The Downside of Downsizing

Tiny Home Plan

One of the truths about retirement is, if you are a homeowner, the maintenance on your house does not retire with you. After a week of cleaning out gutters, touching up paint, having our roof inspected after a neighbor had to replace theirs due to hale damage, we ended the week with a Friday night emergency electrician call. Our hard wired smoke alarm sounded for over three hours. Putting in fresh batteries didn’t silence it. Neither did turning off the breakers. Martin and I were tempted to pull the detectors out of the ceiling. The sound was deafening.

Fortunately, our roof will last another seven to twelve years barring another hale storm. Who knew smoke detectors are only good for seven to ten years? Ours were thirteen so no surprise they failed, but did they have to malfunction on Friday night? After the electrician pulled them out of the ceiling, he’ll be back on Monday to replace them.

Tired of what seems like a constant repair or replace at the house and just plain curious, coming back from a shopping trip on Saturday, we swung into Lake Walk, a tiny home community. As a rule, we don’t shop on Saturdays. That’s the kind of week we’d had. Between the regular homeowner chores like mowing the field, picking blueberries, deadheading spent flowers and the additional maintenance on the house, a tiny home situated on a local lake with walking trails was tempting. We’d at least take a look to see what this growing trend was all about.

Martin and I were greeted by Randy, the developer and owner of the project. He explained that the residents would buy a tiny home and rent the lot from him for $450 a month. There would be forty-three tiny homes in all on four acres, with an additional eleven acres of trails and a central gathering place for residents to enjoy an evening visiting neighbors on a deck or around an outdoor fire. Set among towering oaks and other hardwoods, it all looked and sounded appealing. He had already sold three tiny homes, including two singles selling their larger houses to move to Lake Walk.

The largest home at 350 square feet plus a, yes, tiny loft, was inviting. Complete with hardwood floors, granite countertops, a fireplace fed by propane and lots of windows providing natural light, I envisioned myself living there — if I had to.

With just about everything built in, gone would be all of our furniture, some of which I’m admittedly attached to. The two bedroom closets would hold my clothes. I didn’t know where Martin would put his. And where would we do our art projects? Keep our art supplies? I suppose we could rent a studio someplace. Ditto for the exercise equipment —gone — to be replaced with a gym membership.

And where would I garden? As if reading my mind, Randy told us there would be community gardens for anyone wanting a space to grow vegetables or flowers. Hmmm…that sweetened the idea. However, there are no garages with tiny homes. Our tools, cars, Martin’s motorcycle and, oh, his bicycle, all outside waiting for hale storm damage in addition to the roof. Ugh! I didn’t like that picture at all.

Although the tiny homes were pretty, the woodsy setting beside the lake serene, I’d seen enough to know this was not for me, not yet. I didn’t even bother to ask if pets were welcome. As someone with seven cats, I thought that would be an issue just because of the numbers. Where would I house four litter boxes in 350 square feet? What about the three that are semi-feral cats used to being outside? The cats, like me, would probably be bored before long in such a tiny space. Then, Martin and I would be complaining about paying rent, neighbors too close for comfort, driving to the gym, paying rent, instead of walking through a door at our house, paying rent for an art studio and me without landscaping opportunities.

Everything has its pluses and minuses. Life is never without a downside and an upside. While caring for a large property and a not so large house takes work and money, where I am right now is where I want to be right now. The tiny home will have to wait.

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Getting Old Does Not Suck!

Enjoying my age!

The woman looked at me with what I can only describe as pity as she said, “Getting old sucks.” I started to counter her assumption.  I found it condescending.  Then I closed my mouth. I was already in the middle of a disagreement with her; I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire.

Getting old does not suck. What sucks is the view our society holds about getting old.

We all knew people who didn’t make it this far in life — relatives, friends, classmates, co-workers and neighbors who passed away at a younger age, perhaps even as children. People who didn’t get to fall in love, have a career, reach their full potential, buy a house, the first car, go to college, have children or see children grow or enjoy grandchildren.

No, getting old does not suck. It’s a privilege, a gift.

Yet, people still young, as well as some our age, look at aging as if it’s a disease, at the very least a time of decline, both physically and mentally. I have my share of infirmities, but most are not the result of old age. I had polio at three, which surfaces years later as post-polio syndrome. I also have occasional pain in my lower back, the result of lifting something too heavy for me when I was a mere nineteen. We all have health issues, some worsening from aging. Eventually, the parts will wear out. However, when I see a YouTube of an 89 year-old gymnast vaulting and landing on her feet, I realize the old adage of use it or lose it certainly applies.

Cognitive decline is not inevitable. Recent research and studies at most major universities around the world have shown the adult mind can continue to grow. The brain has plasticity meaning it can form new synaptic connections. We often think of children and young adults as the ones with growing minds. But adults at any age can continue to grow mentally if they exhibit the same curiosity, sense of adventure and learn new things just as they did earlier in life.  These discoveries are changing the view of aging, albeit slowly.

Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is at the forefront of changing the stereotypes of what it means to get old. We all age. My grandchildren are aging. With kids, we refer to them as ‘growing up’; with over 60’s, we refer to them as aging. We suddenly become seniors, the elderly, the aged, old codgers. We also begin to be talked to as if we were the children, condescending talk.  Talk as if we are incompetent.  Or worse yet, we are ignored. Since I stopped coloring my hair, letting it go to its natural gray, I’m suddenly dear, sweetie, young lady and on and on or I’m invisible altogether.

I took Applewhite’s cue and used a situation as a teaching moment for an early twenties server at a restaurant. I noticed the couple at the next table who appeared to be in their late thirties were called ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’. I’d finally had enough of being called ‘dear’ so I told the server not to call me that. She looked at me puzzled and said, “Why?” My reply, “Because my name is Kathy, not dear. If I were your age, would you call me dear?” She didn’t know what to say. Maybe I raised her consciousness; maybe she thought I was just a crabby old lady. I don’t know. But if we are to change the way old age is viewed, the change starts with us.

Our society views aging as something to be cured or fought as in anti-aging creams and makeups, botox injections, plastic surgery and medications to combat normal body changes that come with maturity. One woman, upon seeing my graying hair, told me, “If I stopped coloring my hair, my husband would divorce me.” I have no idea if their relationship is that superficial, but in our youth obsessed culture, not dying has apparently been known to spark a divorce. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more gray haired models like Cindy Joseph, defying the idea that old is washed up, has been and not beautiful.

Getting old does not suck. Attitudes suck. Do not pity me, feel sorry for me or patronize me. I’m having a good time being old and retired.  You, too will be here someday. And, when you are, stay engaged with the world, realize that your brain still works and can grow, endeavor to try new activities, learn something. Realize you are still beautiful and vibrant. Stay physically active. Recognize ageism and use teachable moments to change attitudes. You are one of the lucky ones. Getting old is a gift. Do not squander it by believing in stereotypes.

 

 

 

Let It Snow!

Snow among the pines

Snow among the pines

I woke Saturday morning to six inches of snow on the ground, a rare occurrence in South Carolina. Everything comes to a screeching halt when the crystalline white fluff covers the roadways. Malls and banks close. Grocery stores sell out of bread and milk, those southern essentials for a winter storm. Everyone who can hunkers down.

It is days like this when I appreciate retirement more than usual. While others may be wondering, especially with a week day storm, whether they have to go to work or not, I get to sit around all day in my pajamas or go out for a winter wonderland walk.

Camellias survive the storm

Camellias survive the storm

Taking a cue from Jean of JeansGarden.wordpress.com I make an effort to enjoy the shorter days as the sun sits lower in the sky. As a transplanted northerner I can appreciate this brief reminder of Michigan and New York winters knowing that by Monday the southern sun will have melted all but the last remnants of our storm.

In the meantime, there is beef bourguignon bubbling on the stove, fortified by an entire bottle of hearty red wine. What will be baked later into a crusty boule is rising in a glass bowl under a wet towel. Martin is painting. I’m writing. Cats laze around on my lap and the hearth in front of the fire. Birds peck through the snow on the backyard wall in search of sunflower seeds, now buried treasure.

A quiet moment on a quiet day, I’m content to just let it snow.

A bench in the woods awaits my contemplation

A bench in the woods awaits my contemplation

 

 

Will Decluttering Make You Happier?

 

Clutter

Last week a friend sent me an email with a message about days gone by when, instead of throwing something away when it broke down, our parents generation fixed the item. That’s how I grew up. We repaired shoes, lawn mowers, televisions and washers. My friend’s email also reminded me how every spring we took part in the ritual of spring cleaning, opening windows after a long winter and clearing away the season’s accumulation of dust and grime. Today, in our material driven economies, we tend to hang onto all kinds of things, broken or not, which may not add anything purposeful to our lives, but take up plenty of space in both our homes and our minds.

It must be all the years I spent as a real estate broker, looking at garages crammed so full the family cars wouldn’t begin to fit in them. While I no longer take part in a spring cleaning ritual, each January I have my own ritual of decluttering. Since retirement, that is one habit I have not changed. Why? There are lots of reasons to declutter.

1. Decluttering helps me start the year off fresh, clear and focused. Without excess stuff in my desk, closets, art work space and garage, I can focus on what matters most to me. Activities like writing, drawing and gardening can take precedence without having to sort through clutter to find what I need. Everything has a place and is in the place it should be. Whew! I can relax and not only enjoy these activities but have time for my spouse, family and friends.

2. Since I donate what I no longer need or want, it also helps those less fortunate in my community. Clothing, sports equipment, home furnishings, eyeglasses, cell phones and other electronics can be put to good use. Some people hold a garage or yard sale and make a few extra bucks. I’d rather give it away and use my time for activities that hold more meaning to me.

3. Clearing unnecessary items also clears out places for the dust and dust mites to accumulate. That’s right. Dust mites _ ick. As someone suffering from allergies, including an allergy to dust mites, I’m all for reducing places for the little darlings to accumulate. So, allergic or not, decluttering may also help you breathe easier.

4. While you’re decluttering, take a clue from our parents’ generation.  Take the time to fix the fixable. I learned years ago how decluttering removed a lot of life’s little annoyances. Fixing things has the same effect. Even a broken shoe lace can nip at the edges of your subconscious mind clouding your thoughts. Replacing burnt out light bulbs, smoke alarm batteries, weed whacker string, filters or anything else you have waiting for attention clears your mind for more important thoughts, like what are you going to do today to change the world?

5. Once you declutter and make a habit of decluttering yearly, you’ll find that you actually accumulate less clutter during the year. Why? Because you start looking at the accumulation of stuff differently. You start asking yourself, “Is this an item I really need or will I end up donating it next year?” I find myself living a more minimalist lifestyle. I am decidedly knick-knack adverse. Every time I look at something pretty or cute in a store, I think to myself, “Who’s going to dust that?” My answer is always, “Not me.” Then, I put it back down and walk away. Decluttering changes your mindset.

While I can honestly say decluttering probably hasn’t made me happier, it has made me saner. Every time you buy more stuff, you bring home a thing, which needs cleaning, maintenance, storage and, potentially, fixing. The more things you have, the more things you have to suck up your time with busy work. Is that what you want in retirement? Busy work? Or do you want your remaining years filled with work that really matters to you?

A decluttered life is a less harried life. Instead of feeling like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down one hole after another, I feel relaxed when I know exactly where to go to lay my hands on the scissors or the battery charger or my drawing pencils or whatever. I feel good knowing my time is spent on more productive activities that enrich my life. And, I love it, absolutely LOVE it, when the smoke alarm batteries are changed before the darn things start beeping at me, always, ALWAYS some time around midnight. Now that I think of it, avoiding that annoyance is cause for happiness!

REFLECTIONS

This time of year offers a moment to reflect on the year almost past. It’s a time to honor the memory of those who passed from our lives, whether a family member, a friend or anyone else who affected our lives, even a beloved pet. We may review world events, ever-changing and more often seeming to be filled with loss and strife than hope and healing. The impermanence of the universe is a constant reminder of our own impermanence. A sobering thought indeed. Of course, many of us also make New Year’s resolutions.

Most years I also review what I accomplished, or didn’t. During this same time of contemplation in 2014, I decided not to make specific resolutions. Each year I try to take up something different in terms of learning. It could be a new hobby or intellectual pursuit or growing a new plant in one of my gardens. But, a year ago I decided 2015 was to be the year of no goals, no self-imposed pressure to succeed, no new activities unless it struck me in the moment during the year. Lazily, I set all specifics aside. Instead, my New Year’s resolutions were open-ended generalizations:

1. Remain open to change;
2. Accept what is without fighting it; and
3. Practice mindfulness.

Three simple yet potentially life changing practices _ more of an attitude adjustment than anything else. This week, taking stock of these three ideas, I asked myself:

1. Did they improve my life?
2. Did they make me happier?
3. Did they work well for me?

The answer is yes, yes, yes.

For starters I didn’t sweat the small stuff so much. A hundred years from now, no one will even care what I did today or the past year or at any time in my life. In 1915 World War I raged. In 2015 are you thinking about what the average person was doing to survive World War I? Highly unlikely, just as it’s unlikely anyone in 2115 will be thinking of me or you and what we were doing on the eve of 2016. Oh, the historians will document wars in the middle east, terrorism, refugee crises, political upheavals and the like. But, it will be documented as a block of time in history not each individual story.

An epiphany during the latter part of 2015 led me to feel more tolerant and accepting of what is without having to think about it consciously. Railing against a perceived injustice or having a ‘why me’ pity party doesn’t change the past. While it is still cathartic to get something off your chest, it is what it is. Don’t let it define you. Accept it and move on. Sometimes I even laugh at my misfortune or foibles.

I also gloried in my success _ finally success _ at losing weight. For all the years losing weight made my list of New Year’s resolutions, I never lost much, nor did I keep off what I did manage to lose. Without pressuring myself to lose, without the lofty goal of twenty pounds hanging over my head, I actually lost the elusive twenty pounds. I didn’t really take up the cause until March and I made my goal a realistic one of eating healthier, instead of losing pounds. By practicing mindfulness with my eating and exercise habits, I changed my approach. That small shift in thinking made all the difference.

And, I started writing more. Joining a close-knit group of writers with a leader who inspires and encourages, I formed the habit of writing often, initially just so I had something to read to the group each week. As the end of 2015 nears, I find myself writing almost every day with focus and purpose. While I may never be a Eudora Welty, my first short, very short, story was published this month in an anthology of poems and flash stories. It’s a start.

Although the pundits recommend specific goals to start the New Year, I’m repeating the same resolutions for 2016. They worked for me in an odd way. As someone who lived my work life ultra-organized with lists, goals and structure, being able to relax that standard in retirement is a gift. While I want a life with continued meaning and purpose, part of what gives life meaning is the ability to enjoy life’s gifts. If this is the time of year to honor the past, it is also a time to appreciate the present. That, too, is a gift.

As I reflect on the past, I look to the future mindful of the present with an openness to change and a willingness to accept what is.

Happy New Year!

I HEREBY RESOLVE TO…

Today is the last day of 2014. Tomorrow we begin anew with a fresh slate. Tradition in many cultures is to start the new year by resolving to be better in some way. The most popular resolutions are typically (1) lose weight, (2) exercise more and (3) quit smoking. Despite their initial determination, most people don’t reach their goals. I know I’ve been one of those people. Though I never smoked, the first two options have been on my list for years with little headway made after the first couple of weeks into the new year. So, this year I’m just going to cut to the chase and not make those resolutions. I’ve recently lost 7 pounds and kept it off over the holidays so I feel like I’m already a winner in regard to that situation. I thought about making no resolutions. However, after reading some of my posts of 2014, I decided to make more long-term commitments. I invite you to join me.

Following are my resolutions for 2015:

1. Remain open to change. I’ve written that change is the one thing in life we can count on. The future is unknown and often delivers surprises. Instead of grumbling about those surprises, look for opportunities, even in adversity. I once worked with a man, who, in the face of business upsets, would always, ALWAYS, sit calmly and ask, “How can we turn this into an opportunity?” His success in life was not an accident; it was his acceptance of and adapting to a changing world, which made him a success.

2. Accept what is without fighting it. My friend in Number 1 accepted downturns as a fact of life. Instead of fighting what is, he decided if there was a way to turn the outcome to his advantage, making lemonade of his business lemon, he would gladly accept that glass. Philosopher Lao Tzu advised, “Practice not doing.” Not doing means not complaining about the circumstance we can’t control, not expending energy fighting the obvious, thus creating stress in our lives, but instead, embracing it.

3. Practice mindfulness. My mantra the last couple of months, which goes hand in hand with Numbers 1 and 2, is, “Let my emotions arise and dissolve.” If life throws me a curveball, I work to stay in the moment, acutely aware of everything in that moment, as I respond from my left brain. I pretend I’m a little duck letting the water (emotions) roll off my back before I swim into the deep end creating unnecessary stress. This has lightened my self-created burdens already so I plan on continuing to travel light in 2015.

These are my resolutions for 2015 and beyond. Simple yet life changing ideas, which have altered my attitude toward aging. If these don’t work for you, think of attitude changing ideas, which may work. Or, you could decide to lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier or something else. Or, you could do nothing at all. Whatever you resolve to do, from me to you, my readers, I wish you much joy and positive living in 2015.

With love,

Kathy

FORGET THE LAWN

Spring is in the air. A warm front is finally blowing in. After weeks of below normal temperatures, today promises to be a sixty degree day. Daffodils bob about in the breeze. The azaleas are heavy with swelling buds. And the rosemary’s deep blue blooms against their pine green stems call to the honey bees venturing from their winter hive. As life reaches for the warming sun after a long winter’s nap, I make my to do list for the garden. The one chore I don’t have to think about is feeding and eventually mowing a lawn. By design, there’s no greening lawn here.

Wherever we lived, whatever the climate, new home, old home, I created a garden. Where there was grass lawn, I dug it up, making berms and beds in which to plant all kinds of greenery and flowering plants, leaving enough lawn to provide paths and play areas. Where I had a clean palette of bare earth, I made pathways of stone to meander among the trees and shrubs, flowers, herbs and vegetables. Gardens awakened my senses and soothed my work weary soul making a house a home and an otherwise plain landscape an oasis after a hard day’s work. While most people plant a grass lawn, I opted for less of the most expensive landscape. Sometimes, there was a front lawn; sometimes there was no lawn. That’s the case with our current home. Oh, we have a meadow, part of which now supports grape vines, blueberry bushes and blackberry canes. There’s some soysia grass planted between huge expanses of flagstone to form our patio. But the green lawn is not to be found.

Nine raised beds, three of them fenced against marauding deer and rabbits, make up the vegetable garden. There’s plenty of room to grow enough for a family of four. So with just two of us in this household, the overflow goes to my in-laws and daughter’s family. My youngest grandson at three years old loves to seed and water, pick and fill a bag with carrots and cabbage, tomatoes and basil, onions and garlic. Whatever the bounty, he proudly takes it to his Mom along with sweet bouquets of roses or huge armloads of sunflowers and his pants pockets full of herbs. His favorite is Rosemary. In winter, his bag may also include treasured rocks, pinecones and leaves but the impact is clear. He has connected with the Earth and all the gifts it provides. Gardens will do that.

Although we have plenty of room for a large garden now, even when we lived in an apartment, there were pots of tomatoes and herbs on the patio luring buzzing bees to happily pollinate our small crop. And the pleasure of pulling a sun ripened tomato from the vine for a dinner salad cannot be matched with buying a greenhouse grown, tasteless specimen from the store. Whether you have a big yard or a small space, this spring make room for a few food plants or some fresh herbs or flowers or all the above. Forget the lawn. Make a real connection with the Earth this summer even if it’s only for one juicy tomato plucked from your own vine.

STUFF

There has come a time in my life when I have looked around my house and asked myself, “What am I doing with all this stuff?” That moment was about two years ago. And, like any good epiphany, I handled it by getting into my closets, taking inventory, giving away what I thought I didn’t use anymore and organizing the rest. Outside the closets I took down, picked up and boxed up and gave a few things away to my daughters or charity. But, everything else got squirreled away in, where else, but, the closets. That made me feel good for a while. I’d gotten a lifetime of clutter under control or at least it looked like it was under control. I had less stuff sitting around on tables to dust, wash or place in an attractive way. I liked my new clean look.

Much of our knickknack stuff has come in the form of gifts from family and friends or hand-me-downs, including some heirlooms, from my or Martin’s parents. Even some of our furniture has come to us in the same way. It’s been accumulated over many years. We occasionally do the clean out, give away routine and Martin has even sold some of his used motorcycle, bicycle paraphernalia on eBay. Then, there are the shelves of art we’ve produced, mostly in the form of gourd art, where we’ve carved, dyed, braided, papered and otherwise decorated gourds. There are also a couple of paintings I’ve produced recently. So, even though we haven’t purchased a lot of knickknacks, paintings and prints, we still have a house full of stuff.

Long before retirement I reached the point where I didn’t want to spend my time dusting and cleaning stuff that served no other purpose than to sit around on shelves and tables looking pretty. We also had pieces of furniture, which just didn’t fit with the overall theme and scheme of the other pieces. Our willy-nilly eclectic style sometimes annoyed me. I knew someone a few years ago who, as she and her husband prepared to downsize and retire, had held an auction to sell off their stuff, all of it. They wanted a fresh start for their new life so, like New Year’s, out with the old, in with the new. They made out really well on the money end and went on a shopping spree for the new stuff. So, as I looked around my house, I thought about what I would dump. Certainly, not all of it but I was so tired of the stuff, I thought, surely a lot of it. And, I wouldn’t be replacing any of it.

But, as I started going from room to room and thinking about what I would discard, I thought, “Well, certainly not those two old office chairs in the great room.” They are 1950’s or ’60’s and don’t go with the Italian style of the house or other furniture we have. But they are solid maple and after I picked them out of the trash (yes, that’s right, scavenger that I am, I raided somebody’s dumpster), we had them recovered and voilà!, they look fabulous. Not my grandmother’s chocolate pot or Martin’s grandmother’s carnival glass wine pitcher. Those would go to our daughters someday. Not the dish on the table given to me by a former assistant my last day on the job. Wait. What was I doing? As I looked around at all the stuff, I had another epiphany. It is the stuff with all the crazy stories or old memories evoked or the item touched by a loved one long past or the gift given from the heart, which creates the warmth of our home, the richness of our lives. The stuff isn’t just stuff after all, but symbols, artifacts of who we have been as well as who we are. Suddenly, eclectic seemed less annoying.

So, what am I doing today? Opening some boxes, unwrapping some stuff and putting it back on shelves and tables. I guess I’ll be dusting a while longer.