Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a new retiree more than the constant interrogation by others (or oneself) regarding the use of time. Because Americans define themselves by their “work,” loss of work may mean a 180-degree flip in terms of self-esteem and purpose. This situation can become quite acute, as in the number of retirees who become ill or even die after this life change. This is no small matter!
How one fares will definitely depend upon how balanced one’s life was previously. If there are many interests, connections, and passions maintained during the work years, a reconfiguration of the hours in a day might be a welcome change. If the scale was leaning heavily towards paid employment, the task will be more challenging, but not impossible, and might even be energizing. The main task in this realm is to find some meaning in life: not as in the man at the top of the mountain, but meaning in your personal sphere.
Your life was never really all about work
Before we look at viable options to replace the eight plus hours of reliably filled time in the day, it is beneficial to see the other parts of life that existed in a compressed form. I’ll call these domesticity and paperwork. Both domains were probably done shoddily at odd hours of the day on weekends or evenings. They are both ongoing and relentless. However, in retirement, they can have respectable slots in your week. Of course, emptying trash cans and paying bills will never be great motivators, but their completion does give a squirt of satisfaction.
On the domestic front, I was surprised to see so many categories listed in various online posts related to getting organized at home. Take a moment to estimate how much time these tasks might take in a given day or week. My favorite task is listed first, because even as a semi-neat housekeeper, I always begin my day the same way: putting everything in its place, although I’ve begun doing a little "before bed clean-up" to free up some quality time in the morning. Other essential and ongoing home tasks include kitchen clean-up and food preparation, laundry, taking care of pets, family duties, shopping; lawn, plant and gardencare; bathrooms, bedrooms, sorting and responding to mail, trash removal, cleaning out closets and specific areas of the home; and car and home maintenance projects. Now do you see why new retirees wonder how they ever had time to work?
Regarding the paperwork category, I find that I’m still sitting in front of the computer many hours each week, and not just browsing. As a new retiree, you will have to straighten out Social Security and Medicare glitches when you get the dreaded “Official Business” envelopes in the mail. Warning: the government’s estimates are never 100% correct in these areas and the only way to solve them is to go to your local office, take a number and spend half a day working out the problems (multiple times!) The government calculates your Medicare payment based on your salary when you are working, resulting in a very high monthly premium which is deducted from your monthly Social Security check. Your new yearly salary usually needs to be adjusted in the government’s records upon retirement. In addition, banking, bill payment, medical appointments and billing tasks, tax and insurance issues take up lots of your time. Other demands include situations related to your income, credit cards, mortgage, automobiles, investments, utilities, and travel. Instead of relying on official surveys, you can probably tell that domesticity and paperwork can take up a good chunk of every day. They did before you stopped working, and they don’t take a break while you are transitioning.
Getting down to all that “free time”
With all of the detestable chores out of the way, it is now time to think about what the world considers all of your leisure time. How much time are we talking about? I would say just a few hours each day beyond the weekly chores already mentioned.
Many surveys have been done about how retirees AND workers spend their time. In my opinion the average times are somewhat meaningless, but the categories can be helpful. Just keep in mind you will be taking more time in each category than fully employed people.
The US News and World Report 2016 Survey Categories beyond Work include: napping and sleeping, watching TV, home maintenance, eating, shopping, volunteering, reading, internet, socializing, relaxing and thinking, and exercising. I’m guessing these categories are getting you into the spirit of retirement. Who wouldn’t want to take more time napping, eating, and watching TV! The beauty of retirement is that less is expected of you on a daily basis.
My day usually consists of several slots of newspaper, book and internet reading, exercising, domestic chores, paperwork, socializing, volunteering, and streaming TV, usually only in the evenings. I also like to do some writing. Quite unexpectedly, I am the appointed novice accountant for my family, was for my aging parents, and still am for my husband’s business. Each day is different, and I rarely feel bored or lonely. I began my retirement as a retreat, trying to make sense of the circumstances which led to this unexpected and sudden event. About six months later, I was ready to add something new, and found a volunteer opportunity to work with the goats and sheep at a local museum/garden. About a year after that, I felt I needed to add another new experience in my week. After applying online to a local display garden, I received a volunteer gardener placement after a six month wait.
Finding your retirement bliss
I urge you to take your time in finding your sweet spot in the volunteer world. Really think about what you want to do, rather than what you should do. Work was filled with too many shoulds. The big question is, do you want to use your work skills or dabble in interests which were dormant for years. Please be protective of your time, your most valuable possession. Just as the internet was helpful in providing categories of how retirees spend their day, you won’t have to click beyond the first page of volunteer opportunities to find varied positions including politics, plant culture, mechanical skills, National Park Service, environmental issues, music, writing, tutoring, business skills, elderly assistance, animals, board membership, tax help and global volunteer situations. The pandemic has added many other important volunteer opportunities, especially in the area of public health, tutoring students who suffered from lengthy digital learning, and food insecurity. These are worthy of consideration.
I have a friend who sews costumes for a local theater group and another who volunteers for AARP during tax season. If you were in the business world, you could donate your skills to a local non-profit. Opportunities for extended residencies abroad for nominal living fees, if life has returned to normal after the pandemic, include helping women, coaching sports, assisting medical and health initiatives, and teaching English.
It is not necessary to be so exotic. During your “relaxing and thinking time,” survey institutions of interest close to home. Most have volunteer webpages. If you have a special interest or skill, most institutions would be thrilled for your assistance. Now is the time to be brave and reflective enough to acknowledge and act on what is important to you. After all, you will need a response to those friends who ask, “What are you doing in your retirement?”