The Person I’ve Become

Since retiring in 2010, I marvel at the person I’ve become.  I look back at my younger self and realize how much I’ve changed and evolved.

I’m gradually feeling calmer, kinder, even happier as I grow older.


The sense of calm comes from good health habits.  I cook and eat nutritious whole foods, get regular exercise, and sleep 7 or 8 hours at night.

I try to live gently with others by listening  to what they say and not interrupting their conversation to add my thoughts. I also try to listen to the birds in my garden and to the cat’s delightful purr.

I admit that I’m not calm about ageism, unfairness, or deception. On these fronts, I try to control my reactions.

I worry less. Most of what I’ve worried about over the years hasn’t happened.  If worry comes from lack of planning, I take action.

Stuff is not as important as it used to be — especially after three months of de-cluttering and purging.  I still love my clothes, my shoe collection, my fun jewelry, and the multitude of scarves acquired over the years.  However, a peaceful state of mind, playful friends, and a loving family give more contentment than I ever received from ‘stuff’. It’s easier to let go of things that hold little meaning and to let go of people who rob me of precious energy without giving back.

I’ve had more experience with loss and grief. I know that there are low, crazy times when everything about the world feels unfair.  I also know that these times pass and equanimity returns.


I don’t think that I was unkind before retirement but I was often abrupt. I lived a ‘too busy’ life in a fast-paced work environment.  I multi-tasked to save time.  I had little patience for those who were less productive than I perceived myself to be!

Having time for reflection, time for hobbies, and time for solitude has allowed my mind to relax.    I try to focus fully on what is happening. With a mindset of acceptance and respect I appreciate acts of kindness that others show in daily interactions with me and with each other.

Most importantly, I’m kinder with myself. Workplace critics who fuelled insecurities are history.  Yoga and mindfulness have helped me connect with my strengths. With positivity and acceptance, negative and painful feelings that plagued me for years are slowly melting away and, thus, taking less of my attention. self-respect, and confidence.


As we grow older, we become happier; I feel this happening for me as the years pass.

Researchers in the US, UK and Australia with backgrounds in economics, psychology, and sociology have shown a U curve of happiness and well-being. This U curve shows lowest levels of happiness around age 45 followed by a steady up curve.   Happiness and contentment increase in later decades of life. The correlation between happiness and ageing happens despite declines in health, increases in dependence, and less social interaction.

My happiness has increased because I’ve learned to respond differently when I don’t live up to my expectations.  I’m also more resilient and less affected by opinions of others. I feel younger on the inside than I look on the outside.

I hope my wisdom is increasing but it’s sometimes as imperfect ever. I do and say things that I regret but I try to repair damage done. I fall short of goals but I keep trying to improve.  I am learning to live with gratitude for what I have and not continuously striving for more or better or faster.

There’s an old saying that you start where you are to get your life to where you want it to be.  Some of the changes since retirement happened because of conscious choices.  Many changes were serendipitous.

I like the person I’ve become.  I’m sure that in a few years, who I am today will have changed again as I take risks, learn from daily life experiences, meet new people, and seek new adventures.  There will be more lessons as I savour this stage of my life.  In the famous words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

I’m interested to hear reader thoughts on how life has changed for you since retiring. Has retirement brought contentment, well-being and happiness? What other changes have you experienced?  I promise to respond to all comments!



Manage Time — Manage Choices

In recent months, as I’ve struggled with managing time in retirement, I’ve realized that it’s not so much about how I manage time as it is about how I manage choices.

In 2010, when newly retired, I felt like a kid in a candy store.  There were so many options for retirement happiness. I was free from routines, obligations, and schedules.  With an empty calendar I said ‘yes’ to almost any interesting activity, challenge, and hobby.

Staying involved with the world, caring for my health, and  keeping my mind active guided decisions.

I started this blog and learned the basics of Word Press. I accepted numerous invitations for membership on not-for-profit boards. I got involved with committees in my church. I joined not one, but two, book clubs. I began to play bridge with a small group, first as a substitute, and soon as a regular player. I attended a weekly knitting group to re-learn knitting skills. I made time for regular exercise at my club and began to meet gym, yoga and pool friends for lunch at the club’s restaurant after exercise. I dedicated myself to cooking and eating nutritious meals.  I spent hours developing a shade garden at our cottage and maintaining our perennial and veggie garden at home. Interspersed with all of this was time for travel, time for entertaining, and time for our grand-daughter after her birth three years ago.

Writing this list confirms how the collateral damage of trying to do too much eventually discouraged and overwhelmed me.  I needed to re-assess how I was spending precious retirement years.

It took months to realize that many of the activities and hobbies that I had chosen in the early phase of retirement were not as fulfilling as I hoped.  Attending meetings and spending hours in various board rooms had filled my days when working.  Why was I repeating this in retirement?

To find retirement happiness, I needed to take responsibility for the choices that filled my time. I also needed more free time. I had to re-organize my schedule to maximize happiness from each chosen activity.

Sorting out which activities to keep created a dilemma. Since I have only one life and one retirement, identifying priorities took serious thought. I began by resigning from most boards and  committees. Shelving those obligations freed up meeting and travel time as well as time spent reading binders full of information in preparation for meetings.

The next choice entailed a mantra that I called the ‘rule of 2’.  I would not participate in more than two activities or appointments outside of the house on any day.  Going to the gym counted as one activity; attending bridge counted one activity; meeting a friend for lunch counted as an appointment.  The ‘rule of 2’ resulted in a more manageable schedule.  It also caused me to become discerning about commitments.

Since January 2016 I’ve augmented the ‘rule of 2’ with weekly and monthly planning.  A weekly overview, usually on Sunday evening, helps me to figure out how to better achieve both short-term and longer term priorities. At the beginning of each month I review and celebrate the highlights of the previous month. I consider what was not finished and why. This helps me to understand my productivity and my successes. When I accomplish very little, I’m able to assess why and self-correct.

I’ve tried not to become maniacal about the schedule nor too focused on productivity. Rather, I try to spend time on current life priorities. For example, because making time for de-cluttering, purging, and moving to a smaller house is a key 2016 priority for my husband and me, I commit several hours each week to take me closer to achieving this important outcome.

I understand that I won’t finish everything on the schedule. I’m also realizing that everything takes longer than planned.

Making better time management choices for a fulfilling and happy retirement remains a challenge.  I struggle with time stealers like spending too many hours on email or social media. I feel guilty when I goof off too often. A mindset focused on productivity sometimes prevents me from engaging in activities of pure fun.

With this awareness, I try to cut myself some slack. I have only one retirement.  I’m determined to fill each day with inspirational, satisfying and interesting choices. I’ll use every helpful technique to manage choices of how I spend precious retirement time.

You can see what I wrote about coping with time constraints and over-commitment in earlier posts by clicking these links.;

I know that postworksavvy readers are involved in many retirement activities. What have you learned to about how to manage time and manage choices?


Buying a House is Like Buying a Dress

Is there a comparison between buying a house and buying a dress?  After a recent purchase of a house that we believe will better suit our changing retirement lifestyle, it’s clear that the decision factors used when buying a house have similarities to decision factors used when buying a dress!

Before I frustrate readers of a gender who may never have purchased a dress, I ask you to think of decision factors that might go into choosing a car, or a sound system, or special power tools.

Buying decisions are influenced by needs but other factors, both rational and emotional, come into play.  These factors include quality, price, past experiences, learning, culture, friends, family, age, lifestyle, purchasing power, and self concept.

Purchase motivation — whether for a dress or a house — is a complex psychological occurrence. Conscious and subconscious processes affect the decision. Marketers know that buying decisions happen at the subliminal, non-conscious level. Afterward, the consumer uses rational think to justify choices that are largely based on emotions.

When buying a dress the decision usually starts with personal factors. How does it look?  How does it feel?  Can I imagine myself dancing in it? Does it fit me perfectly? What a great colour!

For a house, the decision usually begins with price. Is it affordable? After that, size  — including number of rooms and configuration of rooms, neighbourhood, built-in amenities, outdoor space, and general ambience influence in the purchase decision. Scarcity and availability are other factors that may push a house buyer to make a quick decision.

After buying a house that we believe will better suit our retirement lifestyle, I’m struck with how this purchase decision was similar to decisions I’ve made when buying a dress. When I’ve been fortunate to find a dress that fits perfectly and suits my personal style, taking out my credit card to finalize the purchase is almost automatic. I marvel at this as I see myself as driven by rational thinking in most decisions.

Just as your body determines the style of dress that suits you, your budget will determine the type of house that you can buy.  Although we shopped for a smaller house, we were not prepared to live in a shoebox.  We wanted bright, airy rooms that were large enough to accommodate pieces of furniture that survived down-sizing. We wanted a house with lots of open space but with areas for privacy. Fortunately, the choice was not overly influenced by price as we are moving from a location with high housing prices to a city with lower housing costs.

The perfect dress needs to fit the body and the house needs to fit lifestyle needs. The dress should not be too tight nor should it hang too loosely.  Likewise, a house can be too small to accommodate the needs of the owners or it can be too big, as is our present house. Although we have eliminated much of the excess stuff in our lives, each of us kept some of our ‘precious’ collections as we plan to continue to enjoy the types of entertainment and hobbies that give pleasure.

The perfect dress needs to be age appropriate and so should a house be age appropriate. As I’ve grown older, I know that short-short skirts, frills, low necklines, and spaghetti straps no longer suit me.  Likewise, a house with three floors of living space and acres of carpet to vacuum is not required. In making a decision, ease of maintenance, comfort, and an environment for relaxed living were key factors.

Buying a dress is influenced by emotions as much as reason; buying a house is also a decision that is highly emotional and, yet, partly rational.  A perfect dress matches personality.  It sends signals about self image and social class.  Likewise a house provides external validation of the social and cultural reference groups to which the buyer belongs or aspires to belong.

The dress you shop for may not be the dress you buy; likewise, the house you purchase may be quite different from the house you thought you would buy. I’ve often shopped for a dress with a mental image of what I wanted yet the perfect dress that I bought was of a colour, cut, or style that was completely different from the mental image. When shopping for a house, we began with the ideas of a condominium type of residence where snow removal and grass/garden maintenance would be part of the condo fees.  Instead,  we bought a bungalow in a newish subdivision! We will have to take responsibility to hire contractors for outside maintenance tasks but we will also have more privacy.

In terms of post purchase thinking, we’ve decided that we had a predisposition for a free standing house as this is the type of living arrangement where we have past experience, and thus a pre-disposition must have existed at some unconscious level.

A big decision always creates some post purchase anxiety.  We’ve had some of that, but, mostly, we’re excited about finding a house we both like.

Just like the perfect dress, our new house will likely involve tradeoffs and compromises. There’s no point in trying to understand all aspects of this buying decision now the ‘Offer to Purchase’ has been accepted and we have a closing date. We used rational decision processes as we checked off the items on the ‘must haves’ list. Likewise, we know that emotional choices came into the decision including attitudes, beliefs, and feelings from past experiences.

Space for a herb garden, a wine cellar, lots of storage space, a walking/cycling path behind the house, and a nearby wooded area had emotional influence. Just as with buying a dress, buying a house involves a moment when something inside says ‘YES’.  The rest is history yet to be lived.



The home stretch — listing our house

We’re on the home stretch before listing our house. Our house will go on the multi-listing service on March 30.

Coming Soon sign
Coming Soon sign

The marketing strategy that the real estate industry puts into selling a house sale is interesting. It’s different from what happened 25 years ago when we last sold a house. At that time, a thorough clean up of the house and garden was the only expectation. The agent placed a sign on the front yard, took a picture of the exterior, and featured the house in newspaper advertisements.

Things have changed. Approximately 46,000 people have licenses to sell real estate in the greater Toronto area but only a small percentage of real estate agents are true professionals. Most took a short course and may sell one or two houses each year.

Since we told people in our social network of our plans to move, we’ve had numerous real estate referrals.  It seems that everyone knows a real estate agent.  We’ve been approached by neighbours, had cold calls from unknown agents, and had agents offer to undercut others on listing percentages. We’ve had lectures on the pitfalls and dangers of making a poor choice.  People warned against certain companies or brokerages that had questionable reputations all the while recommending a cousin, a friend, or a former colleague.

Who would have thought hiring an agent would be so difficult? After several interviews, we decided that we would work with a professional who we believe understands our needs and the market, especially the online market and how it affects sales of houses.

The next step was to attend open houses in the area. We toured houses in our neighbourhood, sometimes at formal ‘open houses’ but mostly through private appointments arranged by the agent. Some tours were cancelled when houses sold in two or three days.  In the current sellers market in our area, most houses are selling quickly.

Walking through other people’s homes with our agent felt like a kind of voyeurism. Some houses were stripped of every sign of occupancy.  Others were so cluttered that it was difficult to see the charms of the house.   Sometimes we were overwhelmed with odours especially the smell of second-hand smoke.  In one house, a basement door opened suddenly and we were surprised that the house was not vacant as requested for the showing. The agent reminded us that we weren’t buying these houses but were touring the houses to educate ourselves about how to prepare our house for sale and to understand how these houses compared with ours for purposes of pricing.

We also reviewed price comparisons for listing and selling in the area during the past six months as well as for the last six weeks. In real estate speak, these ’comps’ help decide the list price and the overall strategy for selling the house.

Earlier this month a professional photographer took pictures of the house — several exterior and garden views plus photos of every room.  A home inspection has been done and will be available for prospective buyers.  Every room as well as the lot was measured with a laser device to make a detailed floor plan.  A video complete with ‘elevator’ music is ready. An online website is set up. Although most of the marketing will happen on social media as well as through real estate networks, postcards have been prepared for a mail drop in the neighbourhood next week.

The next steps are up to us.  It’s time to lock away personal papers which means finding keys for filing cabinets. Most valuables have already been taken off site. During this long weekend we’ll do a final purge of personal items.  We’ll clear everything except for computers off our desks, tidy the shelves, clear kitchen and bathroom counters, put fluffy new towels in every bathroom, and buy fresh plants for display in strategic places.

Pets are an issue during home showings as they can distract potential buyers or get lost with doors opening and closing. To avoid this problem, I will move to our cottage with the cats.  My husband will stay at the house.  He will have to find diversions when house showings are booked or when the agent holds ‘open houses’.

As I write this post, I realize that this phase of our 2016 moving adventure is coming to a close.  We’ve purged, organized, cleaned, and de-cluttered.  Many items once deemed precious, are gone.

The house feels emptier and less like the home we loved. As I walk through each room I notice that my feelings of home have changed.  The rooms still hold aspects of our personalities, our preferences, and our lifestyle but the notion of home has dissipated.  Our house will always remain a crucible for precious memories of home but, it is now just our house.  It’s time to list the house and leave the home stretch to the gods of fate and the skills of our agent.

Retirement Happiness — A Break with a Grand-daughter

This week it’s time for a break from prepping our house for sale to experience the joy of caring for our grand-daughter who is almost 3 years old.

It’s March break in Ontario which means that schools, including the Montessori school she attends, are closed.

Our son and daughter-in-law have new jobs where time off for March break is not an option.  It’s time for grandparents to step up and help by doing child care.  Since they live more than two hours away from us, child care means a full week of sleepovers at our house as well as days chock-a block with all kinds of activities.

Caring for a busy, active, inquisitive toddler is more than a full-time job! The quiet times that I depend on for reading, writing, and a bit of solitude are interrupted by constant chatter and endless questions.  What’s that? How does this work? Can I try it? What are you doing?  Where’s grandpa going? Can I help?

There are also demands, usually masked with a smile and ‘please’ as the magic word. Please, may I watch Peppa Pig on Netflicks? Please, I want to try on your high black boots? Please I don’t like this meat! Please, I don’t want to go with you to the grocery store. Please, add more bubble bath. Please, I like two stories before bedtime.

While there is little time for anything but child care, this week is providing a refreshing look at the world of a young child.

I admit to getting charmed by an innocent smile with a request for cookies or a doughnut with sprinkles on top. When she tops off the treat with a hard-boiled egg and half an avocado I know she still gets essential vitamins.  I’m easily conned with requests to watch kids shows all the while feeling guilty as TV is infrequently allowed at her parents home.

I’ve forgotten how much fun it is when a blanket over a coffee table becomes a fort.  I’ve forgotten how interesting a cat’s tail can be when held in tiny hand.  I’ve forgotten how hands get sticky when balancing a toasted bagel spread with honey and peanut butter.  And, how hand washing becomes a sing-a-long that requires copious amounts of liquid soap to finish the job!

There is also the pure delight of movement. Reaching any destination is a race. In the quest for mastery, climbing, swinging, balancing and sliding are practised over and over on play equipment at the park. Indoors, movement needs are satisfied with dancing the galop, with lunges and swinging arms or with using our king size bed as a trampoline.

Music takes on new meaning when renditions of popular songs and nursery tunes alike are guilelessly  performed or sung while intensely absorbed with play. Endless requests for my singing have me bursting forth with long-forgotten nursery tunes, lullabies and silly camp songs.

There is delight in imaginative play.  I’ve spent hours pretending to go shopping at the mall. I’ve made imaginary purchases at the ‘coffee store’ (aka Tim Hortons in Canada),  selected various flavours of ice-cream, and played dress-up using hats, high-heeled shoes, and garish jewelry.

Her imagination extends to creative use of objects.  It’s interesting to see an empty water bottle become a microphone.  I marvel at overheard conversations with toys and listen to self-talk as she recounts events and their outcomes.

Books that belonged to her father when he was a toddler have provided hours of entertainment.  Favourites like Winnie the Poo, Curious George and Sesame Street are timeless.  Many have been heard so many times that she can take the books and ‘read’ the stories to her dolls! I’m surprised by the speed at which new words are incorporated into her lexicon through mimicry, repetition and experimentation.

All readers who are grand parents will surely identify with these experiences. One of the many gifts  grand children give  is the opportunity to re-experience the world through their eyes.  As adults we forget to laugh at the small, yet funny things that happen every day.  We forget the joy of movement just for fun as we struggle with ‘exercise’ programs to keep fit. Imaginative ideas are often dismissed as silly ideas and not possibilities.

After a hectic two months of purging clutter from our house, spending a few days seeing the wonder of life in our grand daughter’s eyes has been as therapeutic as a vacation. We’ve  enjoyed, again, the long-forgotten fun of free play.  We’ve struggled to reinforce rules that we know parents consider important to provide consistency and boundaries. Most of all, we taken time simply to love her and to appreciate this small person who has wormed her way into our hearts.



Staying Sane in the Midst of Change

My husband and I are making and anticipating many changes in our lives as we de-clutter, purge, clean, and organize our house for sale.  Staying sane in the midst of daily decisions sometimes seems a challenge!

Preparing a house for sale takes its toll, both physically and mentally.  Should we toss this chair or might we list it on kijiji?  Will these bookcases work in a new place?  How many throw cushions do we need? Are there yet more boxes to take to the cottage basement for storage? Do we need to rent a storage locker or should we just throw out or donate unwanted furniture?

Disruption rules daily life.  We’ve needed good coping strategies to manage health and sanity — as well as our relationship!

Physical Challenges

Keep exercising. It’s easy to rationalize that exercise at the gym or the pool isn’t essential when moving furniture, packing heavy items, and lifting boxes.  Such heavy work already gives a workout for arm, shoulder, back, and leg muscles.

Taking a break for aqua fit, yoga, or weight training takes time away from the work we’re doing yet it provides relaxation plus the benefit of socialization with gym buddies.   When there is simply no time to go to the gym, just taking a walk outdoors provides a welcome change of pace.

Get help. Some of the furniture that will leave the house before listing is just too heavy for two of us to manage.  We’re hiring help for a few hours to get it to a storage locker.

Mental Challenges

Change thinking. The decision to sell our house involved careful thought about options for maintaining an independent lifestyle as we grew older.  This decision represents forward thinking about a better quality of life.

After making this decision, I’ve stopped thinking about our current house as ‘home’. Cognitive behavioural therapists believe that changing thought patterns assists with changing feelings and controlling actions. This is tricky and involves conscious reminders when nostalgia hits.

Preserve happy memories. Last fall, I took numerous pictures of our yard and garden.  I’ve also taken a photos of favourite rooms before the de-cluttering and purging. Memorabilia lingers on shelves, in closets and on bedroom dressers waiting to be assessed, tossed or packed for future use.

Focus on the future.  Words from the last page of Margaret Atwood’s most recent book, The Heart Goes Last,  come to mind when I feel myself clinging too tightly to the past and the life I’ve enjoyed here.  About thought patterns, the heroine is told “Nothing is ever settled…… Every day is different.  Isn’t it better to do something because you’ve decided to?  Rather than because you have to?”

Relationship Challenges

We reached the decision to move with mutual agreeement.  Regardless, on some days, nostalgia and exhaustion sets in.  My usual reaction is grouchiness while my husband reacts with stoicism and silence.

After nearly 50 years of marriage we know when to ignore, when to encourage, and when to laugh it off. We also remind each other that facing the memories and setting aside the past is another phase of aging.

Soon enough we will have a new normal. This is a choice we have made rather than waiting for some event to require it.

Keeping a vision of a streamlined, smaller lifestyle means a future with more time for fun and less time spent on the responsibilities of a big house and garden.

This vision helps both of us remember that we’ve chosen to make this big change in our lives and not have health or incapacity due to aging cause the decision. Writing about the decision, discussing it with each other, with family, and with friends,  reinforces the plan.

Staying sane in the midst of change means adapting, adjusting and moving onward and not clinging to something that’s over.


Managing Energy While Under Stress

During the past two months my husband and I have been faced with managing energy and staying productive while under stress. As we’ve worked to de-clutter, purge, and prepare our house for sale staying productive day after day has been a challenge.

Although we agreed on the plan to sell our house months ago, we found it hard to get started.  We were too emotionally attached to the house and our lifestyle here.  In the fall, we agreed that we would leave things in place, celebrate Christmas rituals one last time, and then do a big push.  We began with a basement boot camp that you can read about at but found that our energy reserves were depleted more quickly than anticipated.

The boot camp was to last two weeks but continued for six weeks including several days for a painter to re-do the large finished area and basement bathroom. As each week passed, impatience and frustration grew.  Would this never end?

On some days I found myself feeling flat and unmotivated.  Anxiety ruled on other  days.  Distraction made me ineffective.  I made stupid mistakes.  I spent time on useless tasks like organizing a shelf of florist vases  and not recognizing they were junk.

By chance, I listened to a UTube interview with Dr. Peter Jensen who discussed techniques for energy management. Jensen works with many Canadian Olympians. He advocates learning how to turn up energy when needed and turn it down when it’s too high.

His remarks encouraged me.

Jensen recommends getting enough sleep, becoming aware of physical changes in the body when aroused, learning how to breathe, staying positive,  and accepting that pressure is necessary to keep moving forward. Most of these techniques are easy enough, but remembering to use them when faced with stress is the trick.

I’ve tried to use this advice to better manage my time and emotions during a time of upheaval in my life.

  1.  Getting enough sleep. Sound sleep is  problematic when my mind is churning with the ‘to do’ lists for the next day or the next week.  When I know that I’ve slept poorly, I cut myself some slack and reduce the work I plan to accomplish or I make time for a quick nap.  Even 20 minutes of relaxation and a few zee’s gives energy.
  2. Listening to my body’s messages.  Why is it so difficult to pay attention to the signs of physical arousal?  Logic tells me that rapid breathing, multi-tasking, and anxious worry indicate a level of energy depletion. This is the time to pay attention to body messages that show too much arousal. My body is often smarter than my brain.
  3. Using proper breathing techniques to slow down. Jenson describes breath management similar to what I’ve learned in yoga classes.  The method involves making exhalation longer than inhalation and breathing deeply into the diaphragm. Deep breathing relaxes body and mind, thus allowing better self-management, moderation, and control of energy.
  4. Staying positive. My husband is an eternal optimist.  Every day he reminds me of the progress we are making.  He points out areas of accomplishment and helps me to celebrate small gains. These affirmations reinforce the goal and empower me to stay with the de-cluttering and purging. Cognitive techniques that re-frame the project and emphasize purpose reinforce a mindset that tells me I am capable of getting to end-of-job.
  5. Accepting that pressure is necessary.  We’re planning to list our house at the end of March or early in April.  This deadline creates time pressure. Everyday, the deadline challenges us to expend focused energy on preparing the house for sale.  This means saying ‘no’ to other things I might like to do, missing opportunities for ‘fun’ activities, and eliminating distractions.

By learning to manage energy when under stress rather than focusing only on time management and scheduling, the project of preparing our house for sale has taken on a new dimension of personal growth. I’m learning to better monitor myself, not to waste precious energy on inconsequential things, and to replenish myself when anxious or overwhelmed. When overwhelmed, I change my inner narrative to reinforce the reasons for down-sizing.

Managing energy take commitment and focus.  It involves a shift of priorities. It means changing behaviour and thinking to ensure that I use positive energy get as much as possible out of every day.

The work of preparing a house for sale

Preparing to sell a house involves pain, both physical and psychological.

We are in the process of de-cluttering, organizing, and purging the house where we have lived for 25 years in preparation to list it next month.

Real estate agents and home stagers are ruthless in their evaluation of what to remove or add to make each room attractive to buyers. Needless to say, all begins with thorough cleaning of floors, carpets, walls, doors, and mirrors. Paint touch ups may be advised.

Books and bookshelves of any type seem to be a particular anathema.  During a recent house tour I was surprised not to see one book, magazine, newspaper nor any other reading material in a very large home. There wasn’t even a coffee table or art book in sight!

In the kitchen, small appliances, fruit bowls, and canisters should not clutter the counters.  The stove and refrigerator should be spotless. Bathrooms need to sparkle with fresh fluffy towels; no soaps or shampoos in sinks or shower stalls; no hair brushes, toothbrushes, tissues, mirrors, make-up containers, or other personal items in evidence. Closets need to be tidy and preferably emptied of most of their contents.

Physical Pain

With two months of purging, cleaning, organizing, and de-cluttering behind us, it’s clear that we underestimated the work required to prepare our house for the market. We also underestimated the amount of ‘stuff’ we had accumulated since moving here 25 years ago.

There’s been heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively.  Cleaning up the basement and getting rid of our junk has consumed us for almost two months.

More than 50 boxes of books have been removed from the basement and from my husband’s den. There are still several bookcases to clear including those in my writing room. A good amount of self-discipline plus thoughtful investment of time is required to achieve my goal of ‘some’ purging every day!

Packing boxes, lifting them up and down staircases, dragging them to the curb for give-away or into the back of my car for a trip to the re-cycling depot takes stamina.

I’ve joked that my new best friends are two people who work at the local donation centre.  They are happy to unload bags of clothes, boxes of excess sports equipment, boxes of used kitchen supplies, and, yes, extra book cases. Hopefully,  a charity will sell these items.

Psychological Pain

The psychological pain comes from the emotions each of us experience as we remember events during the years in this house.

This house has been ‘home’ with all the associated baggage.  Family events, parties, accomplishments, disappointments and sad times mix together in memories that represent a long chapter of our lives.

Achieving an amount of psychological detachment and dealing with the resultant emotional pain takes time.  We are removing  personal items to make the house look less lived-in, yet warm and inviting. Packing the photos,  diplomas, cherished moments sparks many discussions of what various pieces mean to each of us.

These discussions, with both laughter and tears,  have helped the process of letting go. We’ve also needed this time to process feelings, and, to deal with the pain of separation from our home.

As these two months have passed, our thoughts are changing.  Increasingly, we speak of our ‘house’ rather than our ‘home’.  Perhaps we are slowly putting it into a mental compartment labelled ‘past’.

Like other aspects of life that have finished, this house will hold a special place in our memory banks.  Just as with a decision like retirement, it’s time to focus on our vision of a future in a new home where we will create new memories, make new friends, and find new adventures.

De-cluttering and Decision Fatigue

De-cluttering brings on decision fatigue. If you want a headache, backache, and a pain in the neck — all at the same time — decide to sell your house!

Purging, de-cluttering, organizing, and cleaning are all necessary to prepare a house for sale.

Since early January, we’ve been clearing ‘stuff’ from the basement. We began in the basement as it contained most of the clutter in our house.  The finished area of the basement had become a catch-all after our son moved away. The unfinished area housing the furnace, deep freezer, water heater, and many storage units was the real disaster area.

The process has been arduous and painful.  It seems that every seldomly-used possession collected during almost 50 years of marriage and 25 years of living here found some spot in the basement. When placed in the basement, the item was out of sight and easy to ignore or forget!

Over the years, we organized, cleaned, and kept building more storage as collections grew. There were shelves of flowerpots, vases, baskets, candles, small appliances, pots, pans, coffee makers, and sports shoes.  There were paint cans with bits of paint, partly used aerosol spray cans, insecticides, fishing gear, various tools and, horror of horrors, boxes of things we brought when we moved here 25 years ago! Its amazing how much useless stuff two people own.

We aren’t buying another house until this one sells, so we don’t know the  kind or amount of storage space that will be available.  Thus, the decision to toss or donate most of the things in the basement.

Emotional attachment to ‘stuff’

Despite this resolve, I still find myself handling stuff and not tossing.  The extent of emotional attachment to things that I don’t use, things that don’t really matter to me, and things that don’t really make me happy has been a surprise.

Sometimes the feelings are sentimental because I’m looking at an item that was a gift or something handed down from my mother.

Sometimes the feelings are materialistic especially when I paid a lot of money for something that I ‘had to have’ but didn’t use.  It seems wasteful to dispose of such items until I remind myself that letting things go  is part of down-sizing.

What if I need it?

The question of whether I may need something arises frequently.  I find myself estimating the cost to keep, store, and move the item relative to its value.

Cost may include storage containers, closet space, book shelf space, or extra square footage.

Cost may also involve space in my cluttered brain.  In the process of purging, I’ve found  many items I don’t remember owning.

In terms of sentiment, owning something for a long time sometimes means it’s value increases. I’ve often looked fondly at something (a sign of emotional attachment) and tried to rationalize that I could need it soon (a sign that I’m holding on).

Perhaps there is a mathematical equation showing that emotional attachment — and not need — increases by the number of years owned.

Sorting Books

To date, sorting books and sending them out has been the most difficult in terms of decision fatigue.  Both my husband and I accumulated many professional and clinical books during 40 plus years as helping and management professionals.

Having a library in the basement provided quick reference sources before the internet.  Each of us had favourite books that represented landmarks in our careers, difficult graduate courses, or source material for a presentation or achievement.

Because the library represented the security of a professional designation, tossing the books somehow meant another, more final good-bye to an important part of life. Last week, at I wrote about the feelings around disposal of books.

Decision Fatigue

The purging and de-cluttering for the past five weeks has resulted in severe decision fatigue.

Every week, on garbage day, we haul bags and bags of stuff to the curb. I’m waiting for the feeling of ‘lightness’ that getting rid of things should promote; instead, it’s mostly exhaustion and stress.

Sorting brings tension between what is necessary and the childish urge to hold on.  I know these conflicted feelings come from  overwhelming decision fatigue. It’s easier to talk about or think about de-cluttering than to do it!

For encouragement, I’ve read a current New York Times best seller by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Kondo makes excellent recommendations discarding things.  Often I worry that I’m discarding things that should be kept or that I’m not sufficiently ruthless.

To cope with decision fatigue, anxiety, and physical exhaustion I’ve been using simple coping strategies.

  1. Taking breaks. Sometimes a cup of tea or some goof off time brings new energy.
  2. Keeping the end goal in mind. The decision to down-size is right for us at this stage of our lives.
  3. Staying focused. When overwhelmed with memories or the sheer amount of stuff, it’s good to remember the progress made.
  4. Setting time limits.  I use a 60 minute rule as a starter especially  on the days when I feel that I can’t face more sorting.  The time limit usually results in momentum to keep going.
  5. Practising forgiveness. As I move along I try to forgive myself for  over-buying stuff and allowing excess to accumulate. When I’m tired, I remind myself that I can’t work as long or as hard as I did 10 or 20 years ago.

Ultimately, our de-cluttering process comes down to keeping things we love. These things will help us to create a living space that suits our needs at this stage of our lives.  We’ve lived the other chapters fully.  Now it’s time to let go and move on.

Saying Good-bye to Favourite Books

To date, saying good-bye to favourite books has been the most painful aspect of the de-cluttering and purging experience as we prepare to sell our house.

Readers know that my husband and I are in the midst of a ‘basement bootcamp’. We are purging   One long wall of the finished area of the basement plus two large bookcases in my husband’s den contain a library of professional books.  Some of these are text books, some are reference books, some are bound journals, some are collections of writings by people who influenced our careers. My best-loved books including some 300 cookbooks are in upstairs rooms — mostly in over-flowing bookcases.

With easy digital access to any information we need, we decided to eliminate most of these books as part of the purge before moving. Since retirement I’ve had time to use the public library where I can borrow everything I want including ebooks.  I stopped buying bestsellers and other popular books but never disposed any books.

The decision to eliminate most of our books brings more difficulties than  anticipated. The books represent cherished memories. They have been companions during times of success, happiness, travel, stress, relaxation, learning, and loneliness.  They are reminders of degrees earned, professional certifications, and career benchmarks. They have brought comfort and affirmation. In short, books are part of the intimacy of our lives.

Books opened my world

Growing up on a remote Saskatchewan farm meant little access to books except for the few tomes that my parents owned, many of which were in languages other than English.  I remember receiving books by mail from the Saskatchewan lending library.  Borrowing was limited to two books selected by a children’s librarian. The library books arrived by mail, were read, and, once returned, another two books were mailed to me.  There was no UPS or expedited delivery so the two-week  stretches of time between returning the books and receiving the next shipment seemed interminable.

With this history, its little wonder that I loved owning books once I was in a position to do so.  Every textbook, atlas, dictionary, and thesaurus was practical and precious.  By reading books of general information the world opened. Books were my teachers.  They helped to  feel that I belonged somewhere. I loved every book I owned; and, I kept most of them.

Relationships with Books

As my husband and I sorted the books, we realized that almost every book represented a memory or an emotional connection . Perhaps  an admired colleague or teacher authored it.  Perhaps it represented a theory that shaped and guided how we worked. Perhaps it was a journal that contained a cornerstone reference article.

We had relationships with these books. Some were well-thumbed.  Some are in pristine condition.  Pages in most of the paper-backs had yellowed. Our books represented learning experiences during years of study.  They represented career accomplishments, interests, and hobbies. They represented hours of relaxation.

Access to professional materials on our library shelves provided security. Before the internet, these books contained references and information for helping interventions.  Each of us used our books in different ways — for writing, research, teaching, guidance, and inspiration.

Some books reminded us of special times in our lives including  books on Suzuki music instruction, on Montessori education, on child development, on parenting an adolescent, on dealing with grief, and on managing a career. The Do-it-Yourself books, gardening books, and hobby books sparked memories of phases of life when various interests prevailed.  Books of poetry were reminders of how we explored the complexities of our lives.

Saying Good-bye to Favourite Books

We decided that most of these books represented the past.  It was time to discard most of them.  We filled box after box of books and hauled them to the re-cycling depot.

Filling the first few boxes was difficult, but as we purged, it became easier and easier.  Books that we had kept because we might re-read them or use them for reference were discarded.  We decided that if we need that information again, we could find it. We also knew that if a book sat un-used for years, it would not be missed.

Many books were new.  Good intentions sparked the purchase but they were never read. Discarding these felt like throwing money away.  We used the same logic as with the books that had been kept for re-reading.  If the book sat on the shelf for years without being read, it would not be missed.

Each of us kept a few special books or classics.  These represent a bit of a safety valve.  They are books that make us happy or bring comfort,  A few of the keepers were signed first editions.

In future, we’ll know the true impact of this radical culling.  Yes, we might miss some of the books, but I somehow doubt this.  Life moves on and trying to drag the past along is an unnecessary burden.


Inspirations for a Happier Retirement

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