Re­tir­ing boomers have ur­gent nos­tal­gia for pri­or­i­ties of youth

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Kelvin Browne

BOOMERS are act­ing younger ev­ery day. Alert to this, de­vel­op­ers, de­sign­ers and re­tail­ers are chang­ing their as­sump­tions about what peo­ple older than 50 want at home.

This isn’t to say the un­pleas­ant as­pects of ag­ing are mirac­u­lously halted and that, for in­stance, grab rails in bath­tubs don’t re­main big sell­ers. Those grin­ning “zoomers” who dis­cover moun­tain bik­ing or marathons at 65 don’t ex­ist much be­yond mar­ket­ing hype.

But it’s in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent that older peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions of how they want to live aren’t as pre­dictable, and con­ven­tional, as they used to be. I’ve done the re­search: Reach­ing ‘Lack of Free­dom 55’ forces me to think about re­tire­ment and where/how I want to live in the fu­ture.

Re­tir­ing baby boomers have an ur­gent nos­tal­gia for the pri­or­i­ties of their youth, a yearn­ing for the re­bel­lious spirit jet­ti­soned as they be­came main­stream to get ahead in busi­ness. Once the kids leave and work is no longer the most im­por­tant thing in life, th­ese youth­ful pri­or­i­ties resur­face. Free­dom is the drum beat.

Do I want my house to be like every­one else’s so I fit in? No way. What does my in­ner-hip­pie say? Break out. Flee sub­ur­bia. Get that loft. What dec­o­rat­ing rules? More colour, more tex­ture, more of what I like. Who’s go­ing to judge me, any­way?

You don’t see a lot of bland, prop­er­look­ing WASPs in condo mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial any­more; few ag­ing boomers as­pire to stiff and pa­tri­cian. Ads with young peo­ple in their Porsches are the as­pi­ra­tion for both thirty-and six­tysome­things.

Un­less they’re re­ally old, few re­tirees seek child-free build­ings. Quiet is like be­ing dead and that’s what boomers avoid by run­ning to­ward vi­brant, youth­ful im­ages, es­pe­cially those with the hint of 1960s elan.

As one boomer told me, “I can af­ford to live now the way I wanted to when I was in my 20s — and my kids can’t stop me.”

Trendy build­ings (that you’d think would be ex­clu­sively filled with young peo­ple) have lots of old­sters who don’t want to be rel­e­gated to a se­niors’ ghetto.

It used to be an as­sump­tion not to bother mar­ket­ing fur­ni­ture to 50-and 60-year-olds. The logic was they have all they need and, if any­thing, will be down­siz­ing.

But, while empty-nesters still might want to get rid of a house with too many un­used bed­rooms, they’re not re­sign­ing them­selves to a se­niors’ flat crowded with tat­tered so­fas and chairs. In­stead, the kids are shocked when mom and dad sell the fam­ily house, then do the un­think­able and un­sen­ti­men­tally dump their fussy, tra­di­tional stuff for sleek and mod­ern that fits their con­tem­po­rary new condo.

Af­ter all those years of putting the chil­dren first, pay­ing for hockey equip­ment and uni­ver­sity, par­ents buy that for­merly too-ex­pen­sive leather sofa. Even if it’s not whole­sale change, to­day there’s room for the new as peo­ple get older.

Re­tire to the cot­tage and Florida? Drop­ping out of the main­stream could be con­sid­ered a par­al­lel to re­tirees who, in their 20s, were about com­munes or drugs, about find­ing utopia one way or an­other. How­ever, peo­ple who want to keep their wits about them don’t re­tire this way. It’s more likely those who pre­tend that play­ing golf ev­ery day in a se­niors’ com­mu­nity is a real life had the same job for 40 years and never had a coun­ter­cul­ture thought in their heads.

Whether hip­pie once, or not, boomers as a gen­er­a­tion were the cen­tre of at­ten­tion in their youth — they were chang­ing so­ci­ety. They were news. Hence, rather than run away to where re­tirees are sup­posed to hide out un­til they die, more boomers want to con­tinue in the spot­light and at the cen­tre of the action.

For th­ese, it’s a condo down­town, not a cabin in the moun­tains. If they want to be warm, it’s less likely to be a re­mote, gated com­mu­nity where you only bump into your­self, but a priv­i­leged perch in a var­ied, al­beit warm-in-win­ter com­mu­nity. Very lit­tle in terms of hous­ing and decor is in­ap­pro­pri­ate for a re­tiree to­day. In fact, it’s the older peo­ple who are be­com­ing the bold­est on the block.

What makes the in­flu­ence of boomer re­tirees more sig­nif­i­cant than re­tirees of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions? There are a lot of them (us?) but, most im­por­tantly, they have tons of money. Wealth em­pow­ers boomers as their youth once did. The im­age of old peo­ple liv­ing on a shoe­string bud­get is trans­form­ing into 60-year-olds whose co­hort rules.

Watch out, you suc­cess­ful, so­phis­ti­cated 40-some­things; this decade’s re­tirees are go­ing to be stiff com­pe­ti­tion as you fight over the coolest places to live.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

De­signer Jean Farrington with the Mini Sofa 69 inch Bar­ry­more: prop­erly siz­ing fur­ni­ture to an apart­ment is key to down­siz­ing.

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