Musings & Life

Big City Girl, Little City Lights

little city lights

For most of my life I’ve been a big city dweller or lived within very close proximity to a major urban centre. Born in Calgary in Western Canada, I grew up in the suburban sprawl of the nations capital – Ottawa. At age 18 I moved across the Atlantic to the UK and spent the next ten years there hopping around London and the Southeast, always 10 minutes away from a city at most. And when I finally headed back to Canada, my destination was naturally Toronto.

I’d always assumed I would live in a really large city, yet here I am in a much smaller community in Northern Ontario. The closest city with a population over a million is 8 hours away, and the next biggest city with a population over 100K is just under 4 hours from here.

big city aerial viewSo what has it been like to move to a little city?

It’s been an adjustment getting used to living somewhere smaller. After the initial excitement about being somewhere new passed, I was struck by how much I missed certain aspects of city life that I’d taken for granted. Sure I expected to miss my friends, but I was surprised by how much I associated who I was, with where I lived.

How could I be me, if my identity was tied to the lifestyle I led in the city; a city in which I no longer lived?

As ridiculous as the above concern might seem, it bothered me. Was I defined by where in the world I was? It took a bit to work through but I eventually got there. Simply, I am who I am, no matter where I might rest my head. It’s strange how something so seemingly trivial can weigh on your mind, and what a relief it when you figure it out.

Small city, big city, suburb, whatever – my interests are the same, my core self the same. Sure I might not be able to go record shopping every weekend with a plethora of brunch spots or dive bars to choose from, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fundamentally different person.

Big City Girl in the Wild - The Move To A Small CityFinally recognizing this has helped me to relax a lot more. That energy previously spent questioning my identity in a small town can now be spent on simply enjoying the moment and my surroundings. After so many years of a pressure cooker existence, I don’t think I really knew what the hell to do in a calm environment. My hyper active mind just overthinking everything.

So why did we opt to move so far away from a major city in the first place?

Well, for as much as I love a lot about city living, we were getting really fed up and burnt out by all the negatives that go a long with it. The high cost of living and the overcrowded commutes of doom were especially adding to this sense of wanting “to get the hell out of dodge”.

One of the major reasons leading me to return to Canada was the opportunity to be able to afford my own home. Something I couldn’t even begin to dream about doing in London. Frustratingly the housing market in Toronto over the past few years has blown up, prices have surged and the likelihood of being able to afford a house in the city are now next to nil for us. It’s a challenge many are experiencing, so we started to look at several possible options:

  1. Stay in Toronto and resign ourselves to renting for the rest of our lives.
  2. Stay in Toronto and buy a condo.
  3. Buy a house in Hamilton, commute into Toronto.
  4. Look to relocate elsewhere in the country.

We quickly crossed #1 off our list, as owning a home for both of us has always been a dream. Going the condo route in Toronto, though still affordable, rising condo maintenance fees on top of a mortgage are a cause for concern. Commuting in from Hamilton seemed like a solid possibility. Then I started to remind myself of how much I hate commuting. Living in Hamilton would mean I’d be looking at 2.5 hours of travel time twice a day to and from work – and that’s on a good day without delays.  Also looking at commuter images on This Crazy Train had me cringing and raging at the same time. So…relocating?

Always open to new experiences, we decided why the hell not? If it didn’t work out we could always move back to Toronto, so when job opportunities in Northern Ontario presented themselves we decided to take a chance.

northern-aerial-viewNow I’m not advocating one place over the other, because everyone is different. Had I still been a single 20-something I might not have considered moving somewhere smaller. Given I’m married and my clubbing days are behind me (tacos & tequila at home with a few friends is much more my jam these days) a smaller city was more appealing.

If you’re thinking of moving away from the city, here are a few of my pro’s and con’s that might be relevant to you as well in your consideration:

CONS

  • It can feel isolating when you first move, as it can be harder to break into tight knit groups with a well established history.
  • Where my weirdos at? (I guess the interwebs…)
  • If you’re used to being incognito, ie: no one *really* looks at each other in the city, it’ll seem in comparison like everyone’s staring at you, even if you’re not in full weirdo mode. (interestingly often because they’re actually just trying to see if they recognize or know you to say hi).
  • Limited options for shopping, restaurants, bars, culture etc.
  • Additional travel costs & time as few direct flights.
  • Less job options, whereas it’s easier to jump around in the city.
  • Not as cosmopolitan, as there’s not the same variety of people you’d find in larger centres.

PROS

  • Very affordable housing.
  • So affordable you could own a detached house, and not just a small condo.
  • Incredibly clean.
  • Massive amounts of space in comparison to packed cities.
  • A real sense of community.
  • Little to no commuting time (for me it’s 5 minutes or a 20 minute walk!)
  • Overall a less stressed & hectic environment to live in.
  • Small businesses are supported, and smaller communities can foster an entrepreneurial spirit (with opportunities that could lead you to even open your own business!)
  • You’re closer to farms – fantastic fresh food that is locally produced and excellent farmer’s markets.
  • Nature! Wilderness! Green space!

flying to a small town over the lake
So while in all honesty I miss a lot about Toronto, I’m also loving where I’m living now. In my experience it generally takes two years for a new town to feel like home, and it’s a wonderful feeling when it does.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Sarah
    March 28, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    Personally I’ve always felt that large cities were stressful. Everyone on the street always felt angry, or anxious or always in a rush. I find that harder to cope with. Personally I like the small town, calm feeling a lot better. I don’t think I ever feel like I could live in a city like Toronto

    • Reply
      Jamie
      April 9, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      Ya large cities can be exhilarating but absolutely stressful. Commuting on the subway/tube in the mornings was just a miserable experience and everyone was very unhappy looking or aggressive and pushy. I really don’t miss it. I’m digging being able to drop in when I want now and otherwise be off in the woods 😀

  • Reply
    Margot Meanie
    April 5, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    It seems so many of us in our 30’s and 40’s are feeling this squeeze. In Vancouver it is completely unreasonable to even imagine owning property. I feel this need to run away to the wilderness, but I also really love my friends, who are basically my real family.

    What I dream of is finding a small town that is dying off and then relocating my family of weirdo misfits and taking ti over! All I need is a strong wifi connection and I’m sure there must be a bowling alley that are in shambles that could use fresh blood to spiff it up or an old single screen theatre. I know it kind of sounds like a CW show, but full of goth, punk hipsters.

    • Reply
      Jamie
      April 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      Oh my goodness, yes! My friend Nicole and I have discussed this before as well, how awesome it would be for a weirdo community in the wild. That’s a CW show I’d watch for sure, ha! I think being alternative in a small community has really had me push myself further to be comfortable in my own skin, something I took for granted given the abundance of alt lifestyle and people in the city. I don’t think I would have moved here on my own had I been single or without a fellow weirdo bestie with me though, as it would have been pretty lonely. I feel like in Canada it’s really super Big City (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal) or quite smaller one, just because we don’t have the same population as the States, where the smaller cities there seem more affordable and still with space and alt communities to hand. With that said, I think had we been living in Vancouver we would have found it harder to leave than TO without a doubt. If you ever did find that small town out west to takeover I’d seriously consider decamping to BC! 😀

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