There's life outside of the M25. Honest.
When you announce that you don’t want to live in London in a room full of young people, you might as well have announced that you were having a voluntary amputation. ‘But why?’ people shout at you. ‘London is AMAZING.’
I should know. I’m one of the people shouting.
I love London. I moved here as soon as I graduated, not giving a second thought to staying in Bristol, where I’d studied. I love the city with my poor, dirty, polluted soul. It’s taken my money, got my stuff nicked and left me with blackened lungs and a brutal overdraft. But there is no-where else I’d ever considered living… At least, there wasn’t until recently.
Lately, I’ve started to wonder about having a different kind of life – one with a different pace and one where I might be able to contemplate, one day, being able to afford a house. Why have I being clinging on to London for so long?
When my friends suggested that they weren’t interesting in moving to the big city and shipping out a third of their monthly wage to rent a single box room 45 minutes away from work, I thought they lacked a spirit of adventure. When they told me that London was expensive and they wanted a better quality of life, I smiled, thinking what they’d be missing out on.
So, what happens if you buck the trend and decide that a big city isn’t for you?
Rebecca, 25, who works as a teacher, lives in Sussex. She told me why she’s given London a miss.
‘I love it because, especially as a teacher, it is much more affordable for everything (even Shoreham more so than Brighton) – housing in particular, but also little things like dog walking. But more than that, and as clichéd as it is, I much prefer the more relaxed pace of life. People are genuinely more open and things don’t feel as rushed or pressured, and for me, that feeling rushed or pressured really worsens my anxiety. And it’s just much more peaceful – at night I can hear birds, the sea and my dog snoring.’
One person who’s desire to avoid the city I’ve experienced first hand, is my sister, Lucy, 23, who after graduating decided to stay in Norwich. Despite having dyed her hair pink and experimented with some questionable piercings, the only thing she’s ever done that shocked my family was expressing a hatred of London. ‘London is expensive,’ she explained to me, ‘and so big you may move to be with all your friends but could end up being on the other side of the city and never seeing them. Plus London in the summer is my worst nightmare and I wanted to see if it was true that you can live a better quality of life in a city that isn’t London if you’re a recent graduate.’
Rebecca and Lucy’s feelings are repeated over again from people I asked about living outside of London. ‘I could afford a house’ one woman told me. ‘The air is cleaner, I can walk to work, and I can be in London in an hour if I want to.’ said another. ‘I actually know my neighbours, but if I want to shop, I can be in Manchester in half an hour.’ Maybe they really are on to something.
The general consensus has been that the hardest thing about bucking the trend is the reaction. The reaction from people like me who think (or thought) that urban living was the only way to exist. Rebecca told me that people were genuinely surprised that she had no desire to go urban.
‘People did think it was odd that I was deliberately avoiding being in any city, let alone London, as a young person, like I was missing out on being young by doing so, and there definitely did feel like there was an expectation to move there. People do also act like you live on the other side of the planet when you’re not in London, like it’s some epic trek to make it out the city (which I suppose Southern Rail does nothing to help…).
Lucy told me that she doesn’t love the reaction to her living situation either. ‘To be honest the only thing I really don’t like about not living in London is how Londoners think it’s the only place in the world and can’t fathom why I don’t always want to drop £40 and three hours on a trip so I can go to their house party. Sorry, rant over.
There’s always a certain reaction when you tell a Londoner that you’re thinking of moving out. I’ve been guilty of it myself. Which is weird, when you think about it. If you lived in village and anyone who expressed a desire to move was treated like a freak, it would be considered small minded and provincial. Why is it somehow okay when it’s about a big city?
As for me? I don’t think I’m quite ready to hang up my Oyster card, but I might just be one depressing browse on Rightmove.com away from seriously reconsidering…