3 Steps to Decide Where to Live

We don’t get to choose where we are born. We don’t have a say where we spend our childhood. We make memories in our small corners of the world, our home chooses us. However, in adulthood, we get to choose our home. How does one decide where to live?

Many people stick with what they know. If it works, why leave? They tout license plates that proudly proclaim their nativity. There isn’t anything wrong with this– it makes perfect sense to be proud of your hometown and the people you grew up with.


I grew up in Denver, Colorado, and cradle a fierce pride for the state (as most Coloradans do). However, I was shocked when I heard one of my friend’s parents say they were born in Denver, never moved anywhere else, and decided to live there forever. I could barely comprehend the idea. How could you make such an enormous decision– where you spend each and every day– without getting more data? I personally want to explore as many places as I can. Almost every place I visit feels like it could be a home– from the mountains towns in Uganda to the weekend trip to bustling San Francisco. One can always return to their hometown, but it is crucial to experience other cities and ways of life.

My roots have grown but I don’t know where they are — The Head and the Heart

After graduation I moved to Portland, Oregon to explore the pacific northwest. My long-term partner had gotten into a graduate program in Portland, and I was happy to explore the farmer’s markets, world-class gastronomic delights, and bike-friendly commutes. We have been here three years, and next year we have the chance to uproot once again when Mr. Mechanic moves schools to continue his studies.

How do we decide where to live?


  1. Mr. Mechanic’s Schooling. The primary limitation of our choices will be decided based on where Mr. Mechanic can continue his studies. He will be applying the end of this year and should find out where he is accepted by early next year.
  2. Weather. This factor is all-important to me as someone who turns purple as soon as the temperature drops. By the end of every winter spent in Portland I am ready at the door with bags packed, pleading to migrate south where I can rediscover the sweet, sweet rays of sunshine. My mood tends to match the forecast, so somewhere warm will translate to a sunny disposition.
  3. Outdoor adventure should be easily accessible. Both Denver and Portland boast their outdoor adventure but we prefer their smaller counterparts Boulder or Bend– the mountains and water should be outside your doorstep. Bike trails should crisscross the landscape, kayaks slither through rivers, and cliffs loom for rock-climbers to scale.
  4. Size. We have done the bustle of big cities– the traffic, noise, and anonymity of the streets. We are interested in smaller cities. However, due to priority #1, we will be happy to find a strong community nestled in a big city that makes it feel like a smaller town.

Other things that could be important: schools, crime rates, cleanliness, music, food, job opportunities, the list goes on. Pick some top priorities or the list will be hard to narrow down! I worked hard to land a job where I can work remotely, so that is one less factor we need to worry about when we move as I can continue working wherever we end up. We don’t plan on having kids in the next 5 years so we also don’t have to worry about school districts.


I always start research by saturation. I scroll through compiled lists of the top places to live. Best outdoor towns. Best small towns. Most up-and-coming cities. I see some familiar cities over and over, ones that had never been on my radar before. It also makes me reexamine priorities. Do I care if the restaurant scene is booming if I hardly go out to eat (I live in a foodie-friendly city now but mostly whip up my own food)? Can I handle rough winters if there are more days of sunshine? Next, I made a table with a list of cities that have programs for Mr. Mechanic on the left, and grabbed a couple sentences for each place. This is the opposite of saturation, just a small summation of each place.


Program LocationsNotes from current residents (extracted from niche.com)Mechanic’s musings

Santa Barbara, CA

San Diego, CA

Stanford, CA

San Jose, CA



“The weather is excellent almost all year around; as well as, there are plenty of out door activities to do there such as hiking, surfing, kayaking, etc. Unfortunately, the cost of living is so high you might find yourself with no spare time away from work to enjoy those calming beaches.”I am drawn to California due to the weather, even despite the exorbitant cost of living. Though it might meet a lot of our weather and outdoor criteria, as one old lady told me, “you would be ill-advised to move here.”

Mr. Mechanic went to undergrad in California and I moved there briefly for a summer and loved it, so we are a bit biased.

Phoenix, AZ


“Large airport, nice (east valley) suburbs, decent outdoor activities (golf/hike/bike). Its hot as hell in the summer, but 8 months out of the year, perfect!”Maybe a bit too hot? Is that even possible? I have never been to Arizona, but nearly always hear from people who have moved away because they were unhappy living there.

Boston, MA

Cambridge, MA


Boston: “I love the youthful environment because of the presence of several universities. In addition, its historical nature ensure that there is never a dull moment in Boston… Boston tends to be pricey.”

Cambridge, “a college town, incorporates history, brilliant minds, and open thinking as a way of life. The sheer opportunities for open, cognitive, debate from all sides is a plus. Social life aside, the number of new communities one finds at their disposal, is by far one of the greatest assets this midsize community has to offer.”

I like the feel of college towns, the creative youthful energy and lots of activities put on by the schools. Cambridge intrigued me as a place buzzing with interesting people. Of course, the winters might be a bit rough.
St Louis, MO


It’s a bustling city with a small town feel. While St. Louis, Missouri does have a high crime rate, the city is still a wonderful hidden gem.I will need to do more research here, I don’t know much about Missouri except for mosquito ridden summers (which is okay by me, as long as the sun is out)
Philadelphia, PA


“If I could change one thing it would be the cleanliness. It is not uncommon to find trash laying around public areas.

Great food and a lot of things to do but you have to deal with poorly paved roads and an odorous city.”

Oh dear, should I add cleanliness to our list of priorities?
Charleston, SC


“In Charleston, you’ll take time to shuck oysters, ride bikes with your kids through swamps and mossy oaks, and linger over a low-country sunset. People here are sweet, southern, and resilient.” —OutsideOnlineI haven’t spent much time in the south, but I have had some lovely friends from there. Will have to look into Charleston some more!
Nashville, TN

Memphis, TN

Super low/nonexistent income tax

“With its delicious food, great music, and good family fun, Nashville is far from ordinary.”

“However, if potholes, traffic, and an endless search for parking doesn’t is not problem, Nashville is your place for a eventful time.”

“Memphis has made many changes in the last several years to revitalize the city. It has a thriving arts community and cheaper rents than most cities. However our crime rate is abysmal and the racial tensions within the city are less than desirable to say the least.”

I’ve been to Nashville once before and enjoyed the time there. It had a thriving music scene and the people were very friendly. Safety is a concern, although I think in most cities it depends on the area where you live. I’m intrigued by the low income tax.
Ann Arbor, MI


“It’s a lively city with a small-town feel. Having the University of Michigan down the street creates endless opportunities for concerts, events, and night life.”

“There are restaurants from almost every type of cuisine imaginable, all at different price points. There are parks spread throughout the city and trails where you’ll find a steady stream of runners and walkers.”

Ann Arbor was one of those cities that kept coming up in the saturation phase. Another city that is lively with a small-town feel. I am intrigued enough to visit and see for myself!


The list will naturally narrow, especially once Mr. Mechanic starts investigating the different programs to find out which will fit his own niche. It will further narrow once he starts receiving acceptance results. Because he will be making connections for his career wherever we land, it is important that the faculty is the right fit. He will be interviewing for the second phase of after application, so it will give us some opportunity to explore the surrounding area. It feels like a monumental decision, but humans are great at distilling loads of information into base feelings. Visiting will allow you to tap into those feelings and get excited about an upcoming move or hastily cross a city off your list. We will be visiting cities in the next few months, so more to come on this decision.

Weigh in: Where did you come from, where did you go?

How did you decide where to grow your roots? What type of research did you do? Did you visit beforehand? Do you still live where you were born and raised?

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  1. It is very hard to decide where to live. I feel like I am looking for the next best kept secret and therefore it is not going to be in all the articles!

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