The Best Chapter: Filling the Retirement Void

Do you have time that you can truly call your own, with few appointments, minimal family obligations and no work commitments? I bet you are retired.

Our landline just rang and, as always, I ran for it. Of course, it was a 1-800 number but for some reason, I answered only to encounter the dreaded void that exists before the telemarketer’s auto dialer clicks in.

I rather hope my retirement has more substance than that. Although I have chosen to retire – and plan to make it the best chapter of my life – I am facing a void of sorts. How will I fill it?

I hope to focus on the things that mean the most to me, and which, to some degree, have been neglected. Not to force the alliteration, but this includes family, friends, fitness, faith, food, freelance writing, and fun.

And then there’s household purging. No f-word fits that category (except perhaps the one that comes most readily to mind).

We have lived in our house in Sundance for almost 17 years, where we raised two kids. If the Los Angeles Times is correct in saying that the average North American household contains “300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards,” then I would say that our family is fairly typical. I need to do some major sorting, pitching, selling and bequeathing.

My mother recently moved to a personal care home in Saskatchewan and I spent a week in January cleaning out the one-bedroom suite she vacated. The few possessions Mom has in her new home tend to bewilder her. “Where are my nail clippers? I had quarters set aside for bingo: where are they?” Keeping track of her belongings has become a burden as her dementia progresses.

As I sorted through her household things (perhaps not 300,000 items, but close enough), I became ruthless in determining what to do with them. I filled garbage bag after garbage bag with my Mom’s life, because most of her possessions had been used far beyond the point of donating them to the Salvation Army. It was a difficult emotional journey, deciding to throw away things that she had touched thousands of times. But it had to be done.

A few things brought me short. The potato pot was one of them. Mom used this round, generous pot to cook the potatoes grown on the farm for decades. The potato pot was still in her possession, reminding me of the wonderful food she grew, canned, froze and prepared for our family every day of her working life. I thought briefly of taking the pot home and planting flowers in it. But no. I have my own potato pot and far too many planters already.

Then there was the card table. When we had company, Dad would whip out the card table, extending its folding legs so that the kids could eat in the living room while the adults dined in the kitchen. Later, the table would be used for playing cards. I have so many memories of peering over my parents’ shoulders, sizing up their whist or bridge hands before drifting back to the world of children’s games. How do you throw memories like that away?

Let’s just say that I found a destination for every one of my mother’s possessions before returning to my own house of overstuffed closets and precious memories. Soon I will begin the process of decluttering and purging. I expect to spend a lot of time relishing happy memories and then – bam – into the garbage it goes. Ruthless, I know, but it must be done.

I just hope that the memories made in the best chapter come with fewer memorabilia.