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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: August 2023 | Where to Live

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Joan Myers Bondareff


  • While some may choose to move when they retire, others can find satisfaction right where they're at.
  • Use these seven tips to continue living where it feels like home to you in retirement.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
Andrew Morse via Getty Images

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This popular title is a quote attributed to the Roman naval commander, Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), but the song with this title was written by Hal David and Sherman Edwards and made popular by Elvis Presley. Who knew?

It’s also what I have practiced and believed in for most of my adult life. My heart is in my home in Alexandria, Virginia, and I have kept it close in good and bad times. Here are some of my personal tips for making this work.

While friends and neighbors are retiring and moving to The Villages in Florida or Asheville or someplace with a milder climate, I have remained in my home in Old Town Alexandria, near the Potomac River, and have no foreseeable plans of moving.

The home I own is my security blanket. When I got divorced in 1995, I stayed put. Or as I say, I got the house and he got the boat. It seemed like a fair deal to me. A few years later, I was able to pay off the mortgage thus making it almost rent-free to live in my house –aside from property taxes and the usual maintenance, that is.  Tip 1:  Pay off your mortgage before you retire.

When you go through a major life change, like a divorce or a death in the family, it is not the time to undertake any other major changes, like selling your home, so stay put and make the old house work for you.  Tip 2:  Keep the appliances and HVAC systems updated and regularly maintained.  Invest in a walk-in shower; avoid falls. 

At the time of my divorce, I had just gotten a new job with the Clinton Administration as Chief Counsel of the United States Maritime Administration overseeing several new maritime programs and supervising 30 or more attorneys and staff.  This position was demanding, so it kept me very busy for more than four years.  Tip 3: Focus on work, and don’t make a career move and home move at the same time if you can avoid it.    

After my divorce, I met a lovely, kind gentleman from Philadelphia on the internet. We met on a travel companion website (sorry it went out of business), and he found my profile. After he sold his house, he moved into my home in Virginia. We had plenty of room to live in the same house and he could run or walk on the bike path by the river every day while I kept working.  Again, why move? The house became his home, too, and the stage from which we undertook many trips around the world, e.g., to England, France, Turkey, Denmark, Greece, Argentina, Canada, and Mexico, among other countries.  When we came back from the trips, we returned to the lovely home by the river and kept on enjoying our life together. Tip 4: Travel while you can.  Make memories while you can.  Don’t let other obligations stand in the way.

My lovely, kind gentleman partner passed away last year, so the house is again my security blanket and full of sweet memories of our life together.  Seems like no reason to move away and lose all the happy memories. Time for an upgrade?  Tip 5: Invest in green energy improvements like new windows and doors and energy-star appliances.  Keep receipts for tax purposes.

I have continued to work –now with a private law and consulting firm in Washington, DC, in reasonable commuting distance from Alexandria, again, there’s no reason to move. Tip 6: Don’t have long commutes if possible.  They waste a lot of precious time.

Have I mentioned that I live in an area with a great neighborhood association and many friends? There’s no HOA but there is a community association whose mission is to maintain a charming park by the river.   Once a month, you can find the association members in the park cleaning up trash.  The city pays us to keep the park green and clean and full of lovely plants, trees, and flowers.  The park is open to the public every day of the week, and we help maintain its passive mission of enjoyment and serenity.   Tip 7: Help your neighbors and they will help you.  Enjoy the green spaces in your town.  Create one if there isn’t one.  It’s good for the soul.

Where else can I find a great neighborhood with many amenities and walking distance to town and a short commute to the big city?  Nowhere else, so here I stay until my heart can’t walk up the stairs any more…but wait. I can get a stairlift or elevator installed!  For now, my home is staying put and my heart is here.  Home is where my heart is.  I recommend it for a retirement plan.  Stay put and smell the flowers in your own backyard.