Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Opinion: Where is the Best Place to Live an Edited Life in the US?

We are great advocates of cities: They’re walkable, bikeable and have public transport for easy mobility; the average city dweller uses approximately 14% less carbon than his non-urban counterpart according to the Brooking’s Institute study; their density facilitates easy interchange of resources and vibrant cultural lives.

But to use “city” as an abstract term might not be helpful if you are looking to move somewhere where you can best live an edited life–i.e. living a life with more money, health and happiness with less space, stuff and energy. The question becomes, which city supports that life best?

We talk a lot about New York City and San Francisco, as they both are very dense, have extensive public transport systems and have vibrant cultural lives. But consider the average rent in the New York metropolitan area is $2687. San Francisco is even more at $3226.

Perhaps you want to take economist Jed Kolko’s advice and buy a home, which he claims will save around 30% in living expenses. Well consider that the median home price in Manhattan is $1.14M. Want to slum it up in a borough like Brooklyn? Median price is $582K (the borough was recently deemed the second most expensive place to live in the US behind Manhattan). San Francisco is no slouch at $705K. That’s a lot money to fork over to save money! And buying small doesn’t necessarily save you a ton. Studio rents in both cities frequently exceed $2K. If you’re a family, expect to pay $3500+ rent or $800K for even a modest apartment.

Of course, with these prices come increased economic opportunities, but there’s a paradox: There are more jobs where you can make more money, but, in most cases, you work more, with less time to enjoy the benefits of the city.

There are middle-ground cities like Chicago, Boston, Philly, Seattle and Denver that enjoy more manageable living expenses along with decent economic situations, but they also tend to be less walkable and have less developed public transport.

Then there is Main Street USA. Many claim that small business and technology will allow people to work remotely will make them the “cities” of the future. But for the most part, this is still speculative. Most jobs are still in denser areas and these areas are usually quite car-dependent.

We realize this is not a simple question. The “right” answer might depend on living situations (single, couple, family), career situations, family connections, etc.

Imperfect as the answers may be, we’d love your opinion. Do you live–or have you lived–in a place you think facilitates the edited life–a place you think allows you to do the most with the least?

Please leave us your thoughts in our comment section below. Thanks!

  • Marrena

    Public transport in Boston is pretty damn good, and also cheaper than NYC and other American cities.

  • David

    I like city and rural life. By living an edited life it’s possible to have both. Two small places, one in the city, one in the country. Or one for the winter and one for the summer. That’s our plan.

    • amy g

      I like the way you think David! I just may do the same.

  • I’ve spent two days in Madison, WI– it seemed to me like the perfect place for an edited life. It’s a smaller, cheaper city that is very bike & pedestrian friendly.

  • Chicago’s public transport is light years ahead of San Francisco’s. You can easily go for weeks without driving (except to move your car for street cleaning). We are also one of the most bike friendly large cities in the U.S.–and one of the greenest.

    • LeslieC

      I agree! I lived in Chicago for 3 years without a car. The CTA is not only affordable, but very convenient. Rents are reasonable and jobs are plentiful. (I lived on the north side.) I later moved to Southern California (Orange County) and while my salary is higher, my increased cost of living has exceeded the increase in pay. A car is necessary and the rents are high, with very few low-cost options.

  • AG

    I’m moving to El Paso TX, I think this is one of the worst cities for living an Edited Life, but I have no option 🙁

  • mangomarty

    You listed Boston as one of the more economically manageable cities to live in but ones that lack integrated mass transit and are not walkable. This is wrong on both counts for Boston which has an extensive subway/commuter rail/bus system and is one of the most walkable cities in this country and is improving the biking picture as well. With that said, however, it is still too expensive to live there. A good option there is to live outside the city and take commuter rail or light rail to work.

  • amy g

    I recently began living an edited lifestyle on St. Simon’s Island. I purchased a 27′ x 8′ travel trailer and rented a lot for $325/mth. I paid $44 for power last mth and water, sewer and trash removal is included. SSI is 16.6 miles long with a population density of 805 people per square mile. There are more than 30 miles of bike paths, take you anywhere you wish to go!
    Most of the year the weather is 70-80 degrees and sunny 80% of the time. It’s a wonderful life! You all come join us for a visit, you just may never wanna leave 🙂

  • We will be moving to downtown Las Vegas in the summer of 2013 for its redevelopment efforts. We will be going from house to high rise and getting rid of a vehicle. We are ready to edit our life now that kids will be off to college.

  • tim

    I think the city/coutry debate has positives on both sides. We live in Mossy Point, a small coastal town of New South Wales, Australia (4 hours south of Sydney). Public transport is poor outside of the big cities but we survive with one car – I work from home, my wife works 15kms away (10 mins drive) and the kids get the bus or ride to school.
    Housing here is not cheap (compared to average income) but is a lot more affordable than the big smoke. We also have the luxury of large lot sizes, allowing lots of productive space for home-grown fruit and vegies.
    Plenty of ‘community’ – many people around here have deliberately ‘down-shifted’ and work part-time, which is why it’s hard to get a plumber when the surf’s up!

  • Smilin’ Mike

    My wife and I bought a small seasonal cottage in Lehigh Valley, PA. We can live here May thru October. Bought it for 10K, put another 15K into it and we have a modern, trendy place that can sleep 4 without anyone tripping over each other. Yearly fees and taxes are about 1k. We’ll plan on spending the other 6 months each year in other places. It helps to have a job that doesn’t have an office. The transition to less stuff is easier for me than my wife….but she is beginning to see the advantages which will make for a great life with less stress and the need to keep up with the Jones’. Happy trails!

  • Paul

    Transport wise: London has a huge (if not the biggest) under/over ground train system. Car ownership was only 0.76 per house hold in 2009/10. I personally lasted about 10 years in the city without owning a car. As well as the rail system, there are also a number of car pool systems (e.g., it has a massive bus network and the city is very walkable.

  • My husband and I bought a “park model” mobile home (approximately 400 sq ft) in a retirement community in Florida for the winter. We feel freed of possessions and can keep it sparkly clean in no time at all ad we spend our time outside with neighbors and in community buildings. We feel lighter and happier! When we return to Michigan for the summer we’re semi-horrified at the space we are responsible for! We like our Michigan home but we’re talking about selling it to get out from under the oppressive collections and possessions and upkeep we gathered over nearly-50 years of marriage.

  • Aneesia

    The best part of having lived in Elizabethtown Ky was that people drive through Ky. to get to the rest of the nation and leave it alone…. missing one of the best parts of the nation. It’s affordable, food costs are low, people are friendly.

  • bvanwely

    We moved to Baltimore over ten years ago. Walkable, bikable, (public transit is getting better, but slowly), and it’s on the water. Housing is affordable. A lot of good housing stock going cheap and ready for a little sweat equity. Commuting distance to DC by train, and a thriving local economy. We’re happy with our choice.

  • Emmy Laura Pèrez Fjalland

    I live in CPH in the area Vesterbro in a 39 sqm apartment with my boyfriend and the rent is only €335/month. We don’t own a car, but we bike everyday and all around the city. We live a 10 min walk from the Central Station which is convenient as I study outside of CPH and when I want to visit my grandmother on Sundays.. We are very happy and I think this is edited lifestyle!

  • Holly

    I’m not sure I understand the map. Is there a key? Is this population density? Walkability? Some other factor?

  • One of the main reasons I’m downsizing is to save money. The apartment I almost rented was less than $450 a month and was located nicely between Dallas and Ft. Worth. Yes, public trans sucked. But, I seldom make more than one trip out a day.

  • John

    I think urban living makes the mst sense. I grew up in NYC but now I live on an island off the coast of Maine. Our town has a year round population of 4000. I punched our address into and receieved a rating of 93, similar to many Manhattan neighborhoods. I personally would give us a higher rating because our business is 3 blocks away and our favorite pastime (hiking) is accessible by foot or bike in Acadia National Park. Our town is small but we live in the center of downtown in a small townhouse. Our home cost 210K witha very manageable mortgage. We bought it from a couple we know who thoughtnit was too small. ( and we have three kids) We own one car and walk to everything. Most of all we have a quality of life that we love. We have had to create our niche over time- creating year round income Ina very tourist based seasonal economy. We first lived in a rental house about 15 minutes drive from town. It required two cars and lots of back and forth. We couldn’t so much as go for a walk without first driving somewhere. We could make more money in a big city but we would have to trade some of the quality of life experiences we have here. I love having immediate access to town life as well as wilderness. One of the best big cities for that is Seattle. And a small city that fits that bill well is Flagstaff, AZ. To sum it up, we love our work life, walk to everything, have access to town life, access to wilderness, and have the flexibility as business owners to work less and take breaks when we want. I think the small city will be the best fit for many who want an edited life.

  • Ti

    Delighted to see some boomers responding. We grew up through the 60’s and 70’s when an edited life was a significant part of generational values . This is not a new concept to all you 20’s, 30’s and 40 folk out there. Hippies rule!

    It is very challenging for us older folk to find housing that is smaller and in a walkable setting while still “thinking forward” to when mobility inevitably becomes an issue. A 4th floor walkup is not an option if a person is being realistic about the inevitability of aging. Walking 6 blocks or biking along car lined city streets? I think not. Residential warehouses for the older person??? Yikes. What to do?

  • GingeBot

    I’m trying to figure this out now. I spent 35 years in San Francisco, but it really is so expensive, in every way…rent, gasoline, utilities, food. Great place if you have money. I am in Albany, ny now and cannot recommend it. Long, cold, snowy winters…I always worry about falling, and I am still fairly young and mobile. The places I have been looking are mainly in the west, because of the lower dew point in part. I think the ideal situation for seniors is probably something like the micro units in Seattle, which is a city with reasonable bus service, and not-so-bad winters, but only if you can live without sun for 9 months. Right now I am focused on Arizona, and am strong,y considering a park model unit in a resort park. They can be purchased inexpensively used (20k), provide 400 ft of living space not counting decks and add-ons, and usually have affordable site rent (350-400 month)’ which includes things like pool, gym, spa, clubhouse, etc. the big problem is that most park model resorts are not near any businesses or services, so walking is difficult. I assume that eventually I won’t be able to drive…then what?

  • Tim Domenico

    The best of both Worlds. I lived just outside of Downtown Denver and rented a large room (with a fridge and a microwave) for $300 a month (five years ago). I could be downtown in about 12 minutes on my electric mountain bike. I got a job in a distant retail store but rode light rail and all the buses for the $60 a month unlimited pass, I could even bring my bike on both. Making just $10 a hour part time I could still save money each month. This is an example of just the right mix of a city/urban/suburban lifestyle.

  • maggie crehan

    I will retire in Centralia WA..train station. Greyhound pickup. Great outlet malls. Not too far from beaches, Mount Rainer, beautiful scenery. Historical for dairy, logging. I don’t know what local transportation is..I imagine you can probably bus to Olympia, state capital about 20? miles away. Can get to Seattle and Portland and airports easy on train and local buses. Flat streets. Tendency to flood, sometimes badly. Check out SW Washington in particular..lots of nice towns…South Bend, Longview, Kelso, Aberdeen. Some have seen better times frankly, especially Aberdeen.

  • I grew up in Philly and it’s public transportation system rivals that of any other major city in the country, including New York. It’s also highly walkable. I grew up without a car and relied solely on public transit or walking, and we did quite well. The city is becoming even more pedestrian/bike friendly as well. You should probably spend some time in these actual cities before writing about them.

  • Charles Boisseau

    Straight to the point (a sign of good editing): The map is stupid and misleading. Please delete it.