1. Open the newspaper and find the Classifieds.
Feel overwhelmed, as you usually are when faced with too many choices. Temper passions with an eye on practical considerations, such as food preferences and limitations based upon budget. Once you find the Classifieds, pore over the many categories. Be distracted by ads selling antique typewriters, Labrador puppies, raw farmland. Make a mental note that the farmland you really want someday is the kind with soil to grow coffee in. Indonesia?
2. Find ample storage: an attic, basement, or walk-in closet the size of a small warehouse.
Lose sleep over what to do with the ceramic zebra’s head sculpted by a daughter (now a junior at art school), another daughter’s complete Chronicles of Narnia. Wool coats put away because where you live now has only two seasons, wet and dry. Boxes of photo albums (2001-2006). Consider the long-term value of memories.
3. Go online to apartmentherapy.com and stalk the interiors of other people’s houses.
Here is where you begin to understand what drives your choices. Not envy, but where you came from, stirred by jpegs of shag carpets or mid-Century aesthetic: glass tile for your kitchen backsplash, the mahogany desk and leather chair that remind you of your granduncle, the one who served as cultural attaché to Burma in 1958. That extra bedroom to serve as a writer’s garret, because sloped ceilings and natural light will help you write better. Hardwood floors to showcase your mother’s collection of Tibetan prayer rugs, the only thing she left behind, apart from the empty seat at your daughter’s high school graduation dinner.
4. Consider the proximity to public transportation.
Walk to El, steps to Starbucks and minutes to the Loop! Short drive to beaches and Ocean Road; easy access to Tanah Merah Terminal Ferry. Dream of someday having a personal driver, a necessity and safety precaution in cities where roads are dusty, worn, or imaginary. Rik drove up in a white car after breakfast everyday, to take you to Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm, wherever you wanted to go until he suggested less touristy places. “You must visit the Killing Fields,” he said. You aren’t ready, you told him. Look into a house’s history, especially if it’s very old, and make certain it isn’t haunted.
5. Expand your search. Is climate a consideration?
Realize you miss snow at Christmas; not so much the rising ragweed count in April. But do exclude regions with extreme weather, such as neighborhoods located along the path of monsoons or around the Ring of Fire. Volcanos are fine as long as they are extinct. Reconsider retiring to a small coffee plantation in Danau Toba, Sumatra.