Musings about early retirement with no fixed address

Wax On Wax Off

A few weeks ago, The Karate Kid marked its 35 year anniversary. To celebrate, the studio decided to have a special re-release in select movie theaters nationwide. Considering that it’s quite possibly Katie’s favorite movie of all time, we decided to break our multi-year theater fast and head to the cinema two towns over. Knowing that this would be a popular event, we purchased advanced tickets for a Sunday matinee.  

Apparently theaters have come a long way since I last visited. This one had reclining leather seats with wide armrests that were super comfortable, which contributed to a great movie experience. I asked around and apparently this is pretty common now.  I have to say, it sure beats the crowd-as-many-people-into-the-row-as-possible experience that I remember. Except that it wouldn’t have mattered too much this time, since there were less than 10 other people in the theater with us. It turns out I may have just slightly overestimated the demand when I set the reminder to purchase tickets the first day they went on sale 6 weeks ahead of time. Their loss!

It all starts with balance

Since this was an anniversary release, it involved a unique opening sequence. In a refreshing change, there weren’t commercials or previews except for the new Cobra Kai series. Instead the intro had a retrospective interview with Ralph Macchio about his favorite scenes from the movie. He spoke most fondly about the scene with Pat Morita where Mr. Miyagi simply started to attack Daniel, making him defend using all of the techniques he had been learning unknowingly.

If you haven’t seen The Karate Kid in a while, Mr. Miyagi promises to teach Daniel karate, and Daniel promises to follow his instructions without question. But instead of learning how to punch or kick, Daniel finds himself washing and waxing cars, painting fences, and sanding decks. Just when he’s about to give up on this raw deal he’s been getting, Mr. Miyagi pulls back the curtain and reveals that Daniel has been learning karate all along. The look on his face when it clicks is awesome, since he finally understands there was a method to the old sensei’s madness.

Black belt in training

I was fully expecting my early retirement to work in a similar manner at some point. I had decided on my quit date about 6 months ahead of time. I gave my boss 7 weeks notice. I trained my replacement for multiple weeks. At some point during this time, I expected to notice a change. But despite knowing that I was about to enter upon a major life upheaval, I didn’t feel anything but tired. I have been writing about it and, for the first time, talking openly about it with others. But it was still very surreal. It wasn’t until my very last day at work that it started to feel a little exciting. For way too long, many of my friends and coworkers were more stoked about this than I was. And it seemed really strange. I had been working towards this for so long, how could I not be more excited about it?

Despite that small glimmer on the day I quit my job, it still hasn’t really felt much different.  Sure, I haven’t been going to a job for the last couple of weeks, but I was also steadily working the whole time. It’s still amazing to me how much stuff we actually had in our 550 sq ft apartment. We needed all 10 days between quitting and the end of the month to clear out our remaining possessions. So my retirement began by working to take stuff out to the curb for our neighborhood scavengers, posting on Craigslist, donating to Goodwill, and sending stuff to the trash. In between all this, I was cleaning and organizing what’s left. It’s like I quit my job as an accountant to become a professional declutterer. So while I at least got to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, I was still in a work mindset and I haven’t really been able to relax that much.

At least the empty floors are sanded properly

While I may actually be learning how to live my retired life, it certainly doesn’t feel like it yet. So far it’s mostly just been work of a different kind. Granted, it’s been less than a week since I have left my apartment work behind, so I’m still squarely in the wash and wax the car mode.  I’m hoping that will change soon, but I really thought that retirement would come with this giant weight being lifted off of my shoulders. Like Daniel, I want to know when I am going to learn how to punch and kick. You know, real retirement! Not this household chore bullshit. I’m ready for that click that movies have told me is coming.

I thought maybe it would happen as soon as the car was packed up for our cross country camping adventure we had planned. But day one was just driving until we were tired and stopped at a roadside motel.  Day two was also just driving, and for longer. We made it to our first real stop on day 3, Zion National Park, but since we didn’t really know where we were going ahead of time or when we’d be there, we weren’t able to secure a place to camp for more than 2 nights. Still, 2 nights was better than none and the park was pretty amazing.

Mountain cliffs of Zion NP

In a case of poor timing, this actual start of relaxation also coincided with our old car deciding to not run properly. Instead of risking getting stranded in the desert in the middle of nowhere Utah, we backtracked to the nearest major city, St. George. We’re staying 3 nights in a motel here while waiting for the car to be fixed, which is our longest stop so far. While it’s not what I really had envisioned, and certainly doesn’t have the appeal of a national park, it’s actually a pretty nice town and not a terrible place to be temporarily stranded.

This forced slow down has also allowed us to do some needed planning for the next few weeks. The idea was always to spend most of the month of May camping and hiking our way back to the Midwest to visit our families and friends. Right up until a couple of days before we left, our list included Glacier, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone National Parks as the main ones we wanted to see. After checking the weather forecast for early May, and learning that many of the park campgrounds don’t even open until June due to snow, we were forced to call an audible and head south instead. It is nice to have the flexibility.

Our crowded campsite came with great views

Instead, we’ve decided to explore some of the national parks of southern Utah before making our way into Colorado. The exact stops are still to be determined, based on availability. While it’s still early in the season, many of these parks are popular and therefore it’s hard to get a spot to camp. There definitely aren’t any reservable spots available, so we’re counting on there being space in the first come first served places. And if not, then we’ll have to try somewhere else or hit up Motel 6 for a night before trying the next spot.

While I’m easing into this retirement thing at a slower pace than I had hoped, it’s getting there. I’m sure a car repair would’ve put a major damper on a normal camping vacation, but this one was easy to take in stride. I’m starting to wonder if maybe there will not be a switch that flips, but instead a slow accumulation of little things. So far, there are definitely some differences from working life like the opportunity to have a leisurely breakfast, a lack of stress from changing plans multiple times, and the ability to take a more go with the flow attitude. While a full scale attack from my metaphorical retirement sensei resulting in an immediate spark of recognition would’ve been nice, I think I can handle working on my balance and breathing. Things are not going exactly as hoped, but I’m taking them in stride. For example, it’s Monday afternoon and I’m off to the local Golf n Stuff for some midday putt putt.

I definitely need more practice


  1. A Purple Life

    Very cool analogy and I really appreciate the update! I would have imagined that retirement would be an on/off switch, but a gradual wave of change sounds more realistic. Thank you so much for keeping us posted! Safe travels.

    • Eric

      Thanks Ms Purple! The transition so far has definitely been different than I expected. But it’s still pretty early. Katie and I keep trying to remember to work being retired into conversation, since I figure that maybe if we keep saying it out loud, it will create that spark.

  2. 2 fish tacos

    Thanks for sharing. As someone about to embark on a similar life after work journey this is fascinating and insightful. Please keep sharing.

    • Eric

      Glad you found it helpful. I will do my best to keep the truthful content coming. Good luck to you as well.

  3. David @iretiredyoung

    Thinking back, my conversion from corporate work life to retirement life was also a gradual change. The first few weeks were a bit like being on holiday, and as I got more settled much of my retired life became a series of little things/changes as you suggest. In fact, some people may say that a lot of what I do seems like work, but the important difference for me is that it is things (“work”) that I’ve decided to do because I want to, not because I earn money from it. Reading your post mid afternoon is not something I would have done in my old working life, likewise the two hour walk we’ve just had, or yesterdays bike ride. It’s the reduced stress, more choice and freedom, plus lots of little other things that I enjoy. Your trip sounds fantastic and, as you say, a few days to get the car fixed isn’t a problem anymore.

    • Eric

      Good to know that I’m not alone in that gradual change. I’m totally fine with that, but it certainly came as a surprise.

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