Collecting the tools of a sustainable, self-directed life

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13- Finding Your Place, Part One

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One of the first questions people ask when meeting me is: “Wow… so how did you find your place?”

Sometimes the question is purely functional, as in, how did you even hear about your town? At others it’s more figurative, i.e., how did you know your place would nurture and grow your vision? And then there are moments when the question really is: how can I find my place, too?

The answer to all these questions is: self-work, perseverance and time.

It all started for me in February of 2013 with my introduction to the LifeEdited apartment. I saw it and immediately wanted a small, modern, efficient home of my own. Having one in New York City required a lot more job to pay a lot more rent. But that wasn’t true everywhere else. 

I thought about the rural properties in Texas that had been in my mother’s and step-father’s families for over 4 generations. And I reconsidered my fantasy to someday “keep Austin weird.” In March, I found a listing online for an affordable plot in the city limits. It sold within two weeks. 

In July, I discovered the City of Dallas RFP's to buy discounted properties for affordable single, family homes. I was excited by the prospect of bringing a new model for affordable housing for the city. But I wondered if being so close to family and friends might distract from my larger pursuits. 

A week later, I ran across a NYT’s article about an artist's home in one of New York’s most liberal counties. The opening photograph highlighted the artist’s dynamic life and the simple beauty of her home. The text was littered with arresting words:

 

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However idealistic, those words conjured the noble grit and hard work of my great-grandmother’s smokehouse where she cured her own bacon, starlit walks to the outhouse my mother took until 1969, the spirit of Walden and my memories of cabin writing in the hills of Vermont. They merged easily with the small, clean, simple and self-made newness I saw in my future edited life. I was done with city life.  

By September, it was time to buy. I reached out to a friend for agents. I looked for properties online and set up appointments with selling agents. I made day trips upstate to tour with buying agents. I spoke with architects, engineers and building manufacturers to get estimates on my project. I made calls to countless town and county offices and compiled a list of plots, properties and towns where I could easily build my project. 

For two years, I collected information on every aspect of the project that came up—the complete transition would take almost another three. While part of me previously wished I had lived tiny faster, I now see how the 56 months from introduction to fruition helped me clearly articulate my goals, passions, needs and values and learn to recognize situations where I could fulfill them within my means. Getting that clarity then has been key to the personal freedom I have now. 

Where are you in the process of finding your place? Are there things that have made the process easier or harder? Share them in the comments below.