When I was in fourth grade I won an art contest and received a $25 gift card to Pizza Hut. Pretty big deal. Made my mom cart over there in our maroon mini van so I could spend my winnings as fast as you can say personal pan pizza.
We were tasked with drawing our “dream home” in this art contest, and I can’t even show you the painting because my parents auctioned it off in an online sale to get rid of all their stuff before moving. So some strangers have my Picasso hanging on their dining room wall, probably wondering what the artist is up to these days. We’ll skip right over the fact that anyone would willingly purchase my fourth grade painting.
Anyway, in my dream home, I lived in a black and white striped lighthouse (I was obsessed with lighthouses), on a tiny island, right across the water from a little city. I’m not sure if logistically speaking one can live in a lighthouse, but that is neither here nor there.
Despite pragmatic details, it’s eerie how close to accurate that dream scenario is 20 years later. I have always wanted to live near the water (maybe not on my own island), that’s just remote enough to be peaceful, but still accessible to an active area, full of interesting people and good food. My dream home doesn’t actually have to be close to a Pizza Hut though.
After five years of living in New York, I needed a change and left without knowing if I’d be back. I knew I needed some space, but I wasn’t sure if I could truly bid a permanent farewell. I’m still not sure, for the record, but New York isn’t going anywhere.
So I spent some time at home, building my business, fielding questions from my parents about what I wanted for dinner and where I’d go next. Plenty of time to think about where I wanted to live. This was both exciting and excruciating, as I turned over every possible option, weighed pros and cons, and visited multiple places with a single question in mind: “should I live here?”.
I’m curious, how did you end up living where you do now? I love learning what’s important for people and why.
In the end I settled on Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A cute coastal town that embodies all of the things I love about New England, with a city-ish vibe. There is no Pizza Hut, but there are wonderful restaurants, and lighthouses and people who smile and say hello on the sidewalk while walking their dogs. I still feel a little bit like a fish out of water but I’m learning to adjust (What do you mean there is no broker’s fee? Where are all the rats? Why are you walking so slow?).
I don’t believe you can truly get clarity on a situation until engaging in it. Which is to say you can make checklists, and think you know something about yourself or a place, but until you experience it – whether that’s a new neighborhood, a new business, a new relationship or a new anything really – you can’t be certain. You gotta take these things for a test drive.
It’s a big decision though, to be sure, and one I wanted to make intentionally. I thought about it a lot. And I’ve discovered that different factors matter to different people. I was talking to a friend and mentioned maybe San Francisco when she pointed out, horrified, “but the earthquakes!” Natural disasters had never even crossed my mind. In another conversation, Chicago came up, but I wanted to be near the ocean. Maybe that’s not a selling point for you.
It came down to a handful of things for me:
- Food (okay you can get food anywhere, but trust me when I say you will miss Seamless when it’s gone).
Let’s discuss each, shall we?
This is a bit of a beast to tackle, because it encompasses so many things. Do you like to be able to walk outside and find a bar to belly up to nearby? One that plays live music? Places to buy toilet paper? Do you like to go hiking? Do you like to drive a car to the grocery store, or do you prefer ordering online? Do you have a large dog that won’t be permitted in small apartments? Do you want to look out your window every day and see trees or see stylish people heading to brunch? Some of this stuff sounds superfluous, but as with questions like should I revert my hair to a middle part, they matter (seriously should I?). When’s the last time you asked yourself what do I actually want my life, my day to day activities, to look like? Not just what should I do today because that’s what everyone else around me is doing.
Of course, your lifestyle will likely change over time. When you were a few years younger and had the metabolism of a hummingbird maybe you enjoyed drinking vodka sodas and dancing until 3 in the morning followed by three slices of pizza and a side of mozz sticks. Or maybe that still sounds appealing, in which case a large city with a cornucopia of clubs and 24/7 bodegas may tickle your fancy. If like me, your body now violently rebels when you try to pull that off, maybe a thriving nightlife scene isn’t all that important.
Similar to lifestyle, values are also helpful to consider here. From what I’ve experienced, cities can send a message about what’s valued among its residents when you listen closely. In New York, money matters. In Shanghai, consumption counts. When I lived in London during college I was drunk 97% of the time so the only message I was picking up was “the bar is this way”. I’ve never lived in LA or San Francisco or Paris but I have some idea for what kind of vibe they’ve got going on.
Not to say there’s only one message a city can send. But I’ve found life in certain cities can revolve around the values of its residents, so it’s worth looking into. Other factors are work-life balance, housing options, access to culture/education/diversity, political opinions, school districts, weather, and a slew of other things that I’m probably spacing on but you won’t, because they’re your values, and that’s the point here.
This one is two fold. First, that my parents moved to New Hampshire was a big factor for me. Not just because my mom is my eternal muse and provides endless entertainment and writing material, but also because I genuinely enjoy spending time with them. This Wait But Why article about “the tail end” puts our time with the people who matter in perspective. Semi-morbid, but good stuff.
Second, since leaving New York I’ve realized about myself (and please excuse the arduous millennial-ness here), that I want to spend my time thinking about interesting things and having deep conversations with people about these things, and I’m not sure that’s possible in every pocket of the world. I got the feeling that it’s possible here, which was a draw. Portsmouth seems to be full of creative entrepreneurs who are interested in big ideas, but I’d like to find out. Can’t really know for sure until you take the test drive, remember?
Perhaps less pertinent, but I felt it was deserving of its own category. Consistent access to tacos and good coffee right outside your door may not be high priorities for you, but it’s something to consider. You probably don’t have to take drastic measures though and move into the same building as the coffee shop like I did. What’s your equivalent to my food category? What brings you joy?
I think where we live, like other things, can (and perhaps should) be fluid. Sure, it’s nice to put down roots when you find a place you really love, and I can see value in investing in property, depending on where it is. But it’s a big world and I’m curious about every inch of it. Maybe I’ll stay here for a year or two, then try somewhere else. What I know for sure is that I never want to look back on my life and say I wish I had experienced everything I wanted to.
So that’s where I’m at, and we’ll see how it goes. I’m sitting out on my deck as I write this, stopping occasionally to take a sip of pinot noir and look at the cute little bakery covered in vines across the street, and I’m feeling pretty content about things and life in general. I think that feeling of gratitude for the present moment is the best thing I can aim for.