May 5, 2023

Letting Go: How Do We Know When?

When is it time to let go of something in one's life? When should an attachment to something be severed? When do we know it is time to let go of whatever it is that may be holding us back? These are not easy questions to ask, and certainly not easy ones to answer.

We are creatures of habit. Most of us are happy when our world is settled and predictable. This doesn't mean we aren't active and involved, rather we have some anchors in our existence that are comforting. Even those of us who still travel each year need the security of a home base, a familiar place where we can refresh and recoup. 

So, when is it time to let go of a part of our life that has been dependable until now? How do we know when it is time to cut the cord and move in a different direction? See if you agree with some of my conclusions.

*Relationship problems: Though letting go of a bad marriage or problem-plagued engagement would qualify, today, I am thinking more along the lines of friendships and acquaintances. 

All of us have had situations where we dread meeting with someone we know, or we always seem to leave their presence feeling worse than when we arrived. Certain folks have a dark cloud over their head that follows them wherever they go. If you are near them, that dark cloud covers you too. Negativity, projectile complaining, gossiping to harm others....being with these people drains you.

It may be tough, but you know it is time to let go of this relationship when you dread the time spent together. Cut the cord, for your own sake.

* Living situationThere has been a lot written about downsizing, aging in place, or moving to a retirement community. Honestly, I think one of the tougher "Letting Go" questions involves this topic. Most of us have an attachment to our home. It could be based on longevity, a sense of community, a place for all your stuff, a mark of your independence, or the house where your kids were raised. Whatever the reason, knowing when it is time to move because of health or family issues is not easy. 

My personal marker will be when I feel staying where I am risks my life or forces a responsibility on my kids that I do not want them to endure. Would they take care of Betty or me? In a heartbeat. But we have made the firm decision that we don't want that to happen. Letting go of our current lifestyle will be tough, but we are committed to that choice. I love our home; I love my family and their peace of mind more.

* Vacation and travel decisionsMaking the decision to sell our RV was really triggered by two factors: the expenses of keeping the motorhome and the desire to explore more of the world while we can. Pulling back from the world a few years ago was forced by Covid and all its effects. Even now, there is a lingering feeling that something could suddenly make its presence known and upend everything. 

While neither Betty nor I are ready to give up all travel, I have noticed a growing satisfaction simply staying close to home. We live in a part of the country that offers lots to do or supports the decision to do very little. 

I believe our upcoming trips to Portland and especially the river cruise in France will give us some guidance in the whole arena of travel in our future. We might decide to speed up the pace or come to the conclusion that long-distance trips are no longer for us.

* Driving: I have left one of the hardest examples of letting go until now. In our car-based culture, the ability to take yourself from one place to another when you choose is considered a basic right, not a privilege. The independence signified by that vehicle in the carport or street is almost impossible to quantify. Even if it is rarely driven, the point is it can be driven - by you.

Yet, we all know there will come a time when the car keys must be taken away. The unacceptable risks, not only to yourself but to other drivers and pedestrians, demand action. I am sure there are all sorts of studies that show we believe we are much better drivers, at any age, than we really are. Reality has a different measurement scale. Letting go of the car keys, even voluntarily, is very hard. 

I am quite sure neither I or my wife are close to this decision point. My dad drove safely until he was 85, but I am not him. I have worse eyesight and will probably be off the road before that.  Absolutely it will be very hard for me to let go of this part of my independence, but it must happen.

What have I overlooked? What is an important "letting go step" you know is out there somewhere, waiting for you to decide?


  1. How about favorite hobbies or activities? When I was young, my dad taught me to ice skate at a skating pond in our home town. My skating skills never reached more than mediocre, but I still enjoyed the activity. As young marrieds, Alan and I skated at a pond in the woods near our property. As young parents, we took our kids to the local ice skating rink. When the specter of osteoporosis reared its ugly head, I reluctantly hung up my skates for good. Discretion is the better part of valor. I suppose that rings true for all of the situations you mentioned.

    1. My way of stopping when I used to ice skate was to aim for a snow bank.

      You are so right. There are phyical activities and intetests that bring too great a risk as we age. Staying active is vital, but how you do so must be modified.

  2. A very timely post for me Bob. We fully renovated our house 15 years ago with the idea that would set us up for our upcoming retirement. Everything was done, a remodeled kitchen, new floors in the living and dining rooms, totally renovated basement family room, along with all new windows everywhere in the house, new quality appliances and so on. Now 15 years later, and going on 9 years after we retired, things are starting to go. First it was the dishwasher. Then while we were waiting for the dishwasher the washing machine broke down.

    The fridge was slowly falling apart too. Maybe 18 months ago the internal water dispenser stopped working, 8-9 months ago the ice maker in the freezer stopped. A couple of months ago my wife noticed that the tracks for the crisper drawers were cracked and broken. She said: "We need a new fridge don't we?" I agreed and said we should probably get a new stove too because you know when that's going to break, on Christmas morning when all the family is coming over and we are getting ready to put the turkey in the oven. The new fridge and stove were installed last week.

    Of course there's the new water heater that we decided to order and it's being installed in 2 weeks. Our existing water heater is 15 years old too and it works fine but is it really worth trying to squeeze every last minute out of it and then having cold showers for a week while we wait for a new one? All this has really got us thinking--how much longer do we plan on staying here and if not here then where?

    At age 69 I think we are about 5 years younger than you Bob and we've thought about it seriously but we aren't quite ready to move yet. We expect we'll move sometime in the next 10 years, hopefully before all the appliances start going again, but we are still torn about where exactly and that is an on-going discussion. Seniors residence? Condo apartment? Rent an apartment? We've been in our house for 36 years and counting, raised both our daughters here and both still live close by, it's not easy decision to make to move on. Fifteen years ago we decided to spend considerable money to renovate rather than move and so our attachment has only deepened. It may just be a pile of bricks but it's our pile of bricks.

    Travel is going to plan though. When we retired I planned that for the first 10 yeas we'd do the big overseas trips, while we were still young enough to be able to tolerate the inconveniences of travel. We've had some wonderful trips and great experiences but that 10 years ends with our trip to Egypt this fall. The next 10 years (maybe less) will be travel on this continent. I am thinking that with the shorter distances and far fewer time zones it won't be quite so arduous but we'll see how that works out. We can also taper that off as we age or stop all together, it'll be a year by year decision.

    For the time being we will also keep out house in Mexico where we spend the winters but that doesn't really seem like travel to me, we just live somewhere else for 5 months a year. It's not a bad trade to get out of a Canadian winter. That said we expect we'll sell our place in Mexico and stop that in about 10 years as well, maybe sooner.

    I guess this is the stage of life where gradually you have to let go. Bit by bit your world gets a little bit smaller. It seems like ever since you were a child your world just kept expanding school, university, your first job, marriage, kids. Even in early retirement there were numerous options that weren't available to you when you were tied down to a job, now you can really do what you want. But now, bit by bit, I can see that things are about to change. I am only at the very beginning of it but I can see it coming.

    1. Yes, there is that sense of some shrinkage and a change in how far away the horizon is. Betty and I are growing more comfortable with staying closer to home, for the most part. After our two weeks in France in September, I would not be surprised if we decided those long, involved trips are best left untaken.

      I can relate to your house situation. We have had an expensive major repair on the garage door, several plumbing issues and leaks in the lawn sprinkler system.

      Last week our heat pump failed. With only 3 years or so before we want to move, putting $6,000 into a new one seemed dumb. We opted for a temporary fix that may last 18 months. Who knows what happens then?

      Oh, and a new $15,000 roof may be required before we sell.

      I am very ready to say goodbye to home ownership and the chores and expenses that follow.

  3. Great post Bob! Very thought provoking.
    Letting go of negative people? To me the evaluation of were they there for me during a negative phase? Like a marriage that has a negative streak, maybe it is time to sit back and evaluate what is going on. Confusion, misunderstanding, tragedy, pain can all cause negativeness. The saddest things I have seen in the last five years is the attitude of “just walk away”. You don’t have to be sucked in totally, but walking away is using other people as door mats. I have seen several people “walk away” and then return when the other person is needed again….
    Driving? That will be tougher for my husband than me. He drives very little, but it is important living as rural as he prefers. I keep praying that self driving cars will be a norm when I give up my keys! I figure I have ten years. I wouldn’t mind buying a community alternative energy car for my neighborhood to get a ride occasionally.
    I am hard core traveling for the next five years. It includes friends, children and grandchildren. My husband is pretty much done. Maybe two trips overseas. He does agree to go see grands twice a year. Not sure how much longer that will happen. We bought a trailer last year. Big mistake. COVID broke his stride for the go go years….
    Same with moving. We moved two years ago- He is done. I know we will move in seven to eight years. We need to be by our daughter for the no go years.
    All things we think about pretty often.

    1. The negative people definition is really meant for those who just have a long term sour attitude to pretty much everything. It doesn't seem to be triggered by any one event. Rather, it is an approach to life that can suck the joy out of any contact.

      We have one more move in a retirement community. It is still close to family but has the support we will need going forward.

      We will celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2026. Maybe that move will be our present to ourselves!

  4. Twenty years ago (I was 54 and husband was 60) was our biggest change. I wanted out of our four bedroom, 2 bath, 2 living areas house. We had bought it because it was a great deal but only lived in it for 2 years. I never really liked it and wanted out, a smaller house and no mortgage. It was the best decision we ever made, although hubby resisted at first because he hates change. We have been in a 2 bedroom retirement home, with no mortgage ever since. We are also in an over 55 community, which I love. Not because we dislike young people or kids, but because I have a huge sound sensitivity and I can not bear loud music which is ever present in modern life.

    1. Downsizing is one of the necessary changes for most of us. The maintenance and expense can no longer be justified.

      We went from 3,000 to 1900 square ft almost a decade ago and now feel that almost 2,000 is much more than we need.

      As an upcoming post will detail, I am looking forward to activities and friendships that are likely to be available at the retirement commumity.

  5. We bought our current 1650sf home in '91. 20y ago we did a minor remodel (tearing down walls to get a larger space for guests and my quilting and added woodshop space for hubster. At that time we put on a 40y roof. 15y ago we added a terrific door in the family room onto the back patio. We slowly replaced all windows except 4 large panes. This year we painted the entire interior, replaced all door/trim and flooring with wood and tile so that is done done. Those mentioned windows are on order and should arrive in June. So the structure will be done! We have set enough cash aside for another roof, exterior paint and 1 more set of appliances. AC/Heat units tend to last 12y these days so there will be at least 2 more of those as well. It is our intention to be here for to the end, God grace us with that Blessing. We do have investments to pay for care if needed.

    We are celebrating 62y this month so hope much life ahead to travel and enjoy the fruits of our hard work and investments.

    I read every post with interest and contemplation for the experiences shared here and I thank everyone for insights gained.

    1. You and hubby have done some serious maintenance and planning for future needs.

      Windows is something we have discussed since the ones we have now are old double pane versions that aren't nearly as good as today's options. But, with so few years left in this home we just can't work up the enthusiasim for the expense.

      I turn 74 on May 10th. 62 seems young!

  6. One of the roles I had to surrender was that of parenting my adult child. I am his mother but I no longer feel the need to parent him per se. It was a gradual realization unlike the daily thought I give to moving from this rural property.

    1. Allowing an adult child to make his own way, even when your natural instinct is to protect, is tough. In all likelihood he has been one of the central focuses of your daily life for many years.

      Changing that is a hard habit to break (thank you, Chicago!)

  7. We let go of our second car during Covid (since it did nothing but sit in the garage for months on end until we finally got rid of it). So far, so good. We live in town so we can walk to a lot of things. Also, my wife and I are careful about planning who's going to need the car. It gives us something to talk about!

    1. We are back to two cars after our daughter bought a new one to replace her unsafe heap.

      The old gas-guzzler stays parked for 90% of its life; the plug- in hybrid gets all the use. Anyone want a 12 year old CR-V with 107,000 miles?

  8. We are pretty much settled into our annual routine of six months in our ADA-compliant downstairs apartment in our Seattle suburb (one of our kids lives upstairs and pays rent by doing all the stuff we used to do when we were younger and more limber) and six months in our park model trailer in an RV resort in Tucson. We like the comfort of the remodeled downstairs of our family home, but the steep driveway makes taking out the trash and recycling a bit of a hassle. And we love the friends and activities in the Tucson retirement community. But we won't be driving back and forth any more; road trips aren't the pleasure they used to be. We have a second vehicle in Tucson and we'll share it in the winter from here on. My goal for this summer is to get my left knee replaced and rehabbed - no vacation plans for us! We, too, are more inclined to be homebodies. For the first week after we returned to Washington State, I only left the house one time.

    1. As you know, there are several folks we both know who have found the Park Model life in Tucson to be perfect for part of the year. The convenience, amenities, and friendships seem to be strong selling points.

      As for leaving the house, I am in your camp. The crowded roads, rude or inconsiderate people, and all the folks packed into stores leave me dreading errands or shopping for much of anything. The lure of Amazon delivering everything I need to my door is powerful.

  9. Giving up being able to do all our own chores is becoming hard - spreading mulch, digging over the veggie patch, vacuuming.