help us leave the smelly city behind
December 7, 2008 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Urban burnout-filter: My wife and I are exhausted, frustrated, and otherwise burnt-out by our by the city life and our jobs in Toronto. We're contemplating quitting, moving somewhere with a slower pace and starting over. We need advice!

If you've done something like this, When did you know it was time to get out of the city? How did you decide where to go and what you were going to do? How did you get through the transition to the new job and place? Thanks!
posted by thenormshow to Work & Money (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
No specific incident really precipitated our decision to leave Philadelphia. But, the gunshots, the shootings, the general nastiness of people, and the complete lack of healthy plants and animals rather contributed. We finally left as soon as my wife had finished her degree.

We live in Kitsap County Washington now. Out in the forest. In a village. In a cabin. In paradise.

About the only real transition issues were related more to the long move than the actual end location. It was compounded by our recent marriage, so I really don't know how much of it was the move and how much of it was merging lives and my wife starting work.

Finding banks, grocery stores, good driving routes--you'll almost certainly have to drive more in the country than you ever did in Toronto. Learning new laws. Unlearning city-folk thinking about what's legal--my county, for instance, has neither car inspections nor emission checks.

Oh, and restaurants... if you're a foodie, you'll have to accept that outstanding restaurants will be few and far between. And accept that, in order to get even gastropub-style fare, you're going to have to pay out the nose for the privilege. And have your fries with whiskey mayo presented like the local chef thought of it himself.
posted by Netzapper at 2:39 PM on December 7, 2008

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
While the title of the book is a bit extreme, this book offers up some really helpful concepts and tips for people looking to craft a new life. I think I've read through this book at least 20 times over since I purchased it. Highly recommended for someone in a position such as yourself.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 2:58 PM on December 7, 2008

My husband and I were in the D.C. area for four years. When we got there, we were certain we'd want to stay forever, visiting museums and good restaurants and festivals every weekend. The mood changed drastically after 9/11, and that was the beginning of it not being fun anymore. By the time our second child was on her way, we had decided that a lower mortgage, short commute and closer family were much more important.

I think we made a good choice for our move. We went to a mountain resort town, which gives many of the same perks of city life, but we only needed to move a few miles in any direction to be out in the wilderness. My husband is a chef, so resort towns and cities are really the best options for us anyway.

Too bad my husband's job burned down four months after our move, and with his low seniority he was let go. We couldn't complete our house purchase since we were both unemployed. Luckily, we'd left DC at the peak of the overheated housing market, so we had a big cushion of money from the sale of our house. But we had to uproot ourselves again to find a new job, this time going to the small, rural college town where my husband grew up. It took me two years to get a job here that would work with our kid's schedule, and it pays much less than the smallest amount I ever thought I would take. But being a college town also brings a good selection of arts events, some decent dining options and liberal politics.

We're much happier, and have more time with our kids. It's also much easier to escape the consumer culture when it's forty minutes to a mall and there are very few Big Box stores.

Bad things:
Very few local businesses have websites, so you can't see menus or open hours.
There are things I've wanted to try, like Yoga or kid's classes, but can't because only one business offers them and there are no other options if you don't like the teacher or the hours offered.
Doctor's services are limited. I have to drive an hour to see a specialist. A friend moved to Atlanta in large part because of her bad pregnancy experience.
It takes forever to get to an airport.
If you end up hating your job, you'll probably be stuck with it unless you're willing to uproot again.
Social groups can be cliquey, with people tracing friendships back to high school, or their parent's high school, making it hard to make friends.
Very few Big Box Stores.

Good things: too many to list
posted by saffry at 4:34 PM on December 7, 2008

I grew tired of noise, consumerism, and cars cars cars. I knew it was time when there was a rape at the end of the block, a cache of automatic weapons discovered in a neighborhood house, and what I saw as increasingly dumb decisions by the city leaders, with no improvement in sight.

I sold the city house and bought 13 acres of woods close to a smallish university town that has a lot of culture (ethnic restaurants, foreign films...). I chose the town after doing a ton of research on the region that I was interested in. I did a road trip to visit 6-7 places and chose one.

I remember using a book called something like "Best Small Art Towns in America." There are probably similar books for Canada and other regions. I also read a lot of issues of Countryside and Small Stock Journal, a homesteading magazine.

I rented a house in my new town while I looked at land. Then I bought the land, lived on it in a $3,000 trailer for several years, and finally built a passive solar, super-efficient house that's cheap to live in.

I did part-time jobs and then started my own consulting business, which I now do online.

Things that worked for me:
  • Fixed up the city house so it was worth a lot more than I owed, then sold it.
  • Researched my new town to make sure I'd have a social life.
  • Lived as a renter in the new place while I got used to the area and took my time looking at land.
  • Chose a spot very close to my new town--hugely good idea. I would have felt isolated farther out.
  • Kept my overall goals very firmly in mind but didn't stick stubbornly to the exact details (for example, one overall goal was "Live really cheaply so I don't need a job," but the details went through all sorts of permutations before becoming my current house).
  • Eased into simple living while still in the city, including learning to grow food.
Things that haven't worked so well:
  • This is a smallish town. There are cliques and closed minds, including among the lefty artsy types that I hang with. They've been here forever; after 10 years, I'm still an outsider who doesn't know how things "should" be done. I miss the freewheeling creativity of the city, sometimes bitterly. This is my main concern because my creative hobby/sideline is important to me.
  • Education is less than stellar. Infrastructure is rough. Some medical specialists require a 90-minute drive. The region is about 20 years behind my former city when it comes to energy, business development, transportation, etc.
I've been here for 10 years now. I have far less stress than I had in the city, and living in the woods has changed me in deep, subtle ways. I'm frustrated with the closed-mindedness, however. Since my business is portable, I'm now hoping to live in a European city part of the year so I can get a city fix and new ideas, and then retreat back to my peaceful home in the American woods to recover from the city stress.

My main advice would be to research your new home place to make sure you'll be happy socially and will have at least some of the culture you're used to. A university town can be good for that. Also, amass as much money as you can to ease the transition, and consider ways to make your income independent of where you live.

Good luck!
posted by PatoPata at 5:55 PM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

You could just hate Toronto. If you want a slightly slower pace of life but you're not ready to completely jettison urban life, move to Vancouver. The fresh air and scenery will do wonders.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:03 PM on December 7, 2008

Are you sure it isn't the winter blahs? I left the city about eight years ago for a small, walkable town about an hour outside Toronto where I could walk to the Bruce Trail or the farmers market or my husband's work. I knew I wanted to move to my area for years and planned ahead, we transitioned quickly (husband got job, we bought house and move in it all within one week). Getting a job might be a bit harder now. I do miss the diversity and all the niche shops. I don't miss pollution and the lack of community. If you have friends in Toronto I guarantee they will not leave the city to visit you (if you are in a cocoon bubble with your SO it won't matter). Don't move in winter. It really, really sucks. Especially if there is a blizzard. With your budget include a car if you don't already have one, outside of downtown Toronto you need one. If you are looking to buy there are a lot of houses just sitting on the market with very worried sellers. Every time I go to Toronto (especially in winter) I say thanks for leaving it.
posted by saucysault at 6:52 PM on December 7, 2008

If you move anywhere in Canada it will be very different than Toronto. I'm not sure what you are looking for in a new place. If you don't know, this is the first thing you need to figure out. What do you like doing? What is it about TO that don't you like?

Personally, Toronto is too big and too far from anywhere for my liking. You can't go camping without a massive drive through traffic and booking months in advance. But, I like the walkability of the city and the diversity and great restaurants. So I want to live in a place that is urban enough to get out of town easy but big and diverse enough to offer lots of entertainment. I currently live in Ottawa, kind of quiet, but a fair sized city with beautiful landscape and trails. I'm also a big fan of Halifax, Halifax is definitely more laid back than TO.

I agree with saucysault that you can't count on people to visit. It made my move to Ottawa a lot easier having friends already in the city. It can be hard to meet people when you move. If you already have friends they can tell you about this city!

Also Nthing PatoPata on the difficulties of small-town life, if you haven't lived in a village or small town you may be surprised at how diffent social life is. People know each others business and you will always be "from away" (an outsider)

Good luck!
posted by Gor-ella at 7:16 AM on December 8, 2008

My previous post seems a little negative, or else I'm just in a better mood. So here's an additional point about small-town closed-mindedness: While it's difficult, it has also been helpful. I got so frustrated with the local rigidity that I began putting my work online, where I've gotten an encouraging reception, new inspiration, and a fun gig in Europe. If I had been satisfied doing projects with locals, this wouldn't have happened.

So if you leave the city, you might find yourself spending more time online, and any frustration you feel with the locals could actually give you a creative boost.
posted by PatoPata at 12:56 PM on December 8, 2008

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