Whether or not we like a place is purely subjective. It’s a lot like our tastes in food. Let’s say you like asparagus. Most likely you’re not going to take offense if I tell you I don’t like asparagus. Yet, people often take it personally when they learn you don’t share the same love as they do for a place. (Especially if you think the place sucks!)
The fact is, a lot of people don’t like where they are living. One in three people who responded to the Place and Happiness survey conducted by urban studies theorist Richard Florida and the Gallup organization reported feeling either ambivalent or unhappy about where they live.
There is absolutely no reason to settle for living in a place you don’t like. So, if you’re fed up with where you’re living and want to move, it’s crucial to take the time to identify the specific qualities that drive you bananas about your current location. That way, you’re less likely to make the same mistakes with your next move.
When my husband and I first moved with our four cats and one rabbit from Texas to Iowa a couple of years ago, we thought we’d made a great decision. Before too long though, we realized we’d made a very expensive and inconvenient mistake.
It’s not Iowa’s fault we’re a bad fit. I blame our misstep on a warped sense of urgency to escape where we were living, half-assed research and planning and–most notably–the lack of a comprehensive, unbiased resource to reliably guide our decision. (Lucky for you, I’ve created this handy resource!)
So, what 10 things do I hate about where I live? Read on to find out!
Conformity reigns supreme
We live in a farming town of about 7,300 people. It’s not what you think of when you think of a suburb, but it has this odd suburban Stepford Wives air about it. Everyone is super Type-A about their lawns. The minute the grass reaches 1 inch, people are out mowing. When it snows, people start shoveling their sidewalk before the snow even stops. Not only that, people narc out neighbors who don’t keep their front porch tidy or mow their grass enough and the city actually fines these people for their “offenses.” Every place has its quirks, but they aren’t always compatible with how we want to live. By allowing ample time for your scouting visit, you can better gauge whether a prospective location has any annoying peccadillos.
Dumb and unnecessarily punitive laws
I had no idea Iowa had so many ass-backwards laws until we got here. The state and its cities treat private property as if it was public property–except when it doesn’t work to their financial advantage. I’m talking specifically about sidewalks. I’ve never lived anywhere that considered the sidewalk in front of my house private property. But, Iowa has decided city sidewalks are 100% private in the wintertime and 50% private the rest of the time. In the wintertime, residents must clear the sidewalks within 24 hours of the snow stopping or pay a fine. And if the sidewalk in front of your house needs to be repaired, guess who gets to pay half the cost? You guessed it–we do! Did you know that you can research homeowner’s laws in potential locations to make sure you don’t encounter any unwelcome surprises once you move? Well, you can!
Distance to the nearest city-ish place
Iowa is a rural state, so most people here don’t think twice about driving 100 miles one-way. That’s why we get a lot of rolled eyes when we complain about having to drive 30 miles one way to Iowa City every week. But when you’ve spent most of your life in a place where you can drive or walk 5 minutes to get anything, spending the better part of a day running errands gets to be a real pain in the ass. Yes, I know I sound wimpy, but who cares. I don’t ever want to live outside a city again. I learned the hard way that I’m happiest living in a city, but you can find out right now which type of place you’re best suited to by taking the free Place Personality Type Quiz.
Community planning? What’s that?
The town we live in is not “booming” by any stretch of the imagination. The population has remained mostly flat over the past 30 years and it seems that, for every two people that move into town another two move out. Housing is relatively affordable, which is probably why it draws people (including us, at least temporarily) who are priced out by high housing costs in Iowa City.
Why, then, did a couple of developers decide–and why did city officials agree–that this was a prime location to build four “trendy” $200,000 Pennsylvania House Town Home townhouses? That’s not all, though. The real head-scratcher is where they chose to build them. The site, which used to have affordable housing on it, backs up against a car wash, sits one block off the railroad tracks, and directly across the street from the Fareway grocery store. The location is much more suited to commercial than residential.
It remains to be seen if anyone bellies up to the bar and buys one of those things, but I know I sure wouldn’t pay $200,000 to live there! There are a lot of important questions we don’t think to ask when we’re researching prospective locations, like how a community manages (or mismanages) growth. That’s why it’s a good idea to walk through your moving plan with an expert.
Stingy city officials and their messed-up priorities
Although housing prices are relatively affordable in this town (for now, at least) the cost of living is waaaaay too high considering what we get in return. I was shocked to learn after running the numbers that we’re paying 22% more in property taxes and 33% more in utility costs living in a town of 7,300 than we were paying to live in a city of 250,000. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the town actually invested more than the barebones minimum into making the town a nicer place to live.
For example, the lighting for the very creepy pedestrian tunnel that runs underneath the railroad tracks was broken for years. Did the town fix the lighting so it was safer for residents? Nope. They waited until the annual bike ride around Iowa was slated to come through town for the first time in 15 years, and then they repaired the lighting. It’s heart-warming to know that 20,000 bicyclists who spend all of one day in town are worthier of spending money on than the people who put money in their coffers every day of the year. By researching the policies and laws of a prospective location, you can get a feel for how it treats its residents.
There are 7 times as many pigs as people in Iowa so it’s no surprise that there are a ton of pig farms all over the state. Maybe this doesn’t sound so disturbing in the abstract, but when you see and smell pig farms everywhere, it’s pretty icky and depressing. By researching the main industries in a prospective location and seriously considering how your quality of life could be affected, you can guard against making a similar mistake.
I lived for 23 years in Austin where everyone around me was absolutely miserable with allergies, but I never had a problem with them. I didn’t even get allergies when I relocated from Austin to West Texas. But for some reason, I’m allergic to Iowa. Maybe it’s all the cornfields or the pig farms, I don’t know; I just know it’s no fun! By researching the pollen counts of a prospective location ahead of time, you can avoid moving someplace you’re allergic to.
Cars, pick-ups, motorcycles and 18-wheelers roar up and down the streets at all times of day and night. Most of the time, the car stereos are cranked up so high the windows of our house rattle. Iowa doesn’t require car inspections so there are tons of cars and trucks that don’t have a muffler, which means they are reeeeally loud. With all the kooky laws here, you’d think they’d have come up with some kind of a noise ordinance, but I guess not. Or if they have one, they don’t bother enforcing it. You can get an idea of how noisy a prospective location is by making this part of your on-the-ground investigation.
I spent two decades slogging through Austin’s interminably long, hot, muggy summers, so I’m no stranger to humidity. But I had absolutely no clue how humid the summers are in Iowa. We relocated here in early June and I’ll never forget the first day when we set off on a walk to explore downtown and nearly passed out from the humidity. What’s that? Why didn’t I know about this before we schlepped 1,000 miles across the country with our four-legged family and all our possessions? Because I simply didn’t bother looking into it. That’s how shoddy my research was! Did you know you can easily access detailed weather data, including humidity levels, about a prospective location online?
This town is the unlikely location of the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the world. The State is a beautiful historic theater that is just screaming to be properly celebrated. But it’s owned by a company out of Des Moines that insists on showing only superhero and Pixar animated movies. I understand they have to make money to stay open, but it’s such a waste of an iconic theater.
We don’t understand why they can’t (or won’t) reserve a couple of weeks out of the year for film festivals–something that would draw people and their money from out of town. But every time we mention this to anyone, including the mayor, we get the patented eye-roll. The theater could be used to breathe some much-needed life into this town; too bad no one gives a shit. Community apathy is one of those intangibles that, like the “vibe” of a place, is best evaluated in person as part of your on-the-ground investigation.
If you’re sick and tired of where you’re living and want to move, you can take the first step toward finding a place that you love by articulating the features you most need to have–and not have–to be happy where you live. Are you ready to get started? Click here to learn how I can help you Find Your Happy Place.