Story originally published in Belleville News Democrat’s Prime Life Magazine in May 2016.
Last year at this time, Rocky McDonald was waking up to a view that many of us would love: A glistening 77-acre lake, right in his own backyard. From the dock behind his beautiful 4,000 square-foot-home in Wildwood Lake Estates, he could fish, ride jet-skis and go boating. He had all the space he needed to have amazing parties with all of his friends. And yet, he wasn’t all that happy.
“I was spending my weekends mowing grass and trimming around the lake, and way too much time trying to maintain that big house,” said McDonald. “I was also in the car for hours going back and forth to work.”
McDonald bought the Smithton property in 2008 and enjoyed the years in which his two sons often visited while home from college. The basement was perfect for them to have friends over to play pool, and they spent many fun summers on the water. But after he divorced and his boys moved to Belleville and got busy with their own lives, the impressive house was filled with too much empty space and required a lot of work. At 58, there was much more he wanted to do with his time.
“Once you get to a certain point in your lfe, you realize that a house isn’t a focal point, “ said McDonald. “I had begun to focus on my health, and I decided I wanted to do as much as I could to enjoy it.”
He had recently trained for and completed two half-marathons, and had pushed himself to a new limit when he ran the Tough Mudder in 2014 with his son, Alex, for his 30th birthday. After contemplating what would be best for not only his physical health but his financial and mental health as well, he sold his lakeside estate last October and bought a considerably smaller dwelling in the development his family owns, McDonald Mobile Home Park in Swansea.
Now instead of spending what he estimates to have been 800 hours per year on home maintenance and driving, he’s driving just minutes to his job as an attorney in Belleville, he’s enjoying impromptu visits from his sons, and having lots of fun with girlfriend Marie Stamm.
“I’m close to everything. I go to the Y to exercise every morning, then head to work and come home and change before heading back out with Marie for bike rides on the trail near my home,” said McDonald. “We have many options for dinner close by, or we just pick up groceries and cook together at home. It’s much simpler where I live now. I’m exactly where I want to be.”
Not owning a huge home has also allowed McDonald the financial freedom to travel as he wishes, since he wants to see as many places as he can while he’s healthy. He plans to start taking two vacations every year, as well as weekend camping trips in summer months. He and Marie are looking forward to a trip to Italy together in June, and will head out west to tour Yellowstone Park and see Mount Rushmore in the near future. With the savings in taxes, insurance and utility bills he’s getting, he also plans to finally purchase the sports car he’s been dreaming about.
The most important lesson that McDonald has taken away from his life so far is that there are no regrets. Divorce taught him that it’s important for couples to focus on each other — he now takes dance lessons each week and enjoys going dancing with Marie. The tough years of parenthood taught him that disciplining kids when they’re young pays off, as he’s very proud of the men his sons have become and can now call them his friends. And finally, owning a large house served its purpose because it gave his family a place to spend time together when it counted, and later allowed him to appreciate the freedom he felt after moving on to something smaller.
“I enjoyed my 20s, 30s, and 40s,” said McDonald. “But my 50s have been the best years of my life so far. I’m enjoying my health, and just living every moment.”