I have been thinking a lot lately about the concept of ‘place’ as we age. This starts with the big picture, of course – what city to live in, whether to do a sea change to a small town, go interstate or even move overseas. Some lucky people even have two homes and move between them as the whim – or the weather – suggests. Others hunker down in the family home, creating a nest or a sanctuary. And some become peripatetic, flitting all over the place like butterflies…

But place also covers more subtle things like what kind of house would I like, will I live alone, how will I connect to the local community and so on. I’m not talking about retirement villages or nursing homes in particular; in fact less than 20% of us will ever end up in one of those. There’s a great range of other possibilities. Without especially searching for articles about ageing and place, in the last few months I’ve read about:

  • the tiny house movement
  • older people doing housesitting as a way of life
  • a woman living in a converted railway carriage
  • co-housing projects for older women
  • ageing Japanese men engineering prison stays in order to have food and shelter (not so pretty, that story)
  • a combo retirement home and preschool
  • Dutch older people sharing their accommodation with uni students
  • people 50+ renting in share houses
  • new creative and intelligent designs for communal housing / retirement village environments

Some of these would decidedly not work for me – I am too large for a tiny house and too clumsy to enjoy being a housesitter. I need a certain sense of space and a settled environment in order to thrive. But I love the range of possibilities that are being talked about these days. They suggest that whatever your life circumstances you can craft a housing solution that will help you to flourish. Wealthy or not, partnered or not, with or without kids, pets and personality quirks notwithstanding, there is a place for you.

There is a great deal of research from we might call a functional perspective about the importance of place as we age: being able to navigate with restricted sight or mobility, being close to shops and transport, adapting houses with assistive technologies and suchlike. Having seen my mother’s changing needs for adjustments as she aged and became unwell, I absolutely appreciate the importance of this. And it is equally paramount that we consciously create a home environment that helps us feel happy, secure, comfortable and able to live a life we enjoy (and of course this is the case at any age…).

So where (and how) do you want to live?

Joanna Maxwell

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