How will you spend your time after retiring?

Early retirement to-do lists: what’s on yours?

If you want to retire, early or not, I bet you’ve made a list of the stuff you’d rather be doing than working. All the life experiences you’ve never had time for: the goals, dreams, etc. you’ve had to put on hold, that you’ll finally be able to get to when you pop the chute.

The items in your list are likely to fall into five main categories: family, recreation, exploration, personal development, and altruism. You might want to visit your sister in Wyoming, take up sea kayaking, see Spain, go back to college, volunteer with kids, and so on. It’s great to imagine this stuff. Highly motivational.

But you need to know that:

After you retire, the best experiences you’ll have will be the ones you hope will never happen.



I have my old to-do list around here somewhere. I called it my Fun List. The second item on it was that I wanted to crash my car through a big steel gate. Still haven’t had the occasion to, but dammit, someday…

The first item, though, was more peaceful: gardening. Back in the day I’d sit in my office during slack times and sketch out my ideal garden, right down to the number of inches I’d allow to each asparagus crown.


I was burned out and badly needed the mental vacation, but I was also soothing myself by indulging in some of my happiest childhood memories: gardening with my maternal grandfather.

Although…I guess “gardening” isn’t the right word for what he was doing.

Grandaddy and Granny grew up during the Depression—he in the north Alabama flatland farm country, she in a dying south Georgia cotton town. They were broker than boll weevils, which is why the word “gardening” isn’t right. What they were doing was “surviving.”

Wanna eat? Ya’ll better grow food!

Consequently, Grandaddy always regarded gardening as a privilege and responsibility rather than a pleasant pastime. Harnessing the mules and plowing what few acres you had was what a man did for his family: an acceptance and even celebration of his place in the world.

I’m sure if I put that to him in those words he’d look at me like I was crazy, but I always admired his character, and I still do..

I also admire that Grandaddy and Granny went to great lengths to conserve money…making clothes, walking instead of driving, swapping work with neighbors, going to bed at sunset to keep the electric bill down…and yet they always tithed and always made room at their dinner table for those who were less fortunate.

That ethic helps keep me on track to this day.


OK…back to fun-lists.

I hoped gardening would cure my burnout. And after I retired I did keep a garden, and I did enjoy it, and it did cure my burnout.

Presently, however, I learned what Grandaddy and Granny had learned: be ready, because great big shitty BAD TIMES will crash your gate.

And trust me: retiring early will help you survive them.


After I early-retired, I:

-Had time to drive across the country to help my friend’s family shut down his business after he shot himself.

-Had time to pack up and sell our cabin in the sticks and move to a nearby mid-sized city so we could get our daughter the schooling that better suited her needs.

-Had time to help an old mentor keep busy/engaged on a project after he started losing himself to Alzheimer’s.

-Had time to keep my mother company while she was pretending to be brave for my father during his heart surgery.


That last thing; Pop’s surgery.

Pop’s actually had a couple of serious surgeries—one for heart trouble, one for prostate cancer. Obviously events you hope will never happen.

Both times I’ve dropped what I was doing and driven the three hours to where my parents live and waited with Mom while Pop was in the OR with blades in his chest, and she was terrified he’d never wake up again.

And among the most meaningful moments of my life have been twice watching Pop get rolled into the recovery room where Mom was waiting; seeing the warm radiant loving heartwrenching smiles on their faces; watching them rub noses and hold each other.

Aw, shit…getting tears in my eyes just thinking about it. I was AWED to witness two human beings share such an intense love…and they were my parents, to boot.


I couldn’t have experienced that if I hadn’t been there, and I couldn’t have been there if I hadn’t retired so young. And check it out: before I finally walked away from my job, and career, all I wanted to do was keep a garden.

How short-sighted was THAT?


But I guess you can be a gardener of people, too, including yourself…so here’s your takeaway. You MUST put this item on your post-retirement list: “When great big shitty BAD TIMES crash the gates of the people I love, I’ll be there.”

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit or email

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