in the early 20th century–aka “Christmas”. But it wasn’t a rational situation so that went nowhere. (Silly me.)

Eventually, one of the new volunteers forthrightly described how difficult it was for the team that was so ready to make it happen to have everything they suggested and planned shot down or stonewalled. That was brave. But it didn’t stop the wreck either. The oldsters involved have “hearing problems” that have nothing to do with their auditory acuity. No one stepped up to that truth from the old guard.

In her last sentence, she quit. I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the new volunteers will follow suit. It wasn’t about “Holiday” versus “Christmas.” It was that the old guard wasn’t able to do the work any more, but they weren’t able to let go of dictating exactly how it was to be done.

So….the lessons…

First, I do NOT want to do that. Ever. If I can’t do the work, how it’s done isn’t my call. No matter how many times I excelled at doing it in the past.

Second, peacemaking is a lot easier if people are willing to be rational, but that’s not the typical terrain in this kind of train wreck. You can try, but don’t be surprised if you get ignored.

Third, there will be differences of opinion when you’re part of a group. Respecting and addressing them is best done face to face, and, if possible, one on one. Also right away and bravely.

Fourth, some things cannot be fixed. This organization may end up folding because they are so inept at giving full status to new volunteers.

There’s no good lesson in having that happen.

Psst….the World is not flat. Pass it on.

Psst….the World is not flat. Pass it on.

We’ve known for centuries that those who thought the Earth ended with an abrupt edge had it wrong. Some day, our descendants will shake their heads in every bit as much disbelief that we could be so naive and clueless in how older members of society were perceived in the 21st century.

photo by Jacquie Webster-Patton

Getting older is not the catastrophe it’s assumed to be. We are not illness waiting to manifest. We are not a burden. We are not useless. It’s really stupid to expect us to just go away so that younger members of society can get on with making the world a better place. We’re still here and ready to help. Why is it so hard to find ways to do include all ages in our problem solving? And in the solutions themselves?

Older people need to be part of making the world better every bit as much as the teenagers who will eventually take their place. Why? Because they are an amazing resource. It’s absolutely insane that as a culture we’re assuming there is no value in being older. That youth is all.

Think about it.

  • We’ve had many more years of learning about life than those who are younger. A lot of what we now know is critical to solving some of today’s biggest problems–how to get along with others, how to fight for what you believe in with integrity, how to nurture without coddling, how to confront a bully, how to not spend money you don’t have. We’ve learned a lot by living this long.
  • We had the chance to try stuff before everything became “too dangerous” to be allowed to do it. So there’s a good chance, that absent all the baloney about keeping us “safe” because we are old, we’re ready to take risks. Some of the risks we took when younger were stupid. (You cannot fly by jumping off the garage roof. Ever.) But a lot of it was both educational and confidence building. A lot of it was stuff that transferred to other endeavors and situations. The dilemma in this is that our innate tendency to take risks has been squelched by this goofy notion that we must be taken care of and kept safe above all…because we are “old” and thus un-able. The oldest among us could be such a resource as mentors for risk taking.
  • We are far more likely to have acquired wisdom than younger people. Wisdom is currently in pathetically short supply. Wisdom will get us a lot farther as a culture than this idiotic bravado and “I am the greatest and my answer is the only answer” that’s so popular right now. Authentically old people can see the folly of what seems to be “the only solution.” We don’t get as worked up about things. We have the chops and the time in grade to be more patient. And we are willing to share all of it for the greater good. For any one person’s good if they seek it.

Not using an outstanding resource isn’t even the worst of this unenlightened thinking. No, the really BIG downside to current cultural expectations is that they encourage all the bad stuff we envisions as “old”–numerous health problems…which then need expensive medical procedures (or are at least assumed to). Eventually people who could still be highly productive, caring, independent members of society require huge amounts of support just to live a semi-life in some assisted living facility where they are “safe”–and bored to death, literally. The cultural mindset plays out: If there’s nothing else to do and everyone is expecting it, then, well, “maybe I’m supposed to be sick when I’ve had this many birthdays.”

There are a lot of older adults who would be just fine until their last breath if they had a legitimate role to play.

We need to mobilize this segment of the population–to help communities, to help kids, to help each other. We need to let them shine. If you assume THAT is what is expected to happen, there will be a whole lot more of it happening.

We all cheer when we see the video of the 90-year old woman doing a sexy tango in competitive ballroom dancing. We watch the centenarian who’s still teaching yoga with awe. I remember being in absolute bliss after reading about a 100-year old woman who was still the fulltime proofreader for the local newspaper. We want that continued engagement for ourselves.

Then we go right back to assuming that “people that age can’t do those things.” This is just so inane. Let older people do all they can. Everyone will benefit if we use every single morsel of talent, skill, and passion the best we can. The world is not flat!

Why are you going?

Why are you going?

I just got back from “the trip of a lifetime.” Another one. This time, it was an ocean cruise calling on ports in the Mediterranean for eleven days in a row from Rome to Barcelona. If you’re prone to drooling with envy, let me tell you how it went, first. I have done over 100 days on ocean liners. Sometimes, I am an incredibly slow learner.

At the Vatican

This was an “amazing deal,” offered by a travel agency that gets clients via pitches to the mailing lists of college alumni associations. I jumped on it because it offered two-for-one fares (and a dear friend and fellow alum was interested). Other goodies were free airfare, and six free shore excursions. Those ARE nice enticements. But I forgot to be sure I understood why I wanted to go at all. Turns out this was not the best way to do what I was I thought I wanted to do. And it turns out also, that what I thought I wanted to do wasn’t really what works for me at all.

I have done a lot of world travel, but little of it has been in Europe. That was always “for later–when we need to do the easy things.” That was naive. If you want a travel contact sport, try touring famous sites in Europe. The situation in the Sistine chapel has zero room for awe as the Vatican police bark “Keep moving. Keep moving!” from the second you walk in. (I actually got a better feel for the art from a traveling digital version that had been mounted on the walls and ceiling of our local former armory last year.) The truth is rude on this. Going to see this stuff in person is NOT going to be a highlight unless you are good with doing it in the middle of a crowd and without the chance to stop and LOOK. My experience was the same at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem 20 years ago. Like I said, I am sometimes a slow learner.

The “romance” of a Mediterranean cruise has stuck with me over time, even though I am no longer married to the man who so loves to be on the water. This ship appealed because it is small (684 passengers, which is about 20% of what you experience on the newest and best of the ocean liners). I liked the idea that it had a port of call every day, something I enjoyed river cruising last year.

I just plain had it all wrong. Ocean cruising is best when both sea days and port days are part of it. The whole notion of being on a floating luxury hotel has to be part of how you see it. And you need to like the idea of being in the middle of a crowd. Pretty much all the time, unless you take the time to do a formal meal instead of the buffets.

Wherever we toured, there were a LOT of people trying to see the same things. That’s just how it goes when several cruise ships are in port the same day and they bring thousands of tourists with them.

I finally got to experience the kind of travel I enjoy on the 10th day of a 13-day trip. I booked a tour that went to somewhere out of the way: Carcassone, a walled city in the south of France. The tour guide knew his stuff and spoke English well enough that I wasn’t doing an ongoing translation in my head to figure out what had just been said. And it was about a very different topic–military architecture. (I didn’t even start to process how problematic seeing the extravagance of all the Catholic churches was for me until after I got home.)

We had free time in the little town after the tour. I sat down in a cafe for some lunch and promptly made friends with a couple from Wales at the next table. It was then that it hit me: I had pretty much missed the fun I typically have on travel adventures because I’d been in the middle of a herd. My best travel memories are times in cafes, watching the locals, sipping a glass of local wine, sampling their version of food, and being open to what’s happening right there, right then.

So…what I thought I needed was to see some of the most important sights along the Mediterranean. I chose the wrong method for that. (Some friends on a Rick Steves tour of Italy in the same time frame had a much more successful experience: much smaller groups; more intense focus on an area instead of just “the big deal site”; tour guides who spoke the tour clients’ language well.)

But that’s not what I enjoy about traveling. I need to just experience the place. No famous churches, fountains or plazas required.

All is not lost, of course. Now I know I can wisely delete ocean cruising from my future. I suck at sunbathing, can only do so many buffets, and do not enjoy herds–except maybe buffalo in Yellowstone or Custer State Park, South Dakota.

I also learned this time around, that if I want to learn about these sites, a good documentary will do a much better job. They film when there aren’t a gazillion people trying to see the same thing. They get the shots that let you really SEE it. To “be there” is not the romance it seemed to be. This is very good to know.

Of course, if all you’re after is to say you went to those famous sites and to brag about being on a Mediterranean cruise, then a 2-for-1, free airfare, 6-free-shore-excursions ocean cruise might be just the ticket.

It’s About Time…

It’s About Time…

This is a repost from 2014. Still relevant…

I’m in a bar fight with Time right now. I’m not even sure who started it. At the moment, I’m in a big transition—moving to new space in a new area to a house that’s needed significant TLC before I moved in.

So I’ve been painting, cleaning, and  organizing storage areas, plus trying to corral all the stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in the two years I’ve been living where I am now.  All that takes time.  And I want Time to cooperate and give me enough to get it all done–to give me the sense that I have it under control. Time is not hearing a word of that. I am not in control. Nope. Not at all.

Time is not flying; it is evaporating, like needed rain that never gets all the way to the parched desert floor. There “should” be enough time. This move is certainly doable. I have good support from family and friends. I have good resources to call for paid help as needed. But still, I am in this absurd wrestling match with Time.

On the surface, it looks like it’s my own silly fault. This cleaning that I’ve been doing….I’ve gone through three toothbrushes at it…plus a bunch of bamboo skewers…untold numbers of Q-tips…a few toothpicks. I’ve been manic about getting that last bit of gunk out of whatever it is that I’m sprucing up.

There is so much to get done.  And yet I’ve been piddling around with a toothpick trying to get the dirt out of the ridges of a light switch. I’ve painted almost every wall and most of the ceilings of the new place. I’ve replaced the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors. I’ve been absolutely anal about how I set up the kitchen.

Have I gone over the edge—to where cleanliness is no longer next to godliness but instead has moved into the marginally functional wing of a looney bin? How can I possibly get all the work done if I putz at little things? Why am I fighting with Time like this?

But as I admit this and look more closely, it’s starting to make sense. There is a lot to get done with this move. And I do like to start with things as clean as possible. (Dirt is okay but only if it’s mine.) But this move is one of a kind and involves more than getting my stuff from here to there. When I move, someone I love will remain behind—by choice, but still…. Much of what I take with me will have to be replaced if he wants to be able to cook, clean, eat off a plate, etc. (He’s a guy; he may not….) So this preoccupation with getting things clean was probably a good way to end up with the right pacing.

Is there anything in this insight that’s useful for life in general?

Yeah, I think so.  I’ve always been an exceptionally well-organized person. I have not been like that on this move. Instead of making list after list, I’ve been blindly doing whatever seems to need to get done next. It turns out I have been letting my heart lead instead of my General-Manager-of-the-Universe mind.

Sometimes a list is not the answer. Sometimes, you just have to trust it’s going to work out and keep trudging along, even if what you’re working on seems to be getting a higher priority than it deserves. Sometimes, your hands have a better sense of what must be done than your mind does.

And that’s a good thing to realize at the start of a new year. “Because I’ve always done it this way” is a weak reason not to grow. By now I would be a raving lunatic if I’d have tried to manage this move the way I’ve done them in the past. I would also probably be heartsick and depressed. There are too many layers, too many extenuating circumstances, too much room to cause emotional hurt–to myself or someone else–by steamrollering through this move. What a blessing that I had the chance to piddle around with a toothbrush cleaning up someone else’s microscopic messes.

I haven’t been wrestling with Time after all. We were dancing, and I just didn’t know it.

Ahem…about your “stuff”…

Ahem…about your “stuff”…

This is a repost from 2014. It’s still really relevant.

It’s time to admit something important. At some point, someone is going to have to deal with your “stuff”. We don’t seem to be aware of this as we keep adding belongings.  Clutter is just a fact of life, right?

We keep stuff for all kinds of reasons–  “I might need it…”  “It was Grandma’s…” “I might decide to go back into that…”  But the ongoing accumulation of “things” is a slow motion disaster.  A few weeks ago, a woman in Connecticut was killed when the floor of her house collapsed—because of the weight of the stuff she had on it.  They didn’t find her until two days later; the volume was so massive that it looked like the floor was still there when the police checked initially.

That’s an extreme case, but we’re all affected by “stuff.” If you haven’t had to deal with someone else’s after they’ve died, count yourself lucky. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. But here’s the deal. If you can’t face dealing with it, how can someone else—who knows a whole lot less about it–manage to do it after you’re gone?

My family just went through this. Six siblings plus a dear and unflinching sister-in-law hauled load after load out of my youngest brother’s 900-square-foot home for five full days. We got rid of over 100 cubic yards of “stuff.” Don’t naively assume it was just a case of walking it to the dumpster again and again either. Landfills have rules these days. You must dispose of electronics, assorted batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, oil-based paint, other hazardous materials, etc. in very specific ways—or face a fine. There’s a whole different routine for latex paint. Plus, if those doing the disposing have half a conscience about environmental stewardship, there will be trips to the local food bank, Goodwill or a similar second-hand store, and perhaps the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to donate appropriate “stuff.” And there will be lots of trips to the recycle center.

Accumulated “stuff” is not the benign, minor flaw we want to believe it is. Letting stuff you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t care about pile up leaves less space, resources, and time for what could bring you joy now. Holding onto too many things from the past means you don’t have faith in the present–or the future. It’s also a waste of money if you’re insuring, maintaining, paying for space to keep, and otherwise lavishing resources on all that “stuff.”

My loved one didn’t set out to leave a huge mess for the rest of us to clean up. He felt he needed everything he acquired. That’s how we usually amass stuff…a teeny bit at a time, time after time. But “stuff” doesn’t go away on its own. Somebody is going to have to deal with it eventually.

All six of us siblings came home vowing “I’m not going to do that to anybody!”  So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do make getting rid of my “stuff” less of a burden when I depart. Everyone’s list will be unique, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Clean out the file drawers! Going through files is huge time sink for next of kin, and I can find most of what I’m keeping online if I do need it.
  • Make sure my kids really want what I’m keeping for them.
  • Whenever I learn someone needs what I’ve discovered I have (and don’t need), give it to them.
  • Mark the contents of boxes I do keep. Include a “Get rid of after ___” date to avoid going through boxes again myself when I can.
  • Donate to the food bank from my pantry. (This gets food I bought for a unique reason and then didn’t use onto someone’s plate rather than sitting on my pantry shelf until it expires.)
  • Dispose of the old paint immediately when I repaint. (But do keep the new paint for repairs.)
  • Be honest with stuff I get as gifts. If I’m not going to use it, return it, donate it, or regift it.
  • Remove anything I haven’t worn in the last year from my closet. Donate what I’m willing to part with. Put the rest in a separate stack. If I don’t wear it in another 12 months, donate it then.
  • Go through my bookshelves quarterly. Pass on anything I don’t expect to read again.
  • Leave notes for my loved ones about what’s what and how to get rid of it.

I want to do this right. From what I’ve seen lately, it’s a really good way to say “I love you.”

“Disneyland” Retirement

“Disneyland” Retirement

We have all these fantasies when we are getting ready to leave work. The excitement. The fun. The joy of just doing what you want as it occurs to you. It is a bit like Disneyland when you dream of it.

Photo by Taylor Rogers on Unsplash

But what happens when you actually live it? Well…

That’s like Disneyland, too–at least at the start. But it’s the reality of an actual trip to the Magic Kingdom in how things play out.

Yes, there’s Adventureland–all the exciting things you want to do that you’ve been waiting to experience. Yes, there’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle–where you are special (if you book and pay for that experience). Yes, there’s Mickey’s Toon Town–where you can act like a kid and no one raises an eyebrow. Maybe you will even do the Star Wars stuff–or maybe you’ll pass because of the crowds (but on a mega cruise ship or in a busy city you’re visiting, not in Disneyland itself).

But there are two things about actually living your “Disneyland retirement” that are starkly different than the still-at-work fantasy: it wears you out, and it’s fake.

Anyone who has actually gone to Disneyland (or Disneyworld for that matter) knows the trip typically involves a lot of planning, a significant amount of expense, and days of nonstop effort to make sure that you’re having the maximum amount of fun. You fall into bed each night. You rub peppermint lotion on tired feet and aloe vera on sunburned arms at the end of the day to be ready for the next day. You eat anything you can find because finding it is more work than when your refrigerator is within arm’s reach. You walk and walk and walk and wait and wait and wait. You love it. You pull it off for three or four or five days.

Then the fantasy starts to wear thin. Do you really want another ride, even if it looks like the Matterhorn? Do you need anything else with Mickey Mouse ears on it, even if your five year-old granddaughter is begging for it like her life depended on it?

You start to notice this magical place is a business. You become aware of the “cast members” (staff), cleaning up trash and trying to keep order in the crowds. You are a customer. It’s not real magic. It’s a consumer enterprise. Buy your ticket and stand in line (literally!)

All this is fleeting with a real trip to Disneyland. It’s a short period of time, and it’s easy to dip back into the fantasy to have fun while you’re there. But in “Disneyland retirement” the timeline is a whole lot longer. There, you will eventually surrender to the fact that you need something more authentic–more substantial. Why?

A trip to Disneyland is a vacation. The idea is to step away from your normal identity for a short time for fun–to recharge. Then you go back to being the Real You. With actual retirement, trying to live as if you were an extended trip to Disneyland isn’t satisfying because you give up your real identity to do it. That’s why vacation doesn’t work as a full time, long term gig. Retirement needs to be custom fit and an honest reflection of who you really are. You need to build it out of the stuff that really makes a difference to you, not off-the-rack, one-size-fits-all adventures day in and day out.

The Real Deal still includes a lot of fun. It might be fishing with your grandson rather than riding around a fake lagoon on a fake paddlewheeler. It may be creating a garden instead of walking through one carefully maintained along the Grand Promenade. The genuine experience will last longer and resonate more deeply than the commercial version. It might not be as flashy as the theme park variety, but it will feel right for you. (Then again, it may be a wilder ride than anyone concocting the commercial version could have imagined.)

Don’t buy a ticket and wait in line. Customize what you decide to do from Day 1 of your retirement. It works a whole lot better if you make it your own.

Livin’ in Fast Times

Livin’ in Fast Times

So much of what we do in our lives now is “fast.” Fast food, of course. We don’t have to buy the ingredients, make the dish, put it on the table, or sit down to eat it like our grandparents did. We just order it without ever getting out of the car and eat it as we drive out of the parking lot. Done.

author in 1981

Last week, I watched a news article about “fast fashion.” We can buy so much for so little–because of cheap labor in China and other developing countries–that we no longer focus on those “few good pieces” like we used to. Forget the classic blazer and the “great pair of jeans.” We buy and buy and buy–ten pair of jeans and that cute little jacket that will be out of date by next spring–because our money goes far enough to do that with what the world economy offers.

We’re also ingesting way too many “fast facts.” We get our information via quick paragraphs and video snippets posted on the internet and consumed in less that a minute. The “facts” are not in context. The validity of the source is rarely questioned. And the selection is curated “just for you” via the artificial intelligence used by Google and others to guess at what you want to see. “Just bits of the facts, m’am. Nothing but the bits.” Most of us could not knit a comprehensive statement of what’s going on in the world together to save our lives (which it could….).

What is said about fast food is true of all this other fast stuff. It’s JUNK. Our big, uber-sophisticated society is trying to live on junk, junk, and more junk. Usually, consumers vote with their wallets. They decide not to buy junk so it stops getting offered. But we’ve become anesthetized. Like zombies, we just keep buying–food, clothes, facts–that simply aren’t worth being consumed.

It’s time to give some thought to why we buy all this “fast” stuff. We all know that eating real food gives you a much better nutritional bang. But what about the rest? What do we gain by owning ten pair of jeans? What do we get from slurping up the garbage that’s presented as “news” rather than seeking out a longer, more thoughtful presentation of what’s going on so we can truly understand the situation?

A counterfeit sense of having nourished ourselves? A bulging closet that confirms our ability to buy things? A false sense that we know what’s going on?

We need to slow down. On all of this stuff. This fast-paced world is not doing us any favors. Going too fast can get you killed–from a traffic accident, a heart attack, or a stressed out coworker (or the collapse of your closet because you had too much in it!).

As the older members of society, we could be the ones to lead the way on this. We are wise enough to know that getting there first usually means you wait longer for whatever is going to happen. Getting there with nine pair of jeans in your suitcase just means it’s heavier to carry. Eating something from a drive thru that you gulped in four bites will leave you feeling like you haven’t eaten. Those strategies don’t serve us–or the world

“Fast” is good in racing. In saving a life. In stepping up to a priceless opportunity. But in day to day decision-making, perhaps not so much.