Updated: Sep 13
Five years ago we sold our home and signed a lease that promised us a ticket out of Arizona.
Five years later Scott and I find ourselves in that exact same town, plunking away on laptops and returning messages as our kids are next door being homeschooled by their grandmother. My, how things change.
I grew up in small towns. The sort of places where locals had lived for generations and youths dream about "starting that climbing gym with their buddy from Moab" as they served your order of pad thai and refilled your water at the local restaurant. I never wanted to be "that" person. The sort who talk a big game about leaving their hometown, but never actually did it. The sort of person who dreams about life away from the familiar, but can never quite make it happen.
Scott and I are planners, pragmatic dreamers, and the sort of people who have crafted a life that allows a decent amount of flexibility in terms of where to live. And so five years ago we took advantage of that lifestyle and sold our house in Phoenix, Arizona- signed the Lease from Hell in Flagstaff- which lead us to getting out of dodge and fleeing for the Pacific Northwest as soon as we could.
We knew moving across the country was a huge undertaking- so we planned, prepped, and did everything we could to set ourselves up for success. Everything else? Details. Just details.
Who cares about school districts when you can look for whales out your living room window?
What does a septic system amount to when you aren't hunting for scorpions every night?
The beauty and majesty of the Pacific Northwest would override all the drawbacks. We just knew it. Details, my dear, details.
And so we had done it. I had done it. Left the state in which I had spent the vast majority of my life and the state in which my children were born. They would be able to tell their friends they had lived in other places. They would have stories and places to reference that would be outside of the Southwest. We would not be serving pad thai and speaking of unbegotten goals to passersby. We had achieved our dreams.
We owned a home on an island in the Puget Sound. We picked berries, saw whales, watched the tides, sailed, learned how to paddleboard, worked at a bookshop, went to the local library, made friends with the drive-thru barista, went to aquarium galas, owned an entire fleet of Hunter wellington boots, visited Canada so much that our coin purses were an indistinguishable mess of CAD and USD. It was glorious... and then it wasn't.
It all came at a horrible price. That island we lived on? Completely cut off and isolated. A food and culture desert, if you will. Trying to get to the nearby airport became a travel day in and of itself thanks to the surge in newcomers to the Seattle area. Traffic jammed the tiny highways that snaked around the coast and mountains. Scott's frequent business trips became a complicated beast of timing traffic jams and getting off the island to begin with. Our property taxes were levied into the stratosphere for nothing in return. Staying in contact with family became a burden, travel just for fun became a burden, going to the grocery store became a burden, everything was a struggle. This is not what we had planned. We kept hoping "maybe it will mellow out. Maybe things will settle down. It is always crazy when you first move somewhere."
Gloomy winters, waterlogged lawns, sleazy contractors, heroin addicts, and isolation began to tip the scale of "worth it" to "not worth it". Things never really settled down.
One evening Scott and I looked at each other and said the words that had been hanging, heavy, and unspoken for several months: This isn't working. We need to move.
If all there was to life was beaches and wellington boots then everyone would live here.
We had goals beyond what the tiny island could offer us.
But we still loved the Pacific Northwest. So we thought about condos on the island and perhaps a bigger home further south. Arizona, perhaps? California? Most likely. And so we searched Zillow and wondered where we went wrong. Why didn't the Northwest work? It should have worked. Locals agreed the cost of living had grown exponentially- perhaps it was bad luck after all.
Then the societal and economic meltdown ensued as brought on by various government's responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and Scott was laid off. Bad luck on top of bad luck.
And then we really sat down and took stock of what was important. What was important was that we become financially independent from corporations who could screw us over at the first whiff of a "bad quarter". We had always liked the idea of financial independence and acquiring passive income, but this was the sort of plan we walked towards. "Eventually, we'll get there. Make some smart choices now and no big deal, but we'll get there by our mid-forties." Now? Now we wanted to run towards investments and rental properties. We faced the music that had long been staring us down: That won't happen in a high cost of living area. It just won't. Seattle made sure that we were all slaves to The Man.
So we returned home from our Quarantine in Sedona with a new (old) job and a plan... We were leaving the Seattle area. We were going to sell our house and move to Arizona. Preferably Phoenix. And preferably Arcadia. We painted, cleaned out, sold the vast majority of our furniture, and shampooed the carpets all summer long. It was exhausting and tedious work.
I didn't have time to process what about our dreams? The DREAMS!? The vague idea that travel influencers and inspirational speakers throw around as an excuse to recklessly spend their time and money to "inspire" us to envy them. The thing that is "just supposed to work out" because it is your "DREAM". Details? Those are just details.
Well, as the saying goes, the devil is in those details. Living your dream is great. But life still happens. Fillings need to be replaced, the kids will need braces, shorts will get stained, jobs will be lost, and the devil's details will at some point or another shade the dream a slightly different color and you'll wonder if it was even worth it in the first place.
So here we are awaiting the closing of our "dream" up on that island in the Puget Sound. I'm sitting in my grandmother's old house amid her giant oak armories and empty oxygen tank and lotion from the Dollar Store and honestly, I've never been more relaxed in five years.
Turns out our dream is not a location. Our dream is passive income, adoption, thriving careers, confident children, places to roam and to fuel creativity, good candles, comfy beds, and yes travel...
I shat on Arizona for a long time, and yet here I am. Yes, I miss Washington. Of course. But I don't miss the struggle. I really don't. There is a freedom in knowing you could hack it elsewhere but chose not to. Pursuing goals and dreams is really important, but I feel like this wanderlust that has plagued my generation comes with drawbacks that few are willing to talk about. Perhaps I know now why that guy serving my pad thai never left to start that rock climbing gym in Moab... or perhaps I have a softer understanding to those who don't blindly make a major life change, who have a respect for the devilish details... it isn't everything it is cracked up to be. Risk is hard. Taking risks with kids is even harder. Taking risks in your mid-thirties? Oy vey. Just make it stop already.
But, sometimes taking those risks helps to bring the true priorities into greater focus- the location was never the dream. The lifestyle was. The one that you had all along.