“OF NO FIXED ADDRESS”
We’ve all read those words at one time or another, usually in the context of a court case where the accused is “of no fixed address”. For the first time in our lives, Elva and I have experienced it firsthand. Six months ago we sold our beloved condo at 55 Hillsborough St. and I’ve lost count of how many beds we’ve slept in since. Somewhere close to 50, I’d say.
On March 1, we’ll move into our new apartment at 297 Allen St., marking the seventh move we’ve made together since we married in 1975. Although they’ve all been challenging in some respect, this one rates right up there in degree of difficulty. Seven years ago, we downsized from 3,600 square feet to 2,400. Both places included significant storage, in addition to the living space. This time we’ll have to squeeze our possessions into 1,200 square feet, with very little storage space. Next time — who knows — we may be looking at a double room in a nursing home, or maybe just a pine box.
Anyone who has moved knows how challenging it can be to deal with the little things, like changes of address. During six months of homelessness, we’ve had no place but a P.O. Box to send mail. For most of the 25 or so organizations, government agencies, and businesses we deal with, not a problem. For a couple, however, the bank for example, it’s: “Sir, we need to have a physical address.” So I make something up; could be City Hall or the Lieutenant Governor’s Residence for all they care.
It reminds me of the day in September 1971 when I registered for my first term at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. The clerk at the Registrar’s Office took down all my particulars, then asked me for my phone number: “8”, I replied. “8? 8 what?” “Number 8 Wellington”, I said proudly. “There’s no such number”, says she. “Give me the phone and I’ll call my mother”, says I. So I did, and let her say hello to Yvonne. Another of life’s tiny triumphs for a kid from the sticks.
As with any of the significant life decisions we’ve made, Elva and I have tried to learn from the experience. Being of no fixed address has taught us that when two people enjoy one another’s company, wherever we happen to be on a given day is “home”. It may be on the road in Ireland, exploring a fortified church in Romania, watching a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, or living the high life in a Fort Myers condo.
The process of downsizing hasn’t gotten any easier. It’s meant we’ve had to dispose of many heirlooms, handed down through generations and lovingly cared for. Some we gave to our children, some we sold to good homes, some we gave away. Even the good stuff we’ve kept isn’t worth much nowadays. The young “throw-away” generation prefers Ikea to Gibbard of Napanee. Nowadays, furniture lasts about as long as a smartphone — a few years. We live in a disposable culture.
This reminds me of a story I heard not that long ago on CBC Radio. A woman spoke of her elderly father’s plan to distribute the family treasures to his four daughters. Having recently lost his wife, he convened them to the family home before moving into an assisted living facility. When they arrived, all of the knick-knacks he and their mother had collected and displayed over the years were spread out on the dining room table. “I’ve asked you here so that you can pick out what you want before I move.” The four, looking sheepishly at one another and their father, were speechless. Finally, the bravest said to him: “Dad, we know these things meant a lot to you and Mom, but they’re your memories, not ours.” The old man was heart-broken.
Before leaving, one of the daughters sneaked a butter dish she’d always had her eye on into her purse. The four said their goodbyes and went their separate ways, all feeling guilty that the day hadn’t gone as their father had expected. The next day, he called each one of them in turn and demanded to know: “Who stole the butter dish?”
One important lesson I’ve learned in retirement is that others have much to teach you about dealing with life changes, provided you’re both observant and open-minded. As an example, one of the guys in our cycling group, Roger, recently had an operation on his foot. He’s 84. Rather than hang the bike up for good, he’s staying in shape by riding a stationary. He’ll be back on the road first chance he gets. The lesson: Never give up!
Personal financial intelligence is one of the keys to successful retirement. I started reading the Financial Post in my early twenties and learned to use financial calculators soon after. Although most of our retirement savings are tied up in public sector pension plans, we’ve always had a financial advisor to help with our savings, and I’m not afraid to pick the brains of friends who understand the markets. I don’t mind spending money; I just don’t like to waste it.
Many of the people we’ve met in our travels, including those we ride with in Florida, are going through the same process as we are. They’ve taught us that staying healthy is key and that you’re never too old for physical activity. We met Ray Putnam who, at 91 years of age, still cycles regularly and holds the 90+ American record in the 20-kilometer time trial. As I’ve said before in this blog, Florida isn’t necessarily a place where people go to get old. It can be a place where people go to stay young.
For some couples, the contest between possessions and experiences causes conflict. In my case, this has been a life-stage issue. As I get older, possessions mean less and less to me. They don’t make me any happier. Experiences do. It’s as simple as that. Fortunately, I have a partner who agrees, for the most part anyway.
Finally, there’s the comfort zone thing, perhaps the most significant impediment to personal growth as we age. One definition of the word “entropy” is “a gradual decline into disorder”. In physical terms, I call this “furniture disease”; when your chest falls into your drawers! What happens to our bodies is bad enough, but intellectual entropy is far worse. So I’ve coined a new law, “Jean-Paul’s Law”, which states that: “You don’t start aging until you stop learning, and stepping out of your comfort zone is the best way to keep learning.”
Renting has liberated us from the bonds of ownership and has opened up new possibilities. Financially, it provides additional liquidity to do things we want to do, not only on the spending side, but through giving as well. And knowing our children will be spared the burden of dealing with “our stuff” gives us peace of mind.
Still, something about this move makes it different from the others. Perhaps it has to do with our stage in life; maybe it means giving up too many of our cherished possessions; maybe it’s just the thought of making do with so much less space. Whatever it is, we’ll make the best of it, make our new apartment as comfortable and welcoming as possible, and look forward to as many new adventures as life can offer. I know I’ll be glad when we’re settled in our new space. I’ve had enough of being “of no fixed address”.