When you’re thinking about moving and wondering which place is right for you, it can be tempting to look to others for answers, whether that means searching online or seeking advice from friends and family.
The problem with this approach is it assumes that someone else shares your exact life experiences, priorities, perspectives and other factors that influence how you relate and respond to a place. Your relationship to place is deeply personal, making the external hype and chatter irrelevant–even detrimental–to your search for the right place to move.
The most reliable answers to your questions can be found by looking within. This philosophy is at the heart of Find Your Happy Place, a new approach I designed that draws from your past and present experiences and relationships with place to inform and guide your search.
This week’s blog post demonstrates the very first step in the Find Your Happy Place process. Get ready, because it involves time travel! So, hop into the time capsule with me and fasten your seat belt, because we’re traveling waaaay back over a lifetime of moves to illustrate how you can track down valuable clues to your happy place.
To cover every move I’ve made so far, we have to go back to the very beginning. My dad, mom, two brothers and one sister had been living in Zurich, where my dad worked for a U.S. paper company that I’m pretty sure was nothing like “The Office.” My mom got pregnant with me while they were living there, but they moved back to the States before I was born.
Ridgewood, New Jersey
After returning to the U.S., my family lived briefly in New Jersey. I was born in New York City and spent my first 5 months in Ridgewood before we moved to San Francisco. Needless to say, I don’t remember anything about Ridgewood.
San Francisco, California (Part 1)
I had a ton of freedom and independence growing up in San Francisco during the 60s and 70s. My parents rented this amazing flat in the Richmond district right next to Mountain Lake Park until they bought a house when I was 8. I was kind of an odd loner kid and spent most of my time making up imaginary games in the playground and exploring the park on my own. Growing up in S.F. was both a gift and a curse. A gift, because I got to experience all the perks of living there–awesome public transportation, cool old architecture, amazing food, the Golden Gate Bridge, beaches, steep hills and breathtaking views, fresh ocean air, and the melancholy sound of fog horns–and a curse, because as an adult I learned that these perks came with too high of a price.
Upper Montclair, New Jersey
I left San Francisco to attend New York University when I was 18. My boyfriend joined me and, after many failed and bizarre attempts to find an apartment in Manhattan, we ended up moving in with his parents in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. I didn’t like living in the suburbs and commuting into the city every day, but I was also overwhelmed and repelled by the prospect of trying to live in New York City. At the time I was a classical guitar performance major, so I applied and was accepted to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and we relocated back to S.F. the following semester. I learned from this experience that I don’t care for the suburban commuter lifestyle and that, although I like city living, NYC is too much city for me.
San Francisco, California (Part 2)
The old adage that you can never go home again definitely applies to my experience living in San Francisco as an adult. I went to music school for one semester, transferred to S.F. State, dropped out after a year, worked a string of shitty bakery counter jobs and briefly as a file clerk at a law firm. My boyfriend and I were renting a small, cheap railroad flat in the Sunset District directly across from the enormous, stinky sewage plant in Golden Gate Park and two blocks up from dead-rat-strewn Ocean Beach.
The neighborhood was so desolate and remote, it didn’t even feel like we were in the city. So, when we were both offered jobs at a nonprofit arts organization in Marin County, we leapt at the chance to relocate 15 miles north. I learned from this experience that living in an amazing city isn’t nearly as fun when you can only afford to live on the outskirts
For the next two years we lived in Larkspur where we lived in a tiny unit in an old triplex that was so damp and rotted out, giant banana slugs would slime their way in through the plank floors and we’d step on them in the middle of the night. I worked part time at a bakery and part time for the nonprofit. After both jobs fizzled out, I got a job as membership assistant at the California Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit that rescued, rehabilitated and released beached seals and sea lions. (They still do!) We celebrated by leaving the banana slugs behind and relocating a few miles up the road. Larkspur taught me that crappy rentals are everywhere, not just in the city.
San Anselmo, California
In San Anselmo, we lived in a cramped apartment that was part of a converted dairy farm next to a natural area–a major improvement over the sewage plant! My favorite memory from those two years is of my early morning commute through the Marin Headlands, which started at the Golden Gate Bridge and curved up and around to provide a stunning panorama of the skyline before winding through the natural area. I loved the feeling of being close to the city and out in the wilderness at the same time.
I mostly enjoyed working at the Center, but it was yet another low-paying, dead-end job. So, we bought an old Plymouth Volare for $225 and embarked on a 10,000-mile cross-country road trip to find a new place to live. Shortly after returning to California, we sold all our belongings and moved with our two cats to Austin, Texas. My stint in Marin County showed me that living in the suburbs is similar to living on the city outskirts, except even less convenient.
I loved pretty much everything about Austin: the hills, rivers and lakes, Barton Springs and Deep Eddy, fun and interesting people, awesome cheap Mexican food and margaritas, live music, and the laid-back vibe and affordable cost of living. Austin was a sleepy city in 1990 but it seemed to hold limitless possibilities. Within months of moving, my boyfriend and I split up and I started a business.
Over 22 years, I raised one lovely daughter, built a successful business, bought a house close to downtown, married twice and divorced once. Austin also went through big changes during that time, not all for the best. By the time my daughter graduated from high school and my husband took a job working for a tiny town in West Texas, I was ready to escape the high cost of living, awful traffic and trendiness. I learned (again) that, while I love the perks of city living, I prefer to live in a city where I can afford to enjoy them.
Moving from Austin to Brownfield was like dying and going to hell. It was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but flat, dusty, colorless, windblown, tumbleweed-strewn ugliness. The town was depressed and insular and I was uncomfortable and unhappy living there. Within two years, my husband and I divorced and I moved to the closest city. The lesson of Brownfield was that I’m not meant to live a small, remote farming town–a lesson I wish I’d heeded later on.
Lubbock turned out to be a more populated version of Brownfield. Housing was affordable but the people were surly, the landscape was hideous, the food was awful, the crime rate was ridiculous, and the closest city with anything going on was hundreds of miles away. I’ll give Lubbock some credit though. I met my current husband there and, after enjoying our road trip honeymoon around the Midwest, we decided to bust out of Lubbock and relocate to Iowa. I learned that I’m most at home living in a medium-sized city; it’s just that Lubbock is most definitely not that city.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire…Sadly, in our rush to escape West Texas, we ended up in a place just like it. In examining what went wrong. I realized part of the reason we screwed up our move is because we didn’t do any substantive planning, research or deliberation. All the warning signs were there; we simply ignored them. Had we taken time to tune out the noise and reflect before plowing ahead, we would not have ended up in a small farming town in Iowa and we would have avoided a lot of heartache.
You are the only person who really knows what makes you happy. That’s why choosing a place to move is so personal. It’s also why the very first step in the Find Your Happy Place process is to journal (in writing or aloud, your choice) through past and present to unearth valuable clues to your happy place. Ready to start your search off on the right foot? Your time capsule is waiting! Learn more here.