Urban living with a minimalist twist. OR – Decisions, Decisions

If I’d taken my father’s advice whenever I had an opportunity (or created one for myself!), I’d be a childless, single, secretary, never fully living this great adventure, I call my life…perfect or not.

During a conversation yesterday he discouraged me from seizing an opportunity to take a lucrative job that I would absolutely love, because it requires a move back to San Francisco (and off my quaint little island where I admittedly have built a sweet life and cultivated a few very meaningful friendships).

He suggested I examine my life-long patterns of switching-up my life every 4 or 5 years, and asked if I was just “pulling a geographic out of boredom”. I told him I have done a little soul searching (thank you very much), and I’ve decided to embrace the fact that I’m all about adventure, learning, growing, self-discovery, building community – a free spirit, who thrives from taking risks. I have unique skills (I love setting up new programs and businesses, and I’m willing to take risks), skills that it turns out, people will pay for! I’ve also maintained very close ties to my friends in the Bay Area over the last 5 years, which honestly surprised me…so on my last visit there, it felt like home.

It then occurred to me that my father has discouraged me from taking any opportunity I’ve encountered, including having a child (too expensive and burdensome), getting my master’s degree (you have a perfectly good job as a secretary, with great benefits, and a child to support). Or leaving a really unhealthy relationship (what about your financial security?) All of this is somewhat ironic giving his love of living on sailboats, and his dislike of traditional American culture. But I’m his daughter, and he worries.

I realize that dad is motivated by fear, and the need for security, while I’m motivated by the need for adventure and freedom. No judgment. It just is.

What’s your primary motivator? Love, safety, family, adventure, continuity, peace, new challenges?

Let’s discuss.

All this said, this tempting opportunity begs the question….could I continue to embrace this minimalist life I have now cultivated, while living in San Francisco? Or would I be lured back into eating out every night, shopping for recreation, buying another home, and consuming my way through the city like a PacMan on speed (given a better salary than I earn with my non-profit here in the Pacific Northwest). I’d like to think so.

I ask myself many questions. Would my spirit die from the city noise, heavy traffic, street litter, and the dense population? Will I regret a move such as this, when I’m stuck in my first traffic jam while attending meetings in San Jose? On the other hand, I look forward to seeking out my SGI brothers and sisters, living in a thriving lesbian community again, the accessibility and variety of independent local theater and music, a thriving nightlife, and exploring my beloved Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. And not least of all, reconnecting with long-time friends who have remained my confidants all these years.

Having watched the incredible movie, Return to the Garden, last night with my son and kindred spirit, Deborah Milton, at the historic Lynwood theater, I have cause to pause. The lives these rugged hippie individualists choose to lead are appealing, admirable, and enviable. I’m reminded that I live a sweet life on Bainbridge Island, and it’s true – it is lovely. And like the protagonists in our story, I don’t quite earn enough to support my son, and while I like my job, I admit, I’m ready for new challenges, and the stress of insurmountable old debt (from my previous consumer-driven lifestyle) is overwhelming at times.

Back to the Garden Film

Meanwhile, Noel is much more likely to find a tax attorney job in SF, and my son is chomping at the bit for the move (an Aries, like me, he’s always up for something new). Having already decided to leave high school a year early to get his GED, he wants to work at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in SF, which used to be our extended family, when his other mom and auntie worked there – until they went on to “professional” careers as a nurse and social worker. It’s a great idea – connecting him with folks who have our shared values, and many of whom remember and love him, still. Could we live in the Mission district and raise chickens and drive an electric car, like my friend Julie? Or live like Rita, who lives in a fantastic flat in Northbeach, and walks to her corporate job in the financial district each day, writing and painting by night? Could we live communally with others, enjoying shared resources while saving the extra money, paying down debt and continuing to adhere to these new values (which took me several years to achieve, after leaving the bay area)?

Here are some ideals I have, for simple living in a big city:

Ride a bike and take public transportation – ditch the car
Join a food coop, or better yet, put in a few shifts a month
Rent a place with a patch of dirt for some veggie gardening
Raise chickens
Build or join a community garden
Join organizations to meet people and cultivate personal interests
Use the higher salary to pay down debt, increase monthly cash-flow, and put money aside for the future (rather than buying the next pretty thing)
Buy experiences, not things
Seek out and build community with like-minded individuals
Spend a lot of time in parks and nature
Join on-line communities such as Urban Homesteader to learn more. Or to have a laugh, AND learn more, check out My Intentional Life

What do you city dwelling readers to do simplify life in the city? I’d love to hear from you!


Filed under Uncategorized, Urban homesteading

10 responses to “Urban living with a minimalist twist. OR – Decisions, Decisions

  1. it sounds like an amazing adventure!
    you should do it.
    worst case scenario:
    you hate it and you take on a new adventure somewhere else.
    but what do I know….I too am an Aries (:

    • Hi Michelle! I love your url, and I’m looking forward to checking out your site after I reply to you. Thanks for the encouragement….so far, everyone’s in agreement (aside from dear old dad). As my therapist said years ago, when I was terrified to leave my high-paying (but mind-numbing) secretarial position to attend grad school and become a social worker, “What’s the worst that could happen?” (She had “street cred”…she was a single mom of 5 kids and did it all on her own, so I could certainly handle it with one kiddo in tow…and you know what? It was one of the most creative and exciting times of my life…even if I was shaking in my boots the first 6 months… (mustering courage now…)

  2. I think living in a city like Austin is a little different than living in some other cities, since it seems that health and activity is much more the norm. However, there is still a lot of eating out and expensive housing. But I think the desire and motivation to cultivate minimalism and simplicity is something that is within us, and I think it’s do-able, even if a little harder, no matter what our location.

    Regardless of whether you choose to take this adventure or not, I always think it’s a lot of fun to turn the ideas over in one’s head – best of luck!

    • Thank you, Zalary! And if this doesn’t work out…I must say, I do look forward to living in a warmer and sunnier climate some day…I’m trusting the Universe right now to show me the way that is best for me and my son. Thanks for taking the time to comment; you are so right about intention and motivation…a meaningful life can be cultivated anywhere! Alisa

  3. Paula Gerstenblatt

    Hi Alica
    While living in Austin is not quite the Bay Area, I ride my bike as often as I can, stay off I-35 and take surface streets, spend lots of time in my yard, have a garden, eat at home a lot, bring my lunch to school, play with my doggies, enjoy the Austin life and culture and the few friends I have made here.

    • Love hearing from you, Paula. In fact, I was thinking that Austin must be a wonderful place to live, at least from what I’ve heard, and as I venture out (yet again), I am thinking of how you have continued to remake your life, grow, stretch, and yet maintain great connections with old friends, and obviously with your kiddos. I think the internet makes this easier. I’m always surprised at how many friends I stayed in touch with in the 5 years since I left the Bay Area, sometimes just following them (and their families) on FB.

      At any rate, it’s all an adventure, and I love being open to possibilities. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I think you should go for it, you can tell from your post it is what you really want to do!

    And so true that you can always move back if you hate it.

    But the higher salary is a huge bonus if you have debt, being out of debt is truly key to feeling free and being able to do what you really want!

    I have only ever lived in the city so have nothing to compare, but I feel like there is so much nature to appreciate here even without leaving the Minneapolis city limits. And if you do want to really get away, there’s always a day trip.

    There are sure to be tons of like-minded people in San Fran, I do a lot of the stuff on your list here – public transport, biking, community garden, volunteering at the co-op, – try out meetup.com to find groups with your interests too.

    Our friends aren’t high rollers but they’re not exactly hippies either, and I never feel pressure to eat out or go do expensive things around here. You’ll have no problem sticking with the minimalism.

    Have fun, how exciting, I’ve always wanted to go to Cali!


    • Hi K! I love Minneapolis, and you’re right there is a lot of beauty to be found there. I just love the lakes…my dad and his family lived there for about a year (St. Paul) and I spent the summer swimming at a lake (and swatting mosquitoes) .

      Yes, Meet-up groups are a great suggestion. I joined one in Seattle several months ago, to build community, and we’ve had several potlucks, gone out dancing together, and had a day of bowling with our kids. With the internet, it’s so easy to meet like-minded people and build community. Aren’t we lucky?

  5. from your list – you are destined to live in BERKELEY! I did, and I loved it there…

    • You’re not far off there, Karen! I used to live across the street from the Berkeley Bowl, just walking distance to Ashby Bart (and the flea market they held each weekend in the parking lot there). I just loved it. My second choice east bay location would be the Rockridge neighborhood. One can’t get enough Zachary’s deep dish pizza or cheese from Olivetto’s!

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