(Image from Hooked on Houses)
I have this fantasy of a life in New York or Paris, where I live in a walk-up apartment filled with light, which holds all my possessions but somehow does not feel crammed (except, of course, for the overflowing bookshelves). I dream of doing all my food shopping at greenmarkets, swinging a tote bag over my shoulder, or at impossibly chic, overpriced corner markets filled with exotic cheeses, meats and wines. I dream of living my life in one city neighborhood, like so many New Yorkers do, without a car or a basement or a long commute, able to find everything I need within a few square blocks. (Including green space, because woman cannot live on concrete alone.)
In my daydream, which is clearly a result of having watched a handful of Nora Ephron films many times over, I manage to jettison the boxes of extra things-I-might-need-someday, the odd items of clothing, kitchenware or nostalgia that clutter the cabinets and drawers and spare room in my current apartment. (As it happens, I live in a second-floor walk-up, filled with light and also with overflowing bookshelves.)
In this dream, I finally get a handle on buying and keeping only what I need; I do not spend hours on public transportation every day; and the places where I live and work are within walking distance of one another. And life is manageable, because it has shrunk to a radius described by the path my feet can take on a given day.
But of course that’s not how my life really is.
I was raised in a sprawling, midsize town in a part of the country where people do not take public transportation unless they cannot afford to drive, and where no one lives in adorable little apartments or shops at chic city markets for the simple reason that there are none. (The one exception to the first rule: my tiny, adorable garage apartment during my first year out of college.)
I grew up with an attic and a walk-in closet and several big-box stores within easy driving distance, and that is (mostly) how I lived in the first years of my marriage, when my husband and I rented a three-bedroom house in a town similar to (and only a few hours away from) my hometown. We drove everywhere and we shopped at Target and we had, as my mother never failed to remind us, way more furniture and household goods than she and my dad had when they started out as newlyweds.
When we moved to the Boston area in 2010, we struck a compromise: an apartment in the first ring of suburbs, splitting the distance between the city itself (where we couldn’t have afforded the rent anyway) and his new job 25 miles south of Boston. As a result, we – especially I – live a sort of split-personality, urban-suburban life.
I park my car on the street next to our house. I do laundry in our basement. I store Christmas decorations and boxes of oddments down there. I drive to the grocery store and the library weekly, to the hair salon and Target every couple of months, and we drive to church on Sundays. Most of my best friends live farther out in the suburbs than we do.
But every weekday morning, I walk two blocks and then take the subway to Cambridge, where I walk to work and to lunch, to the post office and the bank, sometimes to the overpriced deli/market, and (soon, I hope) to the farmer’s market. It was this way when I worked in downtown Boston, too: I had a beat, a neighborhood, a series of paths, a set of places I went to shop and eat and do business. It was limited in distance, and it felt – it still feels – manageable, somewhat close to that New York fantasy. And yet every day I commute home, and the contradictions – space, logistics, mindset – surface again.
Most of the time, I am grateful for my glimpses of both worlds: the glamour, culture and walkability of a city, combined with the lower rent, relative spaciousness and affordable parking of the suburbs. But sometimes I wish I could live wholly in one place or the other, instead of always having one foot in each. I think it might be easier, or at least simpler, and less exhausting.
What do you think? Do you live in the city, the suburbs, a small town? Or do you live a life in between, like me? Do you like the situation you have, or do you wish you could trade it for something else?