When we first moved to this house I was convinced we’d never move. I wrote:
“At some point you have to take a deep breath, put roots down, and commit to making home in the best place you can find. Sure, things may always be better elsewhere – at least in our imagination and supposition. But we accept the good with the bad – so long as the majority is good.”
Flash forward four years and we’re wondering if the majority is still good.
Don’t get me wrong – the Island is a beautiful place to live. But it’s also rapidly becoming an expensive place to live, as well.
Our regional population has been steadily increasing, bringing more development and traffic. I thought Duncan, the closest town, was the right size and speed for me. But in our four years here we’ve noticed more traffic jams (!) and tourists. It’s also become a weekend getaway for Victorians, which means increased catering to wealthy people (spas, high end shoe stores, luxury car race tracks, wineries and distilleries, etc.). This means the cost of living has increased, which isn’t great when you’re on pretty much a fixed income.
Because of how our area was developed, we have to drive everywhere, when we’d prefer to walk. We tend to do several things in one trip so as not to have to drive more than once a day, but that doesn’t always work if you want to go out to a dog training class or to the trestle trail for a bike ride etc.
We’ve also discovered our neighbours are noisy and inconsiderate. Large family parties with lots of hooting and hollering on one side; chain saws, backhoes, bobcats, dirt bikes, ATVs on the other side. The road in front of our house has become quite busy, as there’s a whole neighbourhood up the hill, and only one road out.
We’ve struggled – hard – with the landscape. It’s not called Cobble Hill for nothing: the ground is full of rocks and very poor soil (it doesn’t help that the previous owner ran his backhoe over almost every inch of the property, severely disturbing the topsoil). We’ve planted over 20 new trees, but they take time to grow and produce shade on a south-facing property that gets blasted by summer sun (and drought) once May arrives.
Another big drawback is that local outdoor activities are usually busy. You always run into people with off-leash dogs. I’ve heard horror stories of people’s dogs being attacked in public outdoor spaces: there are just too many people (and pets) crammed into a small region. The alternative is to go kayaking, but there are only a few launch locations that are often busy with not enough room to park.
We’ve also discovered some things about ourselves that factor into the housing decision. When it comes down to it, having an acreage to look after is a lot of work. We have a beautiful perennial/rock garden and woodland garden, as well as a veggie garden and an orchard. We love having the space, but really only use about half of it. We also don’t quite have what we need in our house, like a mudroom, which is critical with dogs, to contain the mess (somewhat).
As I wrote in my original post,
“we recognize the possibility that, one day, we might leave this home and make a new one elsewhere.”
Well, that one day may have come.
The question is: where do we go? And how do we avoid being “those people,” who can’t stay in the same place for long before they get itchy feet and feel they have to move on?
I recently read an article by Nat Eliason that talked about how “commitment” was different than “investment.” Commitment suggests fighting yourself to act against your impulses, and doing something “because you should.” As Eliason writes,
“forget commitment. Think about what you want to invest in… Investment requires thinking seriously about where your resources should be allocated, having criteria for de-allocating them, and then sticking with your investment until those quitting criteria are met.”
We’ve actually invested in living here long-term. We built a raised bed veggie garden and a garden shed, we planted trees that we knew would take years to see grow, and installed an irrigation system. We put in perennial gardens to beautify the property. And we have connections in the community – mostly at the library, local coffee shop, pharmacy, and secondhand bookstore.
But, as I wrote above, the “quitting criteria” described by Eliason are starting to add up.
We’re lucky that we have the option of moving, something many people don’t have. We also have the luxury of choice. We almost have too many options, actually, something I remember well from our time doing Arctic research. After living in a tent for two months with your only breakfast option being oatmeal, coming home and going to the grocery store was a serious culture shock because you had 10 times the options for breakfast alone.
Right now we have many options as to where we could go. The trick is to prioritize them out according to our values. I recently read Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, and while it dresses up basic concepts in trendy hipsterisms (including swearing), those basic concepts themselves are golden. Manson emphasizes that you have to figure out what you value, and once you know that you need to constantly make life choices that support those values. It’s hard, and it can sometimes be time consuming, but you’ll feel better in the long run if there’s a match between your everyday life and your values.
One of our values has always been to live somewhere that we didn’t feel we needed to have a vacation from. Another is to be able to get outdoors with the dogs regularly. Other values include peace and quiet, building a like-minded community, doing most things ourselves (i.e., not hiring a housecleaner or a dog poop scooper or a drywaller etc.), living frugally. Taking time to do things together. Walking and cycling regularly. Being in a landscape we love.
We’re fulfilling some, but not enough, of those values here. I’ve written before about being a spoonie, and I think that the key for me is to reduce the things I currently expend energy on (like looking after a large yard; or having to drive to do things when we could just walk & get exercise at the same time; or even a lack of a mudroom, which means the whole house needs cleaning more often) so that I can spend it instead on the things I want to do. Like doing things together, outdoors, within a like-minded community.
I’ve been reading a number of books by women writing about the west (for an article coming soon at LitHub!), and what struck me is how much time these women spend outside, observing their landscape. I want to spend more time outside just being, not always doing. Absorbing the world around me. Watching it change with the seasons. Rather than just trying to get through another summer drought without the plants dying or the well going dry.
We’re at the stage where we have to make sure we have our values lined up, and can start making decisions based on those values. Who knows where we’ll end up. Not Prince Rupert (too wet and grey)! But there are many other options. My only concern is that moving is a major disruption that I might not get through in one piece, mentally. But if it’s short term pain for long term gain, I could perhaps tough it out.
So – where would you move to if you could go anywhere in BC – especially if you wanted a lower cost of living?