There’s this conversation I had with friends years ago after they returned from Italy. They were waxing poetic over the slower pace of life, and I was sitting back secure in my knowledge that even if they moved to Italy nothing would change but the scenery. They’d still have expensive hobbies and shopping habits that kept them chasing a paycheck.
i thought, it doesn’t matter where you are, what matters is your state of mind. You have to change your mind–your ideas about what you want and need–if you really want to change your life.
I wasn’t wrong. But I wasn’t totally right either.
That became abundantly clear after I sold my house and moved to Vermont to accompany my partner on his journey to grad school.
We rented a place near downtown Brattleboro, Vermont and settled in to enjoying that #VTLIFE.
Brattleboro is a town of about 12,000, just over the border from Massachussetts. It’s nestled into the Connecticut River Valley. Every day I would go out to walk the dog and admire Mount Wantastiquet–just across the river in New Hampshire–as we made our rounds of the town. She would stop and lap up water from the dog bowls outside shops, and I would take pictures of artists at their easels, painting in the middle of a sidewalk, or a hill covered in daffodils–or any of the other charming and lovely things I saw around town (including The Love Sheep).
I’d run into people I know as they went about their errands, or into a woman with a baby possum on a towel, hanging around outside of the co-op. I’d walk with our neighbor as she headed toward the town green with her yoga mat and a coffee from Mocha Joe’s.
We could walk out of our door and be at any number of breweries, a gym, miles of hiking trails, or a theater within minutes. But Brattleboro is also a bit of a haven for artists, LGTBQ+ folks, and lots of other people seeking refuge from the rat race. We loved it there.
Then, one beautiful Spring day, we walked into downtown and saw this sign posted in a bookshop window:
It was like someone had summed up everything we loved about Vermont in one sign–the epitome of a place where people work to live, not the other way around.
My friend Julia introduced me to a weekly gathering where a local couple–both musicians–invited people to come over ever Tuesday night after 8 p.m. Sometimes it was a big to-do, other times they weren’t prepared at all, but it didn’t matter. People showed up, they chatted, they got to know their neighbors. Sometimes there were sing-a-longs (there are a lot of sing-a-longs in Vermont).
Then one night, we had a party at our house, and the topic of the open house party came up. As it turned out, several of our friends–some of whom were students just passing through town–had already been to the party. I wasn’t even really surprised. That’s just how things are in small towns in Vermont. Everyone knows everyone–and everyone is more worried about making human connections and building a life they love than they are about money.
That last thing became apparent to me quickly when I ran into more than one family with small children who complained that their houses were just too big. It’s not often that you hear young families looking for smaller homes–unless you watch a lot of Tiny House Hunters. The housing stock in Bratt is old, which means lots of big old Victorians and farmhouses. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to walk into houses with kids where there wasn’t a pile of plastic toys in every room, prompting the parents to complain about space instead of cutting back on the sheer amount of stuff they had. It felt almost foreign.
But it started to dawn on me that when you’re surrounded by like-minded people, it’s a lot easier to start putting your quality of life first. You don’t have to move to Italy to change your life–though their pizza is much better than Vermont’s–but a change of scenery might help set the change in motion.