A few years back, I got this fantastic idea to try something we’d thought about on and off. Let’s move to the country! Yeah, let’s uproot everyone, quit your job, sell the house and try a new lifestyle. It’ll be more affordable, we will have nice neighbors as opposed to the meanies now who are always minding our business, and the slower pace will do us all good.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had similar inklings. Try something new, spend more time outdoors, get away from the crowds and the traffic, experience a new type of weather. Many people say “Yeah, I want to get out of California, too, but I could never do it.” They talk about wishing they could have a garden, animals, see it snow…but it is such a big, difficult change, most of us just file it away as an “I wish..” and move on.
Then there is us. We actually did it.
Fast forward six years from when we made the decision back in 2009, and we swear now that we are lifelong California residents.
It’s not that country living was bad. The opposite, in fact. Country living taught us all some things and we have some good memories. The sky was expansive and at night, you could see stars for miles. During meteor showers, we laid out in the yard, sometimes with frogs and lightning bugs swarming around us, without any street lights to block the view or people driving by wondering what we were doing. We could sit on our front porch, drink in hand, and watch the storms. Because the stores were so far away, we shopped less and when we did, it was an excursion IN the Excursion. We’d make a day of it then come back to our little homestead, ready for some more peace and quiet. Trips around town meant two-lane highways and curvy roads around farms, cows grazing, with the occasional stop to let turkeys wander across the road. More green and less cars than I’d ever seen anywhere. Bunnies hopped through the yard and at almost any point during the day, you could stand still and listen to the sounds of nature without hearing a single vehicle. We had a big garden, grape vines and a lot of trees, many which produced edible fruit. Want blackberries? Wander into the woods behind the house. Want to take a nature walk? Head out front and turn right. Church bells at various hours throughout the day, roadside stands selling honey and watermelons, people waving as they drive by. My youngest got to wander a farm and pet donkeys and goats, so different from his prior experiences with those animals at the Los Angeles County Fair.
Living in the country can be idyllic. Learning to be more self-sustaining, farming, animals roaming… but it’s also a lot of work, and if you don’t have the time or help to handle it all, it can be all-consuming. Another down side was that we’re pretty social people. I can go days without leaving the house — my hermit stages — but I do want to leave the house sometimes. I want to go out to happy hour, a nice restaurant or a dive, enjoy a bbq dinner at someone else’s home or host a pool party of my own. Those things just weren’t common there, nor did we experience the hospitality that many other southern towns exemplify. Want Starbucks? Learn to make it yourself or drive 30 minutes. Things we take for granted out here in California just aren’t readily available — and that may be totally okay with you, but we tired of having nothing but fire pits and family dinners from late-October through early-March and being “the people from California.” And the more affordable part? Research that before you go. Dive in deep and talk to prospective insurance providers, scope out utility costs and do some grocery and clothes shopping. The reality for us is that we broke even, other than our mortgage being smaller.
So we came back to California. Not a day goes by that we’re not happy with that decision, despite the money lost on two home sales and moves in a three-year span. That’s life, right? We’re glad we tried versus always wondering, and we gave the kids three years of the type of life we both grew up with for 10-12 years. The husband calls it our adventure; I call it our detour.
Still though, there is some of that country lifestyle that I would love to recreate. If I had to come up with things I miss, I’d say the landscape, having some seasonal weather, independence from being connected 24/7 and the motivation to focus inwards on your family. Out here, if we need something, we zip to the store — even if we don’t need it that badly. The temptation to spend more and shop more looms large, and it becomes not only a money suck but a time suck. In the country, there is forced restraint, which reflects itself by having more time to appreciate your home and willingly begin to spend more time there. It doesn’t mean we didn’t travel, as we did a lot of it, but that you don’t need to find things to fill your time every single second. You get that peace that not hearing the stress and rush of others around you brings. I have what I call my “island” days, where I’m tired of people and have no need to socialize or leave the house, but I also know what it’s like to have that forced on you seven days a week, so I don’t want to go back to that lifestyle. Instead, like everything else in life, I think there’s a happy medium, a way to mix the best of both worlds.
Bloom where you are planted. BUT…you are not a tree. Don’t like where you are? Move. You do have the choice, even if there are obstacles.
Even on our tiny 4,700 square foot lot here in Southern California, we’re able to create a peaceful backyard surrounded by greenery, grow our own organic food and sit on the balcony or patio, watching the clouds. (And the silly people who get lost in our development and stop where are no stop signs.)
Living in the city doesn’t mean we have to be so heavily entrenched in technology that we don’t enjoy other things in life. It’s hard to pull ourselves away from it at times, but if we have other things to do, it becomes routine to put down the cellphones, tablets and laptops in favor of going outside or heading into the kitchen to make a loaf of bread from scratch. Being a city resident doesn’t mean we can’t live a little of the country lifestyle, and I bet a lot of us already do things that aren’t as urban as others may think.
Plant some flowers. Tending to them is relaxing, gets you out of the house and gives you a gorgeous backdrop for outdoor entertaining or relaxing after work. Another benefit is the beautiful bouquets you can arrange inside or take to a friend who needs a little perking up. It may be a little hit-and-miss, as you find what works and what works where, but experimenting is half the fun!
Stretch the garden space to include some of your favorite vegetables. Not only does it save you money, but nothing beats thinking about what to make for dinner and realizing you have everything for a fresh salad 10′ from your back door. Homegrown produce really does taste the best! (And you know what’s on it. In our case, we use no pesticides and a quick rinse for any dirt suffices.) You don’t have to go crazy and do everything at once; start with a couple of your favorites and grow from there. (That “grow” instead of “go” was intentional!) HOA and/or zoning guidelines in mind, get creative. We’ve decided to use pallets as standing herb garden containers. Inexpensive, we can paint/decorate them as we like, they’re portable and they take little space. (We have no HOA so it’s easier for us.)
No matter what type of diet you prefer — unless you prefer processed convenience food — you can swap out a couple of store-bought items to make yourself. The process of mixing dough and watching it rise really is under-appreciated. I swear by the Artisan bread in under five minutes recipes and series of books; I’ve saved myself so much money beyond the cost of the books and really added a lot to our repertoire. Check the first one out here.
But, for any of this stuff to work, you have to enjoy being home and not feel like you’re stuck. I love to shop, hit up happy hour, go out to dinner and a movie and of course, stuff with the kids. Amusement parks, the beach, exploring…I won’t turn it down, but there still needs to be time in-between, time where you can unwind, decompress, whatever you call it. Enjoy what’s around you and like what you’ve done with your personal space. This is the first house I think we’ve really succeeded with that, though it’s a work-in-progress. I still have days where I have to get out and days where I have social media events to attend, and I look forward to those days, but I like my house and the little bit of country lifestyle we’ve been able to retain. It’s not true country living, but a more natural lifestyle, but that’s a story for a different post.
Remember: bloom where you’re planted, but if you don’t like it, you’re not a tree. Get up and move.