Six months to improve your quality of life - what would you do?
September 26, 2016 7:55 AM   Subscribe

My latest temporary job is coming to an end this week and I have six months of living expenses saved up. Rather than jumping into another temp office job, I'm looking to use the time in a more productive way to further longer-term life goals, such as moving to a new environment in another part of the country and improving my quality of life and improve my (especially mental) health. How can I maximise the time and resources I have to get out of my rut and into a life that's more worth leading?

I'm 30, single, no children, no plans to find a partner or have children - this is me building a life for me and no-one else. :)

I've been working a temporary office job for the past six months or so. It was only ever meant to last for three months but kept being extended on an ad-hoc basis - it was ended with a week's notice last Friday. (Part of me would have preferred it to last for just the initial three months, to reduce the "do I get to go to work next week?" uncertainty I've been struggling with for months, but what's done is done.) The job was never a long-term career option for me - it was always a temporary stopgap which has served its purpose. I've been in a rut of these on-off jobs for over a year and I want out.

I have around six months of living expenses saved up. I don't want to burn through my savings drifting around playing Cities: Skylines and eating cheese, but nor do I want or need to rush into another awful job with a long, horrible commute that's going to exacerbate my mental health problems. This is partly a move to change my lifestyle to one that is more conducive to good mental and physical health in the long term.

This, to me, is an opportunity rather than a setback. A temporary job has ended with a good work record and reference and I've got a significant amount of money saved up - it's not like I've been fired for cause and have 42p in the bank. It's an opportunity to look around, reframe things, fix rubbish things that have built up in my life through inertia and exhaustion and try and improve my lot in life rather than scratching around for another shit job in an area that I don't really want to live in anymore.

I have a couple of areas in mind that I would like to look into moving to - target areas, as it were. There are jobs available in those areas and the cost of housing and living is reasonable. There are things I've identified as being particularly bad for my wellbeing - a car commute is a significant negative factor, so I'm looking at smaller towns and small cities where I'd be able to live and work in the same place and walk or bike to work, and dump the car. (I don't want to live and/or work in a big city again. I've been there and it's just not for me.)

Although it isn't strictly relevant to the question, my #1 target area is north or mid-Wales, followed by Shropshire or Herefordshire, and finally (in a distant third because of distance from family) County Durham and Northumberland. I've picked areas that are big enough that I can be flexible rather than zeroing in on one specific town, but I have a clear idea of the kind of place I want to live in within those huge areas.

I've started applying to jobs in my target areas - initially I'd do something similar to what I've been doing recently, but with a view to eventually furthering my education (possibly using the Open University or similar distance-learning) and moving into more technical and challenging areas of work rather than doing admin forever. I'd also be more than open to non-office work in those areas, especially if it were outdoors, but I'm mindful of the fact that it's much easier to get a job doing what I'm doing now than trying to convince an interviewer that I'm capable of changing.

Long-term (we're talking years here) I want to look at alternatives to endlessly renting a house. That's not something that's ever going to appeal to me as a lifestyle for ever. For example, eco housing and self-building or renovating really appeal in terms of providing a sustainable, more ethical and lower-cost lifestyle for myself in the long run. But that's years in the future and requires a lot more work financially to make it happen.

So, how do I use this opportunity and this money to maximise my chances of reaching my short- and long-term goals and avoid falling into the trap of another year of more of the same? If you've ever relocated like this (to a specific area because you wanted to take steps to improve your quality of life, rather than moving to an area just because a certain job was there) what did you do to make it a success? What challenges did you face - did potential employers raise an eyebrow that someone was applying from so far away, for example? I'm super excited to finally have the means to start making a few changes in my life. :)
posted by winterhill to Work & Money (14 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

This would be a great time to get a puppy. Extra time at home to coax it through training, lots of attention for frequent potty breaks, it'll get you into the habit of taking a walk every day and enjoying your time off.

This doesn't at all address your relocation or low-cost lifestyle goals, but wow dogs are great, and I really wish I had been able to get a dog when I was unemployed (so I could be more hands on during the puppy times) instead of when I was back at work and under more of a time crunch.
posted by phunniemee at 8:15 AM on September 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

- Coursera and EdX. Great for retraining.
- Fun courses for hobbies, unfortunately you need to be in larger cities for this one. Painting, drawing, fun stuff.
-Train for a large challenge, like a marathon. This is for the temporary physical challenge, and also to incorporate physical activity into your regular schedule as a long-term habit. Even if this is the one and only time you do a marathon, the benefits of it will outlast the marathon itself. Your brain rewires itself to find running a reward, and you get the satisfaction of knowing that you have achieved a life goal.
posted by moiraine at 8:23 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're looking to move, I would take the time and money you have to go to a couple of those places and stay there for a bit, and see if you really do enjoy living there. Talk to the locals, get some informational interviews with hiring agencies, etc. That way, you'll have a bit of travel, and you can make a more informed decision about where you'd like to be in the future.
posted by xingcat at 8:35 AM on September 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

The National Trust, Forestry Commission and English Heritage (and similar) are always looking for volunteers. It could be a path to identifying the sort of work you want to do in the future (particularly as you are interested in sustainability), is excellent CV fodder and might provide you with a social group in whatever area you decide to move to. A friend of mine started volunteering as a Forest Ranger a few years back and managed to move from a rather dull office job to an awesome conservation role that way.

I would definitely spend a long while actually spending time in some of the areas you are thinking about moving to- particularly with regard to whether ditching the car is realistic and what the community is like.
posted by threetwentytwo at 8:59 AM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with others that spending time in the areas you want to move to will help you determine the best places, and maybe even help you network to find work.

The other common thread here seems to be structure, and structure is the thing I struggle with most when I'm not working. So deciding on a Few goals, and then structuring your time to prioritize them, will help you get there. One thing that helps me and many others is to have a morning Thing that gets you moving and out of the house, even if it's just a half-hour walk or a trip to get breakfast drink. That way you've already gotten a little exercise and can be "on-schedule" for the day, whether your schedule involves volunteering, remote learning, job-searching, "networking" or anything else.
posted by ldthomps at 9:07 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Spend some time (and money) working on your resume and cover letters so that you can work towards fulfilling full-time employment. MeMail me if you need a rec for a consultant.
posted by radioamy at 9:15 AM on September 26, 2016

I think it's very hard to move to another city with no friends or family AND no job lined up. Especially if you only have six months of living expenses. I would personally never do this. Either find a job ahead of time or move somewhere where you can live with a good friend temporarily so if shit hits the fan you aren't out on the street. You think that work is the problem but work provides income which you need to start building a new life for yourself.

Also, you mention mental health problems a few times in here. I would consider focusing on that. I don't believe that moving to another city is likely to alleviate your personal problems. There are exceptions to the rule (e.g., if you are moving to get away from abuse) but typically I have found that people who are unhappy are unhappy for non-trivial reasons that are not resolved by lounging around on a beach resort.

I can speak to this from personal experience. I actually did quit my job and go traveling for a few months. It was an amazing experience and I would do it again, but the big problems in my life didn't go away while I was taking time off. If anything, they were more stark against a different backdrop. Eventually I ran out of money and had to come home and life continued from square one.
posted by deathpanels at 9:31 AM on September 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

I may be more risk-adverse than you, but in my view if you're actually job hunting, having saved 6 months of living expenses isn't a sabbatical-worthy, "I'm gonna focus on myself" level of cushion, particularly if you want to change what city you're living in. So I'd go at it this way: pour all of my effort into applying for jobs fitting the following criteria: (1) in a city you'd like to live in, and either (2) a job you'd be happy in long-term OR (3) a job with a low mental load either during the job (e.g. night security guard) or after-hours (i.e. you can leave your work at work and get out of the office on time). Then once you have that baseline security, use your free time for the self-enrichment, like additional education etc. But I wouldn't see this as an opportunity to do anything other than line up a job in a place I want to live.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:55 AM on September 26, 2016 [9 favorites]

I was able to improve my quality of life and move to a place of my choosing because I have portable income.

Since you have been working temp jobs, could you possibly target temp jobs that are different from what you have been doing and in one of the areas you think you would like to move? I say this in part because I have repeatedly thought "I would love to live there forever!" about various places only to find myself disillusioned after a time (sometimes mere weeks, sometimes months). So, in my experience, it has been nice to go live someplace I adored for a little while without commiting to it. It ends up satisfying something in me and finding out firsthand that it isn't so awesome makes it much easier to let the idea go and move on.

Since you do want to move, one thing to work on is working towards traveling light. Sell stuff, donate stuff, reduce how much stuff you have. Even if you already have a lot less than most modern people, there is probably room for improvement. The more I moved, the more crap I got rid of before moving. The less stuff I had when moving, the easier the move was. I am just never going to be a prisoner of my posessions again. Having less stuff is so much better, IME.

If you can get to the point where tossing your clothes and a sleeping bag into your car is pretty much all the packing you need to do, then you can become a bit of a gypsy (in the sense of not being tied to a particular spot) and try out different jobs in different places until you find something you really like.

posted by Michele in California at 10:23 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've done this basic thing, although in a different country and with slightly different parameters. (Moving my family, including spouse and small child, from a small town/rural area to a big city.). We had about 6 months of income saved up, much nearer to but not close enough to live with family, and some very specific lifestyle issues we knew could change by moving to a different area.

It was a calculated risk, but moving to cheap temporary housing in the area we wanted to live was a big help in making that happen. I continued to apply to jobs in 2nd+ choice places but I no longer had to explain my desire to find a job in a place like this rather than a place like that. I also wasn't getting filtered out of job application queues in my goal location because I wasn't located there.

You probably don't have enough, on 6 mo of savings, to do more than pick a place and find a job. You probably do have enough to go to that place and look from there, especially if you don't have rent or have the ability to sublet. You may not be able to change yourself by moving but you can change your commute, or your rent, or how often you see your aunts, and that really can make a difference.
posted by sputzie at 10:24 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you want to make a positive change in your life in terms of quality of life, security and piece of mind, I can wholeheartedly recommend doing Marie Kondo's tidying-up process described in her first book - here's a copy for £6. The book is a quick read and it's, by far, the single most radical change I've made as an adult. It helped me radically re-centre my practice of capitalism and also gave me the benefit of an always-clean place to live. Before you move, try it.
posted by mdonley at 5:40 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Although it isn't strictly relevant to the question, my #1 target area is north or mid-Wales, followed by Shropshire or Herefordshire, and finally (in a distant third because of distance from family) County Durham and Northumberland.

One thing to keep in mind is that we still don't know what the economic fallout from the Brexit vote will be - and we may not know for a while. Six months' worth of savings might not be equivalent to the same amount six months from now. There could be a ripple effect into your target job sector, or there may not be. No one can say for sure.

You sound burned out, and I don't blame you. It happens to everyone. But don't let the stress of your previous job cloud your judgment. Think about the fact that you're done with that job, and all the stress that came with it. You can start afresh at a new job. Your previous job was a learning experience which has now made you stronger for your next job.

You think that work is the problem but work provides income which you need to start building a new life for yourself.

Nthing this.
posted by invisible ink at 8:02 PM on September 26, 2016

I took 2 years off work to basically do that at a similar time in my life. I went to the beach a ton, jammed with my band, enjoyed some medicinal substances, and spent time at thrift stores and working through my game backlog. I somehow managed to lose weight and was super-relaxed, even though I was also eating junk food. Assuming you're in America, the best way to do all that would be the move to California, I imagine.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:35 PM on September 26, 2016

TRAVEL! You don't get this opportunity often. Take it!
posted by finding.perdita at 2:57 AM on September 28, 2016

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