I’d like to tell you about two widows in their seventies, who have been best of friends for many years. Joan recently moved into a retirement village; Valerie still lives in her home of 40 years.
Soon after Joan settled into her new apartment, the retirement village announced an event that she knew her friend Valerie would enjoy. Excited about sharing both her new home and an afternoon together, Joan invited Valerie over.
Valerie couldn’t make it, however, as she was waiting for the gardener to mow her lawn. Over the next few weeks Joan kept inviting, and Valerie was never able to come, mostly because of something to do with the house. Joan could see that Valerie was stuck with the pressures of maintaining a house that was too big for her.
Understanding this, Joan suggested to Valerie that she sell her home, and perhaps move into a retirement village like the one she was in.
But Valerie would have none of that: “That might be fine for some people,” she said, “but I can’t leave my home, it’s too important to me. Besides, I’m not ready to give up my independence.”
Who is really more independent?
There are thousands of seniors in Australia who are living either Valerie’s life, or Joan’s. In my experience, it is those living Joan’s life who have the most independence, and who live more fulfilled lives with less stress and more time to do the things they truly enjoy.
What causes people to make the choice that Valerie continues to make: to stay in a home that is too big for them, where many of their neighbours have moved away, and that is filled with memories but not people? The answer is often: fear of change.
You would think that seniors, of all people, would be used to change. But there are some deep-seated reasons for this particular fear:
First, changing your home hits at the heart of two basic human needs: shelter and security. If you have lived in your home for some time, it is filled with memories, and familiarity, not to mention the fact that the mortgage is fully paid. This fear is also all about equating living in your family home with independence, and the loss of one means the loss of the other.
Second, is the fear of making a wrong decision, which can be even stronger for seniors. Many of us experience a diminishing confidence in ourselves as one of those side effects of aging. There is so much going on already that we can’t control, from our children leaving the nest to retirement (translate that as loss of job) to our bodies starting to behave badly due to age. We feel like we have no control, and what we don’t see is how well we really have done with those changes, taking control of the new reality and moving forward.
And third, there is a fear that is almost an exhaustion that we feel in anticipation of the move itself. We all have memories of what it was like in our pasts to move, and now that decades of “stuff” has accumulated in the family home, the idea of moving is overwhelming.
Time for a reality check
A reality check will help any senior facing these fears to see their lives for what they really are, including the new opportunities just over the horizon. Let’s take that reality check and look again at those fears, in connection with this question: How do you want to live the rest of your life?
Valerie and others like her may think they are independent, but they are not. The house has become heavy with obligations, and they are weighed down by keeping up the maintenance needs. If Valerie would consider rightsizing, she could be considering retirement villages as one option. In that case she would never have to worry about yard maintenance, and could get help cleaning the house if needed.
The second and third fears, those of making the wrong decision and the fear of the move itself, are easily comforted if you choose the right people to work with. Educating yourself on your options, and pulling in all resources available, will make the process of selling and rightsizing one where you feel fully in control. And doing so now, before a crisis makes you move more quickly than you would like, will just add to the positive effect.
Maintaining a life well-lived
As seniors, our goal is still to maintain a life well-lived, for now and for the future. Most of us are not fulfilled by endless waiting for service help, and rattling around an empty house waiting for it to be filled again only briefly during holiday season. In the scenario at the beginning of this article, both women thought they were comfortable with their lives. But we think that sooner rather than later, Valerie will realise that she is tired of the demands that staying in that home puts on her. We can only hope this epiphany comes before a crisis dictates a move.
In our experience, Joan’s choice of a retirement village is fast becoming the option of choice for many seniors who have made the decision to right size. Research shows, time and time again, that the vast majority of them are very happy with that choice. In fact, many lament that they didn’t make the choice sooner.
Facing the fear of change and giving it a good dose of reality opens the door to looking at your choices for the lifestyle you would want for yourself. Whether you choose a community of other retirees or not, it is a choice for living a life that is independent, creative, secure, and sustainable, in the company of as many others as you would like. This is an opportunity that by all means should at least be explored!