Thursday, September 7, 2017

Expand, contract

(I started this post two years ago (!), after I lost my job in July 2014 but before we sold our house & moved into a condo in April 2016. I recently found it in my drafts folder, updated/reworded and expanded on the theme before hitting "publish" now. ) 

Noemi had a interesting post a while back about "Restriction vs intention" -- what she can't do versus what she is trying to do.

This struck a chord with me and made me think about my own life. In some ways, I feel like my life has been shrinking, becoming more restricted, over the few years:
  • I lost my job = my income has shrunk (and so, hence, has my spending).  
  • My social circle (never very big to begin with) has shrunk. I can go for days without carrying on a meaningful, non-transactional conversation with another adult besides dh (most store clerks don't count). I have lost touch with almost all the people I used to interact with during the work day. I've stayed in touch with a few of my former coworkers through social media, but rarely see or socialize with any of them. We used to live closer to one retired coworker and she & I would get together now & then, but since the move she's a lot further away. Another friend I occasionally socialize with will be moving to another province soon. BIL & SIL and several of dh's cousins live close by, but most of them still work during the day, and are otherwise busy with kids & their activities, aging parents to look in on, etc. 
  • I downsized my possessions, even my precious book collection!! (maybe not enough, but still by a significant amount, lol), sold our house (which, at about 1200 square feet, wasn't huge to begin with) and moved into an 874-square-foot condo.  
  • I lost access to the great public transit we enjoyed (well, better than what we have here at the moment...!) -- & with it, my sense of mobility and freedom (particularly since I do not drive). There's road construction going on around our condo building at the moment that makes it difficult just to get out of our building's driveway, nevermind actually drive anywhere...!  
  • I'm losing people that I knew (and who knew me) during my growing-up years -- relatives, friends of my parents (including one just last week). I'm also obliged to attend funerals/visitations for people I don't necessarily know, or know well (but it's still a funeral, right? ...!) -- friends of dh's family, cousins' inlaws, etc. (I was reorganizing the paper in the slots on my desk recently and was startled by how many funeral cards I've accumulated in the past several months...!)  
  • Even the musicians who scored the soundtrack of my youth have been dropping like flies lately, it seems:  Glenn Frey of the Eagles, David Bowie, Prince, Kenny Shields of Streetheart, Skip Prokop of Lighthouse, to name just a few.  
I know that this happens to most of us as we age -- we retire, move into smaller homes or even seniors' residences, eventually give up our drivers' licenses and our annual trips to Florida (out-of-country travel insurance skyrockets once you're past 75), friends start to pass away... but for most people, that doesn't start happening until their 60s or 70s, at the earliest.  At this point in my life (mid-50s), most of my peers still have lives that are busy and full.  They have jobs, houses (some have cottages too, or houses or condos in Florida), children, grandchildren (or the prospect thereof), and friends & social activities that they've become involved with (some through their children). I've heard about some retirees who are actually buying LARGER homes, to accommodate their visiting children & grandchildren (or those adult children who are still living at home because of the tight job market & lack of affordable housing options).

I’ve been trying to “reframe” things in my mind -- focus less on what I might be losing vs what I'm gaining.  Example: I lost my job -- and with it, some of my income, my old daily routines & social interactions -- but also a LOT of stress -- and I've gained more time and freedom to do other things. I lost square footage, possessions and familiar surroundings when we downsized into our condo -- but I gained the opportunity for more travel & other experiences, closer proximity to our extended family, including our nephews (and maybe, in the future, some great-nephews & nieces??).  We lost many of the headaches that go hand in hand with home ownership -- lawns to mow, weeds to pull, sidewalks to shovel after snowstorms... And I gained a MUCH happier husband (which is definitely worth a lot!).  :)

But it's hard. It's hard to let go of the old familiar life & stuff.

Don't get me wrong. My "new" life is a good one, overall. Like my old life, it has its advantages, and its painful moments. But sometimes it's hard to stay focused on the positive, and not dwell on what you've lost or what you miss.

Do you feel like your life is expanding? Contracting? In neutral gear??


  1. This was a really interesting post and I'm glad you found it in the drafts folder so it could see the light of day! I have so much to say about it, I apparently have to split my comment into two parts because it's too long to post!

    I think so much of it depends on your mindset and how your life is aligning with your expectations. I have a friend who is the same age I am (38). He lives in Ottawa and works for the Senate, so he is stood down from his job every time the Senate is in recess (which can be a LOT of the time). He has no partner and no dependents; he rents a basement apartment from a friend; he owns a motorcycle; and his continual goal is to try to pare down his belongings so that everything he owns can fit on said motorcycle. When not working he plans motorcycle road trips all across North America. He's registered as a trusted house sitter so he finds adventures and destinations through that.

    His life, in terms of people and possessions and financial security, could be viewed as very small. It in no way resembles the lives of any of his friends. But he loves it (and those of us who are encumbered [and sometimes that feels like the right word!] by families and spouses and jobs and mortgages are sometimes just a wee bit jealous of his freedom).

    For a long time my friend wanted to get out of Ottawa and get away from the Senate, but he couldn't find a way to get a job that he liked enough. So he chose to make his current life work for him (this is when he bought the motorcycle).

    I am sure if you asked around, a lot of your friends who are busy with jobs/kids/grandkids/properties etc. would be more than a little jealous of your current freedom.

    The biggest advantage to a condo over a house (or so I see it, as I've been looking into this issue for my own mother) is if you're in a secure building it's so much easier to travel for great lengths of time because no one can really tell that your unit is unoccupied. If you were interested in travel, I bet you and DH would be great candidates to do the sort of house sitting my friend does since you'd be available at unusual times (i.e. not just during school holidays) and you are responsible adults without small children attached. It's a very cost effective way to get a holiday in a cool place (my friend spent a month this summer looking after horses and cats in New Mexico).

  2. Ok, and now for Part II!

    I'm getting into total assvice now, and do feel free to ignore my ramblings, but I again have been thinking about this a lot with my Mum since she is recently widowed and is (for the first time) retired without having to be someone's primary caregiver (as she was looking after my grandmother when she first retired and then my stepfather was diagnosed with the cancer that killed him a couple of years later). There's a lot of research out there about retirement and how important it is to go in with a plan and ideas about what you want to do. Sudden, unexpected retirement, like yours was, is a real challenge because people aren't mentally in that mindset yet. My aunt retired overnight last year because her company gave her an amazing package and she couldn't see any reason to stay. It was a HUGE adjustment for her. She told me, "Turia, after four months I joined the gym just so I would have something to get me out of the house in the mornings because otherwise I would get sucked into watching tv all day."

    Do you have hobbies you would like to spend more time on? Or things you've always wanted to try? My Mum tried line dancing, which she has never done in her life, and to her surprise, she loved it! Now she goes twice a week! She has also sought out a sewing group, plus she geocaches and is a birder (although these two hobbies she hasn't really figured out how to do without her husband as she's nervous to bird alone and she doesn't have birder friends (although she is on a forum for birders in her area, so I keep telling her she should just message people who seem nice to see if they want to meet up on weekend day to go for a walk and look at birds). She does geocache with her sister when she's visiting.)

    The driving thing is definitely an issue. Am I right to remember that you are in the area where the new subway extension is going to make things easier for you in that regard? (They have an opening date now!)Do you have access to a decent bus route to get you places? Would a taxi or two a week be feasible, financially, if you wanted to do something (like a class) that DH wasn't interested in?

    Lastly, does your building have areas where you can post flyers? I bet if you asked around there are other people in your building who would be around and interested in socializing, even just meeting up for a walk (assuming you have a decent spot to walk nearby). They might be older or younger than you, but they could still be interesting people!

    I am not in any way trying to suggest that your negative feelings are invalid- you've gone through some huge changes in the last couple of years and I know how hard that is. Just trying to see the positives available to you, because sometimes it's easier for someone who's outside the situation to see the good things. :)

    1. @Turia, thank you for your thoughts. I am mostly in a good place these days, really ;) -- I just sometimes find myself thinking out loud on paper/screen, and I find I tend to get these sorts of thoughts more often in the fall, with winter approaching...! I think these thoughts are common as you get older, too; the process has just sped up a bit for me because of childlessness/job loss/early retirement and moving to new surroundings. You're right that most people have a little more time to plan their retirement in advance (although they don't always do it, lol); we both kind of had it thrust on us prematurely.

      I am certainly spending more time reading books, writing on my blog ;) etc. I've been saying I want to get back into a yoga class, and maybe find a book club -- I think the local library runs one. I just need to get off my butt and do it. ;) I've even been considering going back to church (gulp), for the social possibilities, if not my eternal salvation, lol. ;) Dh is more than willing to drive me anywhere I need to go. I just like the feeling that I *could* decide I wanted to go downtown & jump on the bus & be at the subway station in 15 minutes, instead of the half hour drive we have now, and head downtown to shop or to meet a friend for lunch or to the theatre or a museum/art gallery, if I wanted. I am really looking forward to that easier subway access in December/January! I did get a membership to the local art gallery, just north of us (you might know the one ;) -- specializes in contemporary Canadian art, particularly works by a certain numbered group of painters ;) ) and have already taken one friend up there for a visit. :)

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. I can relate to this part about homeownership. Especially as your sale was traumatic near the end. Very often it's easy to focus on the bad, but like you we've gain so much from our decisions to cut loose and change. A lot of good has come (and is hopefully coming). May there continue to be more good for you too.

    1. Thank you, Cristy! :) We both love our condo & I really don't miss the house that much. I do look around sometimes & think, "Damn, we got rid of a LOT of stuff!!" lol -- some of my books and kitchen things in particular -- but not enough for it to be a huge issue. I hope the good stuff continues for you too! <3

  4. I can so relate to this. Whilst we're not officially retired yet (we're between contracts), I understand so much about the restrictions issue. I don't have the wide social circles I used to have either - except online! And I probably need to do something to ensure I have more daily contact with others. I don't like having less money, but I do appreciate most of the other things that come with my lifestyle. I'm quite envious of you having downsized and moved within the same city. We don't have any relatives (except the ageing in-laws) here in town, and there's a real quandary about where we should retire - here where we have friends and a lifestyle we can enjoy, or somewhere where there is family as support. You're lucky you can have both. You've really got me thinking now.