We all dream of the day we can stay home all day. Waking naturally at any hour without an alarm clock, padding around in our PJs, doing whatever we want, whenever we want. Bliss!
Usually we have to wait for retirement, but due to the coronavirus, many of you may find yourselves spending twenty-fours hours in your home, day after day, perhaps for the first time ever.
No commute to the office. No coffee runs. No lunch dates with friends. No shopping. When one day follows another within the same four walls, you may find yourself going stir-crazy. Suffering cabin fever. Yeah, no one ever warns you. This self-isolation is giving all of us a sneak peek into the dark side of retirement.
Been there! So here’s some tricks and tips I’ve learned on how to keep occupied and happy when the American hobby of “run-run-run,” as my Grandmother calls it, is temporarily stalled.
For me, it all started back in 2012. I was unhappy and burned out at my IT job. My husband knew how unhappy I was and encouraged me to quit my job saying we’d figure out our finances somehow. Those first few months after “retirement” were amazing! We ran-ran-ran. A normal day was making the rounds of the local antique shops, driving down to Stillwater for blue cheese burgers and then back to St. Paul for coffee and live music in the evenings. It was wonderful and I assumed that all the perks of living in the Twin Cities area would always be there for me.
But Michael’s a country boy at heart and Twin Cities living is expensive, so in May of 2013 we moved to a hilltop cottage in a tiny hamlet because the livin’ is easy, the livin’ is cheap.
For the first few years up here, we still ran-ran-ran. But after Michael had multiple surgeries and our car began to show its age, that’s when I finally had to face what so many of you are facing now: existing within our four walls. Consolidated shopping trips only once or twice a month. No more run-run-run.
That’s when it struck me that I’d never thought beyond the dream of retirement to the reality. I wanted 24/7 of free time…but hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with my time. I’d been “owned” for too long. For thirty-two years, my parents, my teachers and my bosses had told me exactly what to do with almost every waking hour. Doing what I wanted, having fun, not work-work-working all the time just seemed…wrong.
I suddenly found myself with all this lovely free time that I saw as a burden instead of the blessing it really was. Oh! I felt so guilty!
At first, I thought that like our grandparents, I shouldn’t do anything fun until the house was scrubbed from top to bottom, sixty-seven dozen brownies and cookies in the freezer and fifteen coats of fresh paint on the walls.
But that’s not how I want to spend my time.
When I stopped guilting and shoulding myself, I realized there’s a great, untapped richness at your fingertips even if you’re “stuck” at home.
When you first get to be at home 24/7, there are some temptations and some pitfalls. So let’s get through them first.
- Resist the temptation to stay up til all hours just because the schedule is gone. It’s fun at first…but your mind needs a period of REM sleep to process the prior day. When I stay up too long and my days blend together, ugh! It feels terrible.
- Don’t feel guilty for “not working as much.” Actually, if you’re working remotely, you’re working as much or even more than usual. It only seems like less because the work is completed more quickly due to fewer distractions. Also, you don’t have to waste as much time commuting, prepping to leave for the office, unwinding after work, etc.
Get Comfortable with Time
Get comfortable with having plenty of time. From our earliest years, we’re brainwashed that a “normal life” means leaving your home early and returning late. That a rich life means never having enough hours in your day with the office getting your best hours and your personal life getting short shrift. Unconsciously, we perceive this as right, as responsible, as American.
It can seem wrong, very wrong, to have plenty of time. Time to do all those projects you’ve never had time for. Time to read a book. Time for a long, hot bath. Time and lots of it. More time than you know what to do with.
But we don’t owe our time to anyone. It’s been given to us to use, enjoy, sleep, relax…whatever.
Shocking, I know. I’m still coming to grips with having enough time in my life. I never had time before. It feels so wrong.
The trick to being happy at home is to keep your mind active with a rich and wide variety of different interests and activities. Do many different things during the day and do them in different rooms in the house as well as getting fresh air and sunshine outside, if possible.
For example, I do my researching, writing and social networking here in the Living Room, with a view of the oak trees, lilac bushes and highway from my glide rocker.
But if I want to watch YouTube or TV while I journal, it’s time to prop myself up in bed with a hot cup of tea.
I could watch TV and Journal in the living room as well, but boy! That’d get monotonous! It’s important to have different stations in your home for different activities. If you spend all your time in just one room, sitting in the same chair, your body and mind get too sore and tired.
Also have stations for creativity. My fiddle hangs on the wall, at the ready, so I can jam out a tune or two if the feeling strikes. My paints and charcoals are always at the ready. “Tidying up” is the enemey of creativity.
This stupid coronavirus thing will only last a little while. So it’s important to look forward and make plans for the future. It’s an act of faith to buoy the spirits. This is true for self-isolation and true for retirement too. Always keep looking forward. Planning. Staying excited about life.
Right now, we have tickets to the symphony in May, I’ve got my eye on a new ramen restaurant and my Michael wants to go to a local HAM fest soon. Even if our plans fall through, at least we always have things we’re looking forward to doing.
Look Backwards for Inspiration
After many years of having my time monopolized by the office, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my free time. So I looked back three…darn, I mean four…decades to my childhood. Remembering what I enjoyed doing during the long days of childhood helped me choose enjoyable hobbies for the long days of my early retirement.
What did you enjoy doing as a kid? You have time for it again now. Maybe it’s building models. Sewing. Oil painting. Charcoal sketches. Playing a musical instrument. Yodeling. Reading. Journaling. Writing poetry. Putting together a family tree. Baking. Cooking. Tap dancing. Gardening.
Try that hobby again now. Slowly….don’t rush through everything. Save something for next week, next month. It’s better than playing video games all day!
Take Breaks from Family
On the one hand, the closing of schools and self-isolation is finally forcing the American family to be together. On the other hand, no matter how much you love each other, being nose-to-nose 24/7 can be a little bit “much.”
I know my mom says she’s always glad when Dad goes back to work after a week’s vacation. And he’s not even a big talker! I don’t talk much but my Michael loves to talk.
That’s why it’s important to give each other and yourselves some space, especially if you’re an introvert. Have a designated place in your house that you go to when you’re all talked out and/or drowning in your family’s blah-blah-blahing. That space is inviolable…unless the house is burning down. When you’re in your quiet place, your talkative family members must leave you alone so you can decompress.
I tell Michael, “I need a time out” and he brings me Oolong tea and then leaves me alone.
Just because the entire world is sticking close to home, that doesn’t mean your mind can’t travel. My friend, Deb, recently sent me this site with links to virtual tours of many museums around the world: https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours
Another friend, Jess, just let me know that the Metropolitan Opera of New York is now streaming their operas free online. They’ll ask for your name, address and phone number but not your credit card number. https://www.metopera.org/season/on-demand
And then there’s this: https://kottke.org/20/01/
One of the greatest thing about traveling is getting to experience the different flavors and foods from around the world, especially street food. Who says you can’t do that in your own home!?! Of course you can!
Just recently, I made a popular Japanese street food for Michael and me from scratch. Okonomiyaki is a kind of savory pancake with meat and cabbage topped with Japanese mayo, a Worcestershire based sauce and bonito fish flakes. Michael loved it.
Our bodies may be quarantined, but our imaginations don’t have to be!
Bring the Outside…In
One thing that keeps me sane during the long, gray days of a Minnesota Winter is my “greenhouse.” It’s just a table with a light but the greenery and color of my Boston fern, Basil, African Violets, Aloe Vera, Geranium and Kalanchoe plants keeps my soul alive…not to mention the odd garden gnome peeking out from amongst the foliage.
It’s almost Spring now so I’d suggest starting vegetable seeds in trays of potting soil. You’ll be surprised how much joy you’ll derive from seeing the plants burst from the dirt and sprout leaves. And, in a few weeks or months, you’ll be eating the produce as well!
Plants, flowers, candles, art, dogs, cats….all of it makes “the simple life” we’re all being forced to live entertaining and enjoyable. Lots of beauty will make your four walls interesting and visually stimulating…much more so than the drab, windowless walls of my old office!
Consider this time a “sneak peek” into what retirement is like. Most of my retired friends run-run-run…but that gets expensive…and you don’t have to do that to be happy.
Who knows!?! You may enjoy being home so much that you decide to make it a lifestyle and continue to work from home like me.