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(Comstock/Getty Images/Comstock Images)
(Comstock/Getty Images/Comstock Images)

Letting go of the suburban dream Add to ...

After nine years, we did what some people would deem inappropriate. Others might even call it unthinkable. We sold our suburban house, got rid of 90 per cent of our stuff and moved back to the city.

It's not like we were empty-nesters downsizing once the kids had left. No, we still had the kids in tow - two in elementary and one in high school.

You're not supposed to do that, right? You're supposed to covet the backyard you never really used. And Dad's supposed to work a gazillion miles away so the kids don't see him much, and when they do, he's recovering from the commute.

Driving everywhere in the suburbs was absolutely essential, while walking anywhere was practically non-existent. The neighbours were okay, but with the houses so far apart and all the entering and exiting from the garage, we didn't get to know them that well.

Just over the horizon from our fixer-upper was a huge new development. Like the rest of us, it was plopped in the middle of nowhere. But no matter - the houses were big and impressive. There they sat in all their majestic glory, like a salute to the North American dream: "Congratulations! You have arrived. You've made it!"

I wanted to feel that way. Isn't that what we're supposed to aspire to? What was wrong with me?

Instead, this dream neighbourhood left me feeling empty and uninspired. This life I had been living didn't mesh with who I was and what I wanted. I had gotten it all wrong.

My husband understood this Thoreau-ish "lives of quiet desperation" scenario. He too yearned for something else, a something else that didn't involve a brutal commute or any form of yard work. Clearly, we were on the same page. Sink or swim, it was time to move.

The getting rid of stuff part, although physically exhausting, was relatively easy. We gave things away, had the mother of all garage sales and took multiple trips to the dump. Voila! Stuff gone.

The sheer volume was astounding: gardening tools, patio set, lawn mower, rec-room furniture, leftover reno materials, plastic toys. It was an endless hodgepodge of everything and nothing.

We went from a 2,400-square-foot home in the heart of the suburbs to an 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city (okay, maybe not downtown, but close enough to feel connected).

Eliminating that much can come across as extreme, but here's the thing: As a family, I don't think we've missed any of it.

My feelings after our move can be summed up in two words: total liberation. After mega-simplifying and the much-anticipated relocation into the city, I'm not ashamed to say I had a few private moments of shedding silent tears - the joyful kind. It was akin to a spiritual experience. I was giddy for the first six months. I hadn't felt this transformed and renewed in years.

My teenage daughter instantly took to city living. The same wasn't true for my youngest son, who lives for camping and open spaces. At least not at first. But all three of my children seem genuinely happy and are thriving. As for my husband, we had him at hello, or, in this case, at Vancouver.

Regardless of my negative observations of suburbia, I'm not opposed to it. It seems to work beautifully for many people. It just didn't work out so beautifully for me. Isn't it all relative? Take an ink blot, for example - one image, but it can result in two entirely different perceptions.

You have to know yourself and figure out what's important. Without all these restrictions we place on ourselves - money, status, society's expectations - how would you ideally want to live your life? You find out what that is, then find a way. You can always find a way.

And don't let anyone try to steer you away from what's right for you. There is no escaping it, particularly if you tend to lean toward the unconventional. There will be people (and you know who you are) who will tell you that square footage is more important than location. They will tell you that owning a patch of grass is essential to raising well-adjusted children. I don't believe that any more.

I knew what I wanted - finally. I wanted the stimulation of being in the city without living in a concrete jungle. I wanted to be able to walk everywhere and not feel like I was being held hostage by my car. I wanted to be close to arts and entertainment and excellent schools and parks for my kids.

I wanted a colourful, vibrant, noisy community where the butcher knows me by name and a friendly coffee shop waits up the street. I wanted to live closer to family because, with my father turning 80, I know now more than ever that time is precious. And I wanted - desperately wanted - "to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life," to quote Thoreau again.

It's been two years now and with the honeymoon phase officially over, I'm still giddy.

I attribute this life-changing transformation to our move, the stripping away of unnecessary things and letting go of keeping up with myself - a Jones. How ironic is that?

Franca Temolo-Jones lives in Vancouver.

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