Should We Stay or Should We Go?

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.

Thanks to Andrea Learned for this graphic!

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?

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22 thoughts on “Should We Stay or Should We Go?”

  1. We are in the US, and not on an island. But the area around us is growing up so much that we are thinking about moving, too. Now that our kids are grown, we don’t need a house this big. Conversely, we want more space – land around us. I understand the need to move. How nice life is that we aren’t stuck with our decisions forever. Even when it was the right decision at the time, everything around us changes. And we change, too. That’s not always a bad thing. Good fortune to you as you decide your next place to live!

  2. we’re settled (lower mainland burbs) while our son goes thru high school and then higher education; however, where we are fits many of our checkpoints—walkable, on transit, not overwhelming outdoor space, amenities and culture, floor space and rooms suitable (mostly) for our way of life (a double garage for our bike collection would be awesome though!)—so not thinking of moving any time soon. but there will come a time, either to maximise revenue or downsize—at our ages, we need to add easy access to medical care into the checklists; we’ve seen too many mistakes by older relatives to ignore the inevitable. aging changes everything, and though we’re not on the rapid downward slope, it’s something that we’re aware of in making decisions.

  3. We moved a few years ago from a lovely neighbourhood, but a too-big house, located in a place that necessitated driving all the time. We much prefer biking and walking, even (especially) with our son. So we pulled up roots, bought a smaller fixer-upper (another story) near my son’s school, and in a place where we can bus, bike, and walk almost everywhere we need to go – just across town. It was a lot of work, and the renovations were trying, but we love it here – almost 4 years. Sometimes our realities and expectations of a place, don’t match our values and experience – the former home was in a great family neighbourhood, but the constant driving contradicted our desire to use active transportation. The large house just invited us to collect masses of too much stuff (well, some of us – I lean to minimalism) and the time spent cleaning it was definitely not to my liking. Also, it was situated near an extremely loud road – there was a hill where cars accelerated so their engines revved to get up the hill. We couldn’t use our back yard or open our windows due to the traffic noise. This was an unexpected downside to the house location as the road was not adjacent to us, but one row of lots away – far enough, we thought, not to be bothersome – wrong. Now we are in a quiet location, great views, quiet streets, and walk and bike most places….small yard (rocky, moss, no lawn), surrounded by Garry Oaks, but still in an urban area. Change was worth it.

    • Ha renovations – we’ve been through those in two houses now. We don’t mind doing them, though, as it opens up housing options that we might not consider otherwise. It’s interesting how a place you think is going to work out doesn’t work out at all. Just have to make a choice to move on and make sure the new place meets your goals!

  4. We live where we live purely because of the kids. The neighbourhood is not nearly our first choice in terms of living choices, but the house is close to good schools and walkable to a library and some grocery. I’d love to live in a much artsier neighbourhood. If I had my druthers (and had our budget and the school situation allowed it) we’d have been more central and more walkable to everything.[also, when we moved here, there were very very few houses on the market in our price range. this was one of three and we wanted – again for the kids – to be able to ‘settle’ quickly; we didn’t want to rent and then move after a year]. I suspect we’ll find something else once kid the younger graduates. Interestingly, a colleague used to live in this neighbourhood for the very same reason. Stayed here until kids graduated and now lives in a house and neighbourhood that’s much more her personality.

  5. Sarah, your heart-render and the values your words give any one of us points to ponder as we traverse this life – be they lodging decisions, career observations and aspirations, and even as to one’s commitment to being full-time stewards of our environment. Said it before, and I’ll say it again, you bring purposeful and relevant content to our awareness. I am most pleased to have you in my ‘virtual’ life because of the person you carry with you. I’ll keep you all in our thoughts as you go through this trial ~ I’m confident you’ll find the best way for you to deal with it all. Warm regards from AZ….

  6. Good luck Sarah,
    I love living in Penticton, the lifestyle is fantastic (skiing in winter, cycling in summer) but the house prices are nuts. Somewhere like Summerland or Naramata might fit well, both gorgeous but not cheap either.
    Princeton is cheap and close to mountains, rivers, dry and wet. I’ve heard the air quality in winter is a bit dodgy.
    Barriere has lots of outdoor options, fairly central for getting cool places (e.g., Jasper) and close to Kamloops for those big city needs.
    I find the Kootenays a bit isolated for my liking. I do love the landscape of the Rocky Mtn Trench however.
    I’ve always liked Campbell River, but I’m not sure the rain would agree with me anymore.

    • Thanks for the note, Todd. I know Rita has mentioned how much you like Penticton. For us it’s still a bit too busy and the summer heat is something else! We struck Campbell River off the list for the same reason – too much rain! But great views. I’d thought of Barriere but don’t really know what it’s like – what we really need to do is an exploratory road trip. We’ve driven all over the province, but weren’t exactly checking out places to live at the time!

      • The other thing I would mention about the southern interior is that winter in the valleys is often cloudy. I don’t remember that so much from my time in Kamloops, but certainly when I moved to the Okanagan from Edmonton I appreciated the warmer winter temperatures but the cloudiness is a real drag compared to the sunny winters on the prairies. In Penticton I try and head into the mountains at least once a week for the XC skiing and brighter skies.

  7. We’ve contemplated all of this as well – even though we’re in the states. We’re not walkable but are within 13 minutes of a grocer. The biggest things to us were your other points – room for the dogs, quiet and seeing the stars at night. We learned a LOT from our Tennessee farm. #1 Check out the neighbors. Houses on 5 acres or less that are well-tended to are, many times, free of chain saws etc. AND usually too little land to subdivide (a real danger in some areas). Cemeteries, golf courses, unbuildable lots (ravines, etc.) are all ways for you to avoid having to fight sprawl. We found this out the hard way, but hey, we all need to get civically engaged from time to time. Still, we learned a lesson. We thought about moving into a very small town to achieve the walkable thing, but couldn’t stand the thought of close neighbors. Wishing the best for you as you narrow down the choices and figure out what’s the best fit! Best, Margo

    • Hi Margo – yes room for the dogs, quiet, and seeing the stars are all fantastic. We have the same aversion to having close neighbours, though sometimes the ability to walk places seems like it would almost be ok. If you could get a bit larger city lot. We’ve realized that the land size we’re on (2.5 acres) is usually bought by guys with heavy machinery who need space for their equipment and tools. Hence the noise around here. Once you get to bigger acreages I think the buffer effect kicks in somewhat.


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