what do building blocks have to do with retirement

Building Blocks

I’ve been thinking about building blocks recently.

The thought originated when I built something a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about building blocks ever since.

I’ve realized a few things about building blocks:

  • They aren’t just childhood toys.
  • Building blocks exist throughout our entire lives.
  • We’re never too old to play with them.
  • Used wisely, they can help us live a better life.

Today, my thoughts on building blocks, why they’re important, and how we can use them to live a better life.

Building blocks aren't just for children. Today, we're exploring how to use them to build a better life. Share on X

Building Blocks

Today, I’m asking you to change your perspective on those building blocks you used to play with as a child.  Let’s expand our definition, and see how we can use building blocks to improve our lives in retirement. 

Here are a few examples for you to consider…

Saving For Retirement

You’ve saved your entire life for retirement.  That’s a building block.  You started early, perhaps by signing up for your company’s 401k savings plan.  With that first paycheck, a small building block was placed on the table of your life.  With every paycheck, another block was added to the wall.

Decades later, that wall has grown.  All those building blocks represent your chance of living free, without the obligation of working for a paycheck.

Money is a building block and, if used wisely, can result in years of freedom to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it.

Building blocks.

Your Job As A Teenager

Thinking back, you can probably recall some lessons from that job you had as a teenager.  It may have been the first time you had a bit of money in your pocket, and you learned the value of money.  Perhaps it was an interaction with a customer learning how to treat a customer you don’t care for but had to find a way to please.

In my case, I think about my job working for a landscaping company.

My landscaping job taught me I enjoy “Building Things.”  There’s something tangible about creating a physical “thing” and realizing it’s going to last.  I enjoy returning to my hometown and seeing a landscaped wall that I built 40 years ago, still standing. It’s rewarding.  

During my 3+ decades in Corporate America, I missed that feeling of building physical things.

Now that I’m retired, I’ve rediscovered that joy that comes from building things that will last.  

Building blocks.

A recent MTB ride on some Tennessee singletrack.

Childhood Joys

As a child, I spent the majority of my free time outside in the small Michigan town that I called home.  I loved riding my bike on the trails behind the college football field.  Even today, I can visualize every trail, every hill, every turn.  I spent HOURS out there, and those are some of my best memories from childhood.

When we moved to the mountains for retirement, I decided to explore mountain biking.  I splurged on a new mountain bike as my 60th birthday present, and haven’t regretted the purchase for a moment.

I love riding in the woods as much as an “old man” as I did as a child.   

The same goes for swimming.  Every week my sisters and I would jump in the college pool during family swim night. In the summer, we’d climb on the school bus that ran kids from the school to the local beach (can you believe they did that?  Unchaperoned!  Ah, those were the days).  I never remember learning how to swim, it’s just something that I’ve always known how to do.  It’s just something that I’ve always loved.

I’ve learned to embrace The Pursuit of Childhood Joy, and that pursuit has made my retirement more fulfilling.

Building Blocks.

The Family Tree

  • 60 years ago, your grandparents raised your parents.
  • 30 years ago, you were raised by your parents. 
  • Today, you’re watching your children raise your grandchildren.

Your family’s foundation has been built over generations, and it will continue to be shaped for generations to come. It’s been that way in the past, and it will likely be that way in the future.

How your parents were raised impacted how they raised you, which impacted how you raised your children. That, in turn, is impacting your grandchildren today.  As a grandparent, you have a unique opportunity to make an impact that will last for generations.  Think of the memories you have of your grandparents. 

Then, focus on the memories you want your grandchildren to have of you.

Make an impact on your legacy, while you still can.

Building Blocks.


As we age, it’s natural to think about what happens after we die. 

We prepared for retirement, so why wouldn’t we do the same for our next chapter?  Eternity lasts a lot longer than retirement, and it deserves some focus. None of the material goods we’ve accumulated will matter once we’re gone, so take time to invest in the things that will.  

Even if you’re not spiritual today, there are likely some spiritual building blocks from your past.  Consider dusting off some of those blocks and investing your time in exploring spiritual issues. If you have a relationship with someone you know who is religious, invite them to lunch and have a serious discussion.  Ask them for a suggested book, podcast, or YouTube channel. Visit a church for Easter. 

If it’s been a while, try saying a prayer.

Look for spiritual building blocks.  Chances are you’ll find them. 

“Seek and you will find” Matthew 7:7. 

Yes, my wife and I have joined Pickleball Nation…

Find Your Building Blocks

For a great retirement, dig through the building blocks of your past.  Think of something you enjoyed doing, and figure out how to do it in retirement.  Find a lasting impact you want to make, and look for building blocks from your past you can use as a foundation.

We’re at a stage in life where we’re free to explore, and finding building blocks from your past that you can build on now is a great approach for improving your life.

Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • Did you enjoy tennis?  Try pickleball.
  • Were you in a Youth Group?  Join an Adult Bible Study.
  • Did you enjoy your summer job (landscaping for me)?  Tackle a home project.
  • Did you like helping people?  Join a charity. Mentor a child. Lead a Scout troop.
  • Did you have a favorite dog?  Walk dogs at your local Humane Society, or foster.
  • Did you ride a bike?  Try out an e-bike.
  • Were you a good parent?  Be an even better grandparent.

You’ll likely find that the things you enjoyed in your earlier years are fertile fields to harvest in retirement. 

Building Blocks.  

The Building Blocks That Inspired Today’s Post

I mentioned that I recently built something that inspired this post.  

Earlier this month, I built the dog shelter in the photo below during a Freedom For Fido build.  It was satisfying beyond words.  Before retirement, I’d never built anything from wood and you wouldn’t have found “building things” on my retirement bucket list.  I never saw it coming.

I now enjoy building “real” things, and you seem to enjoy seeing them (the post below went viral, with 3k+ likes and 229 comments on my Facebook page).  

building blocks in retirement
The project that inspired today’s post

As I built the dog shelter, I thought about the path that led me to build a shelter for some dogs in need.

That thinking led me to Building Blocks and the role they play in our retirements.

The building blocks for the dog shelter project look something like this:

  • Block 1: I enjoyed my landscaping job as a teenager.
  • Block 2: I missed building things in my corporate job.
  • Block 3: When Freedom For Fido started, I had a mentor teach me to make doghouses.
  • Block 4: I discovered I loved woodworking.
  • Block 5: When we knew it wasn’t a fad, we built a woodworking shop.
  • Block 6: I’ve continued to add blocks to the pile, challenging myself to build new things.

Building blocks have led me to places I never imagined in retirement.  In the process, I’ve learned…

You’re never too old to play with building blocks.

Your Next Steps

I hope this article motivates you to search out building blocks from your past.  Think about the things you used to enjoy. Quiet your mind and listen to your thoughts.  Think about things that matter to you, things you’d like to build on. If something comes to mind, pursue it.

Take that first step.  

Pick up that block and see where it leads.  Play with it for a while, then reach for another.

Try to find 5 new building blocks to play with over the next month.  You’ll probably find one or two that spark an interest.  Build on that interest, and see where it leads.

Your life will be better as a result.


Sometimes I think my brain isn’t normal, and I’m fine with that.  I have no idea why building a dog shelter led me down a path of thinking about building blocks, but I’ve learned to embrace my thoughts.  As a reader, I appreciate your encouragement as I write where my thoughts lead, and trust you find my words helpful on your journey. 

Today, my thoughts led me to a metaphor for searching through your past to find things that will make your life more enjoyable in the present.  It’s working well for me as I strive to live my best life in retirement, and I suspect it will work for you, too.

I hope these words motivate you to give it a try.

Building Blocks.

Your Turn: What building blocks from the past are you using to make your life more enjoyable now? Do you have any examples?  Let’s chat in the comments… 


  1. I think tapping into the things that you enjoyed in your youth provide enormous opportunities as we get older. They seem to open up so many opportunities for us to give back to our community in ways we don’t appreciate until we act on them.
    All too often we tend to discount their value to others. It’s only when we act on them, especially when they involve other people, that we realise the true value that we can offer to our community.
    Your post is a great example of this!

    1. “It’s only when we act on them, especially when they involve other people, that we realise the true value that we can offer to our community.”

      Great sentence, Matt.

  2. Hi Fritz!

    Such an encouraging post to read. Loved it. Building things. Spirituality vs. religion. God is so proud of the man you’ve become. USA needs more “Grandpas” like you. I bet you both look fwd to passing on some woodworking skills to your grandbabies, right? Give my best to Jackie. Keep on keeping on Gilberts!

    And, yes, I was very happy for Michigan this past year! Your Lions went to the playoffs. A good coach can do wonders for a whole big group of men, huh? Wish your team continued successes. Maybe they can join our Chiefs in the SB in Feb?? 😉

    God speed young couple, Steve

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Steve. I do look forward to spending some quality time with our granddaughter in my woodworking shop. And yes, it’s amazing what a good coach can do – in sports, as well as in life. Be a coach! See you in the Super Bowl!

    2. Excellent article. As I age thinkky deeply about my faith and how it impacts my every day decisions. It also impacts my charitable giving. Also, thinking back on my childhood and the things I enjoyed has helped me enjoy some of them now in retirement. Good thiughts!

    1. If you had Professor Gilbert for any History classes, you knew my Dad! If you knew Angie in the bookstore, you knew my Sister! Yep, my family connections run deep at Hillsdale – the playground of my youth!

  3. Fritz

    Excellent article. Thanks for taking the time to share these insights. I really appreciate your writings.

  4. Great post Fritz. The aspect of retrospectivity and self-reflection resonates with me. Even though I am still working and on my journey toeards FIRE, I found this post very inspiring and an early nudge to start thinking about how I can stack the building blocks that I have in my toolbox as I get near to eatly retirement in several years.

    1. Pleased to hear my words served as a “nudge,” Moe. It’s never too early to think beyond the financials, and ponder what you’ll do with your life after your need to work for income is gone. Best of luck on your journey.

  5. Fritz, a fairly new reader from your population, but I do enjoy your “work.” These articles inspire me as I prepare for retirement. There are many possible paths one can pursue with this change of life, and your articles share the wealth of possibilities. Thank you!

    1. Welcome aboard, Gregg, pleased to hear my words inspire you. As Auld Lange Syne says, make new friends, but keep the old…

  6. Another home run. Thanks so very much for doing these. With all of the things that you have going on, I don’t see how you have the time to do this but am so glad that you do. Always look forward to reading your work. You are my inspiration and it is a honor and privilege to be able to call you (and Miss Jackie) my friends ♥️♥️

    1. Not only friends, but family. We’re both honored to have you as our “parents.” Nice timing on the “home run” reference, it’s time to Play Ball! #GoBraves

  7. Excellent article — made me think of the blocks I had as a kid, from Tinkertoys to Legos. My retirement date is coming at the end of the year, and I have a long list of what I want to do or go back to doing. You reminded me about all the bike riding I used to do — on the list. Being creative with my Mom in all sorts of crafts — on the list. Serving meals at church — on the list. Helping my family and friends as needed who have cancer and other diseases — it’s a very long list of things I want to do, and that’s what made me finally choose a date. Looking forward to more of your wonderful writing, thanks so much!

    1. Sharon, congratulations on your rapidly approaching “Starting Line,” sounds like you’ll have plenty of blocks to play with when the time comes. Enjoy the final sprint…

    1. I’ve been thinking of your graphics art biz, love what you’re doing and hope your customers always appreciate your “human touch” vs. the black box of AI. Even if AI has an impact, I know you, and I know you’ll do just fine. Keep writing, love your work.

  8. It’s amazing how rekindling childhood activities can be so fulfilling in retirement. You and I have shared our recent barn building pictures, and I also built a small log hunting cabin a few years back. Those joys definitely stemmed from my childhood. Running through the farm fields and woods of my youth, building “play cabins” and “play forts” in those same woods as a child. I loved every minute of it as a child, and now again with our building projects on our farm as an adult.

    I was laughing with my wife a few days ago about this very idea. We were enjoying one of our first sunny +70F degree days, and I leaned back in our outdoor adirondack chairs, and just stared at the blue sky and fluffy white clouds floating across the horizon. I had an overwhelming memory of summers as a child. Endless warm days laying in the soft grass just staring at the clouds floating across the sky. It was as if I could float with the clouds. . For 2-3 minutes I was a kid again laying in that warm grass…What a relaxing and wonderful flashback. I had the realization that’s a big part of what we strive for in our new found retirement freedom. Regaining those simple timeless joys of childhood…

    Another great read Fritz.

    1. Thom, I also have barn envy (wink), you have an absolutely gorgeous barn (though I’m also very happy with mine). Funny, I’d never made the connection to building all of those forts in the woods, but that was also one of my childhood joys (especially that 6′ x 10′ hole we dug, including stairs, and covered with some old plywood for a roof).

      Great idea to take some time to stare at the clouds, I may do that shortly (heading over to the barn to work on completing our new raised bed garden…sounds like a perfect time to pause and look up).

  9. Hi Fritz,

    Another thought-provoking article. Where abouts in Michigan did you grow up? I grew up in north central Michigan, near Houghton Lake. We have lived in the west side of Michigan for the past 30 years.

    God willing, wife and I plan to retire this coming December. Your current article really drills in on the non-financial aspects of retirement. As a result, we have had some great non money discussions.

    Please continue with the excellent posts.

    Beginning a new journey soon,

    Paul and Susan

    1. Just look at that Pickleball T-Shirt, and you’ll know. Hint hint. My Dad taught at Hillsdale College for 38 years, it was a perfect small town to grow up in. Congrats on your final sprint to “The Starting Line,” I’m pleased to hear that my writing has increased your awareness of the importance of planning for the non-financial aspects (one of my favorite topics, and a point I make to every near-retiree I possibly can – will definitely be a major point of discussion on tonight’s webinar).

  10. Again, a nice article on building a meaningful retirement. Last night I attended a lecture by a well know musician, writer and actor, brought in by the university to address students interested in pursuing the arts. His message resonated with me as well. Don’t stress the small stuff, say YES to new experiences and new people and when opportunities come your way, make room for them. Say NO to negative people and risky situations. Finally, keep your creative side active regardless of the career path you choose as the arts fill the soul with meaning.

    1. Not only a well known musician, but also one with great words of wisdom. Ironic, I thought of musical instruments as another Building Block example this morning, but I’d already published my post…thanks for adding the topic in your valuable comment.

  11. Hi Fritz!
    One of the key building blocks of my retirement has been building relationships. I spent many years focused on work and family while minimizing the importance of outside relationships. Since my retirement, I have built relationships with friends from high school, former co-workers and people I’ve met on cruises. Building those relationships has been a blessing. I set up a dinner in my home town with my friend Jeff who I hadn’t seen in over 40 years and two other friends I saw more frequently. At the end of the night Jeff told me “Thanks for setting this up. It’s funny that the rest of us live within 20 minutes of each other and the guy who lives 1,800 miles away brings us all together.” The older I get, the more I realize setting up these visits is worth every bit of the effort.

  12. Another great concept you’ve outlined Fritz for how to embrace and continue to grow in retirement. A major theme I get from this is experimentation. Try new things….see where it leads. Amanda and I are one month away from stepping onto the Camino route in Northern Spain to walk 500 miles west. It’s a pilgrimage and for me a way to reflect on my mom’s life after she passed last summer and reflect on what’s next. Somehow I am sure the journey will involve helping others. Experiencing other cultures and being a citizen of the world is a through line for me since I was in high school when I was fortunate to travel a month in Europe just after graduation. Later, living and working in China for 4 years. Building blocks as you say.

    Timely post. Thank you !

  13. Fritz:

    It will not come as a surprise to learn that many of us know you are a gifted writer, but this article touched me deeper than most. I am not sure why exactly, but I sense it is the picture of the dog houses and shelter.

    I just retired in January and we will be traveling this year. Trips planned in April. May, June, August and September-October. We actually started last year, when we traveled to Blue Ridge for Thanksgiving. (I emailed you and you responded but you were also traveling at the time…to your daughter’s I think.)

    My wife and I are Cat People, and this past year we have fostered a number of cats and kittens, assisting in finding them homes. We currently have a group of critters that eat on our back porch most nights, comprised of Cats, Opossums, Raccoons and the occasional Fox. We enjoy watching them on our Ring Camera.

    Once I “retire from the road,” I plan to get a dog. Not sure what kind yet, but he/she will come from the shelter we support, here in NC. It will come as a surprise to my big house cat, Buddy, but he will have to get use to it.

    Thanks again for sharing your gift of writing and the wisdom you have amassed over the years, about retirement and life.

  14. Loved the article with the building blocks metaphor. I retired two years ago and hubby retired this past Oct 1. Our retirement has been stressful as we have cared for very aged parents. My mother in law passed recently as we were making our way home from Hawaii. We are involved in settling her estate and selling her house. My 95 year old mom has recently moved to an independent living facility in Florida very close to our retirement home. We are in the process of selling that home too. This will mark the third home that we have emptied and sold in the past year! Wow what work. One of our retirement goals is to have end of life affairs in order, including the downsizing of our possessions, something all four of our parents failed to do. We just want things to be easier for our children. Pickleball has been a lifesaver for me and the husband as we tackle all these challenges. Good luck on the courts!

  15. I’ve followed your blog since your count down days. I saved your retirement check list. I took to heart your advice about the non financial aspects of retirement. I’ve been retired 4 weeks today! Thank you for your wise encouragement.
    Like many, I read about retirement and watched retirement you tubes. Now one month into retirement, several of these retirement bloggers seem much less relevant , but your thoughts remain important building blocks.
    I feel a bit like a “kid in a candy store”. I also quickly noticed that our involved in church and with our church family greatly enriches our daily lives. The continuity, purpose and blessings both spiritually and socially are game changers. I reread “Purpose Driven Life”, by Rick Warren with its subtitle “ what on Earth am I here for”. The importance of our spiritual lives may be the biggest key to successful retirement.

  16. Thank you!!!! Great read. I am just starting to connect my blocks to create something.

  17. I guess we have been pondering the same thing because I just put up a post about returning to childhood interests. It has made my retirement so much richer. It is fun to read your perspective on this topic.

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