Breaking Out of the Suburban Mold

Saturday, I sat in the driver’s seat and pushed in the clutch, testing it out to see how it felt under my foot. I adjusted the seat, then put it back where it had been. I checked my mirrors, thinking that maybe one of them was at an odd angle and causing this weird feeling of awkwardness I had being behind the wheel. But it wasn’t the mirrors either.

It was the fact that I hadn’t even seen the car for a full week, let alone sat in it, intending to drive.

There was a time when not driving for a full week would have been inconceivable. I mean, I had to drive to get groceries. Or go to the library. Or take the dog to the park. Or go out for dinner.

I needed a car to do anything.

Except, of course, I didn’t really need a car. I could have walked to the grocery store in about twenty minutes. The library was a fifteen-minute walk away. A park was about a half-hour walk away, as was dinner. I could have walked to all these places, but I never did.

It just wasn’t part of the lifestyle to do it.

In a place where kids are driven to school when they live five blocks away, and call the bus the “Loser Cruiser,” driving is just a part of life. Like parking lots. And chain restaurants. And shopping malls. All positioned just far enough away from residential areas that having a car feels like a must.

It’s the suburban dream, this lifestyle of space and open areas.

Only it confined me. It squished me into its mold of values and perceived necessities.

It started when my husband and I bought a three bedroom, three bathroom, 1600 sq./ft. suburban townhouse. It had a basement. And a backyard with mature flower beds. A pool. Plenty of space for kids to run around outside.

We lived there for seven years and, yeah, we were happy. Our mortgage was relatively small. We had two parking spots, and two cars with which to fill them. We could make it from our front door to downtown Vancouver in twenty-five minutes.  It was great, on the outside. But there were a few problems.

Here we were, a young, married couple, well on our way to living the dream. Only we never used our basement; it turned into a massive storage room of things we forgot we even had. Our flowerbeds were constantly overgrown; gardening just isn’t fun for us. I used the pool three times in the seven years we lived in this townhouse. And the space for kids to run around – not to mention the two extra bedrooms? Not too useful when you don’t have kids – and don’t intend to have them.

We were living a great life. For someone. But it wasn’t right for us.

So we sold and gave away two thirds of our belongings. We packed up our life in the suburbs and moved to downtown Vancouver, where we have half the square footage, double the mortgage, and a massive lifestyle upgrade.

No, it’s not cheap to live here. And yes, we could have bought a house in the suburbs for the same cost as our condo, but that’s the thing – we don’t want a house. We don’t want the lawn to mow and stairs to vacuum. We don’t want extra square footage that we’re going to fill with things we never use. We don’t want a family room, and a formal living space.

We just want to live the life that feels right for us.

Because it’s not that living in the suburbs is perfect and Vancouver is unachievable, it’s that they’re two completely different lifestyles. Deciding between the suburbs and the city is as much a question of values and expectations as it is of economics.

I have gladly traded space and a second car for compact living and walking in the rain. I’m sure there are many who think that this was a bad trade. But it wasn’t. Not for me. It was a lifestyle decision.

And I like this life I’m living.

I like leaving of my building and deciding which grocery store I should walk to. I like how happy my dog is now that she gets to walk to a park every day. I like knowing what I own and where to find it. The countless restaurant options. The street fairs, performers, and parades. The excitement and possibility of something new that greets me every time I go for a walk.

Living in Vancouver isn’t perfect. But I’d rather an imperfect life that I love over a suburban existence that doesn’t fit.