Still one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future, gave us a fun way to escape the mid 1980's and watch Marty McFly travel back to 1955 and almost mess up his own future and his very existence.
Recently I re-watched the movie and thought how much today's satisfying retirement could be described as going back in time to save our future. Most of us agree that retirement today is very little like it was for our parents and grandparents. The concept of retiring did not exist until the Industrial Revolution and didn't become possible for many until Social Security was implemented in 1937.
For the period after World War II until the mid 1990's, retirement usually meant a decent company pension and medical coverage until death. It meant a safe and secure time after 30 or more years of working for one or two companies.
As we all know things this scenario began to show some cracks during the huge dom.com bust of 1997-2001. Many companies failed. Retirement plans were put in jeopardy. But, that upheaval was nothing like the 2007-2009 meltdown. The underpinning of millions of retirement accounts, pensions, and real estate holdings were wiped out. Massive financial failures brought us as close to another Great Depression as we have ever been.
Where does all this leave us in 2013? Do we have to go back to re-discover our future? Unlike Doc Brown and Marty we can't adjust a flux capacitor to change what happened to us. But, I can certainly look at how my family lived almost half a century ago (wow, is that possible?) and see if there is anything that translates well to 2013.
A few memories spring to mind:
...Stuff can't replace relationships and the gift of time. My parents always made time for each boy and the family. Dad was always home for dinner and we ate together at least 5 nights a week. As I have noted in earlier posts dad was unemployed for various stretches of time during my youth. But, that never affected our family time.
We were not a family of shoppers. Mom did like to buy clothes, but overall we had a home uncluttered with things. When one of us boys wanted something there was almost always a waiting period. That taught us the importance of delayed gratification.
The biggest gift our family received from each other was that of time and attention. Mom and dad were never too busy for us, as a family and as individuals. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case in many families today.
...Waste not, want not. For most of their married life, my parents each held a job, raised three sons, and did it with just one car. We had a television set for over twenty years that was rather small, a little green in its color mix, and kind of tinny. Leftovers at least twice a week were normal. Clothes were replaced when we outgrew them or something become too worn to wear. Hand-me-downs were standard operating procedure.
We were a frugal family, sometimes by necessity, often by choice. The thought of throwing away food bought at the supermarket a week or two earlier just never happened. The idea of buying new clothes just because we could never entered our minds. Dad's 20 year old telephone answering machine just broke last week. His first response was to get it fixed, not replace it.
The reality is most of us have all we need to be happy and satisfied. Making do, re-purposing something, and using an item up before disposing of it makes as much sense today as it did in my family's home in 1959.
...The less clutter the less stress. Our home was rather minimal in its decorations and furnishings. We had the normal sofa, easy chairs, coffee table, dining room set and so on, but nothing "extra." Generally if something was in the house it had a function. A console stereo set remained in the living room for at least 15 years after it quit working. It became a plant stand. I remember a rolling portable dishwasher that had to be hooked up to the kitchen faucet and plugged into a wall outlet to work. Well after built-in dishwashers were considered normal kitchen equipment we used this rolling monster because it still worked.
Mom was not fanatical about house cleaning so things stayed dusty for periods of time. Of course, this was well before men were expected or even encouraged to do "women's work" around the house so things were often less than spotless. Dad would have been glad to help out, but I'm pretty sure mom insisted that was her domain. This reality meant the fewer belongings the less cleaning to be performed. The fewer possessions the less stress to repair, replace, or upgrade.
In at least one instance going back would not be wise. So, one trap I would avoid if I could go back to the future:
...Follow the crowd and lose yourself. This time of American life was all about conformity. Television networks started showing the same entertainment to millions. Commercials told all of us what to buy to be happy and successful. We dressed the same and drove the same cars. Sexism, racism, and a very strong uneasiness around people who might be different were a part of daily life. Those problems continue today but at least aren't buried and shushed up like they were 50 years ago.
No one who wants a satisfying retirement today wants it to look like everyone else's. We realize retirement is an adventure we just can't wait to start. We aren't stopping anything, just moving to other passions and interests. Don't follow the crowd and find yourself is much more like it. Following the crowd and blending in one part of the 1950's that none of us miss.
Sometimes it is good to remember our past. There were approaches and concepts that worked well then and still make sense. In other instances, the past should remain "past." Isn't the key to be able to tell the difference?