Retirement Is a Time to Downsize—and Not Just Stuff
Kanebridge News
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Retirement Is a Time to Downsize—and Not Just Stuff

On the one hand, we’re systematically labeling which things to get rid of, and when. But we’re also downsizing our ambitions.

By KAREN KREIDER YODER
Thu, Oct 12, 2023 8:04amGrey Clock 5 min

The first year in retirement is often the most difficult. But it also can set the stage for how you’ll fill the years ahead—both financially and psychologically. Stephen Kreider Yoder, a longtime Wall Street Journal editor, joined his wife, Karen Kreider Yoder, in retirement a year ago. In this monthly Retirement Rookies column, the 66-year-olds chronicle some of the issues they are dealing with early in retirement.

Karen

In the kitchen, I look up at my woven companions—16 baskets atop the cabinets. They’re from a dozen countries, and they radiate warm memories.

But wait, do I need so many baskets? And 40 more are around the house, many as decorations or stored in closets.

I’m trying to get rid of stuff methodically early in retirement, and it’s beginning to feel like a steady job. There’s no urgency. But when the time comes for a smaller place, I want to be ready. That time could come any time.

I want to winnow our possessions before there’s a health crisis or moving van at the door, while I can do the hard work of organizing and categorizing, of identifying what I need long-term, what to disperse and what to pitch.

It’s partly psychological. As I age, I find I have less room in my head to keep track of things. And the sheer numbers of some possessions create a growing mental tension.

We were ahead of the game when we retired. We moved a dozen times in 44 years, each time purging a bit. Helping our parents downsize inspired us often to do a sweep of our own when we got home.

Now that we’re both retired, I’ve created some downsizing categories to keep me from being overwhelmed:

• Don’t use it, don’t need it. Old electronics and orphaned cords. Knickknacks without sentimental value. My 20 thimbles from around the world, only one of which I ever use. The 150 beautifully sharpened No. 2 pencils in a row of blue-and-white ceramic pots, one labeled “Pencil Collectors Society.”

I’ll use perhaps a dozen pencils the rest of my life. The others can be off to Goodwill now, along with everything else in this category.

• Things we use now but won’t in a smaller space. Some of the guest-room furniture, extra chairs, large house plants, the piano, a rusty wheelbarrow. We should do an inventory now and label what we’ll ditch when we move.

• Stuff only I can handle. My childhood report cards, recital programs, work accomplishments, letters and such are a priority for thinning out now. Nobody else can make sense of them, but it can feel like throwing away bits of myself.

“But Mom, you have to save all of that,” says our son Isaac. “It’s like your personal legacy.” Maybe I’ll keep more than I intended, for our boys to root through as a window into my youth. (But, I wonder, will they really care about those report cards?) At least, though, I should organise it.

• Family heirlooms and mementos. These, too, are hard to part with, imbued with family history and shared memories.

We aren’t antiquers, but we do have a few elegant old Japanese tansu cabinets the kids grew up with. And I have about 25 quilts, some I made starting at age 7, and many from family and friends. They are works of art and full of memories but too many to fit in a condo.

The boys say they want some but are still too mobile, so at least I should make a plan for who gets what.

• Things I want by my side through older years. Family photos. My Japanese pottery. Journals from our travels. My quilt frame.

And baskets. I have always cherished handmade baskets. My first is from South Dakota, where at 16 I learned willow-basket making from two local weavers. I can’t part with it.

When our son Levi is home, we eat sticky rice with our fingers out of little lidded Laotian rice baskets, recalling Laos when he was age 2 and clutched his sticky-rice basket as we bicycled around Luang Prabang.

In our guest-room closet is a Japanese backpack basket—a gift from a student’s family—whose weaver was a Japanese National Treasure. In my reading room is a basket we bought in a Philippines market in 1987, not knowing it was for a baby until locals pointed and laughed knowingly. It became a bassinet to our three babies, and it’s a treasure.

Five dozen baskets is too many now. How many is just enough?

Steve

A classical guitar in its case stares at me from a corner of the bedroom. “Play me,” it taunts, and I look the other way.

Maybe it’s time I got rid of my lonely 1972 Alvarez Yairi as part of our gradual downsizing.

A tougher thought: I should probably also downsize my pipe dream of someday playing a guitar even moderately well, along with dozens of other unrequited ambitions I’ve clung to for decades. And I’ve got a few erstwhile passions I might best surrender now as well.

Karen talks of ditching stuff, and I’ve got plenty of boxfuls to sacrifice—textbooks, decrepit power tools, hardware that definitely might come in handy some time.

I also should release one or both of my vintage Honda motorcycles, which I’m sentimentally attached to but haven’t ridden in ages.

But for me, downsizing is more than getting rid of stuff. It’s about getting rid of conceptions of myself—of who I was, who I am and who I want to be.

That is, I should sell my motorcycles not just because they take space, but also because I think I’ve permanently moved on from motorcycling, my passion for decades starting at age 12.

Same with my skis and skiing.

Retirement has had a way of giving me permission to begin letting go—of my professional identity, my urge to do financial planning without help, the delusion that I’ll be fit forever. That permission makes it a good time for some wanna-do triage.

There are things I still intend to get to, now that I have more time. I want to weld better, brush up my Spanish, improve my swimming, study more history and learn to drive an 18-wheeler. There are activities we’re already stepping up, like traveling more in Africa, cycling around America, visiting family and seeking long-term volunteering opportunities that match our skills.

But finding time for all of it requires that I liberate other I-will-get-to-its that are increasingly a mental burden. I will probably never learn Arabic and should forgive myself of that, and French. I can get rid of the beer-brewing equipment I bought when I was 23 and discharge the notion that I’ll ever learn to use it.

I will probably never write a book; may I free myself from that weight? I hereby declare I can die happy enough without visiting Machu Picchu, the Galápagos or Rome as I’d once hoped to do. There are plenty of other places we want to go, and not time for everywhere.

Our house is a standing to-do list of fun projects I’ve put off and may never get to—or shouldn’t, lest I fall off a ladder and meet an untimely demise. Let’s just release some of those projects, too.

When I bought the Alvarez in 1981, my guitar teacher said I had talent. His kind words kindled my decades-long conviction that I would learn to play it well, eventually. We moved to Japan the next year, and I took along the guitar but didn’t find a teacher—temporarily, I told myself.

The guitar moved with us many times until 2012, when Karen bought me lessons with a fabulous teacher for my birthday and I began learning again. I did pretty well, even playing in a few modest recitals. But I dropped it—temporarily, I said—when we moved out of town for a year.

Now there it sits. It’s time to set it free.

Or is it? I finally have the bandwidth. I just opened the case, and only one string is broken, a good omen. Maybe this time I really can learn to play it.



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The Top 10 highest paid CEOs of the ASX 200 revealed

Along with pay rates, the latest report from the ACSI shows bonuses are no longer based on exceptional results

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The CEOs of the ASX 200 were paid a little less in FY23 compared to the year before, but bonuses appear to have become the norm rather than a reward for outstanding results, according to the Australia Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI). ACSI has released its 23rd annual report documenting the CEOs’ realised pay, which combines base salaries, bonuses and other incentives.

The highest-paid CEO among Australian-domiciled ASX 200 companies in FY23 was Greg Goodman of Goodman Group, with realised pay of $27.34 million. Goodman Group is the ASX 200’s largest real estate investment trust (REIT) with a global portfolio of $80.5 billion in assets. The highest-paid CEO among foreign-domiciled ASX 200 companies was Mick Farrell of ResMed with realised pay of $47.58 million. ResMed manufactures CPAP machines to treat sleep apnoea.

The realised pay for the CEOs of the largest 100 companies by market capitalisation fell marginally from a median of $3.93 million in FY22 to $3.87 million in FY23. This is the lowest median in the 10 years since ACSI began basing its report on realised pay data. The median realised pay for the CEOs of the next largest 100 companies also fell from $2.1million to $1.95 million.

However, 192 of the ASX 200 CEOs took home a bonus, and Ed John, ACSI’s executive manager of stewardship, is concerned that bonuses are becoming “a given”.

“At a time when companies are focused on productivity and performance, it is critical that bonuses are only paid for exceptional outcomes,” Mr John said. He added that boards should set performance thresholds for CEO bonuses at appropriate levels.

ACSI said the slightly lower median realised pay of ASX 200 CEOs indicated greater scrutiny from shareholders was having an impact. There was a record 41 strike votes against executive pay at ASX 300 annual general meetings (AGMs) in 2023. This indicated an increasing number of shareholders were feeling unhappy with the executive pay levels at the companies in which they were invested.

A strike vote means 25 percent or more of shareholders voted against a company’s remuneration report. If a second strike vote is recorded at the next AGM, shareholders can vote to force the directors to stand for re-election.

10 highest-paid ASX 200 CEOs in FY23

1. Mick Farrell, ResMed, $47.58 million*
2. Robert Thomson, News Corporation, $41.53 million*
3. Greg Goodman, Goodman Group, $27.34 million
4. Shemara Wikramanayake, Macquarie Group, $25.32 million
5. Mike Henry, BHP Group, $19.68 million
6. Matt Comyn, Commonwealth Bank, $10.52 million
7. Jakob Stausholm, Rio Tinto, $10.47 million
8. Rob Scott, Wesfarmers, $9.57 million
9. Ron Delia, Amcor, $9.33 million*
10. Colin Goldschmidt, Sonic Healthcare, $8.35 million

Source: ACSI. Foreign-domiciled ASX 200 companies*

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