Learning to Live More Local and Love Where You Live

In my early 20s when I lived on my own, I would order a large stuffed crust pizza from Pizza Hut every Sunday and eat the leftovers for lunch throughout the week.

My idea of enjoying nature was laying on a raft in my apartment complex’s pool.

Shopping for clothes, books, food or any consumer product meant turning to the big-name brands I had always bought from.

Then I met Kyle.

Kyle holding a light rail pass
Here’s Kyle, overly excited to take the light rail while we were visiting San Diego.

My husband is a city planner, a hiker and a concerned consumer. Over the time we’ve been together, he has further developed his identity as a localist. Whether he’s exploring the city we live in or he’s visiting a town for a conference or wedding, he exudes localist qualities to the fullest, (which I can’t complain about – it’s probably what started our move to this sunshine state).

He finds the local hot spots, does anything active he can find, even takes transportation. No kidding, he booked our Airbnb in San Diego based on its proximity to the light rail.

Michelle and Kyle on tandem bikes
Taking tandem bikes around Macinac Island

Slowly, I’ve been coming around to Kyle’s ways. But your spouse can be like your parents in the way that you never want to do what they say for the sake of proving they’re not right. Sometimes you need to come to conclusions on your own.

Here’s what helped me embrace localism, and the struggles that happened along the way.

Find the Local Things You Love

When we lived in Des Moines, I fell in love with the farmer’s market and the community aspect of all the groups I joined – a running club, a writer’s workshop, and a book reading club (not an actual book club, something even cooler!).

We loved our church there, and I volunteered for their youth group. We were close with our neighbors, Yoshi even had a friends group of her own.

It’s no wonder we had such place attachment to Des Moines.

But living in Phoenix has encouraged us, even more, to be “localists”. Living downtown, it’s often easier to walk and bike to run our errands or go to our favorite places. We take the light rail across town to our favorite local bookstore. Weekend festivals help us discover local businesses, (typically the ones that serve food or booze).

Oh, and there are those mountains everywhere. The best free and local workout you can find.

Hiking at Piestewa Peak with Sarah
Sitting on top of Piestewa Peak with my Des Moines friend Sarah, who has also moved out to Phoenix! Unfortunately, my hair isn’t thriving in this city.

But localism isn’t just a thing for big cities. Our Midwestern hometown of 14,000 people seems to be booming with more and more charm every time we go back to visit. People who love Streator, Illinois are investing themselves in the town to make it more enjoyable for other people. And, no doubt, those who are making those big changes become even more attached to the town as well.

Overcoming Obstacles in Localism – a.k.a. “Mich-Struggles”

Being a localist is not always the easiest or most convenient thing to do. When I first used the public transportation back in Des Moines, my princess-self was not having it. I stood waiting to take the bus to work one day and realized as I saw a bus pull up on the other side of the street (and go on by) that I was waiting on the wrong side.

I was late for work and felt like an idiot. To make matters worse, I got to work and realized that since I didn’t drive, I didn’t have my car keys. My car keys also held my desk keys, which I needed to get to my work laptop.

I couldn’t do any work until five different people were called to unlock my desk. I sat at my work desk not working for at least an hour.

Screw being local at that point, right?

Kyle has a name for the instance above – and the many other messes I make out of trying new things…

…a Mich-struggle.

There have been lots of Mich-struggles along the way of trying to live a simpler, more local life – falling off the community bikes in front of traffic, realizing the place you opted to walk to is hella-far away, having people on the light rail ask me my thoughts about the devil – I mean, is this really the stuff I’m giving up my convenient car for?

But I’m glad I didn’t give up on my local quest after all the inconveniences, and now I have coffee shop owners who recognize me and suggest new drinks for me to try. I have a better idea of how long it takes to walk or bike places, and I’ve found hidden gems in downtown Phoenix that you don’t know are there if you’re always driving.

That’s honestly one of the best things about walking places – you take in your surroundings with different senses.

Keep Trying

Riding the grid bikes
Our weekend mode of transportation – the Phoenix Grid community bikes! Happy hour, here we come!

As I’ve read more on the topic of localism and gone and had my own self-induced local experiences, I’ve come around to the idea more and more. What has really opened my eyes to the impact of living more local is a book called This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick. This was one of my favorite reads on my 2018 list.

When I first heard about this book on the What Should I Read Next podcast, I had a feeling it was going to be a life-changer.

At the time, Kyle and I were living in San Tan Valley, AZ and weren’t really psyched about the town we had moved to, although we were totally in love with Arizona. When we found a way out of our lease and into an affordable apartment in downtown Phoenix, I knew it was time for this book. Another move meant another city to adapt to.

And moving is hard. Even if it’s a move you’re excited about it, a new place feels like a complete stranger – uncomfortable and even a little scary. When you’re moving frequently, you’re always comparing the new with the old.  You might feel bad for leaving a good place, and guilty for missing it when this new move was supposed to be the best thing ever.

That’s moving, in the first few days and weeks no matter where you go or why you moved.

Where you live is where you live – the backdrop for everyday life. If you’re feeling stuck in your town or you’ve just moved and are having trouble adapting, I highly recommend you check out Warnick’s book. Kyle enjoyed it just as much if not more than I did. It will give you plenty of actionable things you can try to find more attachment in joy in your town or city, and help you see the larger impact of doing so.

“The more I gave to my city, the more I got back from it. When I invested time, curiosity, and enthusiasm, I felt more invested.” – Melody Warnick, This is Where You Belong

I know localism sounds like a trendy millennial thing, and maybe it is, but it’s perhaps one of the best trends us millennials are getting behind. Trust me, some of the benefits of localism will blow your mind. Here’s a snapshot of ways to be more local and why you should make an effort.

7 Ways You Can Be More Local (and Start Loving Where You Live!)

“It’s tough to have a bad day when you’re meeting a friend at the coffee shop.” -Melody Warnick, This is Where You Belong

1. Start a Group

When I first moved to Iowa with Kyle, he already had a large group of friends from going to school there for four years. It took me three years to stop saying “Kyle’s friends” and realizing I was just as much a part of their group as he was. Finally, I started a new thing with the girls in that group so we’d all have our own time away from the guys each month and get to know each other better.

The girls group was a hit! It turned out I wasn’t the only girlfriend thrown in the mix by default, so the new girls to the group loved it and so did the veterans. We found different events and activities we’d always wanted to do in the city (but our male counterparts wouldn’t ever try) and tried different restaurants. Our friendships grew stronger as well as our connection to where we lived.

Start or join a group where you live. One of my friends here in Arizona has a Restaurant Club with her friends, and one couple gets to pick a new restaurant to try every month. Pick a hobby you love or something you’d like to know more about. Book clubs, wine club, writing groups, movie group, running group – there are plenty of possibilities!

Benefits of Starting a New Group

  • Stronger connection to where you live
  • Develop stronger relationships
  • Make new friends and social connections
  • Enhance your skills in something
  • Something to look forward to every month!

2. Walk More

Sure, walking more sounds like a good habit we’d all like to establish for health reasons, but Warnick gives more exciting ways to make this happen and a new way of looking at why it’s important.

My favorite suggestion in her book was to look up walking tours in your town or city. This is how I found out that Phoenix has a coffee tour! But really, if you Google or ask around in your town, you can find more creative ways to walk around.

Benefits of Walking More

  • You become an explorer of your town
  • You notice things you don’t always see by driving
  • It’s healthy for you!
  • You’re using less resources and impacting the environment

3. Make a Bucket List for Your Town

It’s surprising how many native Arizonans I’ve met who have never gone to the Grand Canyon. But when you live somewhere your whole life or for a long time, you might think well, you’ll get there some day.

Make it happen! I love The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin’s advice to be a tourist in your own hometown. Go see those things that are iconic to your town, see what people are talking about!

Here’s a snippet of me and Kyle’s Phoenix bucket list (it goes on and on!):

Me and Kyle's Phoenix bucket list

Benefits of Making a Bucket List

  • You see more of your city.
  • You feel connected to what draws people to your city.
  • You might develop a sense of pride in what your town is known for!
  • You can recommend things to visitors, family and friends.

4. Find Free Events in Your Community

Towns are full of free stuff to do if you know where to look. Check your town or city’s website or Facebook page for free events they’re hosting. Our Parks and Rec department hosts downtown walking groups, free yoga in the park, festivals and concerts. Keep your eyes peeled for this stuff!

Also, think about your own hobbies and look for groups that meet in your area. Running groups, crafters, book clubs – those things are usually free to join.

Benefits of Finding Free Events in Your Community

  • Who doesn’t like “free”?
  • Get to know more people in your community, people you likely wouldn’t have met otherwise.
  • Get to know more people who have your similar interests.

5. Volunteer

Giving back to your community is one of the best ways to feel passionate about where you live. Check your city’s website for opportunities. Find something in your community you care deeply about and want to see change happen, and see how you can help.

A couple of my favorite ways to volunteer are helping out at running races – so inspiring and you get all the race adrenaline without having to run 😉 – and being a Girls on the Run coach. This program is available in several communities across the country. I love it because it’s tied to something I feel strongly about, instilling confidence and self-esteem in young girls.

Benefits of Volunteering

  • The difference you’re making to the cause you choose to serve
  • Increase your own happiness and gratitude
  • Meet more people!

6. Create a Budget for Local Spending

Basically, Warnick gave me a reason to spend $50 a month at my favorite bookstore in Phoenix. I won’t complain about that. I know it’s tough to buy local when we know the price is dramatically reduced on Amazon and will arrive at our doorstep with the click of a button, but spending the extra dollar to buy locally actually results in an increase in your economy.

Plus, you’re likely getting friendlier, more neighborly service.

“Practicing neighborly economics means you don’t go for what’s cheapest and easiest. You think about which relationships and stores you want to preserve in your town, and you shop there. Sometimes it’s a financial sacrifice, but ‘you need to sacrifice for where you live…sacrifice is going to make your town stronger.'” – Meloday Warnick, This is Where You Belong

Benefits of Spending Local

  • Investing in your community
  • Having a say in what goes in your community each time you spend a dollar at a local business
  • Find more creative, hidden gems in your area
  • Build familiarity and loyalty with your town, making you love where you live more

7. Take Public Transportation

light rail pass

Try it once, and then try it again! Don’t let any mishaps (or Mich-struggles) keep you from getting back on the bike, the bus or light rail.

Benefits of Taking Public Transportation

  • Reduce your environmental footprint
  • Save costs and wear and tear on your car
  • You’ll get more exercise walking to and from a light rail station
  • A less stressful commute (once you figure out the logistics of bus times and stops 😉)

How Will You Start Living More Local?

It’s funny how we change over our 20s, how we actually grow up more than when we were “growing” up. I never thought I’d be one to encourage people to take public transportation or buy vegetables, but here I am, a big girl now on my Grid bike.

I challenge you to take one of these steps this week to be more local. You just might end up having a lot of freaking fun in your own town.

Which tip will you try?

Leave a comment and let me know what sounds the most doable and fun to you!

7 tips to live more local and embrace where you live

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