2017: A year for city exploration, uncovering the meaning of “home”, and dreaming up ideas for the Future of Living
My husband, Phil and I have been married for over three years. Together, we’ve been dating cities for the past 6 months. It’s one of many “Life Campaigns” we’re living this year.
While we had no hesitation in our lifelong commitment to each other, we have been reticent to call a single city home without some sort of modern-day courtship. And what’s more modern than sorting through options via Tinder? Am I right? Am I right??
We missed out on the magic of this app in our path to marriage (perhaps this is a blessing) so we’ve set out the create our own version of the swiping, but for cities. Confession: this isn’t an app that we created in real life, just in our imaginary minds, and hopefully now in yours too.
So far, in the past 6 months of Tinder (city) dating, we’ve swiped right on North Pacific Beach and the North Park neighborhoods in San Diego, Venice Beach in LA, Downtown Santa Barbara, and are now are getting frisky with Boulder, CO.
Our dates are a bit more time intensive than the typical Tinder hook-up. We’re not just looking for a one night stand. We are seeking full on immersive, on-the-ground experiences lasting at least 30 days.
How do we do it? Well, for starters it’s meant choosing work that can be done anywhere, anytime.
When we’re not working out of our furnished rental, our time is spent soaking up the local scene. For me this has included finding co-working spaces to meet entrepreneurs, and group workout classes to join. It means hanging out at coffee shops, eating where locals do, and seeing the city from a resident’s point of view.
It’s a challenging balance to live like a local, while taming the touristy-beast that wants to unleash and try everything that’s new. We aren’t on vacation, but there’s the temptation to act like we are. That’s a dangerous rope to walk.
Thankfully for us, everything we do (even as mundane as shopping at a grocery store or going on a run) is new. And so that in itself is entertaining.
The end game? To choose a city to see monogamously, at least for more than a month or two.
PART 1: UNCOVERING WHAT HOME MEANS
What does “home” really mean? How has it been defined traditionally vs. what does it mean today? How does the meaning of home differ for person to person? More importantly, what does “home” mean for my husband and I as we build a life together?
I’ve never been one to take things at face value. So when it comes to building a home I’m not sold on it being a white picket fence.
I’m coming to find that the home you build is simply a collection of what you value. And that what you value, may very well not be any one “thing”, but a collection of intangible elements.
What we know to be true about our definition of HOME from the last 6 months of nomadic living:
Home is not a space for stuff. As we drive to and from each city and furnished rental, we test the limits of what a 2005 Toyota Corolla can haul. We realize how burdensome material items can be. With the exception of a car itself, most of them limit mobility, which can in turn limit the type and quality of experiences you have. We value experiences, so we don’t want a home to simply be a vessel for storing stuff.
Home is where we can be comfortable. Phil and I both like a space to work, think, and relax in. A home in the physical structure-sense needs to be comfortable and have space for us to, simply be.
Home is where we can enjoy the outdoors. I never realized how much I valued access to the outdoors and beauty of nature until we traded the city streets of downtown Chicago for the sandy beach paths, and dirt trails of Southern and Central California. I feel better spending time with nature than in a restaurant or bar. The way we spend our time has shifted as a result of our geographical location. We now know that we value geography as a factor in where we call home.
Home is where we can find others that enjoy the same activities.
(Note there are no pictures of us with new friends in the cities we’ve dated. Case in point — making new friends when you’re 30+ and temporarily staying in a city is tough.)
Home is where we can intellectually connect, be challenged, and get deeper with people and about topics that we care about.
(I have no picture to demonstrate this desire, other than my husband playing chess on his phone, and I’ll just leave that picture to your imagination.)
Home is a feeling that manifests through a sense of comfort, which is generated through increased familiarity with surroundings while forging meaningful connection to people. Both of these take time.
It’s something we’ve been hard pressed to feel given the short duration of our stays.
Maybe that’s been our problem, or maybe it’s because we are unique in doing what we’re doing (at least among the people we’ve met)?
Maybe if this was something more people did then the act of quickly, and deeply assimilating to a community would be easier?
This bring me to my next phase of this article.
PART 2: IDEAS FOR FUTURE LIVING
Overall, the act of moving around is one big logistical challenge. Otherwise known as a pain in the butt. We are incredibly grateful for companies like Airbnb for making it MUCH easier.
Yet, we recognize there’s plenty of room for continued innovation, improvement of what exists, and creation of what doesn’t.
Here are a few of my observations and ideas based on 6 months of nomadic living.
OBSERVATION #1: Owning stuff is expensive and holds you back. Less stuff = more movement. Movement = learning. Learning = personal growth.
Each stop we make, we pack up heaps of clothes we never wore, shake our heads and ask: Do we really need this? Will I be wearing this anytime soon? As I type this I just texted my in-laws to see if it would be okay to ship another box of our clothing to their house. (Update: They said, yes. Thank you, Michelle and Peter!)
We don’t need everything we brought. More than that, reducing what we have directly eliminates the burden we feel picking up and moving from place to place. Our car packing as become like a game of Tetris. My husband Phil has become the master. Just look at this guy! What a gamer.
While it’s become funny. It’s not fun. It feels like work. And what kind of human beings would we be if we didn’t try and eliminate work from our lives? We needed to simplify, and so we did, per the box being shipped in the previous photo.
This brings me to what we do still own. We are paying $200 a month for storage in Chicago. I wish this stuff was making us money instead of costing us money.
IDEA #1: Share more stuff. Make what you own available for rent by others when you don’t need it, and when they do. Furniture for rent. Clothing for rent. Sports items for rent. Any physical asset you own — make it available for rent.
Let others use it when you’re not. This makes living more mobile. It makes being anywhere, other than home, less burdensome.
There is one company, BeOmni in SF, that’s doing this. They offer to store your items and rent them to others when you’re not using them. Brilliant. If you live in SF please support this company so they can scale out to other cities!
OBSERVATION #2: Speaking of stuff: I don’t want to own any more clothes. I’m inching closer to full-blown minimalism (thanks to a couple of inspiring people). Highly recommend listening to The Life‑Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I did so via Audible while cleaning out my closets well before our nomadic adventure began. And through my favorite podcast, “The Good Life Project” I learned about these guys, the minimalists, on tour now.
IDEA #2: Enable minimalism through clothing rental via Amazon prime wardrobe. Get a week’s worth of clothing sent to to wear wherever you are in the world. Evolve what Amazon has launched as a clothing rental concept vs. try to keep.
Imagine getting a box a week. No laundry. No purchase of items. No storage required. Amazon prime wardrobe stylists could be selecting outfits for you based on your location and the weather and activities you plan to do. Imagine this scenario happening on repeat, each week. In a reference to a scene in “Napoleon Dynamite” with tubberware, “I want that!”
OBSERVATION #3: Oh crap, we chose expensive cities!
The places we’re choosing to date are high class broads. The 80’s song, “It’s going to take a whole lotta money…to do it right child…” comes to mind. You know the one, right? George Harrison. Great song.
Yep — it turns out the cities we’ve found appealing are not just attractive to us, but to pretty much the entire world. The beach towns of San Diego and LA, the “Paradise Valley” known as Santa Barbara, and the mountainous tech hub of Boulder, CO. These are prime spots. And the price reflects that demand.
Many apartments for rent are either new and overpriced square boxes or very dated buildings that appear to not have been touched since 1970.
Then there’s home ownership. You better have lots of cash to spend if you want at least two bedrooms in walkable area of the cities I’ve mentioned above. Close to $1 million doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a home ready to live in either. Depending on the proximity to the ocean, or dining/shops, you’re likely going to have a rehab project on your hands. Insane, right? Yes, yes it is.
The good news is that in living in a Southern California, you really don’t need as much indoor living space. (Maybe this is just me justifying the high price for low square footage ratio, but I really believe it to be true.)
What you really need is access to the outdoors because it is beautiful year round, and so in effect your home’s outdoor space becomes just as livable as your standard home type indoor space.
Which is where another idea has come to mind.
IDEA #3: Modest, well designed homes built with access to the outdoors, and community in mind.
There’s something happening with homes. Tiny homes have taken off, but even more so there is a modular home movement. Google just announced they’ll be investing in homes for employees in the Bay Area. Tim Ferriss posted in Instagram about Kastia homes built in Austin and shipped to you wherever you are.
Then there’s the “Happy” documentary that spoke of smaller homes with bigger shared living spaces. Families cook together in commercial grade kitchens. They eat meals together nightly. How cool is that?
Which brings me to the thought:
Why not find awesome plots of land in prime locations. Knock down the old 1970s apartments, and drop in new modular homes that run less than $200,000. Make it so there is a community element built into these homes. Something like a shared community space inclusive of an outdoor chef grade kitchen, and group dining areas. Who’s with me?
OBSERVATION #4: Journaling this adventure requires active behavior on social channels, which at times can take away from living in the moment.
In the future will there be cameras recording and photographing wherever we are and automatically sending us documented proof? Kinda creepy, but maybe that will happen? I guess Google earth is a step in that direction…
In the meantime, where I spend money is a pretty good indication of what I’m doing, and where.
IDEA #4: Take information that’s passively recorded via credit card transactions or Venmo transfers, and build a digital travel journal out of it.
Today I still believe there’s an opportunity for credit card companies, and Venmo, to do more in telling the story of how we live based on how we spend.
Logging into Amex I see trend spend data. Categories of what I’ve spent where, and when. It’s in a nice colored bar graph, but that’s so 1990. Give it to me in a more compelling visual way.
Overlay my spend data on a map. Tell a story for me of what I did, where I was, and likely who I was with based on my spend data. I want a digital record I can file away, and one that I can share.
CONCLUSION: There are many ways to life your life, and to define home. There’s not a wrong way. There is just your way. If you want to find the perfect home, start with understanding what you value and build around that. If what you want doesn’t exist, then think creatively about how you may build it.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, our adventure in dating cities is one of many “Life Campaigns” we’re living this year. If you're interested in learning more about this, schedule time to talk live