Kim and I moved to our new home in West Linn on July 1st. Although we're only 8.5 miles (and about twenty minutes) from the condo we owned in Portland, I haven't been back to our former neighborhood since we moved. Yesterday, I decided to spend a few hours hanging out at some of my old haunts.
I stopped at the “pot shop” to pick up some sleeping aids. I bought Tally new chew sticks from the pet store. I spent half an hour browsing at the used book store for sci-fi classics. And I stopped to drink a glass of wine at the bottle shop. It was fun to be back in Sellwood once again, if only for a few hours.
While I was sipping my pinot noir, a friend came in. “It's good to see you,” she said. “How's life in the new house? Do you miss Sellwood?”
“We do and we don't,” I said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, there are pros and cons to every location, right? I don't think there's any one perfect place to live. I miss this wine bar, for instance, and being able to walk to all of the different restaurants. But I don't miss the traffic and the crowding and the high cost of living.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” my friend said. “But I couldn't live where you do. I don't like to drive. I gave up my license three years ago, and I never want to get it back. I like being able to walk for everything.” She has a perfectly valid point.
Driving home, I thought more about our conversation, about the differences between where we live now and where we lived six months ago.
Pros and Cons to Everywhere
As an adult, I've had six different homes in 25 years: the small house in the small town, where Kris and I moved after we got married; the big house in Portland that she and I bought in 2004; the apartment in downtown Portland that I rented after our divorce; the riverfront condo I bought in 2013; the condo that Kim and I rented in Savannah, Georgia; and now this cottage on an acre of land outside West Linn.
I've loved aspects of each of these places — but there have also been things I've disliked about each location.
Here, for example, are the pros and cons of living in the condo:
- Advantages of the condo. Extremely walkable neighborhood. Extensive parks nearby. Great view of river and city. Direct access to city-wide bike path. Close to public transit. Lots of people to hang out with. Condo maintenance was generally hassle-free.
- Disadvantages of the condo. Dense vehicle traffic — even on weekends. Large vagrant population, including chronic drug use and increasing property crime. Expensive grocery stores. High fixed costs (HOA, property taxes) even though condo was owned free and clear. No place for pets to roam. Way too easy to opt for restaurants instead of eating in. At 1560 square feet, the condo felt too large. Too many people all around.
Looking at that list of pros, it's clear that the best part of living in Sellwood was its proximity to everything. The two biggest downsides were the high cost of living and the population density.
I made a similar list of pros and cons for our current house:
- Advantages of the country cottage. Beautiful park-like setting just 25 minutes from Portland. Quiet yard and neighborhood. No issues from population density (traffic, homelessness). Fixed costs are much lower; so are discretionary costs. Room for animals to roam. At 1235 square feet, the house is smaller than the condo and feels more “livable”. Nearby multi-use trail. Kim and I both love the vibe of the home and property; this place feels like home to us.
- Disadvantages of the country cottage. Relatively isolated so little interaction with other people. Neighborhood isn't walkable for errands. (It's plenty walkable for pleasure and exercise.) No quick access to public transportation. House has required extensive renovation, and there's still more that needs to be done. Severe rodent infestation.
The two biggest advantages of living in West Linn are the lower costs and the increased connection with nature. The trade-off, however, is that we're farther from conveniences like grocery stores, gyms, and restaurants. We drive more often.
Everything Is a Trade-Off
The older I get, the more I believe that the ideal home doesn't exist. Not for me, anyhow. And not for Kim.
“You know what I wish?” Kim said a couple of weeks ago. “I wish that we had this house and this property but that it was located in our old neighborhood. That'd be perfect. We could still walk everywhere and do everything, but then we'd have an oasis to come home to.”
Right. That would be awesome — but I'm still not sure it would be perfect. And it doesn't exist. If it did exist, it would cost a fortune.
Everything is a trade-off. If you want land, you have to look outside of the city, which means you're not going to be in a walkable neighborhood. If you want a place with low maintenance, you're probably going to be in an HOA (for both better and worse). If you want someplace inexpensive, you'll likely be located farther from amenities.
When choosing a place to live — or making any big life decision, really — it's important to ask yourself two questions:
- What am I giving up by making this choice? What am I sacrificing? What am I gaining? Are the compromises worth it?
- What else could I do with the same time and money? Are there options that appeal to me more?
Kim and I decided that at this stage in our lives, we didn't need the easy access to bars and restaurants. We wanted a place where the animals could explore the outdoors, and a place where we could save money. We're happy with our country cottage despite the constant construction and the ongoing rodent infestation.
What kinds of compromises have you made to live where you live? What did you give up? What did you gain? If you could design a perfect home and neighborhood, what would it look like?