3 Steps to Independence for a Booming Retirement
Baby boomers’ brand is independence, nee even rebellion. Baby boomers as parental caregivers have seen their conformist, silent generation parents into and through retirement and for many, life. That experience informs our own retirement as the leading wave of boomers hit our seventies. Boomers want to retain their streak of independence in retirement.
Holiday gatherings raise the questions
The holidays are often the start of family discussions about, “How the folks are doing?” For the last twenty years, the boomers were the adult kids worried about their parents. Now, we’re the subject of the discussion. The years accumulate. Our millennial children start noticing changes.
Sometimes circumstances initiate the discussion. As when the retiree can’t keep ahead of the regular maintenance. Sometimes the adult kids prompt consideration of alternatives. As when the daughter asks, “Do you know anyone in the [local continuing care retirement community]?” Increasingly, proactive retired parents aren’t leaving the hard discussions for the kids to initiate. As in, “I’m planning to downsize. I don’t want you to have to deal with this all down the road.”
The discussions are hard because capabilities and roles are evolving. Memories and emotions are tightly entangled. We mistake the stuff for the memories associated with the things.
Here are three tips to turn hard discussions into productive actions for a booming retirement.
1. Downsize and move while you’re in command.
We’ve talked about the Peter Pan Syndrome and Peter Pan homes before. If you’re planning on never getting old. Never suffering from arthritis. Or osteoporosis. Or the fatigue of heart disease. You’re still pretending to be Peter Pan. Grow up. Be a Wendy. There are really only two possible outcomes. It won’t be an issue for you because you’ll die earlier than you hope. It will be an issue because you’ll live long enough for health challenges to reduce your energy and mobility. In both cases, you should be thinking of how both outcomes might affect others. If you have a significant other, is it fair to leave the hard work to him or her after you’re not able to help? (Statistics say guys are most guilty of this error.) Or you wait so long it’s a burden on the kids and grandkids to deal with your stuff and you. It’s far better to direct and control the disposition of stuff and the timing of a down-size move when you still have the physical and mental energy to be in command. Think experiences and relationships over things.
2. Animate treasures with meaning.
We have stuff. Much of it is valuable. Not all the value is obvious. There’s obviously useful stuff. But then there is stuff that is meaningless without the rest of the story. This is the stuff that embodies family history but it’s history we mostly carry around in our memories. It’s in our heart and head. Unfortunately, much of the most emotionally valuable stuff may look like useless junk to someone not in on the story. But you can change that. The time to attach stories to things is now. You can tell stories at family gatherings. Even better you can apply your creative energy to writing the stories. Get it down on paper or into a shared digital family archive. This can be as simple as a shared Google Doc or see tools like those at FamilyTreeMagazine.com. Share the story as you give the thing to perpetuate family history.
3. Focus on relationships and not things.
Things are great and give us comfort. But in the end, the things should serve us and not vice versa. When the things become a burden they’ve served their purpose. It’s time to leave them behind. Sell them or gift them so others can use them and enjoy their function. Declare independence from the cluttered stuff. If you’ve done step two, the important stories will go with the items to animate their meaning. Step two empowers the family relationships by preserving the meaningful stories. The elixir for long life and happiness is relationships, not things. The things, including a big house, are too often isolating. Even self-defeating. They separate us from relationships, both old and new. Relationships are the source of energy and joy. The burden of aging is losing friends and family to distance and relationships.
Summary: Steps to Independence
The secret of successful aging is that you must build new friendships and strengthen relationships with those friends and family still around. The reason for step 1 is to move while you still have the energy to cultivate relationships. Step 2 leverages the stuff to build relationships. Choose social engagement over isolation. Caring about others works. It’s why holiday gatherings are so much fun. It really is fun to give of yourself. Invest in relationships. Relationships support taking steps to independence.
Aging With Freedom is the blog of a pair of trailing-edge boomers. We’re the sandwich generation. Just done with launching the kids we’re now caring for parents in retirement and planning our own retirement. We want to continue the success of our professional lives with successful aging. We’re entrepreneurial professionals, always interested in the emerging challenges, themes, and trends. These are where opportunities arise. And new business models and cool technology provide solutions. We research for our own insight and share it with you. Dan & Lori