March 30, 2016

We Are Needed - Can You Help?

A few weeks ago I shared information with you about an exciting new project that has the potential to address a serious problem for many retirees--- the need for more positive and frequent human connection. That post, We Just Need A Good Listener, generated very positive feedback. The founders of the Happiness project reviewed your responses and then discussed their implications with me.

I find it exciting that this national program is being shaped, in part, by the feedback from readers of Satisfying Journey. Your ideas and concerns are directly affecting the likelihood of success.

Now, the project coordinators are asking for our help again: they are asking that we make a call to one of their volunteers. Talk with that person about your life and any struggles or concerns you have, along with an overview of how your retirement journey is going. You can share as little or as much as you want. The length of that conversation is up to you, but most range from 30-45 minutes. Shorter is fine, and longer is OK. too.

It is fine to say you were prompted to call after reading about the program on a blog, but try to engage with the person as realistically as possible. You are not "testing" them as much as being someone who responds to their web site invitation to see what it is like.

Then, I ask that you email me with your reaction to that call. Was it easy to set up the phone call? How comfortable did you feel with the person who answered the call? Did you get the sense that they were really listening to you? Did they offer suggestions and follow up to anything you talked about, or were they simply good listeners? Were you uncomfortable at all with the process? Would you recommend this service to someone you know who is lonely, isolated, or has few friends and would welcome some human conversation?

What will happen with your feedback is more refinement of the service. Your name and email address will not be shared with the project directors. They are simply interested in real call testing of the offering. Your experience, both positive and negative, will be very, very important.

It's really easy. Just click on either of the following links, and indicate when you'd be available for a call with a compassionate listener. Calls are anonymous and scheduled at your convenience.

I also encourage you to share the link with anyone you know who might benefit from a conversation with a compassionate listener and would be willing to provide me with some feedback.

If you check out their site and decide not to call, I know the project team would love to hear about any thoughts or concerns that kept you from giving it a try -- please email me those as well. That feedback will be just as important.

Several prominent organizations are taking notice of this effort. Collaboration with Mental Health America (, a national organization dedicated to improving the mental health of all Americans, is being explored. They're also investigating partnerships with profession-oriented entities who feel their members would benefit from this service, including Above the Law (for lawyers), American Nurses Association and a number of personal development advocates.

If you are willing to give this service a try I ask that you schedule a call within the next two or three weeks.

E-mail me at Put something like Happiness project or phone call test in the subject line. Write as little or as much as you want. And, be assured that your feedback will not be made public nor will your e-mail address or name be released. 

I am grateful for your interest in this project and your effort to help make it a success. And, yes, I will be placing a call, too.

March 27, 2016

Are There No Guardrails Left in Politics?

This issue is bigger and more important than a recap of our last RV trip, or how to simplify our lives. It has more long ranging consequences than how best to invest your money or whether we should move to a retirement community. It is not part of a satisfying journey to a fulfilling retirement. But, it must be talked about.

It is the issue of the moment and one I believe may be putting at risk our way of life as we know it. It threatens to tear the fabric of society in a way that cannot easily be stitched back together.

Last December I wrote, Are We Really So Afraid? , after watching one of the first Republican debates. The blog comments were excellent and even now, three months later, there is an occasional fresh comment added to the discussion. Generally, the feelings expressed were that the fear is felt by a small segment of the population during a period of a political season where such feelings are encouraged. The vast majority do not feel the type of fear that was talked about.

I believe what has happened over the last month or so has changed the importance and meaning of that question. We are seeing things on TV we haven't experienced since the bloodshed during the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. 

Recent scenes of near riots, physical assaults, secret service agents rushing to shield a candidate, even threats, have all played out over and over again. Appeals to an anger and disenfranchisement that have festered beneath the surface for decades are erupting. Just a few days ago a "warning" that riots might erupt if a certain candidate is denied the nomination were aired, pretty much guaranteeing that outcome.

The way society has become splintered between the "have-it-alls" and the "we have been shut out" segments is driving some of this resentment. The middle and lower classes in America have watched as the uber-rich and powerful, those who don't seem to play by the same rules, those in power and control, have solidified their grip on the economic narrative.

I would argue that such resentment has always been present. In a capitalistic society there will be winners and losers. But, the feeling that someone can move up that ladder has been taken away from many. The feeling that the rungs of that ladder have been sawn through by those already on top is a powerful new element in our story. 

For some, the inevitable demographic and racial changes in our country heighten that sense of being left behind. While there is no going back, that doesn't eliminate the rage and frustration with the situation. If someone appeals to that anger, it will find an audience.

In some cases we are seeing the Dunning-Kruger effect. That says that someone who struggles with basic intellectual concepts actually sees him or herself as smarter than the average person. In short, a person suffering from this illusion is unable to evaluate what they see and hear accurately.

The Washington Post had an expression in a recent article that seems to summarize where we are: "There are no guardrails left in politics." Seemingly, there are few absolutes or controls we can depend on at the moment. Our worst instincts are flowing freely. Our basest nature is being encouraged.

My concern is that whatever happens with the eventual political situation, how will the rage that is left be dissipated, or even contained?  It seems as though we have unleashed very powerful emotions in a very public way. I don't see how the genie is going back in the bottle.

Whomever wins the nominations and eventually, the presidency, will be intensely disliked by a sizable minority of the country. There will be powerful negative feelings left. It is illogical to assume that the expressions of disappointment we are seeing today will magically cease on November 9th.

I sincerely hope I am very wrong.

March 23, 2016

A Story of a Satisfying Retirement Journey - So Far!

Recently, a regular reader sent me an e-mail that I thought was the perfect follow up to the "I Want To Retire" post. Peter and his wife, Diana, have been retired for 9 months. They have asked  the questions and found the answers that someone else on a Satisfying Journey through retirement is likely to experience.

The couple has given me permission to share their thoughts. I hope you can relate to what they have discovered.

I have been reading your blog for over two years now and have thoroughly enjoyed your musings and advice. I started to read the blog whilst my wife and I were trying to decide when, not if, to retire.
Diana and I have been retired for 9 months now and I honestly can say that we have not looked back. I worked in the construction industry for nearly 40 years (that sounds like an eternity when you say it out loud) and Diana had her own hairstyling business.
One thing that we both agreed about was that at the end work became work. I loved my job because it allowed my to be part of an industry that created things. Diana loved the interaction with people but at the end it was work to get up in the morning and go to work. The fun had gone and so it was time for us to go.
I have gained a lot of insight from the blog, particularly the point you have made about the need to have additional interests in one’s life outside of work. In our situation that was not much of a problem as Diana and I love to ballroom dance, attend live theatre, travel and generally spent time together.
Old hobbies have been rekindled, in my case I have rediscovered both model railroading and photography, both interests that fell by the wayside due to the pressures of both time and work. Diana has reawakened her interest in cross stitch and the piano. Our dancing has improved as we have the time and drive to practice more often.
I don’t quite know how to express this next point. When we worked we earned a good living, we saved a lot and we spent money quite freely on travel. We had a budget that could be best expressed as don’t under any circumstances accumulate debt. Now that we are retired we have found that every dollar must be stretched a little farther but even this has not deterred us.
Instead we make a game of finding bargains and getting the best value for what we have. I knew that we would have to spend our money with greater care when we retired and I worried how Diana would react to that. To my amazement she has taken to this like a duck to water and she accomplishes budgetary feats that amaze me.
Living in Canada presents one with long cold winters and even this can be turned into an opportunity for the retired person. We discovered that while we love to walk it was a bit tedious going over the same routes day after day. So Diana to the rescue! She said let’s take up snowshoeing, found some snowshoes on line that would work within our budget and now we have a new winter activity, one that we can grow with and one that can be used as an excuse to further our travel desires.
One item that stood out in my mind from your blog was your reference to the library. I am now the proud holder of a library card, the first time I have held one since I was in school. I have always been a reader and would gladly buy any book I wanted but at this point in time I would rather read for free. Even periodicals, with the exception of those pertaining to model railroading, are available at the library. A fabulous resource.
I think I am speaking for both of us when I say that the greatest thing about being retired is that now our time is our own. We get up in the morning and say to each other “What would you like to do today?”. And the best part of that is that we don’t say that meaning how are we going to fill the time but rather we say that meaning what new adventures will we discover today. Having the freedom to do this is incredible and fills both us of with a childlike giddiness.
Before we retired I used to wonder what some retired persons meant when they said they were so busy they didn’t know how they ever worked. I am beginning to understand what they are saying.
I would sum things up by saying that I have discovered that, as with all opportunities in life, retirement is what you make of it. You will get out of it exactly what you put into it, no more and no less. In my mind your blog has subtly and repeatedly stated this and for that I am grateful. I thank you for that.

And, I thank you two for your thoughts and stories. They may very well inspire others who are a little fearful of the whole process to approach the retirement adventure with more confidence.


March 19, 2016

I Want to Retire Now!

Note: this post first ran almost 5 years ago. The information remains timely.

Your voice and your mind scream: "I am tired of working. I am tired of the commute. I am tired of waking up each morning wondering if I still have a job. I am tired of watching the stock market bounce around like a crazed kangaroo. I want to retire NOW!" 

To quote a former president, I feel your pain. I know what it is like to be more than ready to start a new stage of your life, a stage that promises the possibility of a re-birth and a renewed joy in living. I know what it is like to really, really want to start your satisfying journey through retirement.

Of course, if you read almost anything related to retirement in your daily paper or on the Internet, you are probably scared...scared that you will never be able to retire. Retirement is a concept that doesn't make sense anymore, according to many. I respectively disagree.

I assume you will talk with your spouse or significant other about what you are contemplating. You have read this blog for awhile and feel comfortable in your decision.  As a final review, let's look together at a few of the last minute questions my experience suggest you ask:

1) Can you sleep at night with your financial resources and plan? There is no such thing as a perfect financial plan. There will never be a time when something doesn't throw a wrench into your carefully crafted budget. The last few years have confounded even those who make a living from this stuff. But, you must feel confident that you have anticipated most situations. You have what you need, plus. You have worked the figures under different scenarios and you are still OK. Maybe not flush, but OK.

If that is where you are, you should be good to go. Could a world-wide crash put all of us in deep trouble? Sure. But, if that happens your job would disappear along with everything else so it wouldn't matter if you had retired. If you believe you have done the best you can do to anticipate your future demands on your resources, then you can sleep soundly.

2) Do you have a budget that takes into account eventual inflation and unexpected emergencies? Retirement doesn't end the basic laws of economics. Inflation will be a part of your future and emergencies will arise. No one comes home from a day at the park and expects to find 3 inches of water on the floor from a broken pipe. But, it happens. Would such an occurrence render you homeless or could you handle a biggie like that? Do you have enough liquid assets to stay afloat (pun intended)?

At the center of your financial plan must be a budget that allows for change. What can you cut if need be? What would you like to increase if the circumstances presented themselves? Are you forgetting to budget for expensive things like new cars, hearing aids, large medical cost increases, or assessments on that condo in Palm Springs?  Believe it or not, when I retired I completely forgot to budget for travel and new cars. Adjustments were made and we are fine, but it was quite a shock at the time!

3) Does your partner agree with this move? Your being home more will change the dynamics of your relationship. Roles and responsibilities will change. From the voice of experience, trust me. Work out the "ground rules" and expectations before retiring. I urge you to read two earlier posts about the need to think through how your life might change when one half retires: Who is that Person Sitting Beside Me?  and You Owe it to the Person You Love.

If your partner has real problems with your plan to retire my advice is to work it out before making your decision. If his or her resistance is not swayed by your logic and begging, it might be wise to delay your move for awhile. I can't think of anything more fraught with tension than a retired person at home with someone who strongly disagrees with that status. Of course, if you are single, you can skip this worry.

4) Do you have hobbies, passions, and interests outside your job? A lot of us are so wrapped up in what we do for a living, we have no other life to replace that. The first question everyone asks when meeting a new person is, "What do you do?"  They mean how do you earn a living. That is how we define who and what we are.  When you retire, the possibility exists that you will lose your sense of self. Without a job to define you, what will you do to fill your time and satisfy you?

One of the leading causes of dissatisfaction with what should be a satisfying retirement is boredom. Some folks go back to work for the simple reason they don't know what else to do. Don't let that be your fate. If you already have a hobby or two, interests in all sorts of activities, even a passion for something then you will be fine. If you have nothing to turn to, develop at least a few interests before retiring.

It is absolutely true that you are very likely to find all sorts of opportunities and interests open up to you when you are retired. Your creativity can soar. You will discover sides of yourself you never knew existed. But, during the initial phase of a year or two, you will be much happier if you have stuff to do.

5) Are you prepared to battle the health care mess? Besides the budgeting and planning part that I referred to earlier, there are other things for you to face in this area. Paperwork and red tape can overwhelm you. At times you will conclude that no one is listening and no one cares. That isn't true, but, the medical establishment is so stressed that you are really on your own to get much of the medical help you require. You will have to develop unending patience and a belief that you are your best advocate.

I hope the above 5 points didn't discourage you. They just happen to be reality that all retired people face at one time or another. To know about them ahead of time is your best preparation. If after reviewing your reaction to these cautions your feeling is still, "Yes, I'm ready and I want it now," then take the leap.

The first ten years (now 15!) of my retirement lifestyle have been amazing. There have been down periods and scares that kept me awake at night. But, there have been the highest highs and the biggest personal growth spurts of my life. I have spent the past decade discovering how to make this journey as smooth and productive as possible. I wish you the same.

My satisfying retirement is featured as part of a lengthy interview in Money MagazineAfter you've read that material, I'd be more than happy to talk with you about your situation. Drop me an email by clicking here.

March 18, 2016

Two Million Views: Thank You!

On March 16th A Satisfying Journey passed 2 million page views. Over the period of its existence (minus a sabbatical break of 2 months in 2015 and a name change) that averages close to 30,000 a month. Not top tier, but not bad.

Only 10% of all blogs make it past 6 months. June will mark six years.

The people to thank and applaud are the world's greatest readers: you. The civility of comments, the intellect of the discussions, and the support have made publishing over 715 posts, or close to half a million words, not a labor of love, but of joy.

Thank you.


March 16, 2016

A Knotted ball of twine

I am borrowing (with permission!) another great idea from the folks at that has a strong visual impact: think of the problems or limitations in your life like a knotted ball of twine. The rope started out smooth with no kinks or twists in it. Over time, it has become tangled and unmanageable. Finally, you are left with so many knots that ball of twine is unusable.

Yet, you realize that if you take the time to gently unravel it, one problem at a time,  the twine can once again be clear of knots. No matter how many kinks existed, with time and patience you can remove them all.

Isn't that a powerful way to think of how we can approach our satisfying retirement journey? There are few obstacles or disappointments that cannot be unknotted or overcome. What was a useless ball of string is ready for something new.

Thomas Merton, a well known religious writer and activist once wrote, "We are a living incompleteness." I love that phrase. It captures the mysteries and possibilities of human life. What you are today, or were yesterday, is not who or what you might be tomorrow. 

With full time employment, maybe a growing family, building relationships, and finding one's place in the world, we are incomplete. We continue to grow and change. Attitudes and reactions to life at age 45 are not the ones we experienced at 25, or even 35. When we retire everything changes again. As we live, things become knotted and complicated even as we remain a work in progress.

Let me tell you story. There is a friend of mine who was respected in his industry and made a good living. He had a pretty, intelligent wife, and two well-behaved children. The kids never gave him any real worries, even during the teenage years, though he does admit always waiting up for one of them to come home after a late date.

His job required lots of travel and weekends spent at his home office. He went to church on Sundays when he was in town and tried to attend most of the school plays and sports. With a steadily increasing income, the family moved to a bigger house and vacationed in Hawaii or Florida on a regular basis. Some knots began to appear in his ball of twine from financial pressures and family responsibilities, but no serious tangles.

Life was good, or so he thought. But, as he talks with me about it now, he sees that it was a very incomplete life. He had no real hobbies or interests outside of work. Even when he was home his mind was elsewhere, always worried about business. On the surface his relationship with his wife was a good one. But, there was little real sharing or conversation that didn't center on the kids and their issues. When they were getting ready to leave the home for college, he worried that he and his wife would have little in common. The knots became bigger and more complex. But, there was no time to deal with them. Everything was moving too quickly. 

Then, the darndest thing happened: his business began to fail. With few other choices, my friend decided to take a leap of faith and retire. The IRA wasn't nearly ready. The savings was OK, but maybe not sufficient. The house still had a big mortgage and a monthly payment that was too much to bear. But, something prompted him to admit that his life was ready for a shakeup, that his marriage needed a serious re-focusing, that his lack of interests and passions was a problem he could solve, and that he wasn't defeated by these incompleteness. Slowly, he saw the knots in the ball of twine and started to untangle them.

Since then, my friend has never looked back. The freedom that came with a business failure came at absolutely the right time for him and his family. He has healed his important relationships, made peace with the mistakes he made in business, and found a few passions over the years. He has stopped looking backward; he prefers to focus on today and what may lie ahead.

I think he has embraced his incompleteness as a sign that his life remains vibrant and fulfilling. I am not sure he will ever settle for what today looks like. 

Oh, I am sure you figured it out: that "friend" is me. I would argue that at no time of my life is that concept of incompleteness more perfectly appropriate than during retirement. And, nothing is more important than unknotting the tangles that get in the way of a productive, happy, satisfying life.

Does your ball of twine have some knots that should be untangled?

March 12, 2016

We Just Need A Good Listener

I have been asked to become involved with a new project that holds exciting potential to address serious needs for a lot of people during retirement: loneliness, boredom, sadness or a sense of facing life's challenges without help.  There may be a simple way to provide some help for these problems. How? Fellow retirement author, Boyd Lemon, has written an excellent summary of this effort:  

"Some people think that retirement will be uninterrupted bliss with loads of free time to do whatever you want. Finally, you don’t have to do what bosses, customers or clients want you to. Retirement has this potential, but, unfortunately, many retirees experience seemingly insurmountable challenges and terrible disappointment fraught with loneliness, boredom and sadness.
They find themselves downright miserable, even depressed. Retirement, like divorce, job changes and major moves, is a life changing event that many find extremely stressful. Not having to go to the office, shop or business anymore requires major adjustment and can engender feelings of uselessness and a lack of purpose. 
Help for retirees experiencing these challenges is available, and it’s free. There is a new service established by psychology graduates of Princeton University. They make providers with retirement experience and expertise available by telephone to be compassionate listeners who can quickly restore perspective and significantly boost a retiree’s happiness and health.
This is not psychotherapy. It is human interaction with an unpaid peer who enjoys helping people and who is really good at it. The purpose of the telephone conversations, which can be five minutes or an hour, is to provide a compassionate listener, one who can impart the strength and confidence required to help you meet the challenges that retirement presents, turn the corner and experience the real happiness that is within your grasp."

For several years I was a lay minister in the Stephen Ministry program. A large part of that work involved compassionate, reflective listening with folks who were struggling with some serious life problems. My work in prison ministry also was based on careful listening and caring. I know the positive power of one person really listening to another.
What I find enticing is the program's reliance on the proven power of listening. Also, my new work with United Way to foster volunteer opportunities for retirees seems to dovetail nicely with this project. I can see both feeding into each other.

Very early in the development, some phone calls have already been completed. From the project's web site, here are a few testimonials:
"(I had a) very good call which helped me begin to realize something I have been doing, and how I might rectify it. I felt much better after the call. Wonderful person! It was uplifting to see that I could speak with someone I did not know and who was not a therapist but was able to help me get out of down mood. The call also helped me to realize what I can do to lessen some of the negative feelings I get from not doing important things by just doing them so that they do not accumulate into further negative 'piles'."
Participant (January, 2016)

"This has been literally the best positive thing I have experienced in a while! Whoever thought of this project would become my personal hero! Thank you for the patience, it was a 50 minute call, where I rumbled and rumbled, but what I got from it... It's just indescribable. I am feeling a lot more motivated and sure in myself, I can't stop smiling and I feel generally A LOT better. Seriously, just thank you. You have empowered me to dig deeper and to believe more in myself. As I appreciated hearing these nice things from someone who doesn't know me, I hope this will matter to you: you really made a difference. You gave me a lot to think about and to be proud of, so with tears in my eyes - thank you...Thank you again, it has been a wonderful experience and really inspiring too!"
Participant (January, 2016)

The program wants to take that power of listening and sharing to make someone's life a little brighter and more hopeful. One of the organizers and I have had several conversations about this exciting project and how I might become involved.

One thing I can do is to publish this post and ask for your feedback on the idea. Serious research indicates this peer-to-peer approach is on solid ground, but how will it translate into real world situations? So, I am asking you to leave a comment about the idea of a free telephone service to connect a willing listener with a retire who is struggling. Do you think the concept makes sense? Do you believe folks will call and talk with someone they don't know but who promises to be a good listener and springboard? 

Your feedback will become an important part of this effort. Those behind the program are in the design and structure phase, so your thoughts will be vital in helping them fine tune things. As they move forward with attempts to find sources of funding and the best way to connect folks, Satisfying Journey could become an important source of publicity and feedback.

If you'd like to take a look at the projects web site, click on this link:

I am quite interested in your thoughts. 

March 8, 2016

Kind of Like Picking At A Scab

All of us have had the experience of suffering a cut or scrape that generates a scab as it heals. And, I'm pretty sure all of us have had at least one of these things that we pick at until it falls off. The wound reopens and the healing process must start again. Silly and pointless, but very human.

I am experiencing something very much like that now and I have as much insight about this behavior as I do over picking at a scab.  It is driving me crazy, stressing me out, and causing nightmares. I know it is not good for me, but I can't help myself.

What is it? Reading political news and commentary, watching debates and analysis, and asking myself unanswerable questions. Worrying about the fate of our country, our place in the world, the future we are leaving our grandkids, the quality of our life in the short and long-term.....all of it. 

Why? All of my scab-pulling, all my uneasiness, all my fretting will have absolutely no impact on whatever the outcome will be. Eventually things will sort themselves out and we will survive, I keep telling myself. But, that doesn't keep me from paying attention to stuff that upsets me.

On the Republican side, we may be watching the disintegration of the GOP. With such extreme positions staked out by the two leading candidates, the moderate center of the party is left adrift. Many minorities and women are heading for the exits. 

Can any of us remember a time when we didn't want children watching and listening to how some of these men comport themselves on television? Has there ever been an election cycle when the leadership of the party spends $10 million in just one state (Florida) to blunt the fortunes of the person who is in the lead? 

Things aren't much better on the other side of the aisle, or should I say, wall. One candidate is an avowed socialist who is very much in favor of some serious spanking of Wall Street and those who make a lot of money. I tend to agree with him that  the middle and lower class in this country have been royally screwed over by the infamous 1%. But, I am not sure gutting such a key part of our economy is doable or wise.

The other candidate has the advantage of being in position to be our first female president, if all her legal issues don't get in the way. Again, I can't remember a time when someone who is one party's leading candidate is perceived to be dishonest and less than truthful by a majority of Americans.

Knowing all this, I still pick at that scab. I watch the debates of both parties and yell at the candidates and moderators for never answering the questions or asking obvious follow ups. I am embarrassed at the spectacle of grown men interrupting each other or making seriously inappropriate comments about each other.

I start each day by checking the headlines to see if something even more grotesque has happened while I slept. I watch some of the news channels around dinner time to get caught up on the latest slow motion car wreck of our political landscape. I worry about the hidden meaning of caucus results or straw polls. 

Why can't I stop watching, reading, and listening? Why can't I just let it be whatever it will be? I guess it is part of the human condition to watch TV coverage of weather disasters or want the details on riots in some far-flung corner of the world. It is why disaster movies make lots of money in the theaters.

In 1976 there was one movie produced in the United States that had a super hero as the star. In 2014 there were 30. Does that say something about us and our need for someone to rescue us from our fears and insecurities? Is that why I keep hurting myself with political obsession: waiting for someone to rescue us from ourselves?

I don't know, but it is driving me 'round the bend.

Please, be over!

March 4, 2016

Simple Living: Where Did It Go?

A few years ago blogs about simple living, voluntary simplicity, and cutting back were all the rage. The topic was always showing up on Google. Books, videos, and consultants were eager to help us simplify our lives. I remember one fellow who had his moment of fame after writing about his total wardrobe: 15 items.  I got caught up in the trend apparently: over the years I have written about the subject in one form or another dozens of times. Two of the most read posts on this blog are about this subject.

Maybe all the attention was because of the lingering effects of the serious recession that had peaked a few years earlier. We were looking for ways to stay afloat in tough times. Cutting back and simplifying was a way to live less expensively. We were also waking up to the effect our lifestyle was having on the environment, our stress level, and our relationships.

Maybe I am just out of touch, but the buzz over simple living seems to be much less a topic of conversation now. Yes, I am aware of the tiny house movement. However, living by choice in a 150-250 square foot home strikes me as somewhat extreme. 

Selling over 3 million copies, Marie Kondo's  book about the life-changing magic of tidying up is not really about simple living, rather keeping things organized and properly stored away. Yes, she does preach that throwing out much of what someone owns is good. But, the goal seems more about neatness than fewer possessions. After all, she admits she loves to shop for new things.

The subject of simple living isn't constantly in front of me anymore. I have been trying to decide why. It can't be that we have all cut back and reduced the clutter in our life. It can't be that we have figured out how to be happy without much stuff. Our economy goes into a serious funk if we stop buying more..whatever. Maybe we tried simple living and decided we don't like it that much.

I don't think so. I have a theory and it goes like this: simple living was a new idea for many in the modern day developed world. Raised on a diet of more is better we had forgotten that life didn't need to be that way. We thought doing without more stuff, cutting back on the unnecessary, and delayed gratification was different. Maybe it was better, maybe it wasn't. But, new and fresh are powerful concepts.

Early adopters were attracted to the promise of less clutter and a simpler life. It gave folks a way to step off the constant consumer merry-go-round. It seemed noble, maybe even virtuous as a way to live. The desire for how-to information, or the validation of the choice to live more simply spawned all the blogs, books, and other material. Simple Living was hot, it was top-of-mind. I still have almost 30 books about voluntary simplicity. Yes, I get the irony.

What has happened over the past decade or so is a growing awareness of the futility of looking for happiness in possessions. What I think many folks have learned is that enough is never enough, if money or stuff are the measures. Satisfaction is always another ...something....away. Frankly, I find this shift to be very encouraging. If my theory is right, then the goals behind simple living have become more a part of our collective mindset.

Of course, there are millions of our fellow citizens who would claim I am nuts. They are convinced that money does buy happiness in the form of fancy cars, nicer homes, better schools for their kids, a condo on Maui, or a satisfying retirement. The American Dream demands a constant striving upward.

Several years before retirement I was caught up in that bigger-is-better game. My income supported a very nice lifestyle. Maybe not coincidentally my marriage was not the best and my kids were not happy that dad was always away on business. I bought clothes and cars that "fit" my station in life. And, I was unhappy. I had no friends, no spiritual life to speak off, nothing but work to define me.

15 years of retirement and six years of writing this blog have taught me to get my priorities straight. Forced to leave that life rather suddenly, I discovered a crucial fact: there is nothing wrong with possessions as long as they make you happy and bring you joy. Otherwise, they are meaningless. They are just things.

Now, I enjoy my house very much for what it brings me: a place where family can gather for memory-making and shared love. It is much smaller than where we lived when I was riding high, without the pool and spa, but it makes me very happy when I sit on the back porch and watch our dog play, or enjoy a cup of tea and a good book. I find joy when sitting on our living room sofa, next to my wife, watching a favorite movie or show.

I own two older cars, both a bit banged up with lots of miles. I hate to shop. I buy very few books anymore; I have my own parking spot at the library. I gave away close to 30% of my clothes and at least 60% of my books and music CDs. When something breaks or wears out, Betty and I discuss whether it needs to be replaced. The answer isn't always, Yes.

So, I guess I have accepted the basic premise behind simple living. I didn't actively decide to live that way. It just happened over time as retirement gave me the opportunity to reassess and readjust how I live. I wonder if my experience is rather typical for many of us. If so, that would explain why simple living has left the headlines and just moved in with us.

I am very interested in your reaction to this topic. Do you remember all the simple living/voluntary simplicity blogs or books of just a few years ago? Would you consider yourself as living a simple life, or at least simpler than it once was? Do you feel a little unhappy that you have had to cut back during retirement instead of enjoying the fruits of years of work but have made peace with the situation?

Living a simple live in 21st century America, or any developed country, is not easy. It actually takes work to live more simply.

Strange but true.