September 19, 2012

Fall Cleaning...But Not What You Think

No, this post has nothing to do with cleaning out closets, garages, and storage areas, though all those are good things to do as cooler days arrive. This is a more subtle kind of fall cleaning, but still very important to your satisfying retirement. This is the time of year when we usually face a busier schedule, more calls for our help, and more demands on our energy. So, I am suggesting this is the perfect time to fall clean yourself. After my just-completed RV vacation I am especially sensitive to the issue of life clutter.

Just like a closet in your home can easily reach a cluttered, disorganized stage, so can our minds. Both require regular thinning out, re-prioritizing, and replacing wornout stuff with something newer and better suited to our needs.

I have written before about dumping personal habits that no longer serve their purpose. Rather than revisit that topic, I'd like to explore a different kind of mind-cleaning: the buildup over time of commitments, must-dos, should-dos, and want-to-dos. Most of us hold onto a self-image that says we can do anything we set our mind to. When a friend calls we respond. When an interesting new volunteer opportunity arises we squeeze it in. When a friend recommmends a new book to read, we get it and put it on the teetering stack by the bed.

Think of the messiest place in your home. Let's assume it is a hall closet: try to jam too much in and it becomes useless. You can't open the door without the risk of something falling on your head. When you need an item in the back of the closet you must take time to remove things that are blocking your way. The more we try to squeeze into that space the less it can perform its intended function. Finally, we are forced to take drastic action: take everything out and put back only the stuff that belongs there.

Our minds can become just like that closet. We try to pack in so much that we actually end up harming our productivity and happiness. Year after year we fill our schedule with meetings, events, and activities that no longer satisfy us or fit our lifestyle. Our mental closet has no space left to actually enjoy what we are doing. We go through the motions because we always have.

Fall is a good time to:



Stop doing what you do every fall and take the time to decide if everything continues to fit your life. Does that organization you belong to still meet your needs? What about the three time a week exercise class at 6:00 AM that leaves you dragging for the rest of the day? Is meeting friends at the coffee shop every Friday still a joy? Do I really have to dust every other day? Could I save a lot of money if I cooked at home more often?

Look at your options. The great thing about retirement is you have the freedom to look at how your life is going and make changes if you want to. Look at all the options you have for social interaction, hobbies, strenghtening your body and health through new exercise routines, or going back to college to get that long-delayed degree. Think about your important realtionships...is there something I can do to make things nicer around the house? If I hire a cleaning service I can start those night classes I've always wanted. Can I squeeze that into my budget?

Listen to your heart. Too often I think we discount the importance of our emotions when we make decisions. During our working lives, usually thinking with your heart as well as your head can get you into trouble. Rare is the job where logical thought, an ordered system, and performance-based evaluations are balanced against how all of it makes you feel. But, now, you can listen to what your heart is telling you. Does this feel right? Am I more content if I do this instead of that? Is it less "productive" but makes me smile? Your heart can't always overrule your head, but at least give it a chance to be heard.

We all learned to Stop, Look & Listen near train tracks. That continues to be good advice. A satisfying retirement requires that you keep a balance between your head and your heart. If something you are doing doesn't bring you joy or satisfaction and you can choose to do something else, then do so. The person best able to judge your performance is you.

19 comments:

  1. Your last two posts have been excellent in evaluating and moving forward. I think that some people think in retirement you get into a groove and continue on. I like the pivot and start again approach. "the best person to judge your actions is you".

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    1. You are so right, Janette. Retirement is a time for moving forward, not just accepting for what has been. I hope to spend close to 40 years in retirement (longer than my working life). If I just sit...what a waste!

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  2. Good ideas! I think many of us are used to doing this in the fall more so than at the start of the calendar year due to the ingrained back to school mindset. I especially like your suggestion to listen to your heart as well as your head.

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    1. Something about the hint of cooler weather wakes me up from my summer slump. Here in Phoenix we are only another few weeks away from daytime temperatures below 100..that is the start of our year.

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  3. Well said. Taking the time to purge oneself of unnecessary habits, negative thinking styles, and commitments that no longer provide satisfaction will give new energy for what matters now. Sometimes the courage to say 'no' is the best gift you can give yourself.
    Be well,
    Jeanette

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    1. I just agreed to make a 7 hour round trip tomorrow for my prison ministry work. If I had re-read this post I might have said no. It will make for a very rushed end of the week!

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  4. Well put. Reminds me that many of the spiritual masters and philosophers tell us the importance of "awareness." Thanks for the encouragement!

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  5. Interesting post, Bob. I have found myself doing more of what you suggest (backing away from an organization that was demanding more time, as an example) and concentrating on being with the wife more, also as an example. Although I hate to admit it, some of it might be due to a natural slowing as we get older, but we also have a busy life that would tax the resolve of many. I am finding as we age that it is getting easier, not harder, to say no to too many demands. Not sure if others are seeing the same in themselves. But as I write this I also just realized we had a packed upcoming weekend already (mostly fun stuff), and I just agreed to add something else to it that will take hours away from our down time. Oh well, it beats the alternative of having nothing at all to do.

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    1. It does get easier to say no as we age. Maybe it is because we understand more clearly that time is not finite and our responsibility is to make the best use of that priceless resource.

      But, boy, is it easy to keep adding stuff. See my reply above to Jeanette Lewis. In fact, I gotta run now...take my dad to an early medical appointment...another thing on my to-do list.

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  6. Years ago I received advice to say yes as many times as you say no. We should temper that with your thoughts of evaluating requests before answering.

    Warren

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    1. That seems like a reasonable ratio. It is a lot like my "rule" for new clothes: something new into the closet, something old out.

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  7. Bob, I think this is sound advice at any stage of life. We might all be healthier mentally and physically when we retire if we'd shown some restraint on the way there. Great post!
    b

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    1. Restraint and moderation! Thanks, Barb.

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  8. Bob,
    As we evolve, so do our interests and motivation. I'd rather fill my time with meaningful pursuits than empty obligations. I perform a vigorous Spring Cleaning annually that doesn't just include "stuff." Sometimes a few people get sorted to the "discard" pile as well. That may sound harsh, but negative people can drain your energy and zap your happiness faster than having too much on your plate.
    Thanks for the reminder to stop, look and listen. Well said.

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  9. My grandson was reading a book about trains and I saw the drawing of the Stop-Look & Listen sign by the tracks. It prompted this post. Inspiration comes from the oddest places.

    Negative people can take some of the fun out of life. I just let any contact like that fade away and over time the problem is solved.

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  10. As usual, a wonderful and thought provoking post. I have used the phrase..."You need to reinvent yourself each year of your retirement." when people ask me about my retirement. What worked at the beginning, isn't necessarily a good fit or good stewardship of my time now. My interests change, family needs change and perhaps I just don't find joy in some of the things that I earlier did. But saying NO can sometimes be a lot harder than saying Yes....even though it is a shorter word. Be true to thyself and all else tends to fit in the puzzle much better.

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    1. You are so right Linda. Interests and needs change but too often we don't allow those changes to occur. That is unfair to both us and those people or organizations that may be affected.

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  11. How right you are ... time to take inventory.

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