Posted by: Daryl & Wendy Ashby | September 22, 2010

Are you Retired or Just Tired ?

Boomers are acting younger every day. Alert to this, developers, designers and retailers are changing their assumptions about what people older than 50 want at home. This isn’t to say the unpleasant aspects of aging are miraculously halted and that, for instance, grab rails in bathtubs don’t remain big sellers.

Those grinning “Zoomers” who discover mountain biking or marathons at 65 don’t exist much beyond marketing hype. But it’s increasingly evident that older people’s expectations of how they want to live aren’t as predictable, and conventional, as they used to be.

I’ve done the research: Reaching Lack of Freedom 55 forces me to think about retirement and where/how I want to live in the future.

Retiring Boomers have an urgent nostalgia for the priorities of their youth, a yearning for the rebellious spirit jettisoned as they became mainstream to get ahead in business. Once the kids leave and work is no longer the most important thing in life, these youthful priorities resurface. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom is the drum beat.

Do I want my house to be like everyone else’s so I fit in? No way. What does my inner-hippie say? Break out. Flee suburbia. Get that loft. What decorating rules? More colour, more texture, more of what I like. Who’s going to judge me, anyway?

You don’t see a lot of bland, proper-looking WASPs in condo marketing material anymore, few aging Boomers aspire to stiff and patrician. Ads with young people in their Porsches are the aspiration for both thirty-and sixty-somethings.

Unless they’re really old, few retirees seek child-free buildings. Quiet is like being dead and that’s what Boomers avoid by running towards vibrant, youthful images, especially those with the hint of 1960s elan.

As one Boomer told me, “I can afford to live now the way I wanted to when I was in my 20s –and my kids can’t stop me.” Trendy buildings (that you’d think would be exclusively filled with young people) have lots of oldsters who don’t want to be relegated to a senior’s ghetto.

It used to be an assumption not to bother marketing furniture to 50-and 60-year-olds. The logic was they have all they need and, if anything, will be downsizing.

While empty-nesters still might want to get rid of a house with too many unused bedrooms, they’re not resigning themselves to a senior’s flat crowded with tattered sofas and chairs. Instead, the kids are shocked when mom and dad sell the family house, then do the unthinkable and unsentimentally dump their fussy, traditional stuff for sleek and modern that fits their contemporary new condo.

After all those years of putting the children first, paying for hockey equipment and university, parents buy that formerly too expensive leather sofa. Even if it’s not wholesale change, today there’s room for the new as people get older.

Retire to Vancouver and Victoria? Dropping out of the mainstream could be considered a parallel to retirees who, in their 20s, were about communes or drugs, about finding utopia one way or another. However, people who want to keep their wits about them don’t retire this way. It’s more likely those who pretend playing golf every day in a senior’s community is a real life had the same job for 40 years with never a counterculture thought in their heads.

Whether hippie once, or not, Boomers as a generation were the centre of attention in their youth — they were changing society. They were news. Hence, rather than run away to where retirees are supposed to hide out until they die, more Boomers want to continue in the spotlight and at the centre of the action.

For these, it’s a condo downtown, not a cabin in the mountains. If they want to be warm, it’s less likely to be a remote, gated community where you only bump into yourself but a privileged perch in a varied, albeit warm in winter, real community. Very little in terms of housing and decor is inappropriate for a retiree today. In fact, it’s the older people who are becoming the boldest on the block.

What makes the influence of Boomer retirees more significant than retirees of previous generations?

There are a lot of them (us?) but, most importantly, they have tons of money. Wealth empowers Boomers as their youth once did. The image of old people living on a shoestring budget is transforming into 60-year-olds whose cohort rules. Watch out you successful, sophisticated forty-somethings, this decade’s retirees are going to be stiff competition as you fight over the coolest places to live


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