I spent the better part of the past year in a half in and out of small towns and I have some things to say about that.
To start off, I never thought I grew up in a big city. It never felt like that to me. It was cozy to me. Now that I have some new points of reference, I can say that I grew up in a pretty big city. A city twice the size of the city I’m living in now, although I never would have guessed it. I grew up in southern Ontario, 45 minutes to both Toronto and the U.S. border, with everything I could ever want within reach. Beach? Choice of movie theatres? Malls upon malls upon even more malls? Frequent public transit? Our own weather channel? You name it, we had it.
You see, I’m not one for small gestures. If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna really do it. I wanted to move out of my dad’s house, so I flew across the country. I wanted a bit of a less hectic location, so I went from a city with a population of almost 600,000 to a blip in the road with a population of maybe 250 on a good day. I can adapt to new situations pretty quickly now. I don’t know if I’ll ever move back to Hamilton, or anywhere bigger, but I also don’t know if I’d ever live somewhere without a proper grocery store ever again. But who knows?
There are things to learn each place you go, here are some things I’ve taken from that small seaside town and that even smaller mountain town.
smile at people
All of the time, always. I would joke with my coworkers in Tofino that you could tell a tourist simply by seeing if they’d smile back at you. In Blue River, you’d wave at every car that would pass. It’s just what you do in small towns. I still smile at strangers on the street and people I pass in stores and say “thank you” to my bus drivers. It’s so easy! It costs nothing to put positivity into the world.
overstimulation is a thing
Having options now is overwhelming. There are so many things to do and see and so many people surrounding me each day now and I find myself sometimes longing for the ease that comes with not having so many choices to make every single day like where to buy groceries, which coffee shop to sit in, whether I should take the 27 bus or the 22, if I wanna go stare at the ocean from Beacon Hill or James Bay or downtown or or or…
simplicity is key
I very much miss just sitting on the couch and wathcing TV or listening to music or playing cards with my housemates. You really don’t need a lot to be happy in your surroundings. If you have good people, it doesn’t matter that there aren’t concerts to go to, movies to be seen, bars to frequent. I miss getting late on my day off and spending my day in the house – maybe going for a walk at some point. I feel so much pressure living in a city to always be out doing something and while I do love poking around bookstores and hiking, I love sitting in bed reading or watching movies with my friends.
friends are everywhere
It’s slim pickings in small towns, that’s for sure. While you may not find someone who shares all of your interests or views on the world – you’ll learn that that’s not always a make-or-break point of friendship. I’ve become friends with people nothing like me and somehow we get along! We all had something in us that led us to these small towns, and even in close quarters we didn’t fall out. Staff housing is funny like that, you don’t know these people until they’re your roommates and then you have to work with them every day and somehow – for the most part – you don’t end up hating each other. Isn’t that amazing? It’s this whole different kind of friendship and it can really bond people forever.
quiet is good – you can learn in quiet
There’s a lyric in the song Keeping Up by Micah Visser, “you know I love the city but I can’t sleep right” that sums this one up for me. When there’s no noise to distract you, you can spend more time on yourself.
Of course, when there’s nothing to spend your money on, you don’t spend it. I saved up enough money living in the mountains to take over 2 months off and travel nearly the entire time. The best things in life are free etc. etc. And I have no self control so as soon as I’m back in a city I’m hitting up every thrift store, getting fancy lattes, and just generally spending money on things I am very happy without.
you forget that you’re “missing out”
See, when I lived in the city and I knew there was something going on that I couldn’t go to, it would be all I could think about. I was always missing things. I thought that moving to a small town would make that worse, but it didn’t. I never thought about what I could be doing if I were in a city, or what fun other people were having without me. I just lived where I lived and that was it. I would forget what day it was, or what was going on in the “real world” because it didn’t matter. I was content spending my entire day hiking through the woods with one of my friends, not checking the time, not checking social media. I mostly used my phone to take photos and play music. And our internet wasn’t even that good so there was no use trying to keep up with YouTube or wasting my data checking Facebook. I had the people around me and the limited activities I could do in town and that was all I needed.
When I first moved to Vancouver Island and heard people going on about “island time” I didn’t really believe it. Maybe it’s because I’m so anxious that I can’t rest, or because I am used to a sense of urgency in my everyday life, but I couldn’t see how people could live their entire life in a state of calm. But it really is different here. Everyone is nicer to each other, we appreciate the weather in all states, people do yoga and climb mountains and sit in the grass all day for fun. People or OK with waiting, with busses being late, don’t seem too frustrated when the power goes out. When you’re on island time, there is no rush. I think that’s true for most small towns, the pace of things is slower somehow. And it’s relaxing to immerse yourself in an environment that isn’t pushing you out of the door as fast as possible.
All of this said, I do love cities. I’m from a big city and I currently live in a pretty big city and there are things to learn here as well, though I miss the quiet sometimes.