At a party during the recent holiday season, I met a woman who retired to Upstate South Carolina with her husband. This region has a lot to offer retirees, but my new acquaintance told me how she really didn’t like living here. Instead, she longed to move to the state where she grew up. At first I thought she must be crazy not to love living here and she must be really crazy wanting to return to the northeastern snow belt of harsh winters not to mention high taxes. But, as I listened to her heartfelt description of her childhood home with all the familiar haunts and family she loved and missed, I realized a sense of place was lacking for her here. She moved here for the warmer climate, relatively inexpensive yet plentiful housing and the scenic beauty of the area. But, even after living here a few years, she didn’t feel like she belonged here.

Each year there are magazines and web sites, which offer up the best or worst places to live. Interestingly enough, the area in which I live has been in the line-up yet doesn’t make the grade year after year. One would think if a city was a great place to live this year, it would still be a great place to live next year and maybe the next. But, if the editors didn’t offer up some new venues each year, they wouldn’t sell magazines or garner visits to a web site. Their research departments also use some very general criteria such as taxes, cost of living, weather, crime rates, health care, recreation and, of course, housing availability and cost. While those criteria are all important to us, where we choose to live in retirement is lot more personal. More often than not, the best place to live comes down to a sense of place, your sense of place.

To me, a sense of place is a feeling of belonging there, of fitting in with the culture, the landscape and the people living around you. It just feels right. While I’m a proponent of living on your personal edge, where you live in retirement actually needs to be more like snuggling into the cushions of a worn familiar sofa or putting on an old flannel shirt where the familiarity and character of the item offers up a feeling of inner comfort. I once had an old flannel shirt so well-worn and comforting, it had holes in the elbows and a tear down the front before I finally ripped it into pieces to be used for cleaning rags. That’s kind of the way I feel about where I live. I don’t want to ever have to give it up. This is where I’ve chosen to live for many reasons. There are other places, which give the same comforting feeling but I’ve chosen not to live there due to the cost of living, large populations or weather. For example, when I go to the beach, I’m instantly transported back in time to the New Jersey shore where I grew up and immediately feel that same sense of place from my childhood, where I fit in with the sights and sounds and smells. I identify with the character of the place even if it is a different shore. It’s that feeling, which we are looking for when choosing a place to retire.

Even when you find the area or city or town in which you want to live, you may find certain neighborhoods of the community evoke more of a sense of belonging than others do for you. Do you want to be able to walk to the store or park? Do you want a place to meet neighbors? Do you want a new, thoroughly modern house or one that shows it’s age? Do you want all the conveniences and hustle and bustle within a short distance or do you want the quiet of the country? One of the things which gives me such a sense of place is my home. With the help of our builder, a structural engineer, we designed and built this house. Of all the houses we’ve lived in all over the country, this is the one in which I feel that I belong. It’s ours in every detail and, after ten years, it is worn in all the right places with our living in it.

While reading all the lists about the best and worst places to live in retirement is a good place to start your search, where you finally choose to live is as special as you are. It’s very personal. No researcher or editor can tell you what will give you a sense of place. For that, you have to reach deep inside yourself and do your own research. Like my acquaintance from the party or my feeling about going to the beach, you may want to start with your childhood. It’s been a long, long journey from there to here but going back in time just may hold the answer to where you’ll find your best place to live in retirement.


  1. After traveling around most of my life, I’ve found a spot I love in western Carolina…yet I know that my real home is my consciousness ….and that is everywhere forever…I’m exploring more of the qualities of home: beauty, safety, peace…not a place but a way of thinking…


  2. Great article. When I think about a place to get comfortable in retirement I think of the people I want to be with more than the place. Oh and need an airport close by so I can visit all those places in the magazines!


  3. I concur with your comment that a sense of place is a feeling of belonging. Even though I have lived in Australia for over 35 years, I still long for my home town in England. I have managed to keep that sense of home by having around me pictures, nicknacks and letters that my mother wrote to me about her every day life.


  4. Hi Kathy, I have been thinking about where I would like to move, with my husband, when he retires. I too grew up in New Jersey, albeit the Northern suburbs outside of Manhattan. But I spent many summers and weekends at “the shore”, and often think that is my dream destination. Then of course, the weather and taxes come into play, and I try to get real. We have lived in my husband’s hometown for 26years. I know this area and it does feel like a well worn shirt, but a part of me never really wants to consider this home. I think the truth is, I want to live near one or more of my children and potential grandchildren. My folks moved to Florida from New Jersey, and missed an awful lot by not living near our family. Trouble is the “kids” are mobile, and who knows where they will finally settle down! I don’t want to run around the country following them at this point. I have a feeling we will wind up back to New Jersey, cold winters and all. My sister is there and it just feels like home to me. Great topic.


  5. This was quite an enjoyable post. My husband and I plan to retire to the place we’ve lived in longer than any other place because we have two (of five) kids living there, friends, and a church and volunteer community. So it’s the warm, familiar sofa. However, it’s in a conservative state, and we are liberals so that part can be tough, but I do like to participate in a good demonstration now and then.


  6. I enjoyed your post, Kathy. We chose to retire in Fort Worth, TX because that is where we have lived most of our lives. Our Daughter and her family (including 2 grandchildren) live here, also. We feel fortunate to be near them and get together often and we love that ! We also have other family members not far from here and we can go see them within an hour of here ! That makes it nice to be able to visit siblings occasionally. We also have Dear Friends (several couples) we met in church 35-40 yrs. ago and we have stayed close friends all these years and they are such a joy to be around ! FAMILY & FRIENDS are “HOME” to us ! We talked about retiring near the mountains, which we both love, and to a cooler climate than this hot Texas, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do that because of Family !
    Sooooooo……… THIS IS HOME FOR US and we are enjoying our retirement !!!


  7. Kathy, I couldn’t agree more. The right place to retire is the place that speaks to you and where you will have easy access to meaningful social relationships. My parents spent many winters in Florida because my father felt physically better out of the cold. But, after he died, my mother happily embraced the New England winters she had known all her life and never went back to Florida again.


  8. Where to live in retirement is a topic that I hear discussed almost every week among those of us who have retired as well as those about to retire. After years of planning to tear down our cottage, we had our dream home designed by an architect. Just as the construction was about to begin, my husband and I realized that we were replicating our city home — but that we would be living 3 hours away from our friends and the things we know and love. We stayed put and renovated our existing cottage.
    In retirement we now enjoy the benefits of the city but have a beautiful 4 season retreat. The downside, is the cost — in dollars and in time — of maintaining two places. Sometimes I feel as though I ‘belong’ in neither community. I’m not sure there is ever a perfect retirement place except the place in your heart.


  9. We would like to stay in our general area but move out of our neighborhood as it’s not a good match for us anymore. The problem is house prices and apartment rents are going UP and staying in our house would give us more financial flexibility. I’m already retired so I notice this issue more than my husband. I wish I could turn my brain off sometimes!


  10. Right on the cusp of retiring, and this is my inclination…return to my hometown. While I no longer know anyone there, the peace and comfort level with my growing up “place” is huge. But I am planning to RENT there for a year, just to see, and to let everyone know that this first year is merely an “experiment”. Don’t want to buy a house, realize that this is all wrong, and then stay due to inertia and difficulty of moving.


  11. Kathy, I love my retirement in the small city of Mesquite NV. It is my comfy couch place! My husband and I purchased our home here 10 years before we moved here. We used it as a vacation home/investment. Lucky for us along the way it became the place we came to appreciate as our hideout from the stress of jobs and family. We also found ourselves falling in love with the desert. I recommend the practice of trying out a place for periods of time over years before diving into a place in the sun you have visited but not really “lived” in.


  12. I’ve lived in more than one place. All things being equal, with no children, I would live in Beaufort SC. since my kids live in Texas and colorado, I live in Colorado, snowbird into texas and starting next year plan to take a beach vacation every February for one month!


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