Early Retirement – Six Months In

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Despite all the planning I did  retirement has taken me somewhat by surprise, I’d planned to do a lot more, to learn new skills, travel more widely, decorate the house from top to bottom, but it’s not been like that.  Instead the activities that I was already doing have just expanded a little, my pace of life has slowed a little, I’ve learned to value freedom and flexibility more and become less demanding of myself.  My compassion for others and love of service has increased.  In summary I’m just living a simpler, more relaxed and kinder life.  I still look to improve my relationships, my home and my community each day, but I’m happy with small steps.

I’ve also been surprised by how quickly the last six months have flown by and followed, almost perfectly, the major-life-change cycle (below). I had a wonderful start to retirement, a great send off, a joyous summer, with lots of holidays and plenty to do in the garden and time spent with friends and family.  By late September though I was feeling a bit lost, the weather wasn’t as good, I was struggling with medication withdrawal symptoms and feeling the lack of ‘being part of something bigger than myself’.  A few months further on and I’m much more content, I’ve settled into my simpler life, my days are packed full of activities, I’m feeling more compassionate and loving being of service to others.  I’ve rediscovered the joy of day hikes, even in poor weather and I’m shopping and cooking for the family.

retirement hype cycle

I’ve stumbled in a few areas.  I’d hoped to do more DIY, but there always seems to be some other more tempting alternative to do.  I’d hoped to conquor my auto-immune problems, but I still have mild flares.  I’d hoped to relearn how to program, but I’ve decided that I don’t want to spend time sitting down. I’d hoped to read more, but I’m still struggling to concentrate for long enough, I’d hoped to travel more, but I’m enjoying day trips too much.   I have a little extra weight that I’d hoped to shift, but I’ve decided to just live healthily and let my body choose it’s own level, rather than keep fighting with it.  None of these ‘hopes’ is completely off the table, but I’ve set them aside for now,  although improving my ability to concentrate so I can read more books is my highest priority.

I’m still working on my three big objectives, to establish a solid habit of making progress in life, to maintain and to some extent strengthen relationships with friends and family and laying the foundations for better health and I’m pleased with progress on all of these areas.  I’m also working on some secondary objectives now though, to embrace the freedom and flexibility that comes with retirement, to create less waste and lower my cost of living and to support my family more as they all make major life transitions, over the next year.  Let’s take a look at each of these areas in turn:

Making progress in life

When I was working on business strategy I learnt that progress was the basis for motivation, without a sense of progress work was rarely satisfying, regardless of how good the team was, or the working conditions, or the salary.  Equally, if good progress was being made it was possible to be happy while working long hours, with annoying people, for little reward.  Progress is the key, and it’s no different in retirement, it’s just found in different ways, often very simple ways.

As an over-arching goal I try to improve things each day, to be useful, to be of service, to make progress in all areas of my life.  I pick up litter on my morning walk, share wondeful photo’s and write up my favourite hikes for others to enjoy.  I write a daily diary, do the shopping and cooking for the family, I keep the house and garden, clean and well maintained and grow lots of my own food, I make my own compost and look after the cats.  Hundreds of litle steps in the right direction every day.

Relationships with friends and family

Having more time in general means I have more time for others.  I’m able to spend time with the kids when they get home from school, to go out with them during the day.  I’m able to make them meals that they love and run errands for them, to go out for family meals and trips to the cinema.  I’ve been able to take Tess and Ann to university open days and interviews and visit Steph in Amsterdam.  I have lots of time for my friends too, dozens of opportunities for leisurely and challenging walks, cycle rides and lunch-time meetups.  I’m spending much more quality time with my friends than I ever did when I was at work.

I’m now ready to look for opportunities to spread my time a bit more widely, to help those less fortunate than me, although I’ve not yet found the best way to do it, it will be interesting to see how I do in my one year progress report.

Laying the foundation for better health

I’ve done a lot of experiments in the last six months and I’m now fairly confident that I’ve discovered a few of these foundations, none are really much of a surprise.  I need to eat well, and for me that means whole foods, mostly vegetables and berries with a little, diary, eggs and meat, supplemented by other whole foods like rice, beans and oats on days when I’m exercising a lot.  The River Cottage TV shows have provided much needed inspiration.  I need to avoid too much really high intensity exercise, the kind that pushes me to failure, but I need to be active with plenty of milder challenges.  More than anything else I need to keep moving, pottering around, housework, gardening, swimming, hikes and short cycle rides.  I need to sleep at least eight hours a night and I find naps useful when I’ve not managed that many, but I’ve not felt the need to meditate as much as my lifestyle is very mindful already.

One of my big achievements is to withdrawal from all my medications except a single daily dose of co-codamol (which I still need to control the restless leg syndrome, which stops me sleeping).  I still have mild flares, but with my new freedom and flexibility, my healty living toolkit and a few pain killers I’m managing these quite well without additional drugs.

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Moving onto those secondary objectives

Embrace the freedom and flexibility that comes with retirement

Retirement can provide extreme levels of freedom and flexibility and I’ve tried to exploit that.  To leave my diary mostly empty so I can respond each day to my health, the weather and my friends availability.  This lets me live each day to the best of my abilities, to get out on my bike or go for a hike whenever I spot a decent block of fine weather, to take advantage of lunches and activities with friends, to pop to the cinema on a rainy afternoon or clean house.  There’s nothing I like better than an empty weeks calendar on a Sunday morning, but a diary showing evidence of a week well lived on a Saturday night.  My focus currently is day trips, rather than short breaks, they suit the winter weather better and are cheaper.  Short breaks might come back into favour in a year or so.

Create less waste and lower my cost of living

I’ve become a little obsessed with the crazy amount of waste that we generate, the hundreds of cans of drink, the endless plastic bags, the out of date food … so I’ve been making some steps to reduce this.  I’ve made a lot of progress in a few areas:  I make most of our meals from scratch, we hardly use any plastic bags now, everything is re-used, I’ve stopped using paper kitchen towels in favour of washable cloths, we’ve stopped buying drinks in cans and all food waste goes on the compost or to the worms.  I’ve also been working on my cost of living too: cut back on holidays in favour of day trips, switched to drinking milk in cafes (rather than food), I only drink tap water when we eat out, where possible we use the local cinema (which is half the price of the VUE or Odeon) and I’ve kept to my don’t buy anything for myself habit.

Support my family more as they all make major life transitions

Another big area of focus is helping Debbie and the kids though the next year.  Tess and Anna are heading off to University, Jennie and Steph will be setting up homes of their own and Debbie is settling into full time work.  It’s a year of major challenges for them all and I want to be there to help.

Longer term plans

Debbie and I are still working through the options for our long term plan, of which there are several options, whilst also making sure that we still enjoy today.  This basically means continuing to invest in our existing house and garden, while keeping hold of most of our investments just in case we decide to move in a few years time.  I’m not keen on this uncertainty, but it’s just a practical issue to face, it doesn’t make sense for Debbie to spend two hours a day commuting to work, if she decides to stay at her current school, we would be better moving.  Equally though it doesn’t make sense to risk leaving a town and house that we love, for an uncertain future unless we both confident that it’s a great option for us.  That means slow and careful decision making, although I’m still drawn to smallholding as a lifestyle.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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