A big topic in my age group is retirement. About half of my friends are looking forward to it while the other half are already there. As for Thom and I, we see ourselves standing with a foot on both sides. We aren’t retired, but neither are we chained to our work. What makes us different from others hoping to retire soon is that we’ve embraced what I call rightsizing. Rightsizing is a process that any of us can do to come into greater alignment with our most cherished values and goals. On a practical level, rightsizing points to actions we can make at any age that will help before, and especially after, a person retires.
In case you are wondering, I am not a financial advisor. Most retirement “planning” comes from people who would like to manage your finances. That approach tends to put the focus on how much money you make, how much money saved, and how much you need in the future to maintain your current lifestyle. Rightsizing, on the other end, downplays money and instead puts the focus on what is most rewarding in your life.
My book, Rightsizing: A SMART Living Guide To Reinventing Retirement, covers this in greater detail. But the simple definition is: “Rightsizing is the ultimate journey to find what matters to each of us. That includes what’s inside ourselves, and then in our homes, our community and the world we inhabit.” In other words, rightsizing is about discovering what give your life meaning, makes you smile, and allows you to sleep well and deeply every single night. If you aren’t there yet, you are a good candidate regardless of whether you are looking to retire soon, or not.
With that in mind, here are ten reasons I am convinced that rightsizing is a perfect path to a happy retirement. Rightsizing is:
1. The discovery of what matters most and is of greatest value to you and your family. Without a doubt, we are all different. What fills me with wellbeing is likely different than what brings you joy. Unfortunately, lots of people don’t know what that might be because they are so used to grinding it out and going through the motions. If you take away those motions (like going to work five days a week) or take away the influence of what other people think you should be doing, many people aren’t sure. Rightsizing requires that each of us take the time to be clear about what it is that would make us wake up with positive anticipation each day—and then do our best to work toward that fulfillment.
Of course, I understand that is also more difficult for some than others. Not all of us start at the same jumping off place so just trying to catch up may be your primary focus. But remember, the more any of us understands our deepest needs, the closer we are to finding and filling them.
2. The elimination of everything else that doesn’t matter or doesn’t bring us joy. Once a person knows what matters most to them, rightsizing suggests we start whittling away at all the other stuff we have allowed to pile up in our lives. Much of that stuff is material items like the status-symbol car we bought and financed in order to impress people at work, or the much-too-big house in a trendy neighborhood because that was an image we once believed was important to project. Letting go of all the unimportant things we “chased” in the past gives us the freedom to embrace new awareness and new possibilities for our future.
3. Finding a home that suits our particular needs, personality, budget, and lifestyle. Lots of people as they approach retirement begin to consider downsizing out of the big family home they have lived in for years. They call it “downsizing” because in many people’s minds it is a sacrificial experience of the life they used to live. On the flip side, rightsizing is a forward motion to a new beneficial lifestyle that embraces the very best of possibility and growth for the future. It matters little what the size is, as long as it fits you easily and matches your current goals, resources, and dreams.
At the same time, I realize that others are just hoping to find and keep a home that feels comfortable, safe and affordable as they retire. Fidelity Investments questioned over 2,000 adults age 55 to 65 about their retirement. They discovered that most pre-retirees are under the impression that the largest expense they will have in retirement is health care. They were wrong. The largest expense is the cost of your housing. Sometimes renting is the perfect answer instead of owing. Rightsizing your home means that you find one that works for you on all levels.
4. Living well within our means. A big part of the stress and unhappiness in most people’s lives comes from managing debt or working at jobs they dislike for long hours to make money to impress people they don’t really know. Most of us need far less than we think we do so when we rightsize and get clear about what really matters to us, living within our means is usually liberating. Instead of attempting to medicate ourselves by buying stuff we don’t need, we spend our time and our money on experiences, those we love, and things that matter.
This is a big deal. A report done by the Gerontological Society of America in 2015 tracked pre-retires to see how well they had prepared for eventual retirement. This study reported that nearly 30% of pre-retirees have no retirement plans or accounts and that 60% hold long-term debt. It also reported that nearly 40% of pre-retirees use credit cards expensively—that means they are only making minimum payments, often exceed limits and frequently pay late fees. Up to 43% of those questioned admitted that “I have too much debt right now.” Distressingly, 64% admitted that they would have a difficult time coming up with $2,000 for an emergency. Learning to live within the money available to us is a rightsized way to find wellbeing.
5. Become financially literate. The National Bureau of Economic Research is deeply concerned at the lack of financial literacy in our country. Because it is fairly easy to get a credit card or even open a bank account, people often incorrectly assume they know how to take care of their money. While the emphasis for those hoping to retire in the future is usually on recognizing how much a person might need to retire—perhaps a better focus is on how to manage existing resources in order to live well right now.
That’s where rightsizing helps because rather than asking a person to save or invest for the future, it asks us to get clear about money today. The more a person understands how much money they need to support the lifestyle they want to live, now and in the future, the better. Learning what we need to be content and safe is always beneficial.
6. Get in touch with your inner creativity. We are all creative. Unfortunately, most of us have taken on work or projects in life that iron out the creative urge we were born with. Rightsizing gives us permission to embrace that inner creative part of ourselves without judgment. Learn to cook, dance, paint, write, do woodwork or photography, or any one of a hundred things that bring you joy. Much of the time it doesn’t cost a thing yet the rewards are great.
7. Learn to embrace positive aging. Recognizing the aging process as one of continual learning and unfolding possibility is a key to making the most of each and every day. I’m doing my best here on SMART Living 365 to make this an ongoing topic.
8. Discover what gives your life meaning and share it with the world. As Flora Edwards said, “In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.”
9. Stay actively engaged in a healthy diet, level of exercise and overall health. Rightsizing goes far beyond just preparing us financially or materially for retirement. Instead, it reminds us of what is most important so that things like good health and a long life of wellbeing stay equally significant. Just like everyone’s needs and desires are different, there is no one-size-fits-all for optimal health. Just remember to consider your mental, emotional and spiritual lives as much as you do your body.
10. Surround yourself with supportive, healthy and rightsized people. A real key to rightsizing is taking the time to develop positive relationships with those closest to you. Perhaps even more important is recognizing who is detrimental and letting them go. Remember, the more the people around you support your path to rightsizing the easier and more fun it will be.
One of the things I love most about rightsizing is that it doesn’t ask me (or anyone) to fit inside another person’s box. There is no one “calculator” that you can put a couple of numbers into and come out with a formula. The path to your rightsized life is unique and only you can come up with the answers. But guaranteed, if you take time to focus on these ideas, you will enrich your life and retirement in more ways that you can imagine. Even better, your “today” will take on more satisfaction and happiness than you might have ever realized. If you are not already on the path, it would be SMART to start today.