Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Create – don’t simply consume.

When I was 7 my Gran taught me how to knit. I still remember the wool she used. It was bright red. Gran’s hands moved effortlessly as she showed me what to do, while mine wrestled incompetently with the wool and the needles. We were in the dining nook, she was to the left of me, while Mum was in the kitchen, where she could keep an eye on what was going on without being in the way.

My brother and sister weren’t interested in learning, but for some reason it stuck with me and I’ve been knitting ever since. 

Years later, long after Gran died, Mum and I were talking about her, and Mum said something that I’ve never forgotten.

“Mum said to me, when I left work to have you, that I needed to learn a skill,” she said. “Something that I could point to at the end of the day and say, ‘That’s how I spent some time today’. Something that will LAST. When you’re a young Mum at home with kids, so much of your time is spent on work that will need to be done again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. It’s disheartening. You need something you can hold in your hand and know that it’s not going to go away any time soon. You need something for YOU.”

Gran’s ‘tangible thing’ was knitting. Mum’s was sewing. Many’s the time I’d hear her swearing at the sewing machine when I was a kid. She made our clothes, but she also made aprons and other things for sale. She sewed the curtains for our family room and dabbled with embroidery as well. 

These women from the past were motivated in part by frugality – back then it was cheaper to handmade clothes, not like today! – but they were also satisfying that innate human urge to create.

Maybe this is why so many people in the FIRE movement are drawn to blogging? Many jobs are essentially the same as being at home with children. Every day the kids need feeding. You can’t cook the perfect meal and say, “Nailed it! I never have to do this again! Behold my perfect meal!” 

Or you vacuum and dust the lounge room and it looks terrific. “Hooray! I never have to clean this room again!” said no-one ever. It always has to be done again.

It’s the same with our jobs. We pitch the perfect proposal/write the most wonderful report/teach an amazing lesson and we feel great… but it all has to be done again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. There are few jobs, particularly in office environments, where the work you do today is still around years from now.

No wonder people get burned out.

So much of the advice about retiring early revolves around the money, but there’s also that recurring advice of “You already know what you’re retiring FROM. Work out what you’re retiring TO.”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many early retirees find that they’re drawn to work that they do with their hands. Creativity is deep within the human psyche and making something appear that would never have been there without you is deeply satisfying. Once people free up the hours each day that were once spent commuting and working, it’s not surprising that many are drawn to scratching that creative itch that was left neglected for so long.

So here’s the crazy idea – what if you built in some time before you leave work to develop these skills you’re drawn to?

Surely it’s got to make the time we spend between finding out about FIRE and finally being able to pull the pin on the job a little more pleasant. Learning how to work with your hands, or practising a skill like songwriting or sketching doesn’t have a time limit on it. It won’t matter if you take a year of weekend/after work time to master a basic skill, or 2 years or 10. Who cares? You’re doing it for YOU. There’s no ‘Skillz Boss’ looking over your shoulder.

I’m guessing most people would already know what they’d spend creative time doing, but some people may not. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box a little.

For example – what if you really love cooking? Each meal or dessert you make gets eaten and enjoyed, but you might feel there’s nothing tangible left for YOU. What about putting a book of ‘Family Favourite’ recipes together? Or maybe a collection of ‘Incredible Dessert’ recipes or ‘Excellent Meals to bring to Pot-Lucks’ to give to your friends? That’s creative.

What if you enjoy playing an instrument, but you have zero interest in songwriting? I live with musicians and I know for a fact that it’s never been easier to record yourself and create a video or (if you want to delight your Mum) make a CD of you playing your favourite songs. You don’t have to write your own songs to be able to create beautiful music that makes people feel good.

Me? Obviously, I have my blogs, but I also knit small, deliciously soft cowls and hats for people, made from skeins of Peruvian alpaca wool hand-dyed by virgins in large kettles over open fires. (If you believe the advertising.) I have a queen-sized quilt on the go for Tom27. The squares are 2.5 inches each, so he’ll probably be known as Tom58 by the time he gets it. I write the (very) occasional poem. I garden.

It’s too easy to get lost in spreadsheets and projections with hideous Maths and numerals when we’re racing towards FI/RE. Every one of us needs to nurture that little creative spark within us, so that when we reach FIRE and we can choose to spend our time in whichever ways we want – we actually have a few clear desires to follow.

No one wants to be that persnickety guy in socks and sandals worried about those pesky kids coming onto his lawn. If we’re putting in all this work to reach our personal freedom, let’s be running TOWARDS something that will give us joy. Life’s too short to die wondering.

Let’s find out what we enjoy and get going on actually enjoying it. Could be fun…


  1. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    Whenever I’ve spent too much time working, I can feel it in my soul. There’s an emptiness that comes up when I haven’t created anything, and writing alone doesn’t fill that space, even though I’m not what I think of as an inherently creative person. I can’t make any kind of art, I don’t have poetry in my soul, I don’t have much vision. My crocheting is a little bit atrocious.

    I CAN sew a straight line sometimes though so that’s what I do! My needle and thread and I make incredibly simple seams and that’s good. One day, I will save enough for a small digital piano and then I’ll start relearning how to play that. And I’ll dig in the garden and grow things some day too. We’re waging war against the weeds right now in preparation for that wonderful day ahead.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I started quilting when it dawned on me that all you have to do is sew small straight seams. It’s the only sewing I do.
      Maybe you should give it a go!

  2. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    I’m terrible at knitting and crocheting. I’ll crochet scarves during the winter to keep my hands busy, but they come out with uneven rows. I have my mom give them to the homeless shelter, though, because the things are still warm and will serve their basic (if not aesthetic) purpose.

    Still, even when I know I’m doing it badly, it’s wonderful to be able to create something with my hands. I suppose if I ever had enough of an inclination, I could teach myself to be better and make things that actually look nice. But here in Arizona you can only have wool sitting on your lap for so long before it starts to make you sweat. So I’ll stick to my winters of uneven scarves I guess.

    All of this is a long way of saying that it’s definitely a smart idea to hone your skills before you get out of the workforce. Not just so that you’re better at it — and not discouraged if it turns out you’re no good at all, in which case you can take the time to tackle another hobby — but so that you know what you’re working toward instead of what you’re escaping. The cowls sound lovely by the way.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I really like your last paragraph. It’s nice to know what I’m heading towards.

  3. Serina Bird

    I really love the way you have written this. I really resonates with me today! I’ve got a bridal shower to go to in a month’s time and I am going to knit a blanket (not sure if it will be ready in time though!) I’m sure the mum to be probably expect new things on her list but … like you, I like the feeling of creating things that are tangible and real.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I like that your gift is useful – even if they’re taken aback at the time, the first chilly evening and they’ll be reaching for that blanket!

  4. Cath

    This rings so true for me. I love to knit although it’s fallen by the wayside as my kids have gotten a little older. I find the same is true for me with preserving food – a beautiful meal is gone in minutes, but i love seeing all those beautiful jars lined up for winter!

    • FrogdancerJones

      I stopped knitting for around 10 years when the kids were little.
      Then I picked it up again. The good thing is, once you have these skills, you never forget them.

  5. Savvy History

    I’m excited anytime FI is connected to creativity! I love this post and the ideas/stories behind it. I really appreciate the idea of having something tangible to look at each day and say, “Hey, I did that.” If we humans can’t watch something build over time, we lose the key to happiness.

    I’m into music, so I don’t make tangible projects I can see, but it’s still the same premise. Also, I feel comfortable knowing I’m not running away from anything, but have established plenty to run towards!

    • FrogdancerJones

      Great comment!
      I especially like your last sentence. 🙂

  6. Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early

    This really resonates with me. And when someone asks what I do, I can answer with more than just what I do with my job. Having ownership and accomplishment outside of work is so important, especially when it can be something lasting and tangible.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I’m glad this post grabbed you!

  7. Latestarterfire

    Beautifully written! Confession time – I have never completed a knitting project-not even a scarf! I have never considered myself as being creative as I can’t draw even if my life depended on it. But I love to cook/bake – it is so satisfying when I’ve recreated a dish seen in some magazine/recipe. Thanks for the reminder to take time to create

  8. chasingFIREdownunder

    Absolutely agree! When I was a poor uni student with more free time than I have now, I really enjoyed making cross-stitch artwork. It didn’t require any artistic creativity from me as the template has already been drawn by somebody else, but it filled up hours and hours of my time and at the end of it I’d have a beautiful picture I could frame and hang on the walls at home. It’s something I definitely want to get back into when I’ve claimed back some more time in my life because I really loved doing it.

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