Tuesday, July 04, 2017

5 Ways to Love Where You Live

I've spent quite a few paragraphs and a number of tweets railing against the "love what you do" mentality. In a nutshell, I think the idea that we should all turn our passions into profit is misguided and puts too much pressure on the things we love. Part of the reason I feel this way might be due to the fact that I most love writing fiction, which is notoriously unprofitable. Since wondering how I'm going to pay my rent puts a damper on the creative process, I have a day job. I like it just fine and I'm good at it, but digital marketing is not one of my great passions. And that's fine! It's okay for a job to be a job, especially if it clothes you and feeds you and enables you to spend time on what you do love. 

That said, there's another axiom that I think is pretty important - "love where you live." The place you live - your actual home, but also your city - has an enormous impact on your quality of life. A safe, clean, comfortable home is a place to nurture your dreams, renew your energy, and create memories with family and friends. 

If you live in a small city or a boring town, you might be thinking, "Easy for you to say. You live in a coastal city that's an actual tourist destination." While Wilmington is a pretty nice place to live, I've called less glamorous places home and loved them just as much. Nacogdoches, my tiny East Texas home for seven years, still holds a giant piece of my heart.

If you want to fall in love with your home and live a happier life, the following strategies (all tried, and all true) are great ways to start. Here's to a beautiful relationship with your city!

1. Get Involved  

When I first moved to Wilmington, it was for an MFA in creative writing, which meant my new home came with a cohort of other writers and a thriving university community. I made friends quickly, all of whom had similar goals and passions, and spent an idyllic three years living my dream life. Then I graduated, 99% of my friends moved away, and my beloved community fell apart. Even though I stayed put, I felt as if I'd just arrived. I had to get to know Wilmington all over again, this time as a citizen. 

Three years later, I feel rooted and part of something bigger than myself. Thanks to a willingness to get involved in local politics, I organized my democratic precinct and was elected its chair. I always wanted to be the kind of person who knows everyone on their street and now, thanks to my precinct work, I do. Last Friday, I had a few people over for backyard beers, and it was so great to shout an invite over the fence to my neighbors. I've also dabbled in other clubs and organizations, like the road bike club, the beekeeping club, my book club, the annual half marathon, and a story telling night. Not every club or event has been a good fit, and that's okay. I keep trying new things, meeting new people, and falling more in love with Wilmington as a result.

2. Buy Local 

The best way to love a place is to seek out and embrace the things that are unique to it - the terroir, so to speak. I don't like spending money as a general rule, but when I do open my wallet, I try my best to make choices that are unique to Wilmington, owned by locals, or produced less than twenty miles from my front door. I never eat at chains and save my restaurant splurges for Sea Level City Gourmet and our many breweries. If I need coffee during a longer-than-usual workday, I head to Tidal Creek Co-op. The first year I lived here, everyone on my Christmas list got a carefully chosen Freaker, one of Wilmington's most famous products. I just started shopping for veggies at Port City Produce, an outdoor market that sources from local farms. I work out at the YMCA, which does great things in the community. By keeping my dollars local, I enjoy one-of-a-kind Wilmington experiences, while at the same time supporting and strengthening the local economy. Everybody wins!

3. Go Outside  

Cities and towns are more than their economy. Just as important are natural wonders, as small as those wonders may be. While Wilmington is home to a pretty big outdoor attraction (you really can't beat the Atlantic ocean) there are a number of hidden gems I've discovered these last six years. One of the first places I fell in love with was Greenfield Lake which, in addition to lush azaleas and resident alligators, is looped by a beautiful four mile path. Empie Dog Park is a short walk from our house and we meander that way a few times a week. As a runner, I've gotten to know many neighborhoods intimately, which is one of my favorite things about training for races. We've camped at nearby state parks, exploring new places for dirt cheap, and kayaked to barrier islands, which are straight up magical. The only thing I'm missing is a good hiking trail, but I bet I could find one if I looked a little harder.

4. Feather Your Nest  

When we first moved to Wilmington, we rented a house sight unseen. Let's just say the photos on Craigslist were extremely flattering. We lived there for three years despite its challenges, but graduation called for a fresh start. Luckily we'd already fallen in love with a fellow student's house, and when her lease ended ours began. 

Living in a house I actually love - and we do love it - made me realize how much I didn't like our previous house, mostly thanks to a con artist landlord who fixed the house with bandaids when what it needed was open heart surgery. The stress and anger that house caused put a strain on my relationship with Wilmington. I blamed the city for my dissatisfaction, when really my living situation was to blame. In our case, finding another rental was a new lease on life. 

Now that we like our home, we take more time decorating it, spending time in it, and treating it as an expression of our life in Wilmington. Which is why I was so excited when Modern Map Art contacted me and offered me a print of the Port City in exchange for a small review. (Fun fact: they originally offered me a map of Wilmington, Delaware, and when I sadly told them they had the wrong Wilmington, they offered to make a custom map of my city. Naturally I had to say yes!)

The maps are created using OpenStreetMaps and are printed on museum quality matte paper and Ultrachrome ink. They're rated to last for 200 years if you properly frame and maintain them, which means your map has the potential to become a family heirloom. They also make excellent housewarming gifts or wedding presents. Ours hangs in the living room, and I won't tell you how much time I spent searching it for our street before I finally found it. (I have a notoriously bad sense of direction.)

Whether you decorate with art inspired by your city, souvenirs purchased during your travels, or piles of books that will take a lifetime to read, loving your home inside and out is important. Treat your space right and it will become the refuge you deserve.

5. Improve It 

Loving your city is a great thing and makes life more enjoyable, but every place isn't for every person. Cities and states have personalities, and you may find that you and the place you live just aren't working out. For example, I grew up on Long Island, moved away for college, and never looked back. It's not that Long Island is a bad place, but it's not me. No matter how many tricks I used or clubs I joined, I don't think I could be happy there. Luckily, I don't have to be.

But before you light out for greener pastures, ask yourself if there's an opportunity to make your city better. Every place, no matter how idyllic it may seem from the outside, has a complicated and dark history - that's part of the human experience. In fact, Wilmington has a particularly troubled past that continues to bleed into the present, not to mention toxic water, an opioid problem, and gerrymandered districts. I, however, am an optimist who believes in fighting for the places I call home and leaving my city better than I found it. Loving where I live isn't the end goal - it's simply the first step.

Modern Map Art did not compensate me for this review, but they did send me a free map. Also the link to their website is a referral link, and I may receive a small commission if you choose to treat yourself. Thanks for supporting Better than Never!