As children leave home and retirement looms the conversation turns more and more around what to do with our lives. Leaving aside becoming a globally recognised artist or my partner becoming a selflessly dedicated leader of worthy causes, the first realistic thought is moving abroad. On a dreary London day, La Provence’s blue sky is attractive. It is an excellent subject of day dreaming while commuting but the vision of oneself, 35 years later, victim of an unfavourable exchange rate, unable to pay health insurance bills, in a house we cannot sell, strikes me as a nightmare scenario. Those thoughts of dying alone, poor, without access to sweet but distant NHS, far away from my family drives me toward the opposite scenario: living with my children.
An image of a delightful granny flat, converted to lifetime home standards, (a set of design features supporting accessible and adaptable homes for old age) attached to my children’s house with independent entrance but common garden, comes to mind. Then I remember that the likelihood is that the kids will be living in a hovel for which they would have paid the price of a mansion. Such thought processes take me to sharing my home, not with my kids, but with my friends. Home sharing sounds extremely suitable: sharing long conversations around a glass of wine, enjoying emotional, economic and practical support. Sounds great! Sharing the costs and the laughter. I like it except for the little problem of an over populated small London house. I like my privacy as much as I like my family and friends. Also I like a good walk in the country as much as I like going to an exhibition or a concert. Yes I like the country. Country and retirement go together, let’s move to the country.
Independent, glorious independent living. Walks and dogs, fires and stoves, books and wine. Yes! But. Independence can be a bit isolated. Let’s say it: lonely. And dangerous when one is not top fit. Of course there is a sheltered home. Our own bungalow, or flat, with some communal space and above all a house manager and an emergency call system. My parents in law moved into one of those flats and are delighted, but they had to drastically downsize from a comfortable family house to a very small flat, they were well over 80 and the management fees are pretty steep. The move was the right one for them, even if painful. It was worth it at their age but certainly not when one feels able to start the revolution all by oneself. Then there is the Retirement Village concept imported from Florida, not to be confused with gated community.
Retirement villages’ brochures are truly nice. From dream secured village to “holiday ad vitam aeternam “ there is one for all tastes, needs and wealth. Then there are the fees. All sorts of fees, perfectly legitimate ones, still fees to pay also ad vitam aeternam or deferred to be paid post mortem. Those retirement villages commonly managed for profit are investment opportunities and justifiably work toward maximizing return on their investment. (Ironically quite a number of them are investment vehicles for retirement funds) The problem for retirees with non-flexible incomes is the tendency of the management fees to go up. Once again, as for living abroad, I had the hellish vision of being trapped in a flat I owned, could not afford but could not sell either. Renting seems less worrying but still we would not be guaranteed tenancy for ever nor quality of services. In both cases we will be dependent on the leasehold owner’ good will.
None of those choices feel right for us. I know what I want. I want friends around but also my private space. I want to share activities but not to be in each other’s pocket. I want communal services like communal meals, laundry, gardens but only if I manage the cost myself. I want to take decisions for my whole life and not be depend on a management firm’s profit margin. I want to be independent but also I want to share my life with like-minded people. I want to enjoy my life to the end without having to move every 15 years to adapt my house to my needs. Sounds impossible? A dream! No, sounds like cohousing.
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