My wife and I are in our late 60's. For 26 years we've lived in a 3,200 square foot house on ten non-easycare acres in rural south Salem, Oregon. We've visited four retirement communities in the northwest, and browsed numerous others online.
It's tough for seniors to decide when to leave a beloved home because it's become too damn difficult to maintain. Various factors enter into that decision: health status, where children and other family members are living, how attached one is to a current location -- all kinds of stuff.
We've mulled over the reasons to stay where we are, and the reasons to move to a retirement community. Our conclusion: it makes sense to keep on living in our home for as long as possible. I like to say, they're going to have to tear my DR Field Mower out of my cold dead hands.
(See my 2015 post, "I couldn't mow steep slopes in a retirement community." And a story in the New York Post that featured us.)
Not surprisingly, those who market retirement communities argue otherwise. Every community we've looked at has a pitch that echoes what a "infomercial" story in the Homes & Rentals section of a recent Sunday Oregonian says.
The piece was titled, "Moving in 'young' enables seniors to remain active," and extolled the virtues of one of the retirement communities we've visited, Hillside in McMinnville, Oregon. Here's an excerpt from Erinn Hutkin's story.
While some may have the idea that moving to a retirement community such as Hillside is something done in the last years of life, there are advantages to making the transition at a younger age and being able to enjoy the freedom that such communities offer.
For one, it's much less taxing for an older adult to move into a community when they choose to, rather than doing so quickly in a time of crisis. What's more, downsizing to a community like Hillside frees up time to be able to enjoy life. Moving when you're younger and more able-bodied also allows for the opportunity to be involved and take advantage of community activities and programs.
OK, here's what I disagree with.
(1) "There are advantages to making the transition at a younger age." This assumes that seniors know the future. Which, of course, nobody does. I don't know how long I'm going to live, or what the cause of my death will be. What if I moved into a retirement community that I wasn't really wild about because I envisioned myself growing old and infirm there -- then died in a head-on crash with an out-of-control semi on the freeway a year or so later?
My last thought would be, "Shit, I shouldn't have moved, because I could have spent my last year happier in our rural home, rather than in the retirement community, and now I'm about to di..."
Us baby boomers came of age in the live for the moment 1960's. Now we're in our 60's. Planning ahead is fine. However, so is enjoying life right here, right now. Finding the balance between planning for a possible future, and living in the reality of the present moment, this is a central dilemma for seniors.
Our leaning is toward now, a more vibrant reality than could be.
(2) "Being able to enjoy the freedom that such communities offer." Question is, freedom from what? Apparently, Hutkin means, in large part, freedom from home and property maintenance.
But my wife and I enjoy the freedom of living in our own house and making our own decisions about how to maintain it. As noted in the post linked to above, I even enjoy the sweaty, dusty, muscle-fatiguing work our property requires.
Recently I was up on the roof of our house, walking along the edge of the gutters, blowing out debris with a Stihl backpack blower. I would really miss doing this in a retirement community where most of the chores are done by others. It makes me feel free to do difficult, even semi-dangerous, jobs around our house.
Sure, I realize that there may come a time when we aren't physically able to do what we're doing now. But as long as we are, why shouldn't we keep on doing what we enjoy?
(3) Moving when you're younger and more able-bodied also allows for the opportunity... To be with older and less able-bodied people in a retirement community. This is a fact.
My stock line when we talk with a salesperson who has just shown us around a retirement community is, "Thanks for the tour. You've got a nice place here, but I'm freaked out by how many old folks we saw."
That's meant to be humorous. But I'm also serious.
It's depressing for me to see old people getting around with walkers, and sitting at card tables playing something-or-other on a nice warm sunny day. I realize that this often is what happens with increasing age. But since my wife and I are pretty darn healthy at the moment, and don't feel as old as our driver's licenses say we are, we look upon retirement communities with a decidedly wary eye.
I talked about this in "I'm 65. Where's my 'Aging Hippie' retirement community?", where I related our feelings about watching a DVD of a Washington retirement community.
It appears to be a great retirement community for those who are attracted to having assisted living and skilled nursing facilities available, allowing them to smoothly transition from being independent to needing regular health care and other help.
The people interviewed in the Panorama DVD are not like us. Again, not a criticism. Just reality. This was evident from their clothes, home decor, manner of speaking, interests, and what they liked about Panorama.
Laurel and I don't think ourselves as old, even though we're 64 and 65. We damn sure don't enjoy acting like we're old. We dress as youthfully as Social Security recipients can get away with. We enjoy the MTV Video Music Awards. In short, we're aging ex-hippies who still embrace the Flower Child dream.
I'm sure marketing genuises in the 55+ community industry must recognize this. However, a bunch of Googling hasn't revealed any "active adult" developments aimed at the Aging Hippie demographic.
I think there's an opportunity here. Give me a call, planned community developers. My wife and I would be happy to serve as consultants on what people like us are looking for when they decide to leave their current home and lifestyle.
Dog-friendly/dog park. Not only allow skateboarding; encourage it. Multi-use paths in natural settings. Coffee house. Brew pub. Movie theatre that does not show On Golden Pond. Tai Chi, Yoga, and meditation classes. Intellectual stimulation.
And a community bus that looks a lot more like Ken Kesey's than a retirement home's.
So this is where we're at now, retirement community-wise. Things could change. Heck, they definitely will change. Life is always changing. I just wanted to share our counter-arguments to the frequently-heard advice, "Don't wait too long to move into a retirement community."
Rather, our feeling is, wait as long as possible.