Phyllis Blanchfield has recently taken up line dancing. The retiree, who last year moved from Townsville to the Carlyle Gardens village in Mackay with her husband John, is having an absolute ball.

“I’d never done (line dancing) before in my life, but I’ve got lovely neighbours all around me, so off we went and we had a tonne of fun,” she says. “There are so many people who put so many things back into the community, I just so enjoy it. We’re very happy here, knowing that we’re home.”

The Blanchfields are two of the estimated 3.9 million people who retire every year, according to a 2020 report from Australian Bureau of Statistics. The data shows that while most people intend to retire at the age of 65, the average retirement age is 55, and the proportion of retired people is growing. People are living longer, fuller, healthier lives than ever before. It makes sense that they are happier, too.

Jill Weeks, author of 21 Ways to Retire, says the key to thriving amongst all these big life changes is to start investing in your new lifestyle early.

“Work gives you so much more than money. It’s socialisation, structure, time management, all those things,” she says. “Some people like being on the golf course five days a week, but many like having more structure, and a lot of people have lots of interesting things in their lives after they retire.

Ms. Weeks calls it a “lifestyle portfolio”. This could include things like part-time work, volunteering, social opportunities, creative pursuits, athletic pursuits, and much more. They’re the things that keep people busy, keep them going, and keep smiles on their faces as they start the next chapter.

“Retirement is a time in your life to embrace a whole lot of new opportunities,” she says. “There’s no withdrawing, no retreating. People are getting out there and trying all sorts of different things. The way we think about ‘retirement’ has changed, and it’s going to keep changing. There are just so many people doing interesting and valuable things in their communities; it’s a chance to learn and explore.”

Along with interests and ideas, it’s important to give thought to where you’ll spend your time. For the Blanchfields, that meant circling back to their roots and settling down on familiar ground.

“We used to live in the area, just up the road, when this was a cane field,” Mrs Blanchfield laughs. Both of her children went to school locally, but when they grew up, “one went one way and one went the other”. She and her husband moved to Townsville in 2005, following his work for Ergon Energy, but after her elderly mother passed away in 2016, they decided to go home to Mackay.

As luck would have it, they moved in next door to one of her husband’s old friends, and she says the two of them remain great mates. “We call them the gnomes. They sit out there and talk about history - remember this, remember that, you get a real history lesson,” she teases. He’s sitting in the background and can overhear her end of the conversation. “There’s always someone to talk to.”

The only real challenge to the transition, she says, was downsizing. The couple lived in a large house in Townsville, and although they never had a lot of clutter, they needed to reduce their possessions to approximately a third of what they had up north. She says it was well worth the effort.

“My kitchen is actually bigger than what I had,” she says. Since they don’t need all the bedrooms, the Blanchfields converted one into their very own home theatre room. And since their house was designed with accessibility in mind, they know it will remain a comfortable place to live in the years ahead.

Health is, of course, something front of mind for many people considering retirement.

Dr Kieran Kennedy works in psychiatry and has extensive experience in helping people manage the transition to retirement. It can be stressful, he says, because it’s a big change that can rock the way we think about ourselves. This can create a lot of pressure on both physical and mental health.

“Retirement comes with logistical changes, like finances and houses and family. But for me, as a mental health doctor, one of the biggest things that I see affecting people in retirement is their sense of identity,” he says. “We spend so much of our lives attaching our identity to our ability to work and make money. When we’re just ourselves, that’s a challenging point. It’s like our brain gets knocked for six. Old routines and habits aren't there, and the brain takes time to adjust and settle into new ones.”

The key to managing the transition, he says, is to find purpose in other things, such as spending time with family, investing in community, diving into new creative pursuits, or focusing on fitness goals.

Mrs Blanchfield already has big plans. This year, she’s looking forward to more community events, more volunteering, more visits with loved ones, more meals out. And, of course, much more line dancing.

If you’re ready to make the move, Carlyle Gardens in Mackay offers a resort lifestyle, and a community of like-minded people. Find out more about our village.

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