POSTED: June 25, 2017

The challenge of stuff: to acquire, retain or divest during the transition to retirement

Sue Venn presenting CUSP paper at British Society of Gerontology 2017 Annual Conference
Swansea University, 5-7 July 2017

CC.0 :: Seth Doyle /

CUSP Research Fellow Sue Venn is presenting her paper in a symposium entitled “New perspectives on consumption in later life” at the British Society of Gerontology annual conference at Swansea University, 5-7 July 2017. The title of her paper is The challenge of stuff: to acquire, retain or divest during the transition to retirement.


A variety of psychological and sociological research indicates that an excessive focus on acquiring material goods is not only environmentally damaging but also associated with lower individual wellbeing. Popular websites and books also propound the idea that getting rid of material possessions may promote individual wellbeing. However, problematizing the acquisition of possessions and valorising their divestment ignores the complex symbolic meanings that things (and their acquisition and divestment) have and the roles they play in social relationships.

In this paper we focus on the transition to retirement as a period when people may reflect on the possessions they have, those they want to acquire and those they want to dispose of. Focusing on processes of acquisition, retention and divestment at this point in the lifecycle is significant given the growing number of people approaching or entering retirement, who are often portrayed as engaging in excessive levels of consumption which are counter to notions of sustainable living.

Drawing from serial interviews with 40 men and women in the UK transitioning to retirement (n=120), we show how retirement presents as an opportunity for people to reflect on the value of ”stuff” and suggest that consumption practices in retirement households are more nuanced than simply buying more or divesting, but rather depend on the emotional attachments to some things, the functionality of others and a desire to refresh the home in readiness for living well in later life.


The 46th Annual British Society of Gerontology Conference is hosted by the Centre for Innovative Ageing at Swansea University. The theme this year is “Do Not Go Gentle” – Gerontology and a Good Old Age. The conference will be welcoming delegates from around the world to celebrate in “The Art of Ageing”, shining a light on the innovative and participatory research being conducted to improve the lives of older people across each continent. More details can be accessed on the Swansea University website.

No Replies yet

    Leave a reply

    Your email address will not be published.