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.