Tag Archives: downsizing

Retirement Transitions Requiring Exploration

I have to downsize my library. Two years ago, while moving from a house to an apartment, I reduced shelf space by fifty percent and now a new move is demanding another one third reduction. Many of these books are easily replaceable and I know about the value of letting go to create space for the new but I really struggle to let go of books in my collection. Many have special meaning because of relationship with the author or a period of my life which allowed a deep dive into an interesting topic. The books tell the story of my journey.

A friend of mine who is also experiencing significant downsizing is taking photographs before disposal not so much of books but of a wide variety of valued possessions. I love the idea although letting go of the physical may not create the space for the emotional or spiritual to come forth. Maybe it is more of exploration. Henry David Thoreau said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” As we experience transitions before, during, and after retirement, and prepare to downsize and let go of our physical bookshelves, we can also examine our mental and emotional book shelves, and maybe let go of some things we have held onto for too long. I invite you to join me this week in examining what is really important in our lives and what we can let go.

Paul G. Ward

Re-Housing Our(elder)selves

About 15 years ago, we went in search of a new home, and a new type of home.  Somehow the concept of  co-housing had floated into our head space. We were attracted to the idea of  ‘building a better society, one neighborhood at a time,’ to quote the current official cohousing slogan.  This was pre-grandchildren and the appeal of sharing a planned community with people of all ages, including small children, seemed vastly more appealing than the 55+ adult gated communities then being marketed.  So we signed up for a co-housing conference in Maryland where a new community was forming, and the following year we toured four communities, Cantine’s Island, in Saugerties, NY, award-winning  Windsong in Langley, BC, Quayside Village in North Vancouver, and Trillium Hollow in Portland, OR (a city where some of our family already lived).  Of these, only Windsong was completed and occupied at the time.  We attended open houses at all of these, and spent a night at Windsong.  We even joined two of them at the minimal membership level. People were friendly and welcoming, some were close to messianic about their chosen form of living.  Forming a co-housing community is a long and challenging process and a few ‘burning souls’ are essential to sustain the effort.

We supported the living lightly on the planet philosophy of co-housing communities of which EcoVillage in Ithaca, NY, is perhaps the best known example.  We liked the self-governance ideals, the espousal of diversity.  We were attracted to the idea of a neighborhood planned to maximize contact among the residents, a kind of  y’all come, potluck ethos very different from most suburbs, including where we live now in South Florida.

The closest we’ve come to that kind of community sensibility was our eight years in Hoboken, NJ, where everything one needed was within walking distance.   If street life didn’t bring you into contact with a neighbor or two and the possibility of a social event, stoop life — hanging out on a balmy evening on your own front steps — certainly did.  It was a small town in every sense of the word, with Manhattan right across the Hudson River.

For us, the downside of co-housing was governance by consensus.  At one of the just-forming communities we toured, I sat next to one of the members in a meeting.  An open house usually includes a pot luck and an invitation to whatever is happening so visitors can get a sense of community process.  This meeting was about landscaping and it went on and on and on, and finally broke up with no decision.  The woman looked at me very kindly and said, “If you’re serious, get used to it.”  I gather that some communities have modified this form of governance.

Today, as co-housing has evolved and grown (there are communities in 37 states and several Canadian provinces), there is more variation in community aspirations including the introduction of the concept of co-housing for elders (a word I prefer) developed by architect and co-housing in America champion, Chuck Durrett.  I’ve heard Chuck speak at an American Society on Aging session and his arguments (read here) for elders living in a community are starting to make a lot of sense to me…again.  I guess you could say it’s deja vu all over again, but with a sense of urgency that I could not have experienced in a pre-grandchilden, pre-Inconvenient Truth, Union of Concerned Scientists report world.

More reading:

Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living, Charles Durrett

See also: Dr. Bill Thomas’s The Greenhouse Project

Being Downsized

Last week, a young friend got the ax. She was one of 8,000 people downsized by a large investment bank with reported losses of $10 billion in the first quarter. If that figure boggles the mind, it’s only because few of us can conceive of it in any real terms. How many tall skinny lattes would $10B buy? How much human misery does downsizing cause?

It didn’t matter that she had been at this firm for 10 years and had been assured when the last round of layoffs occurred that she ‘had nothing to worry about.’ She is single and turns 40 next March, so time is certainly on her side. Also, she has credentials in another , completely different field that could soften the loss of income. But that will take time to develop, just as it will take time to recover from the blow.

At first, she was more upset about the way it happened than that it happened. If you’ve been downsized, you recognize the circumstances. You are called in, given the news, and never return to your desk. Your things are mailed to you. If you are lucky, you will get assigned to an outplacement firm which helps you sort out COBRA, severance (if any) and so on. Sometimes, you get some career counseling. But it’s all pretty cut and dried. For the pain of separation, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

In some ways, the abrupt nature of downsizing is like retirement, even when it is voluntary. Endings are wrenching, especially if you’ve been with an organization for any length of time. You grow accustomed to health care coverage, colleagues and familiar faces, work you know how to do, perhaps even enjoyed, a sense that you are needed. Suddenly, THEY don’t want you any more. How do you not take it personally?

These days, people change jobs frequently and downsizing is so much a fact of corporate life, that your resume will not be blighted by this event. And, as we all know, retirement is not irrevocable. But even the most self-confident among us needs some time to process the separation, to let the shock subside, and even to grieve, if that feels right. If there’s no financial pressure to find another position, it could be an ideal time for a sabbatical.

Unless you are in academia, chances are an opportunity to take a break won’t come around again. Why not take advantage of the breathing room, the time to think and reflect? Perhaps you will find yourself asking Big Questions, like: What am I here for? What can I do to improve my community, society, the world? What kind of impact am I making in the larger sense? And if money were no object, what kind of work would I be doing? Such a shift in perspective could be just what you needed, and never had time for.