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The magic of new beginnings

08aTeresa Kvietkauskas and John
Teresa Kvietkauskas and son John enjoying their renovated kitchen. (Courtesy photo)

In our last two articles on decluttering, we covered letting go of the “stuff” we may no longer need to make room for a new chapter in our lives. It seems many empty-nesters fall into one of either two camps: those who have recently reinvented their homes and lives, and those who are contemplating such a transition. The former camp seem buoyant with new energy; often the latter seem undecided about their future, perhaps wanting a move yet unclear where they could go. Maybe moving to Maine, to a smaller home or even moving anywhere at all may not be your cup of tea. Yet getting out from under an accumulation of too much furniture and stuff might give most people a boost and a new sense of freedom that can help launch some new possibilities.

This article will look at some long-time Carlisle residents who have recently made efforts to create active new chapters in their lives. While their paths are not for everybody, it is our hope that, in sharing their stories, it may inspire others to make the most of their own unique journey.

Option one: aging in place

Let me reiterate that I am not necessarily talking about moving homes.  One can reinvent one’s home while remaining in place with a clean sweep or a renovation or both. Decluttering without a deadline for moving can offer the opportunity for a new chapter in life with a timeline of your own design which can be far less stressful. Teresa and Bob Kvietkauskas are a good example. They have lived in Carlisle for 24 years, and Teresa retired in 2015 from a big job running the family corporation that had truly consumed her life with business travel demands to the Chicago area. Once this frequent flyer retired, she had the opportunity to oversee catching up on the home maintenance that her travels had forced her to defer. Since Bob plans to remain working as owner of Carlisle Insurance, and since the couple decided their current home is the perfect size and location for them, they determined to remain there for the foreseeable future, and agreed to make their home as livable and easily maintainable as possible. 

With her post-retirement free time, Teresa began decluttering and oversaw the renovation of their kitchen and bathrooms, refinishing the floors, repainting both inside and out and updating the furniture. The couple are now ready to “age-in-place” as they say, for the decades ahead, adding such items as shower grab-bars as an integral part of the renovation, rather than having to add them as afterthoughts when aging might demand them. Teresa reflects “This was the perfect solution for us, letting us keep all we love about Carlisle, with family and friends nearby, and yet we get the lightened feeling of being in a ‘new’ house, unencumbered by clutter, maintenance worries and things that we no longer need.” 

In the process of decluttering, Teresa took many unneeded household and furniture items to Household Goods of Massachusetts in Acton. As an added benefit of decluttering, Teresa saw the good work in action there, and she became so moved that as she wound down her renovations, she became a weekly volunteer there, helping serve clients in selecting their donated household furnishings. And having caught the bug for decluttering, she continues to dig deeper at home, selling off family antique collections that require specialized buyers. Reflecting on the process overall, Teresa quips “The house is so much lighter now; we’re going to have to tie it down!”   

Rightsizing: finding the right fit

Just as I said decluttering doesn’t mean you have to move, moving doesn’t mean you have to downsize. Some of my friends have moved to homes that were actually larger than they had before.  While a larger home may not have been a goal, they bought it because the space in their new homes just works better for them. I call this “rightsizing” because our life priorities and the corresponding use of our homes’ space can be very different at this stage of our lives than it was several decades ago. Newer properties sometimes offer spaces well-suited to empty nesters with first floor master bedrooms and highly optimized storage space—all clearly built based upon different design priorities than many of our long-time homes which were built decades (or even centuries) ago. Often these homes are found where much of the upkeep is managed through a homeowners’ association, an extra bonus for those who are looking for easy maintainability as they age.

Rightsizing in Carlisle and easing toward retirement

08bLMT Alison Saylor and Saylor RV
Alison Saylor in their new portable home. (Courtesy photo)

Alison Saylor summed up her and her husband Mike’s 2016 home move experience. “Our decision to move came from two big family events. My Dad died, leaving his Malcolm Meadows condo needing to be sold, and our daughter Carly sought to move her family from her New Hampshire home to a house in a nearby town with a good school system.” As a result, Alison and Mike decided to sell their antique home of 36 years to Carly and her husband, and they moved into Malcolm Meadows. 

“The huge benefit we reaped was the difference in selling prices enabled us to buy a Recreational Vehicle (RV) that had been a dream of Mike’s for a long time. Mike always thought that RVs were not affordable unless you sell your house and live in it full-time, or get a really good deal on a very old one. Mike spent two years researching the different styles of RV vans and van life. The new technology that is going into the camper vans (called Class B) is very interesting for an engineer.”

“In January of 2017, we ordered our RV at the big Tampa RV show, and we picked it up there at the end of April after it was custom-made. We drove back up the East coast to Boston on a one-week initial trip. We joined a club for owners of our van manufacturer and attended a rally in Cape May, New Jersey in June. We did multiple day trips in New England over the summer, attended another rally in St. Andrew by the Sea, Canada for another five-day trip through Maine and into Canada.”

When asked about any obstacles they encountered in realizing their dream, Alison said they were initially challenged in housing the RV, given the typical condo association’s restriction about having it at their home. “We solved this problem creatively by selling our larger Carlisle home to our Carly, plus building an RV garage addition to the existing garage at her house which, by a carefully worded contractual agreement, is ours to use for as many years as we are able. We now own a camper van and enjoy many weekend getaways. We would never have had the time or money to own an RV if we continued to live in our big Carlisle house.”

When asked how they squeezed into their condo, Alison said “Our condo has lots of basement and attic space, so although our living space is now far more compact, we still have a lot of stuff. Our next big push to downsize will come when Mike retires, as making decisions to use, store or give away possessions is still very challenging.”

“We decided that the ‘camper van’ was our style of life, and we hope to spend some retirement time exploring the US. So we are getting a head start by learning about RV-ing before retirement on small trips. For now, the RV is Mike’s delight, and he spends endless hours researching how to maintain it, and where we should go for both short and longer trips. After we retire we hope to do six to eight week trips throughout the US and Canada, and maybe Alaska depending on the season. We intend to avoid the heat and cold, and just go where the temperature is pleasant!”

The magic of new beginnings

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Dave Stickler with his vintage 440 locomotive.

Marje and Dave Stickler lived in Carlisle 32 years, loved raising their family of three children here, yet they always dreamed of one day having a home in Maine. They bought riverfront land there years ago with a vacation home in mind, but when it came time to retire, they realized that property was too isolated for year-round retirement living.  Instead they explored the more vibrant Maine coast and fell in love with Belfast, moving there in 2012. It wasn’t easy getting their Deck House cleaned out, freshened and sold, and Marje recalls “It was very hard to move farther from family and to leave Carlisle and dear friends.  Yet we wanted an active outdoor life and were torn between Maine and Montana, a favorite fly-fishing destination.” 

Marje says “when we visited Belfast, we unexpectedly fell in love—it was truly magical. We found a YMCA, a Unitarian Universalist church, a ‘senior college’ satellite of the University of Maine, and the seacoast. We have taken free senior college courses taught by University of Maine professors on various subjects from botany and geology to Lincoln and Spirituality, Winston Churchill, Homer’s Odyssey and Four Cosmic Questions.  Little did we know there were also avid environmentalists, trail developers, a robust garden club and a downtown with good restaurants and amazing shops. There is a vibrant arts community, a year-round farmers market, fascinating people and smiles on many faces.” 

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Marje Stickler and one of their Leonberger dogs.

I have visited the Sticklers’ new home which is a beautiful, almost-new contemporary with huge windows and lovely views of meadows and majestic trees. Marje explains “Dave has a large hobby workshop set up with his vintage electric train set, and also a darkroom for his photography hobby, which has blossomed. He has created a 2018 calendar for friends and family comprised of twelve of his notable photographs, and his work will be exhibited in a one-person show at the Belfast Free Library in May. As for me, I continue crafting Nantucket baskets and I look forward to a wonderful year of gardening. In Belfast, we have a terrific farmers market and a new indoor Saturday Market with food, art and ambiance. Even our two Leonberger dogs [a gentle giant working dog breed of 100 to 170 pounds, known for its intelligence, strength and kindness] are enjoying this new life, each of which serves as a therapy dog who provides weekly visits to hospital and nursing home patients. One has even volunteered at the public library as a ‘listener,’ being read to by blossoming first grade readers.” 

Marje reflects on the challenge of initially making this home transition and reminds me that there is always resistance to change, yet there is growth in it too.  Ever positive, she reminds me of a quote she has found inspirational. It is from Meister Eckhart, the medieval German theologian, philosopher and mystic:  “And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” Truly this transition has been a magical force in their lives.

Author’s note

Next we’ll bring you more stories of your friends and neighbors who have started second careers in retirement jobs, found vibrant urban living in Greater Carlisle and rightsized while keeping their same lives, friends and activities.  And we’ll offer a few tips that may help you move forward. Also if you have any stories about how empty-nesters are finding fulfillment in interesting ways, email me at mail@carlislemosquito.org.