Do you really love where you live? Have you lived in the same place all your life or are you more of a nomad? Do you truly have a place to call home? Or maybe you feel like you don’t quite fit in where you live. Whether you have lived in the same spot for 30 years or have moved every year for the last decade, there is almost always a way to feel more connection to the place you currently call home.
This episode is deeply inspired by the ideas from the book
“This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live” by Melody Warnick
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was laugh out loud funny in parts, mostly in respect to a lot of the feelings I can identify with, but also very interesting from a psychology perspective. I am fascinated by learning the science of human behavior and thought. It helps me understand other perspectives that may be different from my own.
In “This Is Where You Belong” the author describes an experiment she conceived when moving from Austin TX to Blacksburg VA, their family’s sixth move.
If they could just pick up and move over and over, with no deep roots really anywhere, at what point would they finally have a place that truly felt like home?
I can relate a lot to these feelings. I grew up in a small rural town in Northwest Florida called Chipley. If you’re not from the area, I’m certain you’ve never heard of it. My husband, Julio, and I got married very young and we moved about an hour away to Panama City for undergrad and then a few hours farther east to Jacksonville for pharmacy school. After I graduated and finished residency, we didn’t have kids and were living in an apartment so we didn’t have any big permanent ties to the area. We felt a little spark of adventure. I applied to jobs all over the country and we decided to move to St Louis when I got a job offer. We loved our time in St Louis. It was so different for both of us to experience all four seasons for a change (having grown up in Florida and Julio in Puerto Rico). Our kids were born there. We moved around to a couple of different neighborhoods in our time there and discovered beautiful parts of the city. We fell in love with the delicious food and gorgeous parks and the striking architecture and the feverish baseball culture of the St Louis Cardinals. We made lifelong friendships with wonderful people. We looked at potentially buying a house several times in the nearly six years we lived there. But it never quite felt like home. As many positive experiences as we had there, living in the city did bring some concern for safety. We often played the game of “was that gunshots or fireworks?” And we decided to make a move when we heard gunshots so close down the street that we hit the floor out of fear of an errant bullet and when someone was carjacked at gunpoint steps away from our front porch.
My brother and his family had moved to a suburb of Las Vegas the previous summer, so when we came to visit for the holidays, we were in awe of the beautiful desert landscape and ecstatic to find out it was in the top safest cities in the country. I had never been very excited about even visiting Las Vegas, much less living here. I applied for a job, got the offer, and we were moved into a rental home in less than 90 days. We were excited about having family nearby, experiencing a change in scenery, and the prospect of buying our first home and putting down roots.
How many times have you moved in your lifetime? From data reported from the U.S. Census Bureau, a person in the United States may expect to move 11.7 times in their lifetime. In the book, Melody discusses differences between movers and stayers. One factor that differentiates stayers is place attachment.
Place attachment is, just as it sounds, the relationship or attachment between a person and their environment. There is a difference, however, between place attraction and place attachment. The length of time one spends in a particular environment strengthens the place attachment. Someone who has spent years in the area has a much deeper rooted attachment to their environment in comparison to someone who has casually visited for a brief period. A shallower relationship could be described as place attraction. Place attraction can often be described in terms related to a fleeting response to aesthetics. For example, the beauty of the landscape. Both people who have a shorter or longer connection to their environment might use this descriptor. A deeper relationship, leading to place attachment, would be tied to more social and emotional aspects. For example, ties to relationships with others or special memories in specific areas. I invite you to think about where you live, for however long you’ve lived there, and the differences you can see between your attraction to the area and your attachment on a deeper level. I’m also linking an interesting study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that covers this more in depth and discusses the results of questionnaires that were given to both visitors and residents of the area surrounding Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole WY.
The Role of Time in Place Attachment
It also explains why Julio and I often say “we could live here” when we travel to different places. Not all of them, truthfully, but we’ve said it frequently in the last decade or so. We are easily attracted to surface level details of many locations.
If you’ve just moved to a new place, or you’ve lived in an area for a few years, or even if you have always lived in the same city, there has to be something you can do to form a deeper place attachment to your area. In “This Is Where You Belong” Melody developed an experiment to make that happen. I have picked a few topics from the book to help you love where you live but I highly, highly recommend reading the book to have an even better idea of the science behind them and find helpful examples to these experiments.
Here are my top five ways to love where you live:
- Spend money locally
It’s so easy, a little too easy, to mindlessly search for an item on Amazon that pops into your head at a moments’ notice and to have it delivered even the same day sometimes to your doorstep. I do it myself all too often. Or to place a Target pickup order in the morning and stop on your way home from work or school pickup in the afternoon. I am also a frequent offender of this method. It takes some real effort to make the decision to spend money locally. To buy a kid’s birthday gift at a local boutique rather than a quick online order. Or buying lawn and garden supplies from a local nursery over a big box store. But spending money locally injects money back into the local economy. Patronizing a family’s small business brings a lot more impact to your community than supporting a billionaire CEO. Sure, local job numbers are supported by national chains and country-wide industries. But buying from a local business keeps money in your community.
One way to love where you live is to shop and dine locally. There is a local art supply store I’ve had my eye on in the same strip mall as where I shop at Trader Joe’s. I am going to make the effort to go shopping there instead of buying more supplies at Target or Amazon.
It’s easy to pull through a drive thru of a big chain restaurant or order a predictable staple from a well known franchise. Again, some of that money goes to employees who are also residents of the community but much of the profit is funneled back up to their respective corporate offices. Often times the local restaurants we visit are our favorite. Make the effort to try a local restaurant in your community. In the book, Melody also takes this a step further by attempting to establish relationships with the employees as well. Being a repeat customer or tipping well helps make a connection to the staff of the restaurant.
Along that same line, another way to love where you live is to find your people. Sure you can wave at your neighbor at the mailbox or nod and smile as you pass by on the sidewalk, but how well do you really know your neighbors? We live in a development where the houses are maybe ten yards away from each other. On one side, our neighbors are above and beyond. We eat dinner at each others’ houses, they bring us fresh produce from their yard or their travels, we keep an eye on each others’ homes when we’re out of town or take care of their trash when they’re away on trash day. They’ve bought our kids gifts for their birthdays and holidays. The dream neighbors in all respects. And on the other side, we sometimes wave and smile, when we can make eye contact. We’ve invited them over before but it hasn’t worked out yet. And that’s fine. I’d rather a reserved neighbor next door than a hostile relationship. And it’s not like they’re our only two options either. There are around 2000 homes in our neighborhood alone, much less our community at large. We have a long way to go to get to know more people.
Inviting people into your home takes things to a deeper level. From simple pleasantries out on the sidewalk to getting to the nitty gritty over a meal, you can truly get to know someone better when you take the time and effort. It doesn’t have to be a five star dinner. The meal is often not what I remember from having dinner with friends. It’s way more important to get to know more about them: where they’re from, what they enjoy, what are their values, what they love about your community as well.
Invite people over, have a play date with another family, or even have a block party or small gathering and get to know several people at once.
It’s not always easy making friends as an adult. You can listen to more ideas on this topic from Episode 48: So why not… make friends as an adult? (with Jenna of @myfriendjenna).
Number three on the list is to get outside in your community. Be in nature. Part of developing place attachment that I mentioned before is to form memories of special moments in a specific location. What natural resources do you have in your local environment to enjoy? Maybe it’s a park or a walking trail or a botanical garden. Get outside and experience those places.
Another important component of getting outside is to walk around your community or move about in the way you are able. Slowing down to walk around gives you more time and opportunity to notice small details that you may miss while driving past at a higher rate of speed. You may see the effort it took to hand paint a sign or the decorations in a store window or the hard work that was taken on local landscaping. Walking may also help you become more familiar with local geography and landmarks faster. It can help you develop a local mental map instead of being dependent on a navigation app.
The next idea to love where you live is to volunteer in your community. Volunteering helps you feel more responsible and intertwined with efforts and issues that affect local citizens. You can meet other likeminded members of your community in the process. You can stake some claim into being involved in solutions that affect your environment. The possibilities are endless for what you can do to volunteer your resources of time and effort. You can volunteer at an event, or at a school, or at a nonprofit, or library, or a cleanup effort. Many, if not most, local communities have online directories of efforts that need volunteers. If you can’t find anything online, call your local city or county office.
In the last episode of So Why Not? I talked with a volunteer coordinator about ways to volunteer at National Parks. Not only do you get to help out, but it’s an interesting way to get to see National Parks at the same time. You can listen to that conversation in episode 51: So why not… work for the National Park Service? (with Anna Blalock).
And lastly, to love where you live, be a tourist in your own city. Is your area known for being a tourist destination? And if so, have you actually done any of the things that make it that way? Why do people love to visit your area? They’re probably fun and exciting for some reason. Even if your area is not necessarily a highly sought after vacation spot, what are some things you would want to highlight and show off about where you live? If you had someone visiting that was important to you, what would you be sure to do? Consider experiencing where you live through the eyes of a visitor.
Again, to recap, here are five ways to love where you live:
- Spend money locally
- Find your people
- Get outside
- Be a tourist in your own city
I don’t know if we’ll be in the same spot for decades to come or we might decide to try out a new adventure but there are definitely many strides I can take to find deeper connection to my community.
I can’t recommend the book “This Is Where You Belong” by Melody Warnick enough. It gave me so many ideas to make the effort to love where I live even more. I hope that you have thought about new and different ways you can experience life in your community both for newbies and people who have lived in the same spot their whole life. Are you willing to take on the experiment to love where you live? And if you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you think.
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, I would love it if you’d be willing to share it with a friend or maybe take a screenshot and share it in your Instagram stories. And make sure to tag me, too. You can find me on Instagram @sowhynot.podcast.
As always, I hope you can use these ideas as tipping off points to channel the ambition, curiosity, and desire to create the life you want to live. Thanks so much for listening. Our time is so important and I am so appreciative that you spent some of it with me.