Having my three-year old grandson with me twice a week is a joy, even with all the ‘whys’ he asks. While I repainted a mural on the guest room wall recently, he asked all kinds of whys. Why are you painting? Why are you using those colors? Why are you using that brush? Kids don’t gravitate to asking “Why?” to frustrate adults. That possibility is not even on their radar at age three. Instead, kids are in active mode on a constant quest to gather knowledge about the world around them. They are naturally curious. Their inquisitiveness and the answers they receive widen their knowledge base as they grow their minds, albeit exasperating parents, grandparents and care givers as they go. Eventually, as kids grow to understand their surroundings and enter a formal education setting, their learning and exploration continue while the constant whys diminish. Unfortunately, for some, if not most of us, as we move through our lives, we become less and less curious about the world around us as we settle into the comfortable security of routines. Then, along comes retirement.

Retirement is a big change. And a big opportunity. Gone are the days of going to work and hearing someone say, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Gone are the familiar routes taken every day to and from work. Gone is the need to rise at a certain hour every day, going through the same routine as you prepare for the work day ahead. Gone are the lunch hours running errands, grabbing a sandwich or salad on the fly. Gone is the need to hit the gym early morning or late evening. Even the weekend routines are gone as you can now shop, mow the lawn, get the car serviced or your hair cut at any hour on any day during the week. Retirement is an opportunity to spend your time doing what you want on your terms. It’s a time to get curious again.

While it’s unlikely any of us can recapture the natural curiosity of a three-year old, we can still do some things to open our minds to possibilities. Even if you’re approaching retirement or in retirement and not in the best financial shape, there are plenty of things to do cheaply or even for free. So, open your mind and start asking not only why, but what. What will you do in retirement?

Perhaps you’d like to take some college courses. Many states have programs, which offer courses at state funded colleges tuition-free to seniors. Or, maybe you want to volunteer your time. I spoke with someone the other day who was on their way to their first day volunteering at a hospice. While this may not be something you’d want to do, there are hundreds of non-profits, which depend on volunteers to keep the organization humming along. Or, maybe you want to travel. Even on a tight budget, you can explore your local area and probably discover things right in your own backyard, including history, art and culture, which cost little or nothing to see. You could even volunteer as an usher or ticket taker at a local theater so you can see the plays for free. You may even want to continue working, at least part-time, but doing something you always dreamed of doing, like being a teaching assistant or a bread baker. So, start asking yourself what it is you want to do in retirement without thinking first about the finances. Go on…dream a little dream!

Besides the bucket list I talked about in my post Regrets Only, Martin and I made a vision board. If you have a partner, this is a great way to reach a mutual understanding of what retirement looks like to each other. If you’re single, it’s still a great way to visualize your own thoughts. Figuring out what retirement looks like to you requires intense focus. You should be as specific as possible. A vision board helps you reach specificity. We bought a piece of white board and both put pictures and notes of our individual ideas for retirement on the board as well as our dreams for us as a couple. We had fun cutting out photos from magazines, printing off tidbits from the web and making our notes. Besides putting our thoughts on a visual plane for each other to see, it helped us focus on what we wanted to do as individuals and as a couple. And, there were surprises! We left the board sitting in our bedroom for months as we let it soak in. We tweaked it as new ideas cropped up or some of the original ones didn’t seem quite so appealing after all.

Still, with all that, recently, we each made a new bucket list and then met over a glass of wine to compare notes. I have also started keeping a journal of thoughts and ideas for the future. This way, I can write down ideas as they surface and add to the idea as it grows, hopefully fueling a continuance of my curiosity about our world. Since the concept of retirement has shifted as we live longer, healthier lives, a journal may help you plan for what you want your retirement to look like 10 years or even 20 years after your retirement date. One of the best things of all about being retired is the luxury of living in a moment of your life, which can be fluid, unconstrained and ever-changing. Your retirement is a work in progress. I’ve said this in many posts but I’ll say it again, it’s up to you to create your reality. If you want an exciting, challenging, stimulating, active retirement, you’re the only one who can really, truly make that happen. While we may not be able to harness the curiosity of a three-year old, our retirements will be a lot more fulfilling if we keep ‘why’ in our vocabulary.