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Where will “home” be after you retire?

           An elderly person's hands open holding a skeleton key with a paper cut out of a house.

Anticipating your future living needs is key to avoiding the stress of a forced move

In his 1970s comedy act, George Carlin famously suggested that “home is where your stuff is.” For you as a Canadian physician, home is much more than that. It’s a haven from demanding work. It’s the base for your family. And it’s the place that helps you put down roots in the broader community.

But the concept of home usually changes when you retire. As with other transitions that occur when you stop working, understanding that change and anticipating it will make your transition to the next chapter of your life less disruptive.

Your concept of home and preferences about where you live evolve in retirement for several reasons:

  • You will likely spend more of each day at home when you stop working.
  • Your new freedom to travel may lead to extended absences from home.
  • You may decide to move closer to family, recreational activities or cultural attractions.
  • You might acquire a second home, perhaps as an escape from Canadian winters.
  • You could find your existing home unsuitable because of health changes.

“You have to recognize what aspects of home are most important to you so you can replicate those things if you need to or want to move,” says Dr. Amy D’Aprix, a gerontologist and life transitions expert based in Toronto. When advising people reaching retirement, she tells them to consider their own values and to apply those values to their concept of home.

Figuring out why you love where you live

“I ask people: Is it the structure that you love? Is it your neighbours?” explains Dr. Amy, as she likes to be called. “Is it that you’re close to amenities and professional services? Do you love the view? Do you love the fact no one’s around you, because you live [somewhere remote]? Or do you love the fact that you live [where] there are people around and you can hop on public transportation?

“What’s the magic formula? The challenge is to get people to be more conscious of these things as they approach retirement.”

Thanks for the memories

Dr. Amy observes that nostalgia can be something of a trap. For example, if you live in the home where you raised your family and your spouse dies, moving can seem like losing that partner all over again. In short, the feelings of comfort and safety we attribute to home are rooted in memories. “That can get people into trouble when they need or want to move,” she adds.

Understanding the triggers

The strong emotions associated with home can be difficult to overcome, but there are things you can do to prepare. Dr. Amy suggests that you start by thinking about the triggers — health or home maintenance issues, for example — that suggest you might need to move. Then, consider the obstacles that might make moving difficult.

“One of the major blocks for some people is getting rid of stuff,” she notes, “and if you’re incapacitated there’s a practical aspect to getting rid of it. Having to rely on other people is a hard change for physicians who’ve always been very independent.”

Losing identity and community

Loss of independence in the management of your home can affect your sense of identity, adds Dr. Amy. “A lot of the aging process is really about letting go of some of that stuff with grace,” she says, “and that requires a constant redefinition of ourselves.”

While these changes are inevitable, she points out that you can mitigate their impact if you anticipate them. That way, you can be confident that circumstances won’t force you to move. “But if you wait until you’re 87 or 88 to make that move, you may not have a chance to re-establish community,” she adds.

As for those people who are obliged to move at a later stage of their life, a retirement home can be a good solution because it provides almost instant community. “You still have to sort through the people that you connect with,” she says, “but you do have people around you.”

Still, re-establishing community can be difficult. Dr. Amy says that a common observation of people who move to a retirement community in their mid- to late 80s is, “I wish I’d come here 10 years ago.”

A personal view

What makes someone’s residence truly a home varies greatly depending on the person. The best way to prepare for a possible transition is through introspection and discussions with family members. That’s how you’ll come to understand what you value most about your current home. Not surprisingly, Dr. Amy has done this herself.

“For me, walkability, knowing my neighbours and having a sense of community are critical. If there were a shift in my health and mobility, I would want to live somewhere where there were people around me. These are all personal considerations that are important to think about before you retire. Too few people do that.”