Housing prices through the roof. Hours spent stuck in traffic commuting. Supermarkets running out of stock. This is what the news is constantly telling us city living is about -- that we are a nation of overworked, heavily indebted and highly stressed people.
But not where I live.
About two years ago my family and I made a treechange to the Riverina district of New South Wales. Apparently this is the buzzword to describe the exodus that we and many other families have made: we moved from the big smoke to a small rural town. This wasn't through some brilliant insight -- it was pure fluke -- but it turned out to be the best decision we ever made.
Many of our friends and family were confused. Why would we make such a decision and, once we did, why were we so happy about it?
Almost everyone has a house with a backyard and space.
While most people in the city struggle to support a mortgage on a property that is already too small for them, in the country a dwelling that has a grassy patch for the kids to play in is pretty affordable.
Because housing is actually affordable, people have a life.
No one talks about their career path or workplace politics. What people really want to talk to you about is their new boat, what's happening at the hockey club or whether you've seen the new Star Wars movie. Work is a means to a lifestyle, not the meaning of life itself.
It feels like a community.
Because people really care about this lifestyle they are living, people actually invest a lot and contribute to their local community. All the sporting clubs are run by volunteers. Everyone takes turns cooking the sausages at the local school fundraiser. And when people hear that Deb from the local coffee van is sick, they take turns to drop around casseroles, man the van and pick her kids up from daycare.
People have good manners.
Because people care about those around them, there is a better sense of good, old-fashioned, country manners. Teenagers take their shoes off at the front door when they come to babysit. Strangers wave and say hello in the street. The electrician will sweep behind your fridge for you before he installs it. Everyone is overall just more relaxed and cheerful.
Nothing is ever crowded or busy or stressful.
If you need to go to the post office, you just drive right up in front of the building and walk right on inside. There is never a queue for anything. Not the bank. Not at the traffic lights. Not even at Aldi on Collette Dinnigan childrenswear day.
There is parking everywhere.
If you don't get a parking spot right in front of the school gate, you circle around the block once (takes two minutes) and one will be there the next time you go past.
Everybody knows your name (or at least your face).
Once upon a time, my 20-something self would not have liked this lack of anonymity. But now, with small kids, I like the sense of security and safety this provides.
The world is not as big as it once was.
Thanks to social media and the internet, we are all pretty tightly connected and moving to the country is no longer the far away and isolating experience it once was. While we might be a couple of paces behind the big cities, we still have artisanal coffee, pop-up restaurants and even hipsters. In fact, we already have the NBN out here -- do you?
If you're standing with your arms full of groceries in a supermarket queue because they ran out of trolleys or paying for the right to use a stranger's car port just to pick the kids up from school, chances are the thought of a treechange has crossed your mind. I'm here to tell you it is definitely worth considering.