The NYRB Snarky Attack on Bloggers
Quindlen's Shameful Ageism

Arranging a Life in Retirement

category_bug_journal2.gif It feels like years that my life has been in continual disruption and now, having put some thought to it, I realize it has been literally years.

From mid-2004 to mid-2005, I looked for full-time work full time without success. For the next year, until mid-2006, I prepared my New York apartment for sale, then spent half of several days a week away during showings and traveled frequently to Portland, Maine, to find a new home.

After moving in June 2006, I spent the rest of that year designing and overseeing renovations, learning my way around my new city and settling in. I hadn’t moved in 23 years and had forgotten how long the details of making a home comfortable can take, not to mention that I was 23 years older and tire more easily than two decades previously.

Last year, I traveled more than I anticipated and took on several projects that required most of my extra time. Finally, on Sunday, I finished the last project and have sworn there will be no more for at least the first half of this year.

What I want to do is find my natural retirement life rhythm.

For our entire lives, from kindergarten until retirement, our time is bound by schedules set by others - first in school and then by our employers. Even the self-employed must align their time with customer and supplier schedules. Our days are ordered by those requirements and our other responsibilities and interests must be squeezed in around them.

By the time we retire, after five or six decades of slavish attention to others’ clocks, we have no experience at ordering our days. Vacations don’t count.

Some people thrive on no schedule, flitting from one thing to another as whim takes them and they manage to get the essentials done. Or not, and maybe it doesn’t bother them. I’m not one of those people.

I’ve chosen to make this blog my retirement job and now I can figure out where it best fits in my day rather than working it in around obligations. Maybe I’ll set aside a certain time of day to deal with email (once I catch up with the 100-plus I’ve flagged - if I can remember why they’re flagged). Definitely, I’ll mark some hours of the day to read the piles of unread books. And set a specific time of day to get in some additional exercise. It might actually get done that way.

From what I read, many people are suddenly faced with empty time the day after they retire. That’s not my problem, but I’m eager to see what kind of rhythm I can give my life now that my time is my own.

What about those of you have retired? How have you worked out the rhythm of your days?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Edna Henke takes a wry look at the indignities time can inflict upon us in Broken Body Parts.]


While I am sure my job as a rural mail carrier in Kansas is more "blue collar" than yours was in New York, the decisions and plans are basically the same, although we won't be moving. I am currently coming to grips with the decision to retire before age 66. (I plan to retire in a year and will be 63). Like you, there will not be a problem with keeping my days full. I do have an added dimension of a husband who is semi retired. We have already talked about retirement priorities--exercise, avoiding naps & going to bed at a regular time, eating properly, etc. However, I am looking forward to spur of the moment plans that are impossible for me now.

What a great post. As a fellow blogger, I already currently view my blog as a job on top of my job. So I can certainly understand that this is your retirement job. I also had to laugh at your comment about trying to remember why you had an email flagged! Totally relate!

As for retirement, although I'm not there yet, I'll reference my mother. She was a self-employed writer in her 40's, 50's and 60's and has never really "retired". She is now 72 and has to create structure in her day in order to feel movement. She teaches a class every week to a packed house, has just published a book, is just starting her book tour, and has a far busier social calendar than I do. So while the business world may consider her retired from traditional work, she runs circles around me.

I suspect I'll follow her lead. I'd need to impose a certain structure on my life and continue to feel that my "work" post-retirement contributes to the betterment of the world.

Ronnie I am basically where you were in 2006. Moved 6 months ago after tiring trips up and down the road from adjoining city to supervise building project.
Finally settled in home. So much to explore in this city surrounding me. Mentally planning my spring gardening project. Family and personal needs on my calendar also. Have a pile of books I want so to curl up with and read.
So to answer your question I have not found my rhythm as of yet.
I have started volunteering in a small church thrift shop to get myself out around people.
I could see myself just staying busy with home, family, myself and computer and the day is over. This is fine but want more free time.
I am working on it.
My son keeps saying "mom, slow down and breath deep"

Like you, I had a few years of easing into retirement, having been laid off, then working at contract work for a bit, and some part-time work. But I think now, at 61, I am going to consider myself fully retired.

I have been getting involved in various volunteer activities, and the other day realized that I am much happier doing a variety of things than I was sitting in a cubicle all day. My activities range from elder affairs (sitting on an Advisory Council for my local Area Agency on Aging, getting trained to teach nutrition to seniors, helping with selecting Medicare Part D), to plants and conservation (serving as a guide at a botanical garden and as a trail steward for a local urban wilderness).

I love everything I do, and still have enough free time to take care of my own health, read to stay informed and tend to my family and friends.

An early retirement was forced on me just as it was on you, Ronni. For the first year or so I found that I wasn't accomplishing as much when I had all the free time in the world as I had when I worked. I indulged myself in doing what I pleased when I pleased and enjoyed my freedom. I finally discovered that I needed to discipline myself and plan each day. I volunteered, did all my own yard work, made improvements on my house and was so proud of my accomplishments.

I sold my home with a built in swimming pool and large back yard and bought a town house with a postage stamp size back yard. That was the best move I ever made because now I wouldn't be able to maintain the pool and a yard full of rose bushes. Time takes it's toll and I have slowed down considerably. I still plan one major project for each day; otherwise, the days would all blend together into a meaningless blob.
My day always starts the same way. I make coffee, turn the computer on, answer my e-mails and open this blog. My next activity is whatever project I have set for myself for the day. Today it's house cleaning as I am giving a dinner party Saturday night. I need to pace myself now.

Thank you Ronni for bringing this subject up. After decades of working to the tune of my employers' clocks, it was pure heaven to be to be retired and finally have my time be my own. My retired brother put it this way, "Everyday is a Saturday!"

I admit I have not found my "rhythm" yet, especially after having made a second move after retirement. But after "settling in" is complete, I hope to find the discipline to add an orderly rhythm to my days. At present, other than getting my coffee and checking email and your blog, there isn't any yet. But there is much work to do and many plans which will require that I apply some discipline and order, and I hope I am as successful at that as you are. Maybe I just enjoy my schedule free all week "Saturdays" a little too much.

For women, this used to be called "empty nest symdrome". At a time when women were expected to get married, have children, and stay home to take care of house and kids, this feeling of "what do I do now?" was quite common when the children left home permanently.

Now we are seeing this transition at a later stage of life - retirement. Men have been dealing with the 'too much time, too little money' issues of retirement for decades.

I think it boils down to having a reason to get out of bed every day. If you still feel useful and productive, no matter what schedule you set for yourself, you will he healthier and happier.

An aerospace engineer/manager living in suburban KS, married to an engineer/program manager who had retired in 1993 at age 57, I retired in May 2004 at age 66. (We have 2 cats at home, plus 2 adult daughters, and 1 adult granddaughter who are out there on there own.)

As one who did not really look forward to weekends while employed, it was surprising to me how much I enjoyed my first year of retirement. Reading 100+ books was fabulous, and volunteering as a state certified ombudsmen for the local nursing home residents made me feel useful. However, the longer term plan that I followed was to take training during that first year which would qualify me to be a Red Cross disaster response volunteer.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, I became a Red Cross volunteer, putting to use the training that I'd already had, and taking considerably more training along the way. Subsequently, I've done much travel on behalf of the Red Cross--all over the US, from NYC to Portland OR to Sacramento CA; but, mostly in the MO/KS/IL/IA area. In addition to working disasters, I work in the local Red Cross chapter's offices a couple of days each week--designing, maintaining, and inputting data to databases; and, I do a small amount of instructing in the chapter's on-going training programs.

My volunteer work, with attendant training requirements, provides just the right amount of structure, stimulation, challenge, and exposure to people from all over the nation. It is "just right", for me.

I retired and flat out loved it. Heaven indeed. Five years ago, I started back to work part time. Yes, I miss my "full time retirement," but I've found a balance of work and life that fit well. Daily I do coffee, email, and my journal...first by hand then here on this wonderful computer then work if it is the season. I exercise by walking by the beach or bay, or walking part way to work...tho right now I have a hip that doesn't want to move so do PT. I write or go to one of two workshops I attend, and I volunteer. For years I worked at the Historical Society here shorting them when I would vanish for six months into work at baseball. This year I have volunteered with a local group that sponsors winter holiday programs here in town. That should fit well with my paid work.

There's the meme going around now that asks what things you are doing now you wouldn't have dreamed of doing at 25. Using this computer to keep my journal is the top one on my list. I can keep in touch with friends in ways I couldn't before. I can learn. I love learning, and especially from the blogs of other's. Retirement remains heaven as long as it all balances. I know you will enjoy the balance you find now, and we thank you for your new "job."

I'm so glad you wrote about this, Ronni. I've been retired 2 1/2 years and haven't found my rhythm yet. These comments are helpful, too, and I look forward to getting some ideas from all of you. I have taken part-time jobs working at a vitamin store and teaching homebound students and have done some traveling. I also work at the polls during elections. I'm not taking care of my health like I need to and don't get regular exercise and don't eat as well as I should. I'd been thinking about what you wrote in this post and am so glad you brought it up. "Tomorrow" can be a wonderful but dangerous word during retirement since I keep putting too many things off for too many tomorrows.

Thank you for this and for your wonderful blog!

My father retired early and needed about ten years or so before he actually retired internally. He was, like you, jumping from one major project or move or a consulting contract for a long time. Eventually, he found a good rhythm to his day with sailing, computer time, and (small doses of) people. Sounds to me that you are still living the same sort of way you lived when you were earing an income; for it does appear you are no more in need of employment as you were back then.

I have two rhythms - one when I am up north and one when I am down south. The only similarity between the two is, I still read my favorite blogs first thing in the morning , have breakfast and read the newspaper. I just have to start the day that way even when I have an early appointment!

The pace up north is much slower, not many commitments, my time is pretty much open to do whatever I want when I want.

I've never had a problem with retirment, I welcomed it and when my husband retired it was the same way. Never experienced the empty nest time.

Now in Florida I have to be very careful not to extend myself, there is so much to do . I'm learning to say,"no I can't join you." Someday's I just have to stay home.

Everyday is Saturday!

I'm still looking for my rhythm. I think I have a half-rhythm. Golf two or three days a week. I find I'm watching my mother (82 yrs old) and observing how she handles her life. She's still spunky and spry and has recently finished planning her "final resting place". I admire her for that, as I'm terrified of the idea of dying. But I did build a website devoted to final resting places. I'd love some comments.

Oh Ronni - you have hit the nail on the head this time!!! Great blog!!
I am happy not to have to work any longer despite being considered low income. Just never made it or figured out what to be when I grow up. Have discovered that I am anal and ocd and at age 64 have been on ss disability since age 61. My days are full with the call of the computer e-mails etc. Playing the piano. Reading. Crocheting and television and of course food shopping and making meals for my husband of 45 years. Thank God he does the laundry!!! Whew!! Sometimes I even try to clean the house ie. vacuum etc. I also teach a little Hebrew School three and half hours a week. ALL OF IT IS WONDERFUL - BECAUSE I HAVE NO ONE TO BOSS ME AROUND AND TELL ME WHAT I DID WRONG!! GOD BLESS - SS and retirement - so long as a stay healthy - I can do it!!!

I love being retired. I have a listof priorities and I try to work towards all of them but there is not enough time. I especially love continuing to learn. right now I am reading a book about James Madison who worked really hard to learn all about nation building and every democracy that ever existed in order to be prepared to build the US constitution. I like to think of retirement as as being wealthy. You can do what you want to do to live to learn and to be interesting. Kind of like the people in a Jane Austin Novel or like Madison. My retirement is a work in progress and I love it. I am independent.

This is really helpful as I am about to take the plunge aged 61 at the end of this academic year. I can't wait to be free of the tread mill and yet I am really scared of the lack of structure.

I have a few projects. We have established a group called Grey Pride because there isn't really anything like your blog in uk. All the older people's organizations concentrate on care homes and illnesses while your blog looks at all aspects of living. We want to build this with our Grey pride organization.

I have got a book on the go and I do some voluntary work. Everyone says that i will get loads of consultancy once people know I am around but I find it hard to believe.

I have 2 gorgeous grandchildren and another coming in July. It will be good to spend more time with them and with my husband and my Mums who are still around. However, i have to confess to rather dreading falling back into a total `caring` role and not using my brain. It was good to read how you all found different things that you perhaps did not anticipate at the time of retirement.

The comments to this entry are closed.