It’s The Little Things

Retirement is a huge change in life.  Shocker, right? 

We’ve all read about, or experienced, the Big Things.  You know, that shift from Accumulation to Withdrawal of our assets.  The reality of life without an alarm clock. The enjoyable death of the commute.  The huge change to our daily routine.

Good things, all.  But sometimes, the biggest changes are the little things.  And, it seems we read a lot less about the little changes that retirement brings.  In fact, I hadn’t thought about it myself until a reader e-mail spurred the thought.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized “It’s The Little Things” that really add up in retirement.  

The seed was planted…and this post was born.

Today, at the request of the readers, I'm giving my thoughts on the little things that change in retirement.  They're little, but they're huge. Click To Tweet

It’s The Little Things

Today’s is the second in a series of “What’s On The Reader’s Mind” posts, based on feedback thousands of you sent me during a recent book giveaway contest.  The first in the series was “Lacking The Courage To Quit”.  I’ll continue to link these posts together so you can follow the trail of thoughts provided by the readers.

The credit for today’s post goes to Frank, who included the following in his e-mail response to the book giveaway contest:

A few ideas:  “The Little Things”, a collection of small life-things/differences you have noticed since retiring…

And, to Jason, one of the few readers who has read every single post I’ve written!  (Jason, Thank You again for your amazing loyalty to my passion project):

I quite enjoy your posts updating your personal journey since retiring with…new discoveries every few months…

Today, I’m combining both emails and will explore the “discovery” of “The Little Things”, and the big impact they make on life in retirement.

Thanks to all of the readers who filled my inbox with what’s on your mind.  I’m slowly working through the queue, with fewer than 1,000 unread emails left to go.  I’m getting there, but I’m intentionally taking my time and enjoying the process.

Which brings me to the first little thing…


It’s The Little Things…Like…

  • …being able to take my time working through my email inbox.

For the past three decades, my inbox has induced a certain level of stress in my life.  That urgent email from the boss that comes in shortly after you left the office (why did he always seem to do that?).  That project that just dropped into your inbox like an A-Bomb.  That crisis that just unfolded without the courtesy of a phone call. The inbox was always full of potential landmines, and never, ever, ever stopped.  E-Mail Zero?  Not a chance.

Now that I’m retired, it doesn’t matter as much.   Sure, I’ve always been diligent and have prided myself on being responsive.  But, I’m also aware that the urgency of the inbox is, in retirement, a figment of my own creation.  

I can decide that it’s no longer urgent, a luxury I’ve never had before.

That’s a little thing, but it’s huge.


  • … going to a vineyard on a weekday afternoon, just to listen to music with friends.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided to throw an impromptu invitation out to our Freedom For Fido volunteers to meet up at a local vineyard to listen to a very talented local musician, Adrian Stover, (you have GOT to click that link, here it is again, and listen to the first 60 seconds just to hear his voice – WOW!  It’s a clip from the actual “performance” we attended).   We discovered Adrian a few months ago, and hired him to sing at a fundraising event we’re hosting in May.  The guy’s voice is amazing and we like to support him as he’s starting his singing career. I suspect he has a future (You heard it here first.  You did hear it, right?  One last time.).

We met at 3 pm on a Friday, and 15 of our volunteers showed up on short notice.  Enjoying live music, with friends, on a Friday afternoon. 

Yeah, it’s a little thing, but it’s huge.


  • … being able to leave my phone unattended for hours at a time.

During our careers, most of us don’t have a choice when it comes to our cell phones.  They become appendages, and they’re impossible to leave behind.  Though I loved my role as a plant manager in my 40’s (my favorite role of my 33-year career), I dreaded the reality that my phone could ring any time during the day or night.  Even when it wouldn’t ring, it was always on my mind.  I deeply cared about the safety of the employees at the plant, and I always worried that I’d get a call in the middle of the night with a safety incident at the plant (thankfully, that never happened).

Retirement is an electronic amputation that severs the cellular appendage. That's a little thing, but it's huge. Click To Tweet

Retirement severs the cellular attachment.  It’s an amputation, of sorts. When I head to the gym for a few hours, or outside to putter on my various landscaping projects, the phone stays inside, alone.  If someone leaves a message, I can get to it when I have time to chat.  It can wait until I’m ready.

That’s a little thing, but it’s huge. 


  • waking up at 3:30 a.m., and being happy about it.

When I was writing my book, I discovered the joy of writing between the hours of 3:30 – 6:30 am.  The first time it happened, I had a thought about a point I was trying to make in the book and couldn’t get it out of my head.  I decided to get up and start writing, even though the sunrise was 3+ hours away.  I did some of the best writing in the entire book that first morning and learned to embrace those early morning hours.  I don’t plan on those early mornings, but I’ve learned to love them when they happen. 

I discovered a beautiful reality that first early morning a few months ago.  A little thing, really.  The reality is this:  It doesn’t matter when I get up, or when I go to bed.  If I feel like getting up at 3:30 am, I’ll get up.  If I feel like sleeping in, I’ll sleep in.  If I feel like taking a nap, I’ll take a nap.  The true definition of Time Freedom.

Time takes on an entirely new perspective when you’re retired. 

That’s a little thing, but it’s huge.


  • … stopping to talk to a neighbor.

Many days, when I’m taking the long way home from the gym, I happen to pass by Jack walking on our gravel road.  Jack takes his daily 2-mile walk at the same time I’m heading home, and we often run into each other on our peaceful gravel road.  No longer in a hurry, I’m free to pull over, roll down the window, and chat with my friendly neighbor.  He worked at Disney for 30 years, and he’s an interesting guy.  I’ve learned to enjoy our chats while parked alongside our gravel road.  

Taking time to talk with new friends.  

That’s a little thing, but it’s huge.


  • ... deciding how much structure I want in my life.

When I was working, my life was filled with structure.  Up at 5:30 am, out the door by 6:15, at my desk by 7:15.  Conference calls, staff meetings, quarterly reviews, monthly reports, presentations, e-mails, and phone calls.  Grab a quick jog at lunch, then back on that Corporate Treadmill until 5:00 pm, when I’d slog through that dreadful traffic for 90 minutes down I-75 through the heart of Atlanta, East on I-20, and down the winding side roads to our suburban home in the countryside outside the city, only to repeat it all again the next day.  And the next.  And the next.

For the first 4 months of retirement, I intentionally decided to keep my days 100% unstructured. Serendipity reigned.  In time, I learned that a bit of structure is good for the soul, so I established a morning gym routine 5 days a week.  After a few hours of structured classes at the gym, I keep the remainder of my day open for whatever appeals.  An afternoon movie?  A lunch date with my wife?  Wetting a fishing line? A few hours writing on my blog?  The Freedom to do whatever I want to do, with just enough structure to start the day and make me feel productive.  The amount of structure is now a decision I can make, and I can change it anytime I feel like it.

That’s a little thing, but it’s huge.


  • … building a doghouse.

I’ve always wanted to play around with woodworking but never had the time.  Now that I’m retired, I’m enjoying the challenge of tackling some projects, starting with customizing an enclosed trailer. Lately, I’ve been working with a great woodworker, Tim, who volunteers his time building amazing doghouses for my wife’s charity, Freedom For Fido.  He and I have decided to do a step-by-step YouTube video, along with a complete set of blueprints, to be able to send to other volunteers who have expressed an interest in building doghouses for us.  It’s been an enjoyable project, and I’ll plan on sharing the video with you when we complete it in the coming weeks. 

Working with wood. 

That’s a little thing, but it’s huge.


  • … reading in bed.

When I was working, I was shot by the time I hit the bed.  Even if I had the desire to read for a while before calling it a night, my body wouldn’t have gone along with that plan.  My wife got into the habit of reading for 30 minutes in bed when I was traveling, and she really enjoyed it.  We decided to try it together shortly after I retired, and it’s become one of our favorite times of the day. 

Taking 30 minutes to relax and get absorbed in a good book is a great way to end the day, and it’s a luxury I never had until retirement.  It calms the mind, and sleep comes easy when finishing the day with 30 minutes in a book. In 2019, I read 5,540 pages while completing 14 books.  How do I know?  Because I’ve discovered Goodreads, and enjoy logging the books I’m reading and seeing the year-end summary of what I’ve accomplished.  Reading is a pleasure, but it’s best enjoyed when you have the time.

That’s a little thing, but it’s huge.


I could go on with many other examples of “The Little Things” that change in retirement.  Things like…

  • Fishing alone in the fog on a trout river on an early weekday morning.
  • Weekday camping (avoiding the weekend crowds).
  • Weekday mountain biking, hiking and dinner dates.
  • Being home for the service appointments.
  • Freedom to travel on our schedule.
  • Walking the dogs in our woods.
  • Taking my time on landscaping projects.
  •  Enjoying our charming downtown on weekdays, without the out-of-town weekend mob.
  • Writing on my blog whenever it suits me.
  • And on.  And on. And on….

They’re all little things, but they’re huge.


Conclusion

In retirement, the little things add up.  Cumulatively, they become a big thing.

The reality is the Time Freedom that comes with retirement changes everything.  We seem to focus on the big things, but it really is the little things that you notice most on a day-to-day basis.  You quickly discover the joy that comes with being able to live your life against the flow dictated by the working world’s schedule. 

Working folks have the weekends off, so that's when they do the good stuff in life. Retired folks have every day off, so we live against the flow. Click To Tweet

Living against the flow.

That’s a little thing.

But it’s huge.


Your Turn:  If you’re retired, what little things have you noticed that make your life better?  Let’s chat…

39 comments

  1. Aha, so that’s how you wrote a book so fast. You did it when everyone else was sleeping. Pro move.

    I also find myself very productive in the early morning (as I write this at 5:15 a.m.). I do most of my graphic designs in the early morning though, and find my brain is better suited for writing later in the day.

    I’ll add one “little thing” for me since I semi-retired – I sometimes let people behind me in the line at the store go in front of me. I figure that I’m not in a hurry as much as they are, or at least I shouldn’t be. Patience is a tough skill to learn but I’m working on it.

  2. Great article, Fritz! I’ve been meaning to email you, but now that I know you’ve forgotten how to prioritize them (just kidding … but that’s not the Fritz I used to work with), I’ll tell you here. We’ve done it! June 30th will be my last day. Freedom begins on July 1st! YOU – and your blog – played a big role in us being prepared to take the leap of faith. Thanks for that. We look forward to enjoying all of the big AND little things! Best wishes.

    1. “YOU – and your blog – played a big role in us being prepared to take the leap of faith.”

      Best words I’ve heard today, Bob. I’m pleased to hear you’ve drawn your Starting Line in the sand, and I’m proud to have played a small role in it. Congratulations!!

  3. Great read as always, I think “Time” would be my #1 “little thing.” When I worked I always scheduled my days and activities filling my time with things that had to get done. In retirement I get to schedule the things I want to do, enjoy doing and set aside the time to do them the way I want to and can enjoy them to the maximum. If it’s building something for my kids or grands, hiking a long trail, taking a trip with my wife, volunteering for groups I want to support, learning to play the guitar, or meeting friends for an afternoon lunch or a movie. Now into my 5th year of retirement, it has taken time to get here, it’s been a struggle at times, but I finally made it and it’s fantastic!!

  4. When I was working 2 jobs, I had only enough time for most of the “ have to” extras. Now I have time to examine the “ want to” and test them out to see if I really do “ want to”. Some I’ve tried for a year and decided,” nope, seemed like a good idea but not worth the emotional investment.” Some have become passion projects.
    I also delight in the freedom to make a routine dental appointment at 10:30 in the morning to avoid Austin commuter traffic. That pleases me way more than it should.

  5. Could not agree more.
    We can sit on the deck and enjoy the trees and the mountains whenever we choose for as long as we want!
    No more alarm clock.
    No more traffic.
    No more mosquitoes.
    No more humidity.
    Etc. 😎

    Another every post reader. Keep up the good “work”. LOL

    1. Wait! Wait! Wait! – Did you sneak in the “every post reader” bit? Just realized I missed that. WOW – you’re only the fourth person on earth I’ve ever heard of who has read every post. THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I’m truly blown away that someone would spend that amount of time reading my work. Honored beyond words. Did I mention, thank you?

  6. It really is the little things. Having the freedom to choose how to spend the precious hours of the day. Dave retired Feb 13 and he’s in that “unstructured” day phase. He’s playing pickleball twice a week, going on long photo shoots to capture nature as it wakes up from the winter, spending quiet afternoons at a coffee shop…and whatever else strikes him. It’s great to see how much more relaxed he is now. Thanks for sharing all the little things that make up your “big” new life.

  7. “Up at 5:30 am, out the door by 6:15, at my desk by 7:15. Conference calls, staff meetings, quarterly reviews, monthly reports, presentations, e-mails, and phone calls. “

    Ah, memories. A great reminder of what I am missing – and how little I miss it.

    I am looking forward to losing the phone. Right now, house is on market and the phone is attached. Once we sell, not so much….

  8. I can’t wait till retirement. What’s so awesome is that most of the things I enjoy and like you enjoy…are free. Hikes, walks, coffee on the patio, learning from You Tube videos, reading at my leisure, etc. It’s the freedom of time that I can’t wait for.
    thanks for the article

  9. i never realized you were a plant manager, fritz. it’s good to see another manufacturing person do well and disprove the fact that we can be one dimensional. that’s a nice dog house you’ve constructed there and a good looking dog too. reading your brief list i feel halfway retired already even though i work my 40 and not a minute more these days. i read in bed almost every night before sleep. i have no cell phone. i seem to have time to take it slow so i’ll keep working unless something changes and life gets less cushy.

  10. Yet another outstanding post Fritz…It truly is all about “The Little Things”. Though I am unfortunately still a few years away from joining you in retirement, the points are still very relevant. We should ALL spend just a little more time contemplating the importance of, and focusing on, the little things that mean the most in our lives. Thank you very much for the shoutout too, flattered what I said in my email meant enough for you to include among your topics. And also thanks for the link to check out Adrian….As someone who did a little singing in bands years ago, I love hearing someone with great pipes. His voice has a ton of grit and soul, I am as impressed as you my fiend! Be well and can’t wait for your next post!!

  11. Great read! I love thinking about all the little things (and big things) that I will have time to do once I retire. It is easy to visualize myself doing those things, but the part I am having trouble with is internalizing what it will “feel” like in retirement. Will going on a road trip in retirement feel different than taking a few weeks of my vacation time and going on a road trip? Will serving dinner at the local homeless shelter feel any different in retirement than it does when serving there now? Will mountain bike riding my favorite trail feel any different in retirement than it does in the evening after work now? I can see there will be less stress and less time constraints making it easier to do more of those little things. Just wondering and trying to get a grasp on how that feels? I don’t read much about that in any of the blogs. Your thoughts? Feelings?

    1. David, your comment really resonated with me, I can so relate to that curiousity of what it will “feel” like in retirement. In fact, I made a pretty big point of that in my book, I hope you like the metaphor I came up to explain it, it’s one of my favorite parts of the book. It was one of the things I was most curious about in my final years of work, and it’s impossible to explain. I hope I got close, but you’ll have to wait to see the book to judge for yourself! Oh…what a tease….

  12. What an awesome take on the little things Fritz!

    My wife and I couldn’t agree more. In contrast, Stephen Covey wrote a whole book about not sweating the small stuff. That made more sense back when we were working. Now that we achieved complete freedom of time, we’ve grown to appreciate the simple pleasures. Like getting together with friends in the middle of the week or going for a drive – just because. That being said, we sometimes find ourselves getting caught up in our blogging and are busier than ever.

    1. Busier than ever? Man, I can relate to that comment. I’m juggling quite a few balls at the moment, thinking I may just let a few drop. Cuz, you know, I can! I suspect things will slow a bit when I get this book behind me, the marketing effort is set to ramp up in the coming weeks, gotta drop a few balls to make some room. Hmmm, if I miss a week of blogging along the way, you’ll know why. Wink.

      It’s all good. Retirement Rocks. Even the little things are better when you’re not working….

  13. I’m still a few years away from retiring. I’m with you on everything except the part about getting up at 3:30. I love every part of my job except having to get up at 4:00 every morning. I’m promising myself that, after I retire, I’ll never wake up before 7 again!

    I enjoy the blog!

    1. Tony, we kindred spirits. I got up at 5:30 every morning for work, and hated it. I swore I’d never get up early again. Didn’t set an alarm for the first four months of retirement, slept til 7:15ish every day. Then, month five hit, and things started to change. Fascinating transition. Never say never…I now love my early mornings. Beat my record today with a 2:00 am wake up, and I’ve not taken a nap since. Man, feeling energized today!! Suspect I’ll bonk when we settle down to watch the news tonight….

  14. I read your blogs daily. Work in banking and finance for last 40 years and retiring on 9 October this year which means the date of my first day of retirement will be 10102020!!! I an very comfortable about this decision but everyone who knows me well know that I get bored easily. I have a bulletproof financial plan in place and want to focus on remaining healthy and happy. I really want to give back to people and society as much of me as I can cos life has been very kind to me overall. Important to recognise and appreciate that life is a finite item so value and use it accordingly.

    1. B – it’s good that you recognize your tendency to get bored easily (I have a section in my book written specifically for folks like you!). You’re doing the right thing by thinking now about what you want your retirement to be, 101020 will be here before you know it, and taking the time to think about your post-work life is the most important thing you can be doing at this stage in the journey. Best of luck as you cross The Starting Line!

  15. One former plant manager to another. That’s not my circus and those aren’t my monkeys anymore. Somebody else’s problems. That fear of the phone call, it chills me still. Like my friend Freddy I didn’t realize that you and I shared the PM role. My plant processed hydrocarbons, so we had a fire or two from time to time. Sometimes worse. Those calls were the worst. Fear for my friends, people I was responsible for. It is hard to describe, maybe impossible.

    1. Interesting that the chill of the potential phone call is such a vivid memory for those of us who once ran plants, I suspect it’s common among most of us. You did hydrocarbons, I dealt with molten aluminum. Both dangerous environments. I’m thankful we both got through our roles without any serious incidents.

  16. Thanks Fritz for reminding us that the old adage “stop and smell the roses” certainly applies to retirement. I find myself taking my time and not rushing. No need. Quality time for all those I love, know, and even that stranger I may encounter in the grocery aisle. No more stress from managing cancer centers and like you being the center of attention as a leader. Important work it was, however, we now need to be a tad bit selfish and enjoy some “me time”!

  17. I’ve visited many personal finance/retire early blogs over the years. Periodically I remove the subpar ones from my favorites list. Your blog has been one of my favorites for quite awhile. Inspirational writing that withstands purge after purge. Well done.

    I’ll be retired in a few weeks. People ask me to explain what it will be like. They ask prematurely as I am not yet retired. It doesn’t stop me from trying to answer them prematurely. I can easily tic off a few big things, but I’ve struggled to articulate that it is all the smaller stuff that is huge. I’ll be more articulate now that you’ve laid it out so much better.

    1. Fred, there’s nothing better than knowing i’ve withstood purge after purge. Good for you for being selective, and I’m honored that I’ve made the cut thus far. I’ll always strive to be worthy. #AvoidThePurge

      Ironic that you mention “what will it be like”, my favorite section in my upcoming book tries to answer exactly that question. It’s SO much more than “every day is a Saturday”. I hope you enjoy that section…book coming soon!

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