Do you ever visit a new place and wish you could blend in, hoping that your tourist status isn’t glaringly obvious? On vacation, of course, it’s natural to feel like a visitor. Feeling this way in your own city, however, can be (literally) unsettling.
Whether you just moved to a new neighborhood or are living in a hometown you never felt connected to, it might be worth thinking about how to take ownership of where you live. Even — or especially — in times of transience, feeling like you belong is essential for finding some peace of mind. Here are a few ways to feel more settled in as a resident, wherever you live.
Shop and eat local
One simple way to get to know an area better is to begin shopping where you live. There is something so natural about this practice, but the attraction of larger, familiar stores can be difficult to resist. By shopping locally, however, not only are you getting to know the people who work (and most likely live) in your area, you are also investing money directly into your community. There is no secret about where your money is going when you put it into a family business.
Even if your neighborhood doesn’t have a classic mom-and-pop shop, keeping most of your spending within the small business realm does show loyalty to your home. It can help you appreciate the places that are unique to your city or neighborhood. Anyone can shop or dine at an established chain, but a little hunting can result in the discovery of some hidden treasures.
Invest your time
In addition to investing money into your town, there are ways to invest your time, too. The first thing that comes to mind is volunteering — spending time in your community while simultaneously “giving back,” as it were. Service can form real relationships between yourself and your neighbors.
Spending any sort of time in your community is always a good move — the more time you spend in a place, the more it will become your home and feel less like a visitor’s destination. Rather than skipping town every weekend and going out in search of new and exciting places, it’s good to choose to stay local sometimes and learn to find leisure within your everyday environment.
Attend neighborhood events
This past weekend I visited my cousins in their small town in upstate New York. It happened to be the weekend of the town’s annual history festival, and on Saturday morning, I went with my aunt and uncle to a presentation on the history and architecture of “the little white church” that sits on the town green.
Lining the walls of the church hall were town history projects from students at the local school, and neighbors milled about and drank hot apple cider until we all moved into the sanctuary for the presentation, which, considering the level of audience participation, felt more like a town hall meeting. The people were truly invested in their home and in each other, and community proved itself to be alive and well.
What if I sought out similar events where I live? Even if that small-scale charm doesn’t quite exist in my city, attending lesser-known events or choosing local establishments for a night out can be an alternative to visiting the busier, more popular attractions that don’t usually cater to personal interaction. With a little intentionality, that small town-ness can be found anywhere.
Adopt a routine
You know you’ve “made it” in a neighborhood when you become a “regular.” It is one of the best feelings when other locals begin to recognize you, call you by your name, and the guy at the corner deli knows your order. If this is the sense of belonging you are seeking, having a routine will allow you to connect more consistently with people.
Don’t be afraid to stay loyal to your usual spots at your usual times, even if it means not being able to sample every experience that your area has to offer. Find what you love in your town and make it your own. Establish a routine for your daily life and this sense of familiarity — even normalcy — will create a stronger feeling of home.
All of these ideas have a key thing in common: personal connection. The best way to know your neighborhood is to know the people who form it, and once your neighbors become familiar, it’s hard not to develop a sense of belonging and allegiance to the place you call home. Make little choices to adopt your city as your own, and it will soon adopt you as one of its own in return.