My wife, Laurel, and I are 65. We reside on 10 non-easy-care acres in rural south Salem, Oregon.
Recently we visited our first retirement community.
We've browsed online and requested brochures before. But we'd never toured a retirement community. Touchmark Bend is of the "continuing care" variety. It offers options from detached cottages to home care for those with varying health care needs.
Mattie Swanson sat down with us and ably explained what Touchmark Bend is all about. No hard sell. No selling at all, really, since it isn't much needed (the facility is almost 100% full, with a waiting list).
Laurel and I weren't hugely attracted to Touchmark Bend, though we could easily understand why others would be. It's nicely designed, in a beautiful area along the Deschutes River, nestled in a terrific city, Bend.
After our tour we drove a short way south to Sunriver, a resort community with about 20% full-time residents, the average age of whom is close to ours (66 for men, 64 for women). We drove and walked around some, trying to pick up the vibe of the area.
It didn't seem quite like us either. Which got me to thinking...
How the heck do retired people decide where they want to live?
Swanson told us that retirees older than us, in their late 70's say, aren't as used to moving as us 65 year old "kids" are. So it is tougher for them to decide to leave the home they may have lived in for 40 years or more.
Well, I bow to her expertise as a retirement community counselor. But my wife and I aren't finding it easy to decide whether we want to move somewhere else, and if so, where that "somewhere" would be. Here's some quasi-philosophical musings on why that is.
One's life is obviously different than stuff within that life. At our age, where we live casts a big shadow, a huge one, over our entire life. We don't have a work life. We don't have a big social life. We don't have a child-raising life. We're at home most of the time, in a nature-filled, quiet environment.
Choosing something new to bring into our home life -- a car, computer, clothes, pet, or whatever -- is much easier to decide on than changing our entire life. We can easily visualize how new stuff would fit into our existing life; it is much tougher to visualize living in a different place, in a different way, in a different environment.
Most retirees like their current home. The AARP reports that "Nine out of 10 people older than 65 aim to live in their homes independently for as long as possible." When my wife and I were younger, we moved because afterwards we'd be in a better situation: a nicer larger home, a place where we'd found a job, some other reason for packing up and leaving.
Now, we like where we are.
We're just finding that the work to keep up our home and property appeals to us less and less. Plus, we have a lot of ties to where we are. Many memories. Many dozens, if not hundreds, of trees that we've planted over the years and have now grown tall. Fields cleared of blackberries and poison oak that give us pleasure.
Happy here now, but for how long? This is perhaps the toughest of the tough questions.
We talked about this with Mattie Swanson when we visited Touchmark Bend. Here we are, 65, fit, healthy (aside from a few minor complaints). Why should we consider leaving our home, where we're happy, and moving somewhere less desirable that offered health care options we don't need now?
The future is unknown. Happiness lies in the present moment.
Neither, we, nor anyone, knows what the future will bring. It seems crazy to give up a lifesyle that pleases us now, in order to be prepared if one or both of us becomes ill, disabled, or infirm in the future. But is it really crazy? Swanson said that most of those who buy into Touchmark Bend view this as the last place they ever will live, since the continuing care options allow for this.
OK. I can see why this appeals to some people. Yet what if Laurel and I happily lived where we are into our 80's, then suddenly die together in a car crash? Wouldn't it be better to do this, than to move to a "safe and secure" retirement community where we wouldn't be as happy? But again, who knows what the future will bring?
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. A related issue concerns us. Many people about our age downsize, moving to a condo or whatever that requires little inside or outside maintenance work. With our 3,200 square foot home and ten natural acres, there always is something that needs doing, fixing, maintaining.
I hate this. I love this.
Hauling cut branches to a burn pile in a field irritates me. After I'm done, the work feels satisfying. Part of the reason we're as physically and mentally healthy as we are is that our house and property drive us crazy. Go figure.
I worry that a stress-free retirement community would cause me to go bonkers. But then, sometimes our current situation has the same effect on me. Maybe I just need to accept that wherever I live, and however I live, I'm going to go bonkers some of the time, and be content some of the time. That's life.
Which brings me to some final thoughts.
I've read that about 50% of happiness is genetically determined. Circumstances determine maybe as little as 10%. The other 40%? Intentional activities, volitional choices. So here I am, worrying about where we should live -- which is part of that 10% of happiness.
Over on my other blog I wrote about a book, "10% Happier."
The author felt that through mindfulness and meditation, that's about how much happier he feels he became. So seemingly if I devoted myself to changing the way I look upon my circumstances, I could live anywhere and cancel out crappy circumstances that otherwise could crash my happiness by 10%.
Thus, maybe it doesn't matter so much where we retired folks live. Life is going to be kind of good, and kind of bad, no matter where we are. The delusion is believing that if I just moved here, or there, everything would be great -- all of the time.
Bottom line for us: my wife and I are going to keep looking into other places we might want to live. If one feels right for us one day, we'll move. If not, we won't. Pretty damn simple.
But of course life won't be that simple. It never is. Which is why life is so satisfying: its always full of surprises.