Many of my clients have been in their homes for 40 and sometimes 50 years. Most think they will stay in their homes forever like in my condo, where the average age is somewhere between 85 and death. Most of my neighbors have been in the building since the ’70s. What I’ve witnessed over the past 15 years, however, tells me that, regardless of our intentions, a good portion of us will end up living somewhere else once our house gets to be too much for us. I am constantly pushing my clients to make that move while they still have their wits about them, but we all know how that goes.
But there’s another reason you should think about moving earlier in life—you need the energy it takes to make new connections and forge new bonds in the new place. An article this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer looked into what it takes to socialize in an independent living facility, and their findings are a bit surprising. Turns out, these communities have about as many cliques and social circles as your average junior high.
In the article (which you can read here), they cite the work done by a team of USciences professors and grad students within The Quadrangle—a retirement community located in Haverford. The project, which paired 14 grad students with older adults moving to the facility, was designed to get the students accustomed with working in the field as well as document the struggles and stresses faced by folks transitioning into the “independent living” lifestyle.
What’d they find? A lot of unease, nervousness and isolation among the residents. Feelings that residents were “living in a hotel” lasted for a year or more. And folks used to visiting with friends and neighbors inside their respective homes struggled to cope with the fact that, even though everyone has their own apartment, they had few guests over.
Instead of socializing in each other’s homes, the residents preferred to socialize over events and meals in the retirement community’s common spaces. And getting a seat at a table required grace, tact and the ability to maneuver through social cliques. It was basically the movie “Mean Girls” with another 50 years tacked on. Many residents have difficulty adjusting to, and coping with, all the cliques.
One resident who moved in at 77, said she wishes she had moved in when she was younger so that she could have had more energy to devote to finding new friends and participating in new activities. Another resident, who has been at The Quadrangle for 27 years, still has trouble making plans with the other residents. Her husband, who passed away six years ago, had been the socialite of the two and coordinated all their plans. Having never had to do it, she still struggles.
Heading towards a retirement community soon? Professors and residents alike have a few tips. First, be ready to jump in with both feet. It can be daunting, and you will feel really exposed putting yourself out there, but it’s the best way to get integrated in these new circles. Also, be realistic about what you can expect. Said one resident about her new life at The Quadrangle, “[It’s] not what it was when I was younger. Nothing is.”
Finally, for anyone that’s thinking of moving to a smaller home or to a retirement community, you may be interested in an upcoming lunch & learn hosted by our “decluttering” expert, Marlene Stocks. Ms. Stocks will present an hour presentation on Wednesday, June 28th about all the emotional and physical struggles you may face when leaving your long-time home in lieu of a newer, smaller place. If you’re interested in attending, shoot us a line and we’ll try to save you a seat.