January 23, 2012

Can Simple Living Become Silly?

Hold one, what has happened? Haven't I been a major proponent of downsizing, simplifying, and eliminating waste and unnecessary clutter from a satisfying retirement? Haven't I written numerous posts in favor of simplifying one's lifestyle? Have I suddenly undergone a change of heart?

Absolutely not. Simplesizing, right-sizing, or whatever term you like for matching your resources and needs with your capabilities remains a driving force in my life. What I want to draw attention to is the mistaken interpretation of a simple life being one that lacks color, vibrancy, and well, life.

Consider these representative definitions of the word simple: without additions, consisting of only one part, common, ordinary. None of those phrases or words match what I hope my life is like. My goal isn't simple living...it is a full life lived simply.

To some, simple living can mean cutting back to the basics, maybe even a bit beyond. Like you, I have read of some folks who want to get rid of virtually every possession. They want to retain a very limited amount of clothing, live in 200 square feet or less, have no transportation (not even a bike), and give away all books, music, DVDs or whatever else may be considered entertainment. Even electricity and running water are impediments to what they view as the best way to live simply.

If you think I'm making this up, look at some of the links at the end of this post. There is a fellow who only owns 15 things....total. One of the actors on the hit TV show, Mad Men, lived without a toilet and was thinking about giving away his bed. Or, how about the family, with four kids, that has lived in a car/pop-up camper for 11 years?  The last link includes a video tour of a 12x12 foot home with no electricity. I'm sorry, but to me, living like these folks (and thousands of others I didn't list) borders on silly. It certainly isn't a goal I aspire to. That isn't simple living, that is fanaticism.

A full life, lived simply, is what I am striving for. I don't want my possessions to define me or how I live. I try to avoid the siren call of Madison Avenue as much as humanly possible, though I really love Netflix! I invest my money cautiously and take few risks. Do I miss a potentially quick gain by staying away from trying to play the market? Sure. But, on the other hand I am less seriously hurt during sell-offs.

I have no mortgage because I bought my current house for cash (average U.S. mortgage debt is $175,000). I have no credit card debt (average U.S. debt is $6,500). I have no car loan debt (U.S. average is $15,370). Because of this I have no real worries of foreclosure or bankruptcy. Of course, a major medical disaster could put us in a deep hole. Even with insurance I know that my wife's health company would look for any way possible to avoid paying its share. Even though they collect almost $9,000 a year from her in premiums, that buys us nothing if they decide to stonewall me at a time of need. Even so, my financial life has been simplified. 

I spend less than $600 a year on new clothes. Jeans, T-shirts, polo shirts, underwear, socks, and athletic shoes are my major clothing purchases. I gave away 10 suits and sports coats last year when I cleaned out a closet. I buy virtually no new books or movie DVDs, never buy new music, and go to a movie theater maybe 8 times a year. Even so, my life is filled with music, reading, movies, and documentaries. My clothing and entertainment life have been simplified.

I  live quite well in a  comfortable, warmly decorated home the suburbs of a major American city. My backyard is an oasis of plants, running water and calm. I am living my passions and dreams. I have simplified my life but I don't lead a simple life. There is a huge difference and it makes the difference between a retirement and a satisfying retirement.

How about you? Do you approach simplicity as something to improve your life, or has it taken on a life of its own? Do you have an easy time purging, or can't you bear to get rid of the stuff you haven't needed for years? Are you after a simple life, or a full life lived simply?

Related Articles & Information

January 16, 2012

Getting Your Juices Flowing

Every one of us has the ability to creatively solve a problem or learn a new craft. We can come up with all sorts of ways to make something better or more productive. Like any other skill, creativity can be developed. Here are 5 ways I have used to get my creative juices flowing and make my satisfying retirement a daily adventure. Maybe one or more of them will help you feed your creative spirit and supercharge your internal idea machine.

A) Stretch Your Horizons. Stimulate your mind by doing things out of your comfort zone. Go to a museum you usually avoid. Listen to a type of music that normally isn't on your iPod. Visit web sites that present a point of view you don’t agree with. Pick up a magazine that covers a subject you are unfamiliar with. Stepping outside your usual behavior will energize your thought process.

For me, I respond best to the written word. So, on a regular basis I go to the bookstore and pick up two magazines from subjects I know little or nothing about, or ones presenting a different political perspective than mine. Also, I hunt out new blogs that are in subjects that have nothing to do with retirement. More often than you might think something I read on a random blog will spur a fresh thought for this blog or a way to spark up my life.

Betty and I became members of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. At least once a month we spend an afternoon strolling among the cactus plants or trees, sitting by a fountain, having lunch, and people watching. Those few hours are just enough break in routine to make the rest of the day feel fresh.

B) Expand Social Interactions. Leave the iPad or smart phone for a while and go meet real people. The skills required to engage in small talk force you to think more deeply, listen more intently, and consider your response more thoroughly. People are highly unpredictable and often full of ideas you don’t have. Tap into that flow and see where it may take you.

This is a tougher one for me. Luckily at our new church I have become involved in several groups that have introduced me to new people. Every one has a fresh story to tell or insight on life, religion, and family that enrich me. I will freely admit, though, my social interaction isn't as open as I would like it to be. Maybe 2012 will be the year I take more risks in this regard.

C) Visit Web Sites Designed To Provoke. I have noted above I will visit web sites and blogs that present a different take on politics and our country's direction. But  provoke also means to excite to some action or feeling. Sites like TED or iTunes offer hundreds of free video and lectures specifically designed to make you think. In TED's case many are under 10 minutes on almost any subject you can imagine. Again, I will choose a subject in which my knowledge is rudimentary at best. I may not like the talk, but all it costs me is 6 or 7 minutes. By forcing myself to do it I have accomplished one of the goals of creativity: taking a risk.

One of the new items I am adding to this blog are videos at the end of an occasional blog. Many will be from TED. I hope they add a little different feel to the posts and give you the chance to go a bit deeper into the subject I have chosen to write about.

D) Keep A Journal. When I wrote about journaling very early in this blog's life, the response was underwhelming. In further conversations with folks in my life journaling isn't even considered by many people for two reasons: few of use actually use pen and paper to write anything anymore, and the time required for introspection isn't available. Every one is just too busy.

I urge you to abandon the "common wisdom" and try it. I've kept journals on and off for decades. They aren't the diary-like "here’s what I did today” recap. They may be during a vacation, or often during a Bible study. When I found myself becoming kind of negative toward the state of the world or my place in it I have kept Gratitude Journals. Writing down two or three things I am thankful for that day goes a long way toward keeping my focus on the positive.

I guess it isn't technically a journal, but anything that stimulates an idea for this blog goes into a notebook. If I thought about the need to write close to 2,500 words a week with no outside inspiration I might freeze up! For me adding to a journal or notebook on a regular basis works my mind. Have you ever thought of giving it a try?

When you learn something new, or tackle a difficult problem, you feel alive. What you are feeling is the power of creativity.  How do you stoke your creative fires? What are you doing to stay excited and engaged? Are you looking for something to give you that "I can't wait to get out of bed this morning" feeling? After all, retirement is only the beginning.

The Link Between Music and Passion

January 11, 2012

A New Way To Look At Last Year

One of the steps I take every New Year's day is to pack away the previous year's receipts. Usually it is a mundane process that takes just a few minutes. But, this time I decided to look at them a little more closely as each month went into the box. Suddenly, I had my own year in review through bills and receipts.

Cable cancellation: Last March we cut the cord of our cable company and went to an off-the-air antenna, Netflix, and DVDs for our entertainment. I found the receipt for the turn-in of the cable box, remote, and assorted cords. This was the first time we have been without cable for 35 years of marriage. It was a big step and one that changed our nighttime schedule.

Receipt for Cabin rental in Greer. As recounted in the end of the road post our family had reserved a cabin the northeast Arizona hamlet of Greer for the first weekend in June.The idea was a good one: escape the desert heat for a few days of 70 degree weather in the mountains. After a 5 hour drive we settled into the cabin only to see a a huge plume of smoke on the distant horizon. A massive wildfire was burning, out of control, heading right toward Greer and my family. Shortly after 1 AM we were awakened and told to get out of town. Packing everything in 30 minutes, we beat a hasty retreat and drove 5 hours home, arriving at 6 AM. 

For the next few days we followed news reports as the huge Wallow fire ended up burning hundreds of thousands of acres, destroying dozens of homes in Greer and eventually burning its way into New Mexico before dying out. What started out as a quiet getaway became a story to add to our family's history.

Condo receipt for Hawaii. After a 10 year break,  Betty and I made it back to Maui. The receipt for the condo in Kihei brought the 18 day dream trip back again. In fact, the first thing I did was go to the digital files to look at all the the pictures again. Just last week we made our vacation plans for this year. I mentioned the idea of going back, but Betty strongly suggested we do something different. Reluctantly I agreed.

Income slips for guide work. For almost 5 years I had an interesting part time, seasonal job: tour guide for business people visiting Phoenix/Scottsdale for conventiuons and seminars. I was paid to show people some of the sights, take groups on horseback rides, hikes through the dessert, cookouts, or kayak floats down the Salt River. I spent many hours exchanging stories with bus drivers and fellow guides. The job paid quite well and added a few thousand dollars to my pocket each year. 

Through a combination of events I stopped the job last June. Though I will miss the people and money, I have found more satisfaction in other uses of my time: this blog, prison ministry, and more picnics, reading, and spending my nights with my wife. It is quite liberating to not have to make time for the job, but I will miss the money!

The repairs bills for our older car. Last year was not a particularly good year for our 8 year old car. I saw almost $600 in over-budget repairs, Betty and I wondered if it was time to cut back to one car, or buy a new one. The final decision was to do neither, but to keep the clunker running for another year or two. With only 81,000 miles it should be OK for awhile. Since depreciation instantly steals 30% from a new car, budgeting hundreds of dollars more for the 2003 Hyundai seems like a better decision.

It was an interesting experience - recreating some of the more memorable moments from last year out of a stack of receipts. I wonder if this year will have as many. We'll see.

What others are saying

January 6, 2012

Is It Time To Kick Start Your Retirement?

Don't we experience times when we are simply going through the motions? Every day is much like the day before. It is safe and predictable. There is a comfortable routine to the day. Nothing really new or interesting happens. There are no problems we can't handle without a little effort. Inspiration is taking a break. Life moves forward. But, is that truly living a satisfying retirement? How can I find new energy for whatever might be next in retirement?

Pay attention & shake it up

One of my best sources for renewed energy and a fresh direction is to stop long enough to look at the world around me. What in my life might give me inspiration if taken in a different direction? Old photos, movies, a play or theater presentation, mementos around the house, the birds in the backyard, people at the mall, actually just about anything can inspire if my mood is right and I'm open to seeing things in a new way.

Looking for a new angle or use of the everyday, meeting a new person or having a new experience, any of these can energize an otherwise mundane day. I might read something in a magazine that changes my perspective. Checking out my favorite bloggers almost always forces me to open my mind to some different idea. Shaking up a routine or attempting to break an unproductive habit can be just the boost I need to get moving again.

Sometimes you just have to act

There will be times when you must force yourself to take action. It would be easier and more pleasant to avoid whatever it is. But, the problem isn't going away until you confront it. Whether this is a relationship issue, a health concern, a financial upset, or even where to go on vacation you may have to simply grit your teeth and do something. Problems and opportunities don't respond well to inaction.

I dislike the "ready, fire, aim" approach most of the time. But, I have done just that at times when I had a brain-lock and had to simply "do."

Look for something fresh from others

Inspiration for your life can often comes from an outside source. Interacting with other people may be an effective way to find an answer to a problem. They may not directly address what your need is. But, by simply being with them you may find a new path toward something. Being with a group of people you enjoy can't help but make you feel better.

Joining a new club, organization, or church group may be the spark you need. Volunteering in a setting where you interact with folks who need your help and are different from those you normally spend time with can often do the trick. My last four years of prison ministry has given me an entirely fresh perspective on people. I helped out at the Phoenix Rescue Mission last week by serving dinner to almost 300 less fortunate folks. It felt worthwhile and the people were friendly, appreciative, and a joy to serve.

Maybe you simply need a retread

Reusing or reworking something you have done before is really what retirement is all about. A lifetime of behavior and expectations are up for review. Just because you thought one way while working doesn't mean that line of thought is best for your life now. Was there an interest or hobby you used to love that fell by the wayside? Is it time to bring it back, maybe in a slightly different way? When you were 30 you loved to mountain bike. But, now at 60, maybe trail riding is safer and more suited to your body. You still love to bike, but you change the approach.

Kick starting your satisfying retirement really is just a case of rejecting the status quo. As our hour glass begins to run lower on sand, waiting for tomorrow to energize yourself today is probably not the wisest course. From the book, Tales of Power, consider this quote 

"The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything either as a blessing or a curse."

I prefer the warrior approach. You?

What Others Are Saying

From TED.com: Try Something New for 30 Days

January 4, 2012

Expect the Unexpected and Cherish Every Moment

This was the year we decided on no gifts for the adults at Christmas time. It was simply the right thing to do for our family. No one needed anything and budgets were tight anyway. Of course, the children would have presents under the tree, but none of the grownups.

That didn't mean we didn't want to be together and have a memorable experience. So, arrangements were made to spend a few days in the snow and cold of Flagstaff in a rented house. That was a great change of pace, but there was still one more thing needed to make it special. 

The "conductor"
Every Christmas time the Grand Canyon Railroad becomes the Polar Express, patterned after the hit movie. Leaving from a train station 40 minutes west of town, adults and kids dress in pajamas (well, not all of us), and board the train for an hour long ride to adventure. Telling the story of the Polar Express, drinking hot chocolate, eating cookies, and everyone singing Christmas carols sets the stage for the big moment. Santa Claus boards the train at the "North Pole," and goes from car to car greeting the children and posing for pictures, while handing each child a bell, just like in the movie. The excitement and glowing faces of all the kids, along with many of the adults, makes for a magical evening.

But wait, there's more. Picture an 18 month old, with a case of stomach flu, depositing the cookie and hot chocolate over mom and their seats just a few minutes before Santa comes down the aisle of the railroad car. Imagine several adults springing into action, mopping up the mess, changing the toddler's clothes, and getting everyone ready for pictures with the guy in the red suit and white beard.

Then, after  the train returns to the station, the adventure continues. Just as all of us are ready to head for dinner, another round of sickness hits the infant. More cleaning up and rushing to the the cars in 18 degree weather to hurry home and get everyone cleaned up and fed. Dinner becomes cereal and leftovers, but we are safely back in the house. Early to bed for everyone.

So, was this a very unpleasant Christmas experience? Absolutely not. The kids helped set up and decorate a 4 foot tree. On Christmas morning gifts were torn open and instantly any upset or concerns were forgotten as the squeals of joy and excited chatter filled the living room. The adults played games, watched a movie, relaxed, soaked in the hot tub (on a 30 degree porch!), and enjoyed each other's company.

We have always been a family that cherishes experiences over things. Memories never fall apart, shrink or break. They never are replaced by a new memory. They create the unbreakable fabric of a family that lives and loves together. This will always be part of our family lore. The infant's sickness will be part of the story as we remember Flagstaff and the Christmas of 2011, smile at all the fun and thank God for the blessing of family.

Oh, in case you are worried, within a day of our return to Phoenix, the flu had passed and everyone was fine. All that was left were the pictures and memories of a time well spent.

A perfect image of  our Christmas together
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