To Move or Not to Move
About a month ago I went with my daughter Anna to a McCarthy and Stone development for retired people in Surrey. I expect that you have now jumped to the conclusion that I am contemplating selling my flat in Wimbledon in order to move into a purpose built apartment within a gated community of elderly folk just like me.
Well no, actually, I was just there on business because we are going to do a joint promotion with the marketing department of McCarthy Stone as we have a compatible audience.
However my visit has sparked thoughts about how challenging and difficult it is to know when and what practical steps to take to ensure a safe, secure but also happy older age.
The trouble is that neither you nor I have any idea what is coming down the track, and there’s the rub, because there are so many different scenarios that may play out over the next twenty years or so. If I am extremely lucky I will stay active and independent and then quickly pop my clogs in the manner of our dear late Queen. If I am just plain lucky I will have the odd inevitable health and wellbeing challenge which might limit me in some way, but not completely destroy my independence and ability to manage alone. If I am unlucky something will happen, perhaps quite unexpectedly, which means that I will then need some level of daily support whether at home or in some kind of protected environment. As there are so many unknowns, perhaps I should stop thinking about the future at all and just get on with my life and say (Suffolk expression alert) “that time come, that time care for.”
However, that’s not my style, so I thought I’d consider the pros and cons of three different approaches and maybe ask for your thoughts and experience at the end.
Three Possible Approaches to Later Life Living:
One: Change Nothing and Hope for the Best
This is the approach of some friends, a married couple in their late 70s, who are staying put in their large family home about two miles from a city centre. Big house, big garden, none of their ‘children’ nearby but lots of brilliant cultural activities that they love in a city they’ve lived in for over 40 years. Fortunately both are still able to drive. Some serious health scares, but both are currently well and active. I can see the attraction of this approach because for as long as possible you can cling to the notion of ‘life going on as normal’. Those four spare bedrooms might be empty for most of the time, but their offspring can, if they wish, descend at any time with all the grandchildren. Downsizing would mean a brutal reality check that those halcyon family days of bustle, noise, laughter and fun are gone forever and that loss may be really hard to confront - unless, or rather until, there is some crisis.
Two: Take Some Action and then Hope for the Best
This is my current approach. This time last year I had a largish house in France where I spent wonderful summer holidays with my friends and family, and a two bedroomed ground floor flat in Wimbledon. As I approached my mid-70s this started to feel untenable, especially after Brexit and Covid and the fact that my French house needed work. The decision to sell was not easy and was decidedly head over heart, but it’s one that I am so glad I took. I realise now that the weight of responsibility had become burdensome, so that since the sale went through, I have felt much more relief than regret.
Now I am about to ‘future proof’ my flat in the hope that it will better serve my needs for as long as possible. It’s already very well located within easy walking distance of a small park, great shops and the station, from which I can be in Central London in 20 minutes. The main drawback is the configuration of the rooms. The distance between my bedroom and the bathroom is very inconvenient for trips to the loo in the middle of the night. So I am having the wall removed between the two adjacent bedrooms to create one large bedroom and an adjoining bathroom with a good-sized shower. Then I can combine the current kitchen and bathroom into one larger, nicer space and update all my 20 year old appliances. With luck this new layout will fit my needs as long as I retain my mobility and marbles.
My house in France that I sold last year
Three: Go Early and Be Prepared for Every Eventuality
Again I know people who have taken this approach as they hit their mid 70s. They are also a married couple who decided to sell their family home to buy an apartment within a retirement community. They didn’t yet need all the facilities provided but they would be there if and when the time came. When I visited the McCarthy Stone development, I was shown a one bedroomed flat which was light, spacious and beautifully appointed. Whilst we had our meeting with the marketing manager, people were coming and going into a large communal lounge and chatting in groups over a cup of coffee. Later many more of the residents arrived for lunch, served every day in the cafe. While we were there the manager was called to give assistance to someone who was feeling unwell. She was given immediate attention and helped back to her apartment. The whole place was clean and bright with immaculate grounds, so why don’t I leave my two bedroomed flat unchanged and just buy a purpose built one bedroomed flat in such an ideal setting?
Because (and I do know how ridiculous this is going to sound!) I don’t think that I am old enough yet! My life doesn’t feel much different to the one I have been leading for most of my adult life. I am still working; I love pottering in my small garden; I pop into London from time to time for an exhibition or to meet a friend for lunch or the theatre; I see my two families of daughters, husbands and their children most weeks and am entirely happy living as I do, rarely bored and never lonely. I also struggle with the ‘ghettoisation’ element of such purpose-built communities. Does it sound ageist if I say that being almost exclusively around lots of other people like me every day would make me feel old and maybe even alter the way that I think of myself? The two hours or so that I spent at the residential community in Surrey convinced me of its comfort, security and convenience but it didn’t convince me that I would enjoy living there, although that might change if I was much more frail and vulnerable than I am currently.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts because this is a conundrum that affects us all as we move into older age. I sold my house in France at a time when I still had the capacity to deal with the complexities of the sale and the energy to clear the house of twenty-four years of accumulated ‘stuff’. With that sorted, I very much want to stay in my flat for as long as possible, so am hoping the improved layout will facilitate that. None of us can predict the future, but we can at least confront the idea that our needs might change and maybe discuss various options with our nearest and dearest. My next-door neighbour Rose died last year aged 94. She had lived in her flat, identical to mine, for about 40 years and I saw her often bustling down to the shops with her shopping trolley and pottering in her garden until a few weeks before she died. Rose is my inspiration. My fervent hope is that I have made the right decisions now to enable me to live as independently as she did until the very end. Fate may intervene, but at least I will have given it my best shot.
Please leave your thoughts below. I know that people who read my blog also love reading the comments and it would be interesting to hear how others are solving ‘The Moving Conundrum’.
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Friday 28th October
Monday 3rd October
Film Club: Le Week-End
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Day: Friday 28th October
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