One year ago I wrote a piece called Why We Moved Downtown. It raised a few eyebrows because we’d been living for over 13 years quite comfortably on a nice hobby farm just 7 minutes from my workplace.
It’s now been just over a year now, and I thought I’d reflect on the journey. There are a couple massive pieces to this new chapter.
Don’t let anybody kid you, Fort St. John is actually a very busy little city - a sort of microcosm of Edmonton with a higher crime-to-people ratio, and babies coming out the wazoo (lots of young families). Needless to say, we were slightly unprepared for the ant hive. Living in our cozy little nook out in the country was very, well, insulating. For three weeks it was hard to sleep with the number of emergency vehicles called out per night. Big trucks racing through town or up 96th Street during all-hours of the night was frustrating (we could literally feel them like you’d feel a train passing, shaking the ground). I had a lot of headaches.
The good news is that we don’t hear the noise anymore. And the bustle has become oddly familiar and even comforting.
But here’s the crazy thing: life has drastically slowed for us. That was my hope, and it’s definitely materialized - big time. I would mostly attribute this phenomenon to the fact that our speed of travel has dropped to 10% of our former speed because we walk. We walk all the time. Moving at 3 km/h has been a beautiful thing, slowing our overall rhythms of life more than we dared dream. And we spend 95% less time in vehicles than we did living out in the country.
Not sure if we actually even need to own a car anymore (we still have two older vehicles that mostly sit parked). For trips south it’s just as easy to rent a car for a week (and very cost effective). With the money we’re saving on vehicles (think $1,000 per month, at an absolute minimum compared with the average person in Fort St. John) we can fly out of here multiple times a year when we vacation.
I’d add this - everything we need for everyday life is within a five minute walk from our front door. So no more commuting or long drives back and forth to get essential services. Here’s our favourite stops right now:
- Recreation - Indoor Running Track (1 minute walk)
- Latenight Hangout - Original Joes (5 minute walk)
- Nice Eat-out - Northern Grill (5 minute walk)
- Groceries - No Frills (2 minutes walk, never fill a cart anymore, just a couple bags)
- Coffee Shop - Mid-Orient Cafe (2 minutes) - Ask Abe to make you a Cappuccino
- Leisure - Art Gallery and Library (5 minutes)
- City Park - Centennial (30 sec walk)
- Deli - Butcher Block (2 minutes)
I absolutely love it.
The second big thing was downsizing. We went from a living space of 4000 sqft to about 1000 sqft. in one foul swoop! Everything is a quarter the size. That’s like going from a one-ton truck to a London Mini. We had a deck the size of the Titanic's, now we have a place for a BBQ and a couple chairs.
Though it’s been a little cramped when we have more than a few peeps over, we still manage to host more people than almost anyone we know (up to 20 people at a time). It’s gets tight at times, and loud. We find ourselves more often retreating to the bedroom to get some quiet time, or do a bit of reading, and popping on the headphones to block out noise. It hasn’t cramped (pardon the pun) our style too much. If you really need space, it’s a walk across the street to find a quiet park bench.
The FIRST massive benefit of downsizing is that we’ve drastically reduced our cost of living. Isn’t that novel? My C.O.L.A. index had been climbing for the last 20 years. Not anymore. By moving into the most walkable part of Fort St. John, we’ve dropped our living expenses by a minimum of 30%. That’s enabled us to completely clear all our debt in one year (with the exception of our house) and continue to be generous with our finances in other areas. And we’ve travelled to some pretty epic places (PEI, Costa Rica). Note: we live with an extremely modest overhead, are debt-free, don't save a lot, don’t carry massive insurance policies, aren’t planning on retiring, and invest mostly into our local church and kingdom-related work.
The SECOND massive benefit is that we spend about 75% less time cleaning and doing yard work. I figure that’s at least 7 hours per week (if not a lot more). Is it coincidental that this year our family has been more than ever staying spiritual grounded in daily prayer and reading? AND I’ve had time to read for-fun books, like a fantasy series that had been on my list for awhile but never could fit it in. AND the extra time has allowed us to be much more physically active than we would have been otherwise.
SIDENOTE ON ENVIRONMENTALISM
We didn’t downsize because we wanted to reduce our footprint. We did it because we believed a simpler life would be a happier life. And that life with less stuff might end up being a life with less worry and fear.
We were right ;).
But it turns out that we have inadvertently become extremely “green” as well. Personally, I think all the hype around global catastrophic warning is slightly over-exaggerated, but what really drives me nuts is the emphasis on things that don’t really make a dent in your “footprint”, like buying environmentally-friendly dishwasher detergent, or changing out your normal lightbulbs for L.E.D. lights (which we’ve done), or reusing your hotel room towel. Listen: BY FAR the biggest pollutant you own is the car you drive. But nobody is driving less in their attempts at being environmentally friendly. Funny how that works. It's Leonardo DiCaprio travelling in a private jet to speak at a Global Warming Conference - laughable.
I recently read of a big internet company that built a multi-million dollar, brand-new “green” facility. It’s got all the new gadgets to keep energy-consumption at a ridiculously low level. Only problem, it’s 30 minutes out of town, so where employees used to walk to the downtown location, now they have to drive. Ironically, they are now a lot less green.
You have biodegradable soap in your bathroom, but drive a diesel? You're not as green as you think. And though I’m not freaking out with half the world about eco-issues, I am by far in the upper eschaton of “green people”, simply because I don’t drive as much. And I burn a lot less fuel heating my home because it’s smaller.
Ya, just to round this piece out, I’ll throw a few cons out there too. Seriously, I really have to think here. Alright, here goes:
1) Your reputation and pride take a hit.
Driving a 2003 Buick Century isn’t the coolest thing to do in my wealthy, big-truck town. I used to cringe a little every time I turned the ignition. Not anymore. Walking around town? At first I felt so “exposed”. You could feel the calculating glances. And our “hobbit hole” just doesn't have the same curb-appeal as the country home did.
Sidenote: having you pride shot to hell could actually be considered more of a PRO (Proverbs 11:2, among many other passages of Scripture).
2) You’re very accessible.
There’s a certain comfort to being padded away from the cares of the world on an acreage surrounded by open fields and galloping horses. We’re on one of the busiest thoroughfares in our city. The separation between our home (which has always been to us a personal sanctum) and the city has grown very thin.
3) Small Living Spaces
Our bedroom is small, just enough room for our Queen, a dresser, and room to walk around the bed. We had a storage bedframe built just to get a bit more space (it’s jammed full). There’s no where to go in the house (except your bedroom) to have some alone-time. We literally use every nook for some precious purpose. Nothing is wasted.
4) Smaller yard.
I’m told ours is actually big for a lot in town. But it’s small to us. We lived on a 1/4 section. The yard around our house which we kept mowed was about 2 acres. Our fire pit, looked out over a pond, and sweeping valley, with epic vistas in every direction. We have a fire pit in our downtown place, but it’s fences and neighbours on every side.
Lastly, here’s what I’ve come to believe is a better...
DEFINITION OF WEALTHY:
1) No financial stress
2) Having everything you need
3) Having time to enjoy life
4) Being able to add a few perks like travel and rib-eye steak
5) Being able to give away income (we’re at about 20%).
6) Being able to pursue things you enjoy doing (for me it’s writing & speaking)
7) Freedom to not HAVE to work (downsizing has made this a tangible, future possibility)
8) And experiencing this in the prime of life (as opposed to when you’re over the hill and retired)
Most of my neighbors are nowhere near that. Many make more money than I do. They have bigger homes. They drive newer cars. They have a brand new RV in the driveway. They have more RRSP's. But for all that, they're more stressed about money that I am, they need more money than I do, they are in more debt, need to work more hours, give away less money (in Canada the average given to charities is 2.5%), travel less, exercise less. They don’t do what they love. The don’t like (much less love) what they do. They aren’t really enjoying life.
And they are likely throwing away the prime of their lives to the acquisition of more. One day they might slow down, but they’ll be too old and decrepit to do much more than look at all their stuff. Then they’ll die.
I’d like to suggest some of our friends get on this train.
Everybody likes talking counterculture, why don’t a few of you actually go there? I know it’s easy to talk about changing things up actually taking action-steps, but here’s what we did and you can too:
- Sale a lot of stuff (including your big cars and big homes)
- Buy a smaller home, and preferably one with a rental possibility or AirBNB option.
- Buy an older, but reliable vehicle.
- Pay off all personal (non-house) debt
- If at all possible, be within walking distance of work, or a friend who drives to work.
And voila - a simpler, more enjoyable life. Care to join us?