Three Ways That Rightsizing or Minimalism Prepares You For Retirement

One of the stories I can vividly remember my father telling me years back was related to his pride at managing his money in retirement. At the time, both my father and mother lived on their social security and some modest savings held in a 401k. Dad frequently bragged that he lived better, traveled more, and seemed to have more fun than many of his friends who retired with big homes and generous pensions. From my perspective, at least at the time, their lifestyle seemed more humble and restrictive than I felt necessary. Now, less than 20 years later, I recognize that their simple and minimal lifestyle afforded them tremendous benefits that millions of other “hope-to-be-retirees” could learn from—including myself.

Recently, I read an article about how, for some people, any form of retirement may just be another form of magical thinking. On top of that, a recent Google Consumer Survey done by reported that almost 50% of all baby boomers and those older have only $1,000 or less in savings. Naturally, those thoughts led to even more questions. Is retiring well and happy even possible for the majority of us in the world? What about retiring early? Or will you and I be able to afford to take care of ourselves until the end?

Eventually, those questions led me back to what I’ve learned about minimalism and the many advantages of a more sustainable lifestyle, no matter what our age. A couple of years ago, Thom and I started using the word “rightsizing” to describe the minimalist direction our life was taking. Many use the word downsizing to describe that action. Downsizing implies that you are sacrificing or giving up something better for something worse. Rightsizing implies you are making a move that looks and feels “right.” Big difference.

By the same token, I’ve also realized how valuable an example my father provided. Looking back, he taught me three big things about the concept of rightsizing or simple living that I think would benefit most of us today.

1) Live below your means:

If you knew my dad, you’d know that he would laugh to think that it was even necessary to share this tip. Dad always lived below his means even when mom or us four daughters were against it. Dad carefully budgeted the family’s expenses, especially when they retired. Even after mom had several mini-strokes, developed Alzheimer’s and would ask for certain extravagances, Dad firmly decided when money would be spent. From the outside, it may have seemed less than kind to my ailing mother. But due to my father’s careful money management, they both were able to live comfortably in their own home for the remainder of their lives. They never needed outside assistance from their children or the government.

On the other hand, a friend of mine told a very different story as her parents aged. Both her mom and dad had well-paying government jobs with generous pensions. When they retired, they did nothing to alter their lifestyle. All was well until they aged and physically deteriorated. That’s when they began spending the majority of every day on the Internet and QVC buying things for entertainment. Naturally, they used their credit cards to make those purchases. Before long there was no money in the bank for anything. That’s when their children had to step in, take away the credit cards, slowly begin paying off her parent’s now considerable debts, and virtually support her parents for the remainder of their lives.

Living below your means might not sound like making the most of your life today—but it is resisting the urge to spend money you don’t have, to buy things you probably don’t need, to impress people who you don’t even know. Much worse is spending money to entertain yourself because you’ve forgotten what really matters and what is most important to a happy life.

2. Your happiness has nothing to do with all your stuff:

Again I can hear my father laughing at this one, but as simple as it sounds, I think we all know people (hopefully we aren’t one of them) that end up buying more and more stuff, and then often just throwing it in the closet. I have a friend who recently lost her job and then her 5,000 square foot house. After moving to a much smaller home, she is now in the process of sorting through and selling what she can’t even afford to store. Not only can you see how giving up that stuff is painful to her, but she still insists on telling you how expensive it was to buy and how much she still owns, as though her identity would disappear without it.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with buying stuff, especially stuff we need. But what happens is we start associating those “things” with our happiness and well-being. Then without them, we often don’t know who we are or what matters to us. Believing that we need any material possession to give value to our lives is setting ourselves up for a fall. And even if we end up holding on to our stuff for as long as we live, chances are good that when we pass on, it will be sold cheaply at a yard sale, given away, or simply tossed in the trash. As Joe Hearn, author of Intentional says when talking about settling an estate after people die, “I’ve never been to one that didn’t involve a dumpster.”

3. Trying to impress or keep up with others is a waste of time:

My father was far from perfect, but he never struggled with trying to impress others. I know he liked nice things (don’t we all) but he vastly preferred the freedom and peace of mind of knowing he lived below his means. Up until the time he passed, he lived modestly in a free and clear home, drove a free and clear car, and had a bit of money in the bank. But what was far more important, he passed on with dozens of good, long time friends, and a family that loved him—and the knowing that he’d left the world a bit better by his life.

My husband, Thom, and I are not yet retired, but we do consider ourselves rightsized. Even better, because of our rightsizing, we can comfortably retire whenever we choose. As I’ve written about before, rightsizing is taking the time to focus in on what is most important to you and then eliminating everything else. Our journey to rightsizing led us to sell our big home and move to one that fits just the two of us perfectly. We also got rid of stuff that didn’t matter much to us, and instead started focusing on quality experiences. If and when we decide to retire, we already know how to live below our means and that real happiness has nothing to do with what we own. Finally, the richness of our life has absolutely nothing to do with what anyone else thinks. That’s why it is probably SMART to remember that simplifying your life, getting rid of the clutter and rightsizing is the best possible thing you can do for your retirement.

RightsizingAbout Kathy: Kathy Gottberg has been a published author and writer for over 30 years. Her current passion is blogging at SMART Living where she shares ideas and experiences that lead to a happier, peaceful and more meaningful life. Her recent book is entitled Right Sizing* A SMART Living 365 Guide to Reinventing Retirement. Kathy lives in La Quinta, California with her husband, Thom, of 40 years and her dog, Kloe. Ultimately, Kathy strives to live life fearlessly rightsized….and to remember that each of us get to make it up!

From Retirement Reflections: I am a big fan of Kathy’s blog on smart living and reinventing retirement. She offers thoughtful, practical advice that I wish I’d read much earlier…but am still able to implement today. Please join me next week when we welcome Karen Hulme of Profound Journey. Karen shares with us her experiences at (originally) being a ‘reluctant retiree.’ I’ll meet you there!

Photo Credits (3, 4, 5):

43 Replies to “Three Ways That Rightsizing or Minimalism Prepares You For Retirement”

    1. Hi, Kate – Knowing what is important and what isn’t, is a true gift. This ‘good sense’ comes in handy at all stages of life –especially retirement! Thanks for commenting.

    1. Hi, Terri – Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting…especially when you are just beginning your much-needed blogging break. I agree that Kathy’s post offer much substance and great food for thought. I am totally in for November! Looking forward to it!!

    1. Hi Jill! Thank you. I’m glad you appreciate the reminder. I know most of this (and a lot I write about on a regular basis) isn’t rocket science. But I really appreciate the reminders myself so I’m always glad when others do too. ~Kathy

  1. Hear, hear, Kathy! It looks like your dad and I would have gotten along splendidly. 🙂

    I am not retired at all and I am two generations behind your dad, but I have lived the way you describe my whole life. The negatives? I have never owned anything, like a house or a car (so no chance to resell, rent and save money) and I don’t have savings. But, I have been able to live life the way I find important (with few belongings, lots of memories and many adventures), just like you and your dad. It is challenging at times and restricting ourselves whenever we go grocery shopping gets a bit tiring sometimes, but, as my husband says: “It’s not that we can’t afford it, really, it’s that we choose not to buy these things.” We spend our money on items that are really needed and therefore, we spend little and we need to make little. It has worked so far, but many people often wonder how much longer we can be nomads without a real home. Of, course, we don’t care what others think. 🙂

    Great blog post!
    Liesbet recently posted…IWSG Writing Update August 2017 – Life DistractsMy Profile

    1. Hi, Liesbet – I thought that you would appreciate this post. We can all learn from you and Kathy’s dad. Spend less and live more!

    2. Hi Liesbet! Good for you for finding a lifestyle that works well for you–I call that Rightsizing for sure! And as long as your life is full and happy right now, there is no real need to try and fit anyone else’s box. Staying conscious of your choices is a key. And as long as you have ways to support yourself as time goes by, who needs to ever needs to retire. My husband and I call ourselves semi-retired, because we are able to adjust our work quite a bit and still do most everything we want. Plus, because of our particular types of jobs, we believe we can continue them far, far into the future regardless of changing physical needs. The best news about rightsizing is that it is unique as we all are. Thanks for your input on this! ~Kathy
      Kathy @ SMART Living recently posted…Designing A Fulfilling Life Matters Long Before RetirementMy Profile

  2. Totally agree Kathy! One of the reasons why I was able to retire early was that we always lived below our means. We drive our cars until they are on their last legs, after paying cash for them. The only debt we ever had after paying off school loans was the house mortgage. We pay our credit cards off every month (it’s just easier to charge than carry cash).

    We are in the process of rightsizing our home – going down about 50% in size and actually getting rid of a lot of things we just never really use. I’m looking forward to a new sense of freedom I think that will give us.

    So I agree with your dad’s teachings – I think my dad instilled the same ones in me!
    Pat recently posted…Packing for a “Luxury” African SafariMy Profile

    1. Hi, Pat – I agree that it is so liberating getting rid of things that you do not need. Good luck with ‘rightsizing’ in your new home. Please keep us posted on that.

    2. Hey Pat! Thanks for your thoughts on this. And it sounds to me you are well on your way to a rightsized life. Of course, as I remind myself over and over, rightsizing isn’t something you “arrive” at and then are done forever. People change, we change, circumstances change. But being able to adjust as we go in ways that add to the quality of our lives is what it is all about. Good for you for going to 50% of your current home size. I’ll bet you’ll find you won’t miss that extra space much at all and yes, the freedom will be AWESOME. ~Kathy

  3. I learned my frugal ways from my parents too. My father kept his cars for at least ten years and always paid cash for each new one he bought. They lived below their means but I never felt as if we lacked for anything. I am so grateful for what they taught me – often without meaning to – they just modeled the behavior, retired early, and spent their later years traveling.
    Janis recently posted…Life’s a BeechMy Profile

    1. Hi, Janis – I think that’s the secret of ‘right-sizing’, i.e. balancing living below your means without feeling that you are lacking for anything. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Sounds like you are in good shape for retirement, Leanne. Being able to live below your means is a great asset. Thanks so much for stopping by, I greatly appreciate it!

    2. Hey Leanne! From what I read on your blog I think you’re a good rightsizer too! You nailed the two big issues I think we have to get past and that is your finances AND your willingness to not care what others think about your actions. Let’s all just keep spreading the word about how great it can be for our wellbeing! ~Kathy

  4. This was an excellent post and one that I think is relevant to every age – not just retirees. Every young person starting out on their own should read about living within their means.

    The line that really talked to me was “Much worse is spending money to entertain yourself because you’ve forgotten what really matters and what is most important to a happy life.” It’s so easy to get caught up in the “new and exciting”. Thanks for this great reminder.
    Joanne Sisco recently posted…Grim RealityMy Profile

    1. Hi, Joanne – I agree that this is a ‘must read’ post for all (especially young adults just starting out). The recounting of a friend’s parents spending money to entertain themselves in retirement, was very thought-provoking (and frightening). Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    2. Hi Joanne! Thank you! I don’t have kids so I do my best to spread around the advantages of living below our means to everyone I come across….and yes, I’m happy to say we have influenced some of our family members in a positive way. But I do acknowledge that some of us have to learn the hard way. I’m just grateful it was all there inside me when the time was right. Thank you again for your comment! ~Kathy
      Kathy @ SMART Living recently posted…Designing A Fulfilling Life Matters Long Before RetirementMy Profile

  5. Hi Kathy,
    I like the term ‘rightsizing’ as opposed to ‘downsizing.’ It’s amazing the difference language can make to our attitudes.
    I’m not as good as you, Liesbet, or Janis when it comes to having less stuff. I don’t have clutter by any means, but it matters to me to be surrounded by beauty and to support the arts so I have paintings and stone sculptures and pottery and wood and silk….
    I know that there will be a day in the future when none of these things matter to me and I will perhaps regret the money spent on them, but right now I’m really happy to be immersed in a creative, beautiful space. That said, thanks to the good points you make in your post, I’ve managed to avoid purchasing a beautiful little stone scuplture called the “book reader.” The jury is still out on whether I will be able to restrain myself for long. Maybe it will sell in the meantime and the decision will be made for me!
    Thanks for your thoughtful, and thought-provoking, post.

    1. Hi, Karen – Thanks so much for sharing this. Kathy can correct me if my understanding is incorrect. I believe that money spent thoughtfully on things/experiences that bring joy (like the art you describe) fits in well with a rightsizing philosophy. Supporting the Arts is a important cause…and it spreads so much happiness as well!

      1. Hi Karen and Donna! Yes! As Donna says, my definition of Rightsizing includes those things that bring you joy and happiness. It’s not about getting rid of stuff just to have it all gone (even though my husband Thom is tempted now and then) it is taking the time to only have things you love in your home environment–and eliminating everything else. If it isn’t at least a “7” on a scale of 1 to 10, then let it go. Surround yourself with 10s! Thanks for bringing this out so it can be clear. ~Kathy
        Kathy @ SMART Living recently posted…Designing A Fulfilling Life Matters Long Before RetirementMy Profile

  6. I am glad I stumbled upon your blog. Living below your means caught my eye probably because I have struggled with this sort of as many others do. The expenses can add up so quickly that it can be rather difficult to get your head above water. I have learned a thing or two from this though. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I fully agree that living below one’s means is an on-going pricess. I am glad that you found this post to be helpful — I did as well!

    2. Hi Thrifty Campers! If I have learned anything about living below our means at all, it is that the more we find friends that agree and then work to remind and support each other all the time, the better. Never discount how much other friends, family and acquaintances can influence us in this way. Once you surround yourself with others who are walking the same path, the road is much easier. Good luck. ~Kathy
      Kathy @ SMART Living recently posted…Designing A Fulfilling Life Matters Long Before RetirementMy Profile

    1. Thanks. Ally / I highly recommend Kathy’s site to you. Kathy offers great food thought as well as a positive and doable approach!

    2. Hi Ally! Thank you for seeing the big connection between rightsizing and living a more simplified life. I have drawn to the simplicity and minimalism movement for many years now but those words or categories didn’t always seem to fit what I hoped to experience in my life–so yes, rightsizing works for me. But again, the best thing about it is that we get to make it up! Whatever feels the best or “right” for your individual life and circumstances is what we strive for–and most of the time it is a more focused and simple life IMHO! ~Kathy
      Kathy @ SMART Living recently posted…Designing A Fulfilling Life Matters Long Before RetirementMy Profile

  7. Thanks for sharing your tips, Kathy! Experience is truly the best teacher in life, and because of that, we can learn from each other’s experiences. In this case, your experiences with your Dad’s money management wisdom and the situation of your friend has taught us a clear scenario how being simple and frugal will take you far in your retirement and how being materialistic can bring you down.
    Similarly, health planning can also prepare you for retirement. By leaning towards the healthier side of lifestyle, you’ll be able to cut cost in different aspects of your finances enabling you to save more. Improving health literacy will also make you come up with better strategies how you will face the future health issues that you might face thus enabling you to make various health care options such as Medicare, Medigap, LTC insurance, and Medicaid play into your advantage.
    Leandro Mueller recently posted…What do Supplemental Insurance Policies for Medicare Cover?My Profile

    1. Hi, Leandro – I agree that having a good healthcare plan in place, and living a healthy lifestyle, are important in retirement. Thank you for commenting.

  8. Like you, I am frugal at heart and have always lived according to the rule of living below your means. But I believe that there are two additional principles that support financial success. The second principle is to strive to maximize your earning potential, whether by seeking opportunities for advancement in your field, or negotiating for an equitable salary (often especially hard for women to do). The third principle is to invest your money wisely. Earn, save, invest.

    Dr Sock recently posted…Moving to a New HouseMy Profile

  9. Hi Kathy. I’m playing catch up with Donna’s Sunday Guest Post Series. You make some very good points. Having to worry about money when you’re elderly has to be very worrisome. I think hubby and I have it all under control and will hopefully be ok.

    1. Hi, Dee-Thanks for taking the time to read the back posts in this series. I really appreciate it. I am greatly enjoying reading your recent series. I am meeting many new bloggers who I either had not met before or had met only briefly. Your series has done a wonderful job in getting at the core of what each individual blogger is about.

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