Since 1998, I have moved thirteen times. Some of the moves were within the same city, and others were as major as moving from Hawaii to Washington, DC. Later this year, I am moving yet again, this time to Scottsdale, Arizona, which will put my move statistics at roughly one move every 1.3 years. Granted, I spent nearly a decade in the military and that accounted for the bulk of relocation, but even after I was no longer a service member, the nomadism continued. Am I the only one who can’t seem to stay put? Apparently not.
In This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, Melody Warnick examines the phenomenon of mobility in the United States using fun facts, checklists, and engaging anecdotes about life on and off the road. Although some Americans, like myself, seem to be obsessively mobile, the average American can expect to move about eleven times during their lifetime. This is not to say that all Americans have the nomadic bug. Quite the contrary. According to Warnick, 57% of Americans have never lived outside their home state and 37% have never left their hometown.
So why are Americans moving so much? Even the 37% who never leave their hometown may still move within the same zip code. Warnick says that while moving for work is a major reason for relocation, it is not the heart of the matter. There is, she says, “a lost art of staying put” and, at least for those of us who move frequently, a lack of “place attachment.” Place attachment is about feeling at home where you are. For some people, like that 37% who never leave their hometown, a strong attachment to place is evident. The length of time we stay in a place seems to determine our level of place attachment, says Warnick. The “peak season for place attachment” is “three to five years after moving.”
The sense of feeling at home somewhere is not about the objective beauty of the area, or even about all of its amenities; instead, research suggests that the best measure is to simply ask residents if their town, city, or community feels like home, things like knowing your way around, feeling rooted, or, saying yes to the statement, “If I could live anywhere in the world, I would live here.”
Related research says that “Stayers” are far more social than “chronic Movers.” That is not surprising since those of us with wanderlust do tend to relocate before feathering a permanent nest and learning our neighbors’ middle names. “Physically, when we’re happy where we live and like the people who live around us, we’re less anxious, less likely to suffer heart attacks or strokes, and less likely to complain about ailments,” writes Warnick.
Because good health seems correlated with liking where we live (and perhaps staying there for a few years), Warnick details ways in which we can learn to embrace our town, and possibly develop a sense of place attachment to it.
For readers who consider themselves “Stayers,” Warnick offers fresh ways to experience otherwise common routines. Some of the suggestions seem oversimplified and obvious, but for those of us who have trouble falling in love with a place, they just might help. I found myself going through Warnick’s checklists and reflecting on places I have lived over the years. If I’d written a love letter to my town explaining all the things I adored about it, or, if I’d volunteered for city government, would that have made me want to stay? In some cases, maybe; in other cases, not a chance.
Over 60% of Millenials from a recent survey said they would choose the city where they want to live before they look for a job, says Warnick. In a modern landscape that is rapidly shifting, thanks in part to Millenials, toward quality of life over endless work hours, learning to love where you live is fundamental to contentedness.
This is not the sort of book I typically review, but I’m glad I did it. It was fun, engaging, and Warnick’s crisp, conversational writing style makes it a super fast, hard-to-put-down read. The key reason I selected this book was because of my upcoming move, and, if nothing else, the websites and helpful links mentioned throughout the book would have made it completely worthwhile. But there was another, much deeper reason why I enjoyed This Is Where You Belong. Like Warnick, I think I’m ready to settle down, and, who knows, maybe armed with the right checklists and the right mindset, Scottsdale, Arizona, might be the place I finally feel like calling home.
This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live
Viking, June 2016
Hardcover, 320 pages