Hello! It’s so lovely to see you back here on the blog!
If we were with one another in person I’d pull up a chair, put a coffee in front of you, and ask you to tell me everything about your summer. How was it?!
Now that we’ve entered September, it feels like the season is FULL of new energy. And I’m all for it.
After a month away from the blog I’m so ready to start sharing again, starting with a post I’ve been working on for a while . . . five years in fact ????
Leaving London To Live In The Countryside – My Experience Five Years On
People still email be about the first blog post I shared about leaving London to live in the countryside.
At the time it was the most vulnerable I’d been on the blog. I remember re-reading it a million times before I hit publish – I was so nervous to open up!
I needn’t have worried one bit! Once I hit ‘publish’ I was overwhelmed by the response.
Turns out – so many of you, similarly to me, struggled with life in a big city. Or with another big decision of some sort.
I even ended up writing about my experience for one of my favourite websites – The Everygirl.
Today I’m excited to share what leaving London to live in the countryside looks like . . . five years on!
With the benefit of hindsight I have so much more to share about the transition!
FIRST – A RECAP
MY TIME IN LONDON
I’ll keep my London story short as I shared it in full in my original blog post, but here’s a condensed version to recap . . .
I grew up on the South Coast of England and London was always SO exciting to me.
At 18 I had noooo idea what I wanted to do, so I took a year out – which turned into two – to try my hand at some internships in London.
Although I was commuting for hours (up to five!) every day between Southampton and London, I was totally enamoured with the city. I was sure that I’d found the place I wanted to live in, and the place I wanted to start my career in.
When I found out that I’d got into The London College of Fashion I was over the moon. It was my DREAM university! During my first year at Uni I began this blog, and over the next three years I grew The Elgin Avenue alongside my University studies. I was also waitressing part-time.
London afforded me so many of the amazing things I am still SO grateful for in my life. I owe some of my closest friends, the start of my career, a professional network and many magical London memories to my time in the city.
For the majority of my time in London, the city was everything I’d always hoped it would be, and my heart still swells when I look back on that chapter.
MY TURNING POINT
My (very very wise) friend Naomi said to me recently that “sometimes things need to break, in order for you to have a breakthrough.”
With the benefit of hindsight that summary could not ring more true for my time in London.
(Naomi’s in episode 38 of Let’s Discuss podcast btw and delivers a stellar interview!)
After I graduated University, so many of the structures which had shaped my daily routine fell to the wayside.
My friends moved area, I was working from home every day (for myself!), and I was caught up in a comparison trap.
I felt lonely, confused and lost.
It’s at this point that I started to experience anxiety.
Anyone that experiences anxiety will likely recognise the symptoms which became a part of my every day life: a racing mind, a racing heart, feeling incredibly hot, a cold sweat and deep stabbing stomach pains.
It was a horrible time health-wise, but I didn’t understand what was going on.
I’d never suffered with anxiety to that extent before, and I certainly didn’t attribute it to my life in London.
MY TURNING POINT
Everything came to a head one evening when I called my Mum. I couldn’t hide the way I was feeling.
Via the magic of ‘Mum’s intuition’ she just knew.
In a matter of hours my Mum hopped on a train to London, wrapped me in a huge hug, and over the course of a few days we worked things through together.
When my parents finally suggested that perhaps I leave London and move home to Southampton for a while, the relief was overwhelming.
I’ve since learnt that when something feels like a ‘relief’ or like the ‘course of least resistance’, that’s often the exact direction you need to be heading in. Even if your ego is giving you a hard time for doing so.
Once I’d decided to leave London, the strangest thing happened . . .
I enjoyed my final six months in the city with a completely new and positive energy! I could just enjoy the city for all of the wonderful things it had to offer, without the pressure of figuring my life out there.
Knowing that a chapter is coming to a close, makes you appreciate the present all the more.
LEAVING LONDON TO MOVE TO THE COUNTRYSIDE
What I’ve Learnt During My Five Years Out Of The City
Upon leaving London I had a few months of here-and-there-ness.
I lived at my parents in Southampton. I commuted to London for a short-term contract (which randomly popped up the day after I left the city!) and quickly found an amazing higgledy piggledy flat with Oli where we lived for four years. At the beginning of this year we moved into our current home together, in the same countryside town we’ve both come to call home.
The town we live in is a Georgian market town and is painted a rainbow of pastel colours. Our friends, many of whom I’ve strengthened my friendships with over these past four years, live within walking distance and there’s a real sense of community here.
Not a day goes past that I’m not grateful for living here. Before I left London I was worried I’d miss the ‘buzz’ of the city, but living where we do now has a different rhythm which I’ve fallen for.
And – perhaps one of the biggest surprises to me too! – the small town we live in has so many of the cosmopolitan elements I love about London. We have great bars, restaurants and cafes. The shops are all too covetable. There are green grocers, and butchers and a fish monger. We eat fresh and locally. We even have a local market every week.
My biggest concern about leaving London was how it would affect my career.
I was just starting out as a full-time blogger. When I lived in the city I was able to easily meet with brands, other bloggers and attend events.
There was also an undeniable allure at being able to call myself a ‘London Girl’. (You can read about my blogging journey from 2011-2018 here.)
Leaving London meant that the practicalities of getting into the city were going to be much harder, longer and more expensive, but I quickly learnt that it was an opportunity cost I was happy to make.
When starting any business it helps to have low overheads . . .
. . . and those first few years of my business benefited greatly by my being able to pour my profits straight back into the blog.
More than that though, I also had the headspace to think about things outside of my finances. I could spend my time learning, researching, dreaming (and making some mistakes!) because I wasn’t constantly worried about money.
Over the past four years I’ve had a major blog redesign, launched Big Small Business, my own poster collection, Let’s Discuss podcast and have hired some amazing photographers, videographers and other contractors.
I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been able to make these investments if it weren’t for the fact that my outgoings were so low.
If I’d remained in London I would have most likely had to get a job to cover my costs and – who knows? – perhaps I would have let go of blogging altogether.
Whatever your industry is . . .
. . . if you’re starting your own business, going freelance or launching a brand, it really helps to minimise your overheads – especially in the beginning!
Over the last four years I’ve experienced so much growth career-wise. Not for a moment do I think that leaving London to move to the countryside has negatively impacted my career.
If anything, I stick by the sentiment I shared in my first blog post on the subject:
I truly believe that every area of your life will thrive to its greatest extent, when you are happy. If you work on your personal happiness, it will radiate through to every area of your life – your relationships, your body, and your work.
As a creative person, for me, feeling happy equates to feeling inspired. Inspiration is what this blog lives off of.
When it comes to making contacts in the industry, I know that I have more to give when I feel good about myself. I am a nicer person to sit down and have a meeting with. When I lived in London, during my most exasperated times, I was crippled with anxiety, and often felt vacant throughout my meetings. Having changed my living environment for the better, I am more engaged – I feel passionately about the conversation I am having with the person opposite me.
Although I’m a train ride rather than a tube ride way, I can still easily make it into London.
That being said, when you’re incurring £50+ every time you’re heading somewhere, it really makes you stop and double think your time allocation.
If I’m heading into London and incurring the time/money/energy required for it, I make sure it’s worthwhile. Be that because it’s something I’m looking forward to on a social level, or something which I feel makes good business sense.
Commuting has made me more efficient with my time. Nowadays if I have a lot on, I book meetings and events over a few days back to back. I’ll stay with a friend overnight (bonus – wine catchups together!) or rent an affordable B&B.
My work isn’t as London-centric as I thought it was at all . . .
If anything, working in the digital sphere means that geographically I’m not tied to any location.
The brands I work with, and the clients I consult for, are more than happy to email, hop on a Skype call or schedule a meeting.
It’s worth noting too that a lot of companies are now moving their head offices out of London, and indeed a lot of the brands that I love working with aren’t based in London themselves.
And the commuting itself?
Door to door I leave two hours for most trips.
It’s a doable amount of time, and I try to make the most of my commute. On the way to London I’ll either work on a blog post on my laptop, read an article or do something else which feels productive.
On the way home I love to pick up Grazia and enjoy the ‘unwinding’ period that the train ride affords me.
If you’re thinking about moving out of the city, and living elsewhere full time, commuting is – in my experience – totally doable.
But I’ll warn you – as I’m sure many people will – that it can be extremely tiring. My longest commute to London full-time was five hours per day. At the same time those years of commuting afforded me a big leap in my career.
Ultimately you have to weigh up what works for you, your goals and your commitments.
If you’re interested, look into the fastest routes into London (or your respective big city), check out the prices for the travel, the cost of living in certain areas and see if there’s a spot which feels like a good fit for you.
I’ve touched upon the financial benefits of leaving London already, but just to reiterate (and state the obvious): it’s much cheaper to live outside of London.
Five years in, the flat which Oli and I now share is so much bigger – and so much nicer! – than we’d ever be able to afford in London.
You generally get a lot more for your money, in every respect.
LIFESTYLE AND ENVIRONMENT
For the first six months/a year I spent a lot of time going back and forth to London.
I was weening myself off of city life.
Four years in, and I feel more settled here in our little town than I ever have done. The rhythm suits me!
The pace of life is slower and quieter than it was in the city.
Working from home affords me the freedom to make up my schedule anyway, but here it feels even more freeing. I can pop into town for coffee, go for a walk with Oli in the countryside, or hole myself up on the sofa with my laptop . . . I don’t feel any pressure to be somewhere else.
Like I said, close friends live within walking distance, and there’s such a warm swell of community here.
I love being within driving distance of both mine and Oli’s families too. We’re super close to our families and so that’s been a major plus of living where we do.
Joining a gym was a big turning point for me here – it helped me to have another reason to leave the house (always worth having a few of those when you work from home!) and I chose a gym which is a 15 minute drive away.
Ahhh and the countryside!
I never had myself down as a ‘country’ girl, but I am head over heels for the nature surrounding us. It’s so so beautiful.
Being closer to nature is restorative, and helps to put everything into perspective. It’s energising, and I totally geek out on it all now. (You can read more about the benefits of spending time in nature here.)
FRIENDSHIPS, FAMILY AND LOVE
I was so low when I left London.
I knew that I couldn’t pour from an empty cup, and so my health and wellbeing became my priority.
There were so many instances in the city when I was anxiety-ridden – I didn’t feel present in the conversations I was having. It was as if my physical body was there, but my mind was a million miles away.
I’d be a better friend/family member/girlfriend when I had more to give.
And ultimately, when I felt more ‘like me’.
Although leaving London was definitely the best decision for me all round, I did miss being close to the girls who lived in London.
There was a time when I’d see them on a near-daily basis, and when I left London it could be weeks or months before we’d next see each other IRL.
What really helped was being able to invite the girls down for long weekends.
Similarly to how I now love heading into the city for a change of scene, they love coming out to the countryside for some fresh air! It’s always so much fun when we get together, wherever that may be.
There were times outside of London when I didn’t feel like I’d found ‘my tribe’ near me . . .
. . . and some evenings when Oli was out at work I felt a bit lonely. It took time, but over a couple of years I got to know some more local girls and nowadays I have really strong friendships local to me too.
Plus, my great friend Georgie already lived in the town I moved to and so I always had one really close girlfriend I could call on and go out for a drink/sss with.
Moreover, I’ve tried to be more brave since moving out of London with pursuing new friendships . . .
Sometimes you just meet people that you know you’ll get along with, and instead of letting those connections fizzle out, I’ve actively suggested getting together.
One big thing I’ve noticed (as Chelsea recommended in this article in fact) is that networking within a network is easier than trying to set out on your own.
Knowing that I’ve been the ‘new girl’ before, I’m conscious of inviting people who may be new to the area too to social events and dinners.
I’ve mentioned it before but I love being close to my family. Now that I’m an aunty too, being able to head to my sister’s and give my new nephew cuddles on the fly is such a treat. I don’t want to miss spending precious time together.
As for Oli, our relationship has grown and grown since living together. We’re now engaged(!!!!!!!) and I am just so grateful to be building a life in a town we both love, with one another.
When I wrote my first blog post about leaving London to move to the countryside it felt like a ‘disclosure’ of sorts.
I’d left London just as many of my friends were moving to the city for the first time.
In so many ways my decision seemed to go against the ‘expected’ thing to do.
It felt cathartic to put my thoughts and reasonings down in a blog post.
I realised first hand how powerful it is to follow your own path and prioritise your own happiness.
No matter what other people may think, or what you feel you ‘should’ be doing.
It’s not that moving to the countryside has protected me from the ups and downs of life, I’ve been through challenging seasons here too.
The difference is, my foundation and my core values are so aligned with where I live now, that when a challenge comes my way I feel rooted enough to weather it.
People often ask me if I miss living in London, and the honest truth is: “95% of the time no”.
There are some things I miss, like easy transport home from late night events, afternoons in Westbourne Grove and Piccadilly circus lit up at night . . . but for the most part I can still enjoy these things when I visit London.
My lifestyle and life generally have changed since I left the city. I’m so so glad I made the move, not because leaving a big city is the right choice for every one, but because it was the right choice for me.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from the move is that listening to your intuition is the most important thing you can do in order to pursue a path which will truly light you up.
Don’t feel pressured by the ‘shoulds’ of life. Pursue the path with feels most peaceful and sincere for you.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?
I think I beat my word count for my longest post yet – ha!
Thank you for letting me share my leaving-London story with you – again! – and for sharing this reflection on what five years out of the city has been like for me.
I hope that if you’re thinking about leaving the city, or changing your life’s course, that it may help you with your decision in some way.
Any questions or comments – I’m here ???????? And if leaving a comment below feels too public, drop me an email.
It’s so good to be back here on the blog with you.
Cheers to the new season!
Love, as always, Monica x
Photography by Charlotte Bryer-Ash
Dress: ba&sh Paris c/o Bicester Village | Hat: Oliver Bonas (past season)
Bag: Lisa Valentine Home c/o | Trainers: Crew Clothing (past season)