Adapting to Life with No Structure // Our Next Life // early retirement, financial independence, lifestyle design, life planning, retirementwe retired early

Who Left These Kids In Charge?! // Adapting to Life With No Structure

Yesterday was #PancakeDay, apparently, a fact I learned while scrolling through Twitter from bed, after waking up at the brisk hour of 11:00 a.m. I told Mark of my discovery when he woke up, a little after noon, and we decided that – YES – it was our patriotic duty to eat pancakes on #PancakeDay.

And so we feasted on chocolate chunk pancakes at the oh-so-responsible breakfast hour of 1:00 p.m…


… wearing a mouse onesie…


…because early retirement is glamorous.

And then we jumped on the beds, had a pillow fight, filled the washing machine with dish liquid so that suds filled the house, played video games all day and ordered five pizzas for dinner. (<– We didn’t actually do any of the things in that sentence. But we could have. Because there’s no one around to tell us not to.)

All of which begs the question:

Who left these two overgrown children in charge?!

Or maybe just:

When will we actually adapt to our new structureless lives?


Of course I picked a particularly lazy day to highlight here, and it just so happened that it fell on Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday, a day of indulgence for Christian Lent celebrants. Some of our retired days have looked a lot like work days, with me writing writing writing and Mark doing his thing for the nonprofit board he chairs. Other days we’ve been hiking up steep cliffsides in Taiwan, or skiing uphill or otherwise challenging our bodies. But on other ones still we’ve barely left the couch, polishing off whole seasons of Netflix shows friends have been recommending for years, but which we never had time to watch while working. It’s safe to say:

So far, every day of early retirement has been different.

We’re only 60ish days in, so maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising, but it’s interesting to observe the interplay of our natural inclinations and our sense of obligation now that our actual list of obligations is vastly smaller.

But Are They Our Natural Inclinations?

One of the questions we’ve both found ourselves wrestling with is: Do I really want to sleep this much, or is this just the catch-up sleep in the detox period? And related, especially on those lazy days: Is this really what I’m drawn to, or is this just the detox from years of high-stress work and work travel talking?

And the short answer is: We have no idea. At least not yet.

Feeling Our Way Through Unstructured Days

It’s absolutely the lack of structure that makes us feel like mom and dad left us at home, the babysitter peaced out and nobody has called the cops on us yet. Some days I walk around the house thinking, “Geez, this is the sweetest playhouse ever. I can’t believe we get to play house here.” It definitely feels like we’re going to get found out, and someone is either going to show up, Mary Poppins-style, and whip us into shape, or drag us back to work kicking and screaming, because that’s where grown-ass people belong. (And we are, despite all signs to the contrary, grown-ass people.)

It means we’ve already achieved something we set out to do: becoming the adultiest adults while working so that we could make early retirement a return to childhood. But it also probably means that we haven’t come close to figuring out how we’ll live in an unstructured environment.

The challenge of adapting to an unstructured life was something we anticipated, thanks in part to notes from readers who said that it was a real challenge for them when they retired. (Thanks for the heads-up, guys!) And so a few years ago, I did an experiment that I called the Unstructured Early Retirement Dress Rehearsal. And in the post in which I wrote about it, I said:

I’ve realized recently that I really get creative only when I reach the point of boredom (or maybe near-boredom), and it’s been ages since I’ve had the luxury of that much time to get to that point. But hearing so many of you say that structure is helpful to you has gotten me worried — am I wrong about not wanting structure? Do I actually need it more than I think? Do I actually need clear, time-bound goals in order to get things done?

It’s both super awesome and quite a relief to see that the answer is no. I’m under no illusion that these few days of pretend early retirement are not necessarily replicating the real thing, but they’ve been enough to affirm that, when given the freedom of no structure, I do actually get up off of my butt and get things done.

It’s fascinating to go back and read that and know that the conclusion I drew was based entirely – and out of necessity – on limited stretches of unstructured free time crammed into a day or two here and there. Now, there’s no limit to our free time, and so far it’s a mixed bag. Some days I get things done. Other days I get nothing done. Some days I get up off my butt, and other days I kick it on the couch in a mouse onesie the whole day. (I also have a much fancier black onesie. I bust that one out when I watch Queer Eye, because that is fancy TV.)

Comparing Now to Past Unstructured Times

Mark had a few weeks after he graduated from college, before he started work, when he stayed in his college town and just hung out with his buddies. And though he did little in those weeks beyond playing GoldenEye and throwing the Frisbee, he woke up each day with a sense of guilt that he wasn’t doing anything productive.

That time has been a big mental anchor for him lately. On our laziest days, he does feel a little guilty – as do I – and it’s hard to know if it’s real guilt, or shadow guilt from our old lives, when we had to make perfect productive use of all of our free time. It’s true that we both have plenty to do, and days when we do nothing, the to do lists are in the backs of our minds, at least a little.

I think the guilt in Mark’s post-college weeks makes sense: He had a negative net worth, he knew he needed to move and find a job and start earning money, and not taking action toward that must have felt self-sabotaging or at least stressful on some level. So of course he didn’t feel the pure elation of true hang time. But everything is different now. We don’t need to move. We don’t need to find jobs. We don’t need to start earning money. Eating pancakes at the crack of 1 might not exactly be the healthiest thing we can do, but it’s hardly self-sabotaging, at least so long as it’s not an everyday thing. (P.S. We’re giving up pancakes for Lent.)

But it’s a big question we are asking ourselves every time we feel that impulse to be more productive: Is this a real impulse, or just a ghost of our old life? Is it real guilt or shadow guilt?

To Add Artificial Structure or Not?

Right now, my only recurring commitments are to post here on Mondays and Wednesdays. I’ve still had appointments of one sort or another most days, between volunteer stuff, local activism, podcast interviews and travel for speaking gigs, like when I hung out with SoFi last week.

Tanja Hester of Our Next Life at SoFi Speaker Series in San Francisco

(SoFi shares a building with Lucasfilm, you guys. And while I only got the derpiest driveby selfie with a Stormtrooper, there was Star Wars stuff freaking everywhere. Nerd heaven.)

Tanja Hester of Our Next Life at SoFi offices -- with a Lucasfilm Stormtrooper! -- in San Francisco

And those commitments have given some structure to plenty of our days. But a good portion still have no structure whatsoever. We can sleep as late as our bodies will let us, we can blow hours doing childish unproductive nothing (remember the Great Punctuation War of 2018?) and we can push off the to do list to another day.


I know that will sound like heaven to plenty of folks. It would have sounded like heaven to me in those stressful working years, too. And, to be completely honest, it is heaven. Like how the Edward Norton says in Fight Club, after beating up Jordan Catalano (not really, just Jared Leto’s character), “I felt like destroying something beautiful,” there is something exquisite and delicious about wasting an entire day.

But just like we ask the question with the impulses and guilt – Is this real? Or a shadow? – the question we’re asking ourselves with time wasting is: Is this real? Or just novel?

A year from now, will we still take delight in wasting whole days once in a while? Will we feel okay sleeping until noon some days, or will we wish we’d gotten up and done something healthier, more productive, more purposeful? Will we feel drawn to create some artificial structure for ourselves, to correct for the babysitter-on-the-lam feeling, and the natural tendency toward entropy (and laziness)? Or will this children-in-charge feeling, the sleeping in, the binge-watching and pancake munching in the afternoon subside after the newness wears off and the ghosts of our own careerist selves dissipate?

I don’t pretend to know.

And we’re not in a rush to find out.

Let’s Talk Structure!

Think you’ll have some pancakes at 1 pm and onesie on the couch kinda days in early retirement? For those who’ve already retired, does any of this sound familiar, or are we off the map on this one? Does the idea of wasting time seem like something you’d enjoy for a short time, or forever? Same question on sleeping in – appropriate for the detox period only, or for as long as you feel like it, thankyouverymuch? And on structure generally, do you think you’ll miss it? Crave it? Thrive without it? Share all your thoughts in the comments, and let’s chat!

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99 replies »

  1. In a year, the lack of structure will no longer be novel but it’ll still be there. At first, I found it hard to find things to do to give myself structure. Eventually, that gave way to a desire to keep the entire day structure-less externally – meaning I made few appointments of any kind that involved other people.

    I created a structure but it was wholly dependent on me, so I could be 15 minutes early or late to things (say going to the gym at 10:30am when you miss the crazy morning people and are before the crazy lunchtime people, you hit that sweet spot of just people taking classes).

    Structure is nice on a few days, it helps you do the things you should be doing, but without any external dependencies is it really a structure? It’s more like a pattern. :)

    • Let’s avoid the semantic argument on pattern vs. structure. ;-) But it’s a great point that the lack of structure isn’t a bug of the early months of early retirement, it’s a feature of the whole thing, and we are going to have to figure out how to manage it. I definitely know I’m happiest so far when I don’t have appointments every day, so we’ll see if that trend continues.

  2. As always you managed to describe some of what I’ve been feeling better than I can. The whole ‘left alone without adult supervision’ description is pretty good. But that’s a great feeling right? Cuz we all remember those days when we were kids and they were simply THE BEST! You felt like you could do anything, including sneak into your Dad’s liquor cabinet….

    I try to build some structure on my off days by going to the library pretty regularly and “working”. I might read, do some graphic designs, or write on my blog. They have great Wifi and unlike a coffee shop you don’t have to buy anything. Weirdly though, sometimes they get too quiet.

    • Oh it’s totally a great feeling! Just weird! Because even though we’ve lived in a place for ages when we have free rein of the place, there were always grown-ups at work making sure we showed up for things and delivered stuff on time. ;-) I’m trying to figure out “working days,” too, with mixed luck so far. But I’m guessing it’s just a skill I have to build, like anything else. ;-)

  3. I thought the Great Punctuation War of 2018 might show up in here.

    I recently wrote that I need to develop more structure… it’s one of my goals of 2018. I don’t know how to measure it. (Maybe grade each day?) Over time, I’ve realized that nothing particularly bad happens if I don’t get a blog post out on a certain day and it becomes a slippery slope from there.

    Did you like Breaking Bad and Stranger Things ;-). Those seem like the ultimate Netflix binge show.

    • Ha! No serial commas! ;-) The grading each day idea is interesting, though I fear I’d be failing a lot of them. Hahaha. I’m trying to figure this out, too, though, so I suspect it’s a pretty universal challenge.

      Mark loved Breaking Bad (I didn’t watch it), and we haven’t yet started Stranger Things — but it’s on the list!

  4. It took 60 days to finally start doing it right? I was beginning to think it wouldn’t happen! Yay!

  5. It’s not random unstructured stuff. It is actually recovery and recharging. You’ve been working like crazy for years now. You need that period of recovery and recharge before turning to the real stuff. So what is the real stuff? Varies by person, their health and their finances but it is whatever you want it to be. The day will come when you realize you are busier than you have ever been but almost all of it is doing productive things you want to do. (Last month I rescued a cold stunned sea turtle!). That is the day you’ve hit full stride.

    • Wow, that must have been amazing to rescue that turtle! I’m already realizing that I do feel busy, but that it’s with much less stuff than I had on my plate before, so I’m trying to be mindful of that and appreciate it. It’s interesting how quickly the definition of “busy” can change, and that’s not how I want to feel. But thank you for validating our need to recover and recharge. :-)

  6. Being almost 13 months into no structure I find it still as perplexing as day 10.

    There is always that lurking guilt that you should be, could be doing more with your precious time. But then time just continues to slip forward.

    Maybe it’s the confining winter weather in Chicago, or the lack of being on the move traveling to some next cool place, but a bit of boredom and anxiety seems to be creeping in more often.

    Maybe the point is that we are just supposed to use all of our new free time to just figure out what fits us best? I wish I could answer your question, but I’m no further along with that knowledge at 13 months🤔.

    • Oh wow, that’s good to know! I hope you get some answers to those big questions soon. Are you already active with volunteer groups in your community? We’ve found that the orgs we’re on the boards of could EASILY eat up all of our time. ;-)

  7. We had a very bizarre weekend of almost entirely watching Olympics on the couch with the kids. Of course we did a small amount of cooking and cleaning, but my Fitbit told me I walked WAY less than a usual Sunday. Not a fan. I just found that at the end of the day I felt kind of blah. Like, what did I get done today? My life is going a million miles an hour with 2 kids and a job, and that is too much. But I think I do need some structure.

    It does seem like you are getting things done though. Not only are you producing a blog twice a week, you also have a podcast, and some speaking engagements. So I think what you are doing is different than what some may experience–you have that side hustle. Only you can say if that is the “right” balance, but it certainly isn’t a total lack of structure.

    Just want to also note how thrilled I am that you are keeping up with that structure and filling us in on this transition on your regular Monday-Wednesday schedule!!! I haven’t commented in a while because life, but I always know when it’s an ONL post day. Very helpful as I continue to contemplate my own Next Life and the transition. The transition part is truly what fills me with a great deal of anxiety at this point, so this is so helpful!

    • It means so much that you’re still along for the ride! :-) (Sorry about missing the posts a few weeks ago and getting so behind on comment replies.) ;-) It’s SO true that the “side hustle” bit gives us some structure, and that’s totally by design. I don’t know if you remember me talking about “chapter overlap” a while ago, but the blog is that all the way. If I had no blog or podcast, I think life now would feel like a big rug pull, even with all the obviously positive stuff. So I feel even more strongly that having some continuity from one phase of life to the next is important.

      As for your couch weekend, I hope you don’t feel bad about that! You obviously needed a break, and I don’t think it’s an indication that that’s how you’d be inclined to spend all your time in early retirement. Sometimes we all just need time to recharge our batteries. :-)

  8. My wife and I recently transitioned from grown-up, professional, corporate work life to one of full-time travel (via sailboat) and passion projects. The travel stuff provides its own structure—especially on a boat, which requires a certain level of upkeep and ongoing “husbandry”. But we still found ourselves lacking structure and motivation.

    A couple things have helped. First, we proactively choose a “highlight” for every day. Basically, we ask ourselves, “what do we want the highlight of our day to be?” Some days it’s something productive and necessary; other days it’s just catching up on sleep or going to the beach. We also decided to give ourselves a long-term travel goal: to reach and transit the Panama Canal by the end of this sailing season (in June).

    I look forward to reading about how much structure you decide to create. For some people, it creates a predictable backdrop against which they can live an inspired life. For others, it’s a hum-drum obligation that keeps them tied down.

    • I love your “highlight” of the day idea! I think it’s brilliant whether or not you are retired. This year I’ve been keeping a notebook of the high points of each of my days, so that I can better step back and recognize all the great things in my life (helpful for me in a sea of social media). I love the idea of proactively targeting a highlight each day, even if it’s as simple as reading outside or cooking something new.

      • What a cool idea to keep that journal of highlights! I can definitely see how that’s helpful now, but I bet it will also be a nice memento to flip through down the road. ;-)

    • I love the highlight of the day idea! And yeah, I’m sure that you guys have a lot more stuff you MUST do on a daily basis on your boat. It’ll be interesting to see where we land on structure — I definitely feel myself resisting most forms of structure, but it’s hard to know if that’s just the recharge period speaking, or if that’ll always be true. ;-)

  9. I could see having a debate between “are you really just lazy and like being unproductive due to decompression from years of work” and “we’re still getting used to this whole thing and don’t know how it will play out.” I know in our situation, Mrs. SSC would have been bonkers or have driven me bonkers if she didn’t have stuff to do. Her days would become structured very quickly, and mine would be more like yours with some days of uber productivity and other days of binge watching tv/playing music/video games/napping etc…

    I’m curious what end of the spectrum I’ll land on as well, since I have no clue how it will ultimately shake out. Good luck on figuring it out for yourself!

    • Oh that’s totally it! And trust me, we’ve had plenty to do! Just not a ton of stuff that HAS to happen on this day or that day. (Though there’s enough in that category, too.) And yeah, I’m curious too where we’ll land, or even if it will be a fixed thing. Maybe we’ll always be tweaking it. ;-)

  10. After 16 years it still feels like imposter syndrome and second childhood.

    With occasional naps. And frequent surfing.

    It’s a combination of being responsible for your own entertainment, and finding your pace without imposing artificial structure. But for those first six months, there are a lot of naps to recover from the chronic fatigue…

    • So this feeling never ends?? ;-) I’m okay with that, actually. Just hoping at some point I’ll build some skills to get better at the unstructured time because I truly don’t WANT more structure, I just want to be better at thriving without it. ;-)

  11. Ah, I lucked out on that one. My wife kept her business going after I quit my job (and we have school age kids) so I got some instant structure to my days. But I understand the issue, I struggle with how lazy to be now and also spending some time on things I want to get done in the longer term (like editing my book). It can be almost overwhelming some days as you have so much choice so I tend to work at things in cycles. I’m focus on something for a week or two and then change it up. That way I do make progress on things but I also can still just decide some days it is too cold outside so I’m going to brew a big pot of tea and read all afternoon.

    • I’m sure kids alone add tons of structure, at least during the school year! I love the cycles or batching idea, and I’m trying to think about that as well. I especially love your point, though, that grouping things into cycles or batches also lets you take time off from that task whenever you need to. Great insight.

  12. Man oh man. Sounds lovely to me. I’m not working today and Mr. ThreeYear is working from home, so we’re getting a little taste of a few hours with nothing to do (while the kids are in school and not around to campaign us to entertain them), but imagining weeks where I could sleep in… I think I could happily tolerate at least several months of doing that before I started to feel like a wastrel. :)

    • Ha — indeed! There is something to be said about just enjoying the contrast to whatever you’re used to, and so if you’re used to waking up early with kids, then sleeping in will sound like a dream. ;-) Not flying every week and not waking up with an alarm clock are our dreams at the moment, but it’ll be interesting to see what we crave long term after we get our old careers out of our systems. ;-)

  13. I’m secretly a six-year-old so I have no doubt that given enough free time I’d *actually* be doing things like jumping on the bed. But yeah, right now I just feel guilty anytime I have the audacity to give myself a few hours off on the weekend. So I suspect that’ll be an interesting see-saw back and forth until I get a happy medium.

    Really what I’m learning though is that early retirement means lots of #onesielife. Perhaps I should go get myself one. For research.

    • I think we are ALL six-year-olds, some people just pretend they’re not. ;-) And yes, onesies are mandatory! Brandon/Mad Fientist admitted this week that he often rocks a onesie, so that makes it official. Hahahaha.

  14. Maybe a period of no falsely imposed structure and feeling of guilt is a good thing? Meaning that if you give a year and see what just naturally happens, I’m thinking you’ll naturally gravitate towards what you like.

    And what is structure anyway? If we compare it to a kids room, mine was tidy as can be, my sisters though, you couldn’t see surfaces under everything! But it worked for her. She knew where everything is. I guess my point is maybe your ‘structure’ won’t resemble what traditional society has created (having regular chunks of time set aside and planned for).

    What’s more important, are you contented?

    Then again, what do I know? =)

    • Oh I was totally like your sister — occasionally I’d tidy up, but usually I had things everywhere, but I knew where everything was. ;-) And I completely agree — the whole point of retiring early is to resist traditional structure, so the real question is whether to try to create some alternative structure that looks different, or to just completely go with the flow. Something tells me this will be an ongoing question. ;-)

      • I’m sure it’ll be on-going and change over time. Really either it’ll naturally happen or you’ll find that it isn’t working and make decisions that will put in structure. You didn’t get to FI without having the skills to manage this!

        From what I hear from others, the first 6 months is an adjustment, just have some short and long term plans (loose) and the rest works itself out.

      • I’m positive it will change! And so true that any of us who can get to FI can also figure out a great new life rhythm. :-) And we’re still early in the first six months, so not drawing any conclusions yet!

  15. After retirement, the old structure was gone. And the new and better structure is formed. That’s how I feel. My speed used to be 70+ miles per hour while working, now is 2-3 mph. More comfortable, relaxing, and normal. It won’t matter how many pages I’m reading a book daily, as long as I’m reading and enjoy it, I guess it will be fine. Happy retirement!

    • I love that you’ve found a new structure that works so well for you! I don’t know if I’ll ever have it in me to slow down that much, but that’s just because I am weird. ;-)

  16. Right now without even trying I gravitate away from any form of structure or planning. I procrastinate endlessly and let each day decide how it will unfold organically. That being said I do make time to tackle the freelance projects I’m fortunate enough to get. (those projects are helping the stash with this market slump) I will continue to resist any form of planning possible and hope you both are enjoying this moment in time.

    • You hit the central problem or at least question right on the head: is it relaxing with no structure or is it procrastinating? When I don’t have anything I need to be doing, I completely enjoy it. But when I know I’m procrastinating, I don’t. So trying to keep my eyes open to which it is will be key for me, I think. ;-)

  17. I have really struggled with this structure thing since I retired. I tell myself that it is not important, really. At the beginning I felt obligated to have this huge schedule and stick to it like glue. Luckily, that didn’t last long. It’s evolved into a few obligations at specific times (volunteer work or exercise class), plus social events. In between those items, I just try to do something I want, something I need to get done, and something to relax. The trick for me is to not activate my guilt chip for not doing more.

    • Ooh, I love that, Sharon! Something you want to do, something you have to do, and something to relax. I love the idea of trying to keep those things in balance. That seems like a great framework for thinking about a new way of living.

  18. when i lived in new orleans almost 20 years ago i was a bartender. i had a bartender roommate who was a good friend and like-minded and we were single and only working about 6 hours a day at most. it was one of those courtyard places with 4-5 apartments sharing that space and there was always somebody around to play with. it might have been just drinking coffee and playing some chess all afternoon but somebody was always around to have some fun and adventure. we all had very little on our plates. fast forward 20 years and mrs. smidlap and i have designed a life with very little on our schedule except my 8-4. the difference now is that there is not a whole group of obligation free people to choose from to go and play and goof off. so i think i know how it feels. for me it feels like i might have freed up TOO much time, if that’s possible. i have faith you’ll sort it out, but do you have friends with your same hours free?

    • It is my dream to live for six months in one of those carriageway courtyard apartments in New Orleans at some point. I loooooove them! And it’s a great point about friends, and something I think more people need to consider before pulling the plug. That’s one of our favorite things about living in a ski town — MOST people we know have nontraditional work arrangements, so they are mostly free during the week. For a long time, we were the weirdos who could only hang out on the weekends! ;-)

  19. I felt guilty having all this extra time in the beginning, but now it’s just GLORIOUS! I started hating weekends and loving Mondays! Like you, we don’t really have structure, other than weekly blogging and some volunteer non-profit work. We tend to go out in the morning to explore whatever city we happened to be in and then writing, answering comments, etc in the evening. It’s a good life ;) I don’t miss the rigid structure of the 9 to 5 at all. I thought I would miss talking to my co-workers everyday, but I don’t miss that either–probably because our FIRE community is spread out all over the world, so there’s always someone to visit :)

    • What’s funny is that I DO miss talking to a small group of coworkers — I don’t miss the work at all, but I miss them. ;-) But I also worked with them for well over a decade, and I think that makes a difference. It’s great to hear that you got over the guilt pretty quickly!

  20. Wearing a mouse onesie!! I’ve actually had to add structure into my week. The structure is flexible, but I was finding that I needed somethings to look forward to (not retired-work for myself). Now I go to dance classes, schedule my work, make sure I have hangout time with my mom and friends accounted for, AND I take it one day at time understanding that each week will look a little bit different. Have fun figuring it out.

    • Oh dude, you need an animal onesie in your life. ;-) And I admire you for managing to work and make money without structure — I’m super thankful I never had to do that, and if I fail at the structure-free life now, there’s relatively little consequence.

  21. We retired early two years ago and still struggle with how to structure our time. Our health and fitness has been our main priority in retirement (we have many years before we qualify for Medicare so it’s very important to stay healthy) and that helps add some purpose to our days. We finally have the time to fit in a long run, weight training, and yoga nearly every day. Yet somehow we still manage to feel guilty on those days we spend binge watching Netflix, drinking wine and eating ridiculous amounts of cheese. I have to regularly remind myself that we already worked really hard to retire early, specifically so that we COULD have this kind of freedom!

    • Good for you for prioritizing physical activity and making it happen every day! We’re still learning to figure out that motivation, because now it’s so easy to say, “Oh, I don’t feel like working out this morning, but I’ll do it this afternoon or tonight.” And then tonight comes, and we say, “Oh, let’s just work out in the morning.” ;-) So that’s on the list of areas to build more discipline. Hahaha. And you SHOULD enjoy those random lazy or delicious days, because you DID work hard and earned them!

  22. I think it is great the unstructure you are having. ANd I can totally relate to feeling guilty. When I was on my sabbatical I finished my project within a month and had 3 months of glorious time to kill, but every day I felt guilty that I should be do something more. I even taught at another school a couple of classes to keep my self occupied. What is wrong with me?

    • Ha! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. ;-) I think an important difference is you knew your time off had an expiration date, so I bet you felt a different kind of pressure to be productive. I wonder/hope it’s different when it’s open-ended!

  23. There is a bit of a honeymoon period with early retirement. At first, it’s really cool to not worry about a structure…especially after so many years of being confined by structure. But eventually, that honeymoon feeling wears off and you’re left with the realization that there’s a lot of years left in your life and, well, you gotta feel good about them.

    Courtney felt that a lot more than I did. She needs structure. Goals. Something that she’s actively working toward. I’m a little more loosie-goosie with structure. I have things I need to get done and a general direction than I’m mentally driving in, but I’m not quite as structure-oriented as she is. In the end, it’ll depend on the person and what feels right.

    Once the initial ecstasy of early retirement wears off, I’ve found that most of us begin to realize that we can’t just go on like this forever. A lot of us will need something in place that keeps us focused, healthy and generally pointed in the direction that we actually want to go in.

    It’s easier for some of us than for others, but in my view, that’s part of the fun of retiring early. It’s planning out the next phase of your life the best you can and adjusting as necessary.

  24. Your new life actually sounds a lot like my life as a stay at home mom (who works part time) – every day is different. Often involve pancakes and sometimes stormtroopers (much smaller versions). The only difference is: you don’t have the guilt about how you should be doing more to make money. I’d love to get rid of that guilt in my life! (Also, trade the mouse onesie for a fluffy Costco bathrobe and heated blanket.)

    • Stormtroopers. I need more Stormtroopers in my life! And while I don’t feel the money-making guilt, I do feel the life list progress guilt. ;-) So maybe we’re just experiencing universal things but with different, specific manifestations. ;-)

  25. This makes me a little nervous for my future retirement (especially since I just read that thing about mortality rising after age 62). I took a vacation day recently and had grand plans of exercise and outdoor time…and I didn’t get out of my pajamas until noon. I am hoping it was just some needed decompression time, but maybe I’m just naturally super lazy!

    • I don’t think that should make you worry but it should make you think about what would keep you exercising regularly. Could you teach a class so you HAVE to stay in shape and show up? (That worked for me for many years!) Could you sign up for a trainer so you know you’re throwing away money if you don’t go? Could you join a hiking club? Few of us are naturally that disciplined, and it’s good to find the systems that will work to keep you accountable. :-)

  26. Maybe there’s an analogy here with money as a finite resource and thinking about resource allocation? Some people need to set up systems to allocate according to their wants and needs and others can go by instinct. Sounds to me that you’ve hit the jackpot, time wise! And, I’m grateful that one of your regular activities is to keep up the blog!

    • Thanks for saying that! :-) I love this blog too much not to keep going. And I think your finite resource analogy is a great one. I know in a scientific sense, it’s ridiculous to say that instinct can be learned, but just go with my bad comparison here. ;-) I’m hoping that, with some practice, we can *learn* to go by instinct instead of having to create some type of structure for ourselves. Because I really do think a lot of skills can be learned!

  27. I think for sure you’ll go through phases in early retirement, just like you do during your working life. I am finding as the years pass my interests, hobbies, and motivation slowly shifts and changes.

    • I have zero doubt that you’re right! As I keep saying “I wonder where we’ll end up,” I laugh to myself, because I don’t think there’s any end point. There’s only the ongoing journey. ;-)

  28. I’m glad to see you living up to the promise of bringing the weird, real you – Storm Troopers and mouse onesies forevah! :-)

    Our weekends are very unstructured already, so some days, I have to force myself to get up and put on pants (rather than PJ pants), which is all it takes to get me out the door. If I don’t, there’s some sort of extra gravity the couch possesses that keeps me from wanting to make the effort later. If I spend all weekend not “doing anything productive”, I definitely feel guilty. It feels self-destructive to know you need to, say, go to the grocery store, not want to, give into not doing it and then feel guilty about it later. I worry that I’ll be lazy and waste all my days once we retire.

    Interestingly, last night my SO was at a class, so I was alone for dinner. I was standing in the kitchen eating cold leftover chicken and carrot salad straight from their containers, and I noticed I didn’t feel guilty at all; however, if he had been home, I would have felt guilty/lazy feeding him the same thing (he wouldn’t have cared). I’m the house cook, so I feel an obligation to do better/more for him than I do for myself.

    Big fan of the Oxford comma over here, and commas in general, obviously. I blame it on reading 19th century novels in my formative years.

    • I really can’t even help it — that’s just ME! ;-) (And seriously, I think we need onesie meetups to be a FIRE community thing. Hahahaha.) And oh my gosh that’s so true about what you’re wearing — if I put on proper clothes, it’s amazing how much more ready I feel to face the world. But that means changing out of my PJs, and it’s cooooold! ;-) I bet you won’t waste your early retirement at all. Right now you’re having some time when you’re reacting in contrast to your working life. Once that’s gone, it’s crazy how different it feels. We’re still new at early retirement, but already the “don’t waste the weekend!” or “don’t waste vacation days!” feeling is melting away, and we ARE doing stuff. Just not yet in a structured sort of way. ;-)

  29. I am 4 weeks out from my last day at work, ending 30 years of continuous employment at 52. I am not afraid of having little or no structure for the first few months as I decompress but what I already know to be a likely challenge to that is that my wife has a daily / weekly structure that I can’t disrupt. So to some degree I will be trading one for part of another. I apologize in advance to her for the disruption

    We will eventually establish a routine of unstructured structure (is there such a thing?) and have a new cadence that works for us both. I am not rushing to define that, I intend to let it evolve (but with purpose). At that point we will most likely feel like retired adults instead of alone home sick from school kids.

    I appreciate pathetic wisdom shared on this subject. Very important and helpful


    • It’s sooooo awesome, Phil! You’re soooo close now! (Next week???) I will be eager to hear when you get there if you do in fact feel like retired adults or experience some of the “who gave the babysitter the night off?!” feeling. (Based on what I’ve now heard from plenty of others, I suspect you’ll have at least some kid moments.) ;-) Enjoy your final stretch at work!!

  30. I am now seven months into retirement, and am discovering that life can be a mellow flow, with my time flexibly distributed more equitably between many things that I enjoy and want to accomplish. When I was working, work took up almost all of my time, and all the other important things were crammed into the margins of my life. I am trying to step away from a productivity mindset, and all that comes with it: alarm clocks, lists, deadlines, guilt. I am still moving forward on my big life goals, but in little steps rather than full steam ahead, leaving lots of time for relaxation, reflection, and daydreams.

    • It seems like you’re doing a great job pacing yourself, which we haven’t yet figured out how to do in this new life of ours (We were great at it before when working, but life is so different now!). I’m glad you’ve found balance in it all and are working toward what it sounds like are some very purpose-filled goals!

  31. We always structure our weeks loosely. I think it’s important to accomplish something everyday, even if it is planning for a day in a onesie. We need to have some days we do nothing…though I have to admit rarely happens in our house unless we r sick. We have not struggled with filling our time…..we often say to one another how did we ever find time to work?? I guess it depends so much on your personality and your interests. We dedicate a good portion of time to volunteer work. To personal learning projects. And activities and hobbies. We do many of the same things that other people do….but with way more time. For example I love our routine of having a coffee break together every day at 2. Sometimes they are an hour long. We walk to our grocery store to buy groceries, 2 or 3 times a week. In better weather we may ride there. Everything is done slower and more deliberately.

    • It’s amazing how quickly things grow to fill the time available, isn’t it? Nearly everyone ends up saying what you said, that they wonder how they ever had time to work, but I don’t think it’s because we’re all doing more or are much more productive. It’s that we can finally take the time to do things that they deserved all along! ;-)

  32. Flexible structure is such an oxymoronic phrase and yet it perfectly defines my life at 3+ years into early retirement. I found that I needed some structure or else I just felt bad – about life, about me. I am not spontaneous… so things like getting in exercise (new habit formation that still needs support) will not just happen. I needed to have on-the-calendar plans to meet friends, post a blog, and even just do housework. Otherwise I ended up with too many days on the couch reading trash novels and a completely un-done to-do list. Hubby, on the other hand, wants almost every day to unfold organically. I guess it’s personal. So find what works for you… try things on until it does. I have structure but I’m also fine with blowing off everything when I need a relaxing couch day (or the weather insists on one.)

    • So great to hear your experience now that you’ve been at it for a while, Pat! I do think we’ll follow your advice and try several different models until we find what works, and as you said, it might be different for Mark and I. TBD! But so far I do agree with you that it’s helpful to have things on the calendar and not just wake up in the morning and expect to get things done that I’d rather procrastinate. ;-)

  33. I expect this to be a HUGE challenge for me. I was off work for about 3 years, and had planned to use those years to sort out our extremely junk filled basement, and in three years did NOTHING. Fortunately (?) after I began working again we had a flood, which forced my hand into finally cleaning it out. Had to mourn the loss of all my high school year books, alas. I think my structure will revolve around goals for the month and trying to accomplish something toward them on most days.

    • I’m sure that was a tough experience! I’m impressed that you took a big lesson from it, and I think it’s super smart to set monthly or maybe even weekly goals for yourself. Or maybe monthly goals but weekly tallies? (Can you tell I’m thinking about this?) ;-)

  34. As a creature of structure, to do lists, productivity, and schedules, I worry about what I’ll do with all of the free time when left to our own devices when we realize our dream. Even as I spent four years as a stay at home mom I spent a lot of it creating schedules to keep me (and the little one) productive. I’m one of those oddities that will put something on the list that I’ve already done just so I can cross it out to self-congratulate myself on the doneness of that task… I imagine after a certain amount of detox, you’ll find your new normal! I look forward to hearing about what you’ll be doing with your days!

    • No shame in writing tasks on the list just to cross them off! I think any person who is a list-maker by nature does this. ;-) And I absolutely still keep lists, but I let stuff slide around on them a lot more than before! I bet you’ll be the same way. :-)

  35. So far, I think I do better with structure, but ones that I impose. Other people’s structures grate me. After a weekend of conferencing and travel, I’ve stayed in bed and pajamas until noon. I will eventually go to my office and accomplish what I want to for a client. Once I feel like putting on proper clothes or a coat.

  36. I’m pretty sure that once the detox period is over, you’ll end up moving to more structure over time, though it might just be a loose one! At least that’s my tendency and we’re more alike than not in those respects :)

    I hope you give yourselves a bit more time to enjoy the looseness and sleeping in. Your sleep debt has to be HUGE.

    Also how warm and fuzzy are those onesies and how do you deal with fur on the feet? I’m wondering if I might need one for my frigid office ;)

    • That’s what I keep suspecting, too, but then when I try to impose structure (“Monday will be a work day, and Tuesday I’ll go skiing!”), it flops spectacularly. Or at least that’s what’s happened so far. ;-) (I’m assuming that could be a short-term, detox phase problem. Or maybe not.)

      And re: your VERY IMPORTANT ONESIE QUESTION, I don’t have the footie kinds. They are not made for anyone even a millimeter above average height, sadly. But on the plus side, I can wear whatever warm socks and slippers I need that day instead. :-)

  37. We cant wait until we get the chance to decide what we are (and definitely not) going to do everyday! Not to mention, what we are (and definitely not) going to wear each day! :) I am sure everyone gets to a point where their days become a little more predictable based on their current interests. I say enjoy FI however you want!

    • I don’t blame you for being excited about that future because IT IS AWESOME. ;-) And I think you’re right that at a certain point your interests dictate your schedule. I’m trying to be slow and deliberate in taking new things on because of course I want to do everything right away, and I bet over time I’ll have enough activities on the calendar to give my weeks a consistent shape.

  38. I would not survive without structure. I wake up at 7 also on weekends and I feel awful if I don’t get fresh air and/or exercise pretty much right after breakfast.
    I can hold on to artificial, self made structures for about 6 months. This, unsurprisingly, was the point when I rushed back to work from maternity leave.
    My FI plans (if I get there) most likely revolve around building my own company, again. Then again, I might get to that much earlier.
    We are different :) I know I’m an alien – most people seem to enjoy the lack of structure at least temporarily.

    • It’s totally possible that you’re an alien as you say. ;-) But it’s also possible that what you’re observing is just you in response to work stress, or even during mat leave, you in response to knowing that your freedom had an expiration date. While working, I ALWAYS woke up by 7:30, no matter how late I’d been up the night before, which was super inconvenient if I’d gotten home from a work trip at 3 a.m. or something. But now, MIRACULOUSLY, I sleep a bit later. Sometimes much later, but most days at least a little later. It’s been fascinating to get to know this new me, the me who isn’t living my whole life working and in response to working, but is just living. :-)

  39. And then we jumped on the beds, had a pillow fight, filled the washing machine with dish liquid so that suds filled the house, played video games all day and ordered five pizzas for dinner. (<– We didn’t actually do any of the things in that sentence. But we could have. Because there’s no one around to tell us not to.)

    How absolutely disappointing. I want you both to go back and do it right. No excuses and no pouting! Those feathers better be flying out of those pillows! LOL. I did that once with the washing machine. What a mess but it was really funny. And, by the way, pizza is the 5th food group. Good for breakfast, lunch and supper as well as snacktime in between. Hot or cold. So versatile. Yummers!

    • Hahahahaah — and sooooooo true about pizza! One of my top goals in early retirement is to master a solid gluten-free pizza crust, because most of my “pizza” these days belongs in quotation marks. ;-)

  40. When I first retired my goal was to forget what day of the week it was. The weekends are a result of the work week and my manifesto was to have no need for a “week” work end or otherwise. I effectively succeeded in my forgetting but one thing bothered me, what would I do if I wound up in an ER and flunked the mental status exam. I guess there are consequences to unnatural and perversely deliberate unstructure. Heraclitus wrote about the universal constancy of change. The famous quote is: “you never step in the same river twice” The difference between tired and retired is when you are tired you are a human doing. When you are retired you are a human being. Even if you take time off when you’re tired your are still in the class of human doing. I just watched a 45 minute video about modern dairy farming. It’s actually quite amazing the lengths these farmers go to to love on their animals. Not one of those 45 were wasted and the river had changed.

    • Oh, losing track of the day of the week is real! We’ve missed like 6 garbage days in less than three months because we can’t keep it together to know when it’s Thursday. ;-)