Reader question… “I’d love your thoughts on ‘staying home.’ Not as a stay at home mom, but just in general. Allow me to expand on this. I am a 72-year old woman, widowed, retired and living alone with 2 cats and a dog in a 120+ year old house on 1/4 acre located at the edge of a medium size NE town. My area consists of older, well kept, residential properties: mix of single-family homes, duplexes, and a small apartment complex. My house is a two-story single family and as I described, rather isolated with a meadow/small wooded areas to my east, behind my back yard, and across the street. I have one neighbor immediately west of me and a few houses on a dead-end street west of my neighbors. In a word, I’m relatively isolated. There is essentially no interaction among people on my street except occasionally with my next door neighbors when they are in the yard. This means I need to get in my car and head out somewhere to find connection and activities, even as these events are very short term and temporary. Finally this brings me to my point. I love my home and mini 1/4 acre homestead. I have created multiple raised bed gardens in the back and side yards and this past summer I completed the framework for a 12′ x 20′ hoop house in the back yard (not yet covered). There is plenty for me to do here and I love working in my gardens and putzing about the house. But there are days that I think I’ll go absolutely crazy if I don’t ‘go somewhere.’ I have places within a 25-mile radius (mostly the Boston south shore area) that we frequented before I was widowed and that I traveled to daily while I was working. But today, there is really nothing that compels me to drive up to the south shore and with gas close to $4.00/gal, there is a cost that is significant for me. But on ‘those’ days that I need to go somewhere… anywhere, I actually suffer when electing to stay home because there’s no real reason to ‘go’. At these times I feel like I’m under house arrest. As the old WW1 song asks, ‘how are you going to keep them down on the farm’…? I know this is an issue of lack of companionship and connection, but I also know that there are people who are very content and at peace with themselves wherever they are. How does one become one of these people? What’s the secret of living simply… and alone? Thank you for your thoughts if you elect to take a crack at this issue. (And I’ll understand if you don’t.) Before closing, let me tell you that I just came across your website this morning and I love it. I’ve been very content roaming through your archives… but I have the darnedest urge to drive up to the south shore, maybe hit a bookstore, get a salad at Milton Market (greatest salad bar I’ve ever seen) and do… something, anything to get away from this house.” –Susan B.


Musk-mallow (Malva moschata)

I’m not sure that I completely agree with the premise of your question… that some people are always content and at peace with themselves wherever they are. I agree that some people will always be happier than other people despite their circumstances or surroundings, but I think circumstances and surroundings (and other people) do play a big part in the level of contentment and happiness someone feels. Even a person with a strong sense of inner peace… someone who knows who they are and what their priorities are… may be relatively content in one situation, but would be much happier in another.

An example… in the early years of our marriage, my husband and I lived in a smallish city. Our apartment was on the fourth floor of a commercial building in an area that was filled with other commercial buildings, businesses, and apartments. We were surrounded by concrete, traffic, and noise. I was happy… our life was good… but I found out during those months just how much I NEEDED everyday quiet contact with nature and things that were green, growing, and ALIVE. I am happier, more contented, more serene, and more at peace with myself and my life NOW because I have been able to match my circumstances and surroundings to who I am as a person.

I can tell that you love your home and the lifestyle you have created, and although your present lack of companionship and contact with other people IS an issue, I think it is an issue that will eventually work itself out. For now I think you should give yourself permission to “get away” if and when you need to. You have experienced a lot of recent upheavals in your life, and I think it would be very unusual if you did not occasionally feel the need to revisit the activities and places that used to be such a big part of your days… your short trips away also give you the companionship and connections you presently don’t have nearer home.

Realistically, life is always a work in progress. The ideal lifestyle, I think, “happens” when someone can live the combination of compromises that is their best fit.

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Comments

Barbara Schanel

This is great advice. I have a similar problem to Susan in that although I have my family with me on my little homestead, I am a more social person than they are. For a long time I’ve bowed to their desire to not go anywhere, but recently I’ve stood my ground and started visiting friends and going places on my own. It has made a big difference in my contentment level and I highly recommend it.

d

My suggestion to her is to speak to the minister at her local place of worship, and see if he knows of anyone who has recently lost a partner, and who has similar interests to her (growing her vegetables and working in her garden). Perhaps, after meeting (and finding that she has an affinity) with them, she could offer them a spot in her garden to “do their own thing”, thereby encouraging their visiting her house, or she could offer them some, possibly, lifesaving companionship through offering them a spot in her home. Who knows, perhaps the recent death of their spouse has meant that they are at risk of losing their “home” and they don’t know what the future holds for them…

But it would all depend on how “alone” she feels, and whether this could work for her?

Bruce

I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate the measured way you approach problems. So much advice nowadays is judgmental or black and white. You always are so reasonable and sensible in your advice. You have helped me so many times and given me more inspiration than I can ever thank you for.

Margaret T.

I was in a similar situation a few years ago after I became a widow. I lived alone in a house I loved but I was so lonely I could barely stand it. Well meaning relatives suggested I take in a boarder or otherwise bring people into my home but that just is not something I would be comfortable with. Some people could – I can’t. I eventually worked it out and built a new life for myself. That is when I realized how big an influence routine can have. I had always done certain things and it felt wrong not to be doing them. In time I built new habits and routines. I agree that Susan’s life will feel different in time too.

Jarod

Shirley, you are a very wise and compassionate lady. Great advice as usual and I do very much appreciate the inspiration your blog has and continues to give me.

Wendy

I can completely relate to Susan. While I am younger, I have been a widow for 19 years. I live in a big metro area and still go to work. But I can still get lonely. So I do/go and find out I’d rather be home with my dogs and parrot.

Susan, if you have a hankering for the best salad bar ever, go and enjoy it. You’ll be happier in the long run at home if you give yourself permission to leave ;)

Shell

The internet is a great place to meet friends, if you are very careful and get to know the people well before meeting. Also, a great place to talk to someone. You can get your people fix by using SKYPE. I have met some very interesting people this way. I can certainly understand you being lonely. Too much quiet can sometimes be too much of a good thing. Another thing you could do is volunteer, once or twice a week. Soup kitchens, churches can always use another pair of hands or another voice. We have a hospital here that uses volunteers to come in and hold and rock the newborns.

Ann

Susan, you have wonderful interests and skills to share. Teach a class on constructing raised beds, join a local gardening group, get involved with your local extension service, contact the PTA and find out if a local school is putting in educational gardens that you might help with, keep bees for the benefit of your plants and join the local beekeepers association, become a Master Gardener through whatever organization in your area offers that program. These are all your-own-personal-interest-based ways of exploring possible friendships on an informal basis, and sharing what you are passionate about with others that have the same love of gardening.

dmarie

I have two older lady neighbors. They’ve been in this neighborhood for decades. So, as the new girl (in my 30s), I haven’t been able to come up with a way to “break the ice.” I would be happy for them to come over some time to share a meal or go to their homes to watch tv or something, but the difficult thing is getting over the hump of a new relationship and making it a priority. Anyway, I was wondering if you had any advice for me? I would hate for my next door neighbors to feel isolated when I’m willing and happy to spend time with them.

Jean

I just came upon your blog today; and being near retirement age, the title of this article drew me to read it. Susan’s letter interested me because I too live on the SS and I was thinking that she must have some great knowledge on gardening and wondering if she would share with others. This would bring people to her (and then they would leave and she would still have her contentment). I would love to learn to create a prosperous vegetable garden to help be a little better at being self-sustainng.
In my retirement, I will be lucky enough to have my children and grandchild right next door.