A picturesque village is set amid sprawling oaks and snow-covered hills; a bustling urban neighborhood bursts with the sites and sounds of city life; and a beachfront townhouse community looks out at palm trees and sand dunes. All these descriptions conjure an image of place or locale—a highly personal sense of neighborhood, community and home.
Your Next Move
We not only buy a home, we also buy the total environment—neighbors, community services, climate, taxes and politics
One of our most important choices is to select the location that creates a special sense of belonging, and important new insights can help us increase the chances of finding that ideal spot.
Where to live is one of the most important choices we make. Millions of people grapple with it. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 36 million Americans move to a new place each year—buying real estate close to new jobs or to chase a retirement dream. Pop culture also provides a perfect gauge. Glossy magazines and newspapers list ideal destinations for just about everyone: retirees, young professionals, dog lovers, cyclists, artists and more. Websites and blogs list the best small towns, big cities, coastal communities and mountain villages.
The right place makes you feel you are part of something larger than yourself.
In their book, Repacking Your Bags, Richard Leider and David Shapiro emphasize the importance of making a careful choice. That’s because choosing is an intensely personal decision. “If you’re considering a new place, it’s wise to examine what sort of ideal future lifestyle you have in mind and compare your thoughts with those of your intimates before you go much further. Otherwise, after moving to a new place, people frequently discover that they haven’t really wound up with what they wanted after all.”
“We not only buy a home, we also buy the total environment—neighbors, community services, climate, taxes and politics,” the authors continue. “All these interact with our values and influence whether or not our home is an inspiring nutritious place that allows us to express the fullness in our being.”
In Memphis, Tennessee, Kim Crawford grapples with the challenge of finding her best place to live. Kim moved from Paducah, Kentucky, in the mid-1970s to attend college. She graduated, married her college sweetheart, bought a house, and raised a family without really thinking much about the importance of where she lived. “I guess you could say I chose to live here by default,” she says.
Now divorced and looking for what’s next, Kim feels that Memphis may not be the place she wants to stay for the rest of her life. “As I get older,” she says, “I might prefer to live someplace smaller and safer. I'd like to live someplace that is more walkable and has more natural beauty and outdoor activities.”
Alex McPeak is also thinking of moving. Though his job in manufacturing took him all over the world, he settled in Louisville. “Louisville is nice, but I don’t think it’s ideal,” he said. “I’m drawn to the activity, the noise, and the span of people and cultures in big cities. I’ve often considered San Francisco as a place I could live. San Francisco has virtually anything you could want—culture, big-city life, public transit, beaches, mountains, even desert-like areas, and the climate is temperate and fairly pleasant, with milder than usual winters and summers that don’t get too hot.”
While each person’s ideal is different, there are criteria for determining a new locale. These criteria not only cover basic needs for shelter, safety and environment, but also social and cultural needs.
While it’s tempting to think of one’s needs as fluid and easily changeable, it’s often much more complicated than that. Kim in Memphis has an idea where she thinks she would be the happiest, but she admits that, “I'm not sure how I would decide where to live. I have traveled all over this country and have seen very few places where I thought I might want to live. It's a tough decision, so it's probably one that I won't make.”
It’s wise to examine what sort of ideal future lifestyle you have in mind.
People develop ties to cities, towns and communities, even when those places aren’t their ideal. They form relationships and make friends, find a favorite bar or cafe, and develop routines. Relocating, even to somewhere that’s a better fit, means giving up the comfort of routines. It means establishing a new normal.
Leider and Shapiro put together a list of characteristics that people should consider when thinking about their current or future place. This list serves as a starting point, and we’ve broken it down into four categories: environmental, civic, cultural and personal. Take a look at these 14 criteria to figure out where you fit in best.
Climate: Considerations include weather and temperature, but also what the seasons are like. Do you want to be close to skiing in the winter? Or do you want warm sunshine all year long?
Environment: A place’s environmental factors include its physical environment (for example, is the place a densely populated city or a tiny town), as well as its proximity to beaches, rivers, nearby towns and open spaces. Environmental factors—like air quality, pollen counts, or the likelihood of natural disasters—can also affect health and well-being.
Real Estate: When evaluating a place, look closely at its real estate options and the availability and affordability of desirable housing. Be sure to look closely at neighborhoods, property values, architectural styles and amenities.
Education: Look at a place’s school systems and its colleges and universities, and then consider the public and private educational opportunities, and the cost and quality of schooling.
Transportation: Check out a place’s public transit systems, walkability, average commute times, and whether or not a car is a necessity. Also look at how easily you can travel to or away from the place, be it by air, train or car.
Cost of Living: Study the cost of living in a given place, including average salaries, and the cost of housing, transportation and taxes before choosing where to live. This helps weigh your lifestyle costs.
Services: While Leider and Shapiro stress medical services on their list of criteria, a place’s overall infrastructure is important to a place’s quality of life. In addition to medical services, look at the civic and social services that a place offers, such as trash pickup, fire and police departments, libraries, access to health care, and public spaces.
Personal Safety: An ideal place is one where you feel safe. Check into the place’s crime rate, sense of civic involvement, and how secure you feel in the neighborhood and home.
People should ‘look before they leave’ and engage with location before deciding to move.
Culture: Evaluate the place’s racial and ethnic diversity, and the number and type of things to do there. Also get a sense of the place’s general vibe (its attitude or “personality”). One person might look for a place that has a funky, laid-back attitude, while another might want somewhere that’s got a more intense, industrious personality.
Community: Check out the size of the community, the physical density of the town, and the pace of life (meaning, does a city feel relaxed or is everyone always rushing off to the next big thing).
Recreation and Leisure: Can you easily do what you love? Look into the place’s nightlife, retail and dining options, and sports teams and hobbies.
Job Opportunities: As Shaprio and Leider define it, a good life is one where your are “doing the right work.” Look into your job opportunities. Not all places will support every kind of work. For example, a freelance Web designer has more options than someone working in oil drilling.
Family and Partner Opportunities: Take in the needs of your family and partner, too. If you are single, consider a place’s opportunities for dating or the number of available single people.
Religion and Politics: Religion and politics are deeply personal, but both are tied to community and place. Consider how tolerant the place feels, the accessibility of religious communities and places of worship, as well as its political climate.
Leider and Shapiro define the good life as “living in the place you love, with the people you love, doing the work you love, on purpose.” The fact that “living in the place you love” is the first element of the good life underscores its role in our general sense of fulfillment and happiness. By reflecting on both practical and personal considerations, we all stand a much better chance of finding the unique refuge that helps make us whole.