A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit CBGB's
November 3, 2019 7:02 AM   Subscribe

How can I bring more of a feel of a "country life" into living in a city, WITHOUT moving?

I'm suspecting that I'm happy with the kind of homespun, DIY lifestyle approach that people associate with small towns, where you bake your own bread now and then and do all sorts of crafty stuff and you and your friends are more likely to hang around playing board games than you are to go clubbing. However - I live in a major city, and I LIKE living in a major city. I like the access to public transit and cultural events, and I like the anonymity that a city provides; I grew up in a small town, and have bad experiences with the everyone-is-up-in-each-others'-grill side of things and couldn't wait to flee screaming, and every time I visit an actual small town and consider life there, I realize I'd absolutely hate that side of things.

So I definitely need to be physically located in a city, but want to bring more of a rural feel into my life. What are some ways that I can work the homespun and homey side of a small town into my city living?

This question brought to you by googling "country life in city" and getting frustrated by 3 pages worth of "reasons why country life is best" essays written by trust-fund-babies buying quaint farmhouses and super-twee pinterest boards of signs saying "live love laugh".
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I live in a big city and have friends who bake their own bread, do crafty things, and play board games (and don't go clubbing). I think the easiest way to do those things is, well, to do them! Find meetups or events that cater towards people who do those things (easy to do in a big city) and make those people your found family.

The one "compromise" between city life and rural life I would suggest is getting a relatively cheap house on the edge of your local public transit network, instead of an apartment in the middle, because that'll give you room to spread out and e.g. have a crafting room that you might not have in a smaller space.
posted by LSK at 7:09 AM on November 3, 2019 [15 favorites]

How about signing up for a plot in a community garden? I have friends in large urban areas who use their plots to grow veggies, strawberries, and flowers.
posted by Key Lime at 7:34 AM on November 3, 2019 [10 favorites]

A guy I know in Oakland has a regular Thursday board game night at his home. He just started by inviting friends consistently and over time it became a thing. Another buddy of mine, here in Stockholm, loves to bake his own bread so he just does. Are you looking for more crafty/DIY/homespun activities to do alone, with friends, or are you looking a greater sense of community, which can sometimes be easier to find in smaller towns that have more public group activities?

Finding what you want may depend partly on your willingness to host. I briefly hosted a monthly MetaFilter mending thing at my apartment in the SF East Bay before I moved back to Sweden. I did it maybe four times. Once my place was packed; once there was just one other person. I enjoyed myself every single time and it was very homey and cosy to sit together mending or sewing while having light conversation. (I recently joined a knitting group here in Stockholm with my mending, and I get the same good vibes from it.)

I would love to start or join a group that cooked make-ahead meals together, because I don't like to cook but I do need to eat, and I think the company of others would make it both easier and more fun. Obviously, YMMV but there are a ton of crafting, cooking, and other groups in your city as you know.

Here's an out-of-date Atlantic piece about game cafes in Brooklyn; there are clearly other people who are into such things in your area and many of them are not families with children. In other words, basically what LSK said. Find other people who are doing what you want to do and do it with them, or invite like-minded friends, coworkers, and/or acquaintances over to enjoy gaming or bread baking or yodelling with you at your place or another place.

If you are open to beekeeping, you might consider connecting with the local beekeeping community (which needs to be careful because it is still illegal in New York to keep bees, which makes their activities both homespun AND kind of CBGB's IMHO).

This recent Ask about finding community may also be helpful. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:38 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

How is your home decorated? You could save up and buy a nice vintage quilt on Etsy for your bed. A wood farmhouse kitchen table (or a smaller version of one) would also help. Smaller, worn throw rugs instead of a more modern big rug. I have a set of summer linens (actual linen sheets) and a set of winter linens (old flannel sheets and a thicker duvet cover) and I make a little ritual out of switching them twice a year. I love flea markets and antique stores and have collected little things over the years (old lamps and throw pillows and silver and such).

How do you shop for and cook food? Orient your food schedule around shopping at a local farmer’s market on the weekend and plan meals around the food you buy there. (Baking your own bread also adds to this, like your question says). Get to know the people who work at the stands you like and you’ll think of them when you’re cooking. Over time you can start making certain things at certain parts of the year and make little rituals out of them (tomato sandwich season, plum pie season, carrot salad season, etc).

I love to keep my windows open for as long into the fall and as early into the spring as possible. Even with city noise, the breeze is nice. On the weekend I wash my sheets and dry them a little but then hang them around my apartment and let the breeze help to dry them.

Make tea at night and relax with a book.

And think about adopting a hound dog ;-)
posted by sallybrown at 7:46 AM on November 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

I live right in the middle of a large, American city and most of my neighbors have huge gardens, lots of them grown in the front yard which is a nice switch. Lots of chickens around, the ones next door love my yard better than their own! Bee hives, a Saturday market on almost every corner and lots of walk ability. I know my neighbors here MUCH better than I did when I lived in the actual “country” 10 years ago. Engage your neighbors to have potlucks or game nights. I love living in the city too and those little “neighborly” touches are the icing on the cake.
posted by pearlybob at 7:51 AM on November 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

One more I should have added - if you have a neighborhood email list, join it. You’ll get people complaining and looking to sell concert tickets or whatever, but also some more community-minded emails about local events, “what a nice sunset we had tonight!” and other neighborly notes, and you’ll start recognizing peoples’ names.
posted by sallybrown at 7:56 AM on November 3, 2019

For the record, a lot of rural life in 2019 is spent on the internet, often complaining about local services and saying trashy things about fellow community members on social media.

The excellent part of rural life is contact with nature, so if you have a good city park take lots of walks. Find a community garden and get down in the dirt if that’s your thing. If you have access to salt water go there — anything like the ocean feels spiritual to me.

You have to build your community in rural life, too. You can do it passively but in my experience you wind up with a disorganized heap of connections, many of them toxic. The work is the same wherever you are. 2nding Bella Donna’s link to the recent thread on community.
posted by argybarg at 8:10 AM on November 3, 2019 [11 favorites]

The above are all great ideas. As you probably already know, making-shift-for-oneself is a large part of The Rural Outlook On Things, particularly as it applies to food (and however much of that outlook is imaginary).

Transplanting that to urban life, to me, would mean:

Start canning! This needn't be stuff that grown in your own plot - you could make preserves and pickles from whatever is in season at your local farmer's market. If you're looking for locally grown stuff, check to see if your state's department of agriculture has a website/FB/twitter feed highlighting growers/suppliers (my own state does a great job with this). Baking yer own bread, as you mentioned. There are lots of other things that lend themselves well to making yourself. Yogurt comes to mind. Also soap and jerky.
posted by jquinby at 8:15 AM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I live this life!

I mean, I regularly go home to do big stuff like cut firewood and build furniture, but I'm like you in a lot of ways! I like my city life! I don't need Bill down at the hardware store telling everybody that I'm in town!

So the way I think about it is that my country self is very self-sufficient. My city friends are always amazed at the kinds of things I will take on. So for me blending these two is a matter of doing things that city people don't (or can't or wouldn't think to) do - taking on projects that are outside of the regular urban mindset.

So that is the overriding answer for me - I feel very at-home when I am taking on projects that need to be done and a city person would call a handyman. If I don't know how to do it, I figure it out. If I need something, I figure out how to make-do with what I can find or figure out how to afford it partially. That to me is what rural living is: Figuring out how to turn a broken pot into a flower bowl or figuring out how to make this-from-that.

The other thing - and this is just my personality and location in Chicago - is that I treat my neighborhood like a small town. That helps me feel nested in a way. So the old lady who hangs out in the restaurant downstairs all the time gets called by name and I buy an extra bunch of flowers randomly for her, or maybe the people I see regularly get addressed as "my friend" rather than the ma'am or sir I'd usually use - especially folks I see every day at the bodega and grocery.

So that's what I'd tell you as a slightly too-long answer: Think of self-sufficiency, reuse, and community and then feel around with those to find where you feel comfortable.

And then plants. Get involved in a community garden or pot up a bunch of stuff.
posted by Tchad at 8:22 AM on November 3, 2019 [15 favorites]

Friends of mine have started throwing "craft night" parties where, like, everyone comes over to color in coloring books, or everyone has to bring something "craft-y" to work on in the group (knitting, scrapbooking, sewing, etc). Those have been tons of fun, even though I'm hardly craft-y at all and one time just finally sorted a bunch of digital photographs.

Can your kitchen accomodate more than one person at a time? Have a baking party at your place where people work on something together or bring a recipe for the group to try.
posted by TwoStride at 8:24 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ohhh, I've been there! (But I also upped sticks and moved from NYC to the Hudson Valley, and work on a farm now... so YMMV on how long these will work for ya. Ha.) Here's a mix of stuff I used to do in the city to tide me over, and stuff I now do living out in the sticks:

+ Think a lot about food. Like, possibly too much! + I don't mean become a foodie... just... think about what you eat, where you buy it, and why you buy it. Then see if you can't find manageable ways to replicate it in your own home.

Get into canning and pickling, and making jams. If you don't have much storage, they make great gifts!

Take classes or read up on preserving meats—I have city friends who think nothing of having a hunk of meat stashed away in a closet.

Make salad dressings and sauces from scratch. I very rarely buy bottled anything these days. And a lot of stuff keeps really well in the fridge!

Learn to forage and take day trips out of the city. Even, like, Inwood Hill Park might have some cool stuff!

Buy solid fucken "leave it in your will" cookware and reuse the glass packaging food comes in. Cast iron and enameled stuff, as much as possible. Leftover pickle jars are perfectly fine for drinking glasses. Use cheap and washable kitchen towels and bar mops instead of paper towels.

Another "country rule" I've taken to is: don't go grocery shopping until your cupboards are nearly bare. It's, ostensibly, because my grocery store is a 40 minute drive. But it really forces me to be creative with what I have... and drastically cuts down on food waste. Very rarely do I find rotting spinach in my produce drawer or a box of cereal just taking up precious space!

+ Fix stuff! + I mean, not everything is fixable, but learn to get handy with apartment-appropriate projects. Buy old chairs, sand and paint 'em down. Or like, I went to an antique store and bought some kind-of broken old oil lamps. One afternoon spent doing surgery on them with a multitool, and I now have lovely country ambiance and a sense of accomplishment!

+ Marie Kondo the fuck out of your place! + Some people associate country life with piles of bric-a-brac and cutesy decorations, but my association is a clean, neat, cozy, well-oiled machine of a home. Don't, like, deprive yourself of comforts... but make sure everything in your house is useful and used often.

Also, if you have a fire escape or patio, string up a laundry line! There's not much country homier than sheets out to dry.

+ Take homemade gifts/food around to your local businesses! + There's a lady in my current tiny town that shows up at the local bar with beef stew every Sunday.

In the city, I used to make jams and take them around to the deli guy, bartender, pet store employee, etc. My other city friend does this with Christmas cookies. Neighborliness is amazing and easily forgotten in the city, I think!

+ Do things seasonally! + Spring and Fall Cleaning? Hell yeah. I love a good apartment airing. Host yearly, seasonal get-togethers. Basically, anything that makes you go, "It's April, so I do this, " or "It's July, so I do that."

+ Volunteer! + The Queens County Farm Museum is amazing. Knit baby socks for those who need them. Get involved at your neighborhood branch library. Start a yearly block-level chili cook-off.

+ No Tech/Low Tech Sundays! + I think another MeFite brought this up in a similar thread, and it's so nice and homey. It's not like "country people" are any better about scrolling the hours away on their phones (Argybarg's comment is pretty accurate), but part of being in the country (for me) is unplugging and just relaxing. So on Sunday evenings, I'll turn off all the lights and turn on my oil lamps and candles. Maybe I'll put on some chill radio. Maybe a pot of something on the stove. And I'll just enjoy knitting or reading by firelight. Bonus points if you can convince friends to come over and be dorky with you.

+ Media! + Read a Farmer's Almanac cover-to-cover. That shit is both useful and hilarious, with a heaping side of quaint. Listen to podcasts about homesteading, farming, food preservation, social history, crafting, etc!

Have fun, and if you want to come and visit for a country fix, let me know! :)
posted by functionequalsform at 8:47 AM on November 3, 2019 [12 favorites]

Check your local library to see if they have an events regarding knitting, quilting, or whatever and if they don't, ask if they'd be willing to help start a weekly or bi-weekly craft session.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2019

There's a local Meetup group here that gets together to play board games. People have been bringing cross stitch to our coloring meetup group.

I make pickled beets roughly once a year.

I make my own cookies, muffins, cakes, bread, etc.

I'm in a suburb, so I live in a house. I plant flowers in the spring. I just planted bulbs in our front yard. We used to have tomato and pepper plants in old 5 gallon buckets in our backyard.

I'm lucky enough to live near the Cleveland Metroparks, and I've been going there and just hanging out. I sometimes take pictures or take a coloring book and set myself up on a picnic table.

I turned my bedroom into an oasis. It's very monochromatic and simply decorated. I have lots of pictures.
posted by kathrynm at 9:02 AM on November 3, 2019

Fresh flowers
A tedious (in the good way) hobby like English paper piece quilts
Food cycles - weekly, seasonal, holiday and other celebrations
When you cook a giant meal, knock on the neighboring doors and offer to share
posted by bilabial at 9:02 AM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have friends who do a casual drop in potluck Shabbas dinner party every Friday evening. Come around 7, leave around 10. The younguns head out to the club, the introverts go home. It’s great, wonderful community builder and very low pressure.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:49 AM on November 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

“I treat my neighborhood like a small town”

This is really good advice. Make an effort to get to know people you see often, especially people in service industries. They’re so used to being invisible that it stands out when someone pays attention, and it’ll be easier to be friendly. It also eases the homogeneity found in big city social circles.

The corollary of this is that you should make an effort to avoid leaving your neighborhood. In a small town, you don’t travel ten miles out of your way because the Chinese restaurant is better or the TJ Maxx has a better selection. You make do with your little area and venture out on special occasions.

Beyond that, take care of living things. Chickens or bees may not be possible, , but even something like a rabbit or some guinea pigs would work. And grow plants, even if it’s just herbs and hanging tomatoes. My mom planted some corn in her backyard garden last year, and even though it was just two stalks, it really made it feel country.

General rule of thumb: what would your grandparents do? Even if they were city-dwellers themselves, it’s a good guide to a slower, more self-reliant life.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:07 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

The part of DIY and self-reliance that lights me up is making Good Stuff from Excess Stuff. But what is Excess Stuff in a city is rarely the same Excess Stuff as in images of country life, and nor do we have the same resources to bear on them.

E.g., you aren't likely to have the space for maybe-later Stuff to sit around in culch or mulch. You do have a huge economy to pick things out of as you need them, and getting to recognize the seasons and events you can harvest from is also sensual and engaging. Well, kind of.

E.g.: buying single-purpose calico quilting cotton to make cut-and-pieced quilts: an art form, but not made from Excess Stuff. Quilting and recycling clothes from your trashpile, or thrift stores and Goodwill: Excess Stuff.

E.g.: Gardening in nested five-gallon buckets from the trash behind a deli: Excess Stuff and space and water efficient, too. Replacing crops that get shipped far and fast and cool to you: probably an environmental win. Raising pigs on organic restaurant scraps under a freeway: great book. Organizing with your neighbors to improve city organic matter composting in place? !!!! But the effective way to do it is going to depend on everything local.

I could go on with examples and near-enemy failures for ages, but they'd be *my* examples, not your balance of Good and Excess. In Gaudy Night the manager of the womens' college remarks that they run on `cheeseparings', an Excess that poor people made cuisine of. Wimsey responds that to make something from nothing is to approximate the divine labor.
posted by clew at 12:02 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Local regulations may vary, but keeping goats and chickens is legally allowed in San Francisco. All you need is a space that's 20 feet from any doors or windows.

Cows, apparently, require a permit.
posted by alexei at 12:44 AM on November 4, 2019


I'm not sure what answers I was expecting, but the answers I've been getting so far have been unexpected - and have already given me some food for thought and things to consider. I think I may have had my head set in the "outward trappings" kind of place and this has already caused me to examine that.

Still open to comments, just wanted to let y'all know that this made me think a good bit and I appreciate that already. Thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had a flashback today and it made me think of this thread. About ten years ago, I lost power after a hurricane, and it was out for a week. One of the calmest weeks of my life! I was actually sad when the power came back on. I think what I liked the most was the quiet. Electricity is loud, even if you’re not using it. The lack of power got rid of that noise and the resulting silence felt very “country” to me. So I was thinking about this today, and wondering if I could recreate it by just unplugging everything and maybe flipping the breakers. Obviously you can’t do this for your refrigerator and stuff, but it’s worth a shot for tv, computer, lamps, etc. Worth an experiment for a day, at least.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:02 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

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