Things I Learned Only After I Left The City For Good

Many of us dream of living a simpler life but only a few ever get to do it. After all, it’s easy to get accustomed to the comfort and convenience of the city. I had been living in Manila for 10 years when I found myself tied to a culture of accumulation. The more I wanted, the more I needed to work. Then I realized that if I kept accepting more work to afford this lifestyle, I’d have no time to truly get to know myself.

Two years later, I write this from La Union where I now live. It is 6 in the morning and my partner Harold and I are walking to the beach near our house. We’re checking to see if the swell had arrived. Later, we’ll walk our dogs, spend the afternoon in the specialty coffee shop where we work, and when the waves show up, we’ll surf.

Moving out of Manila taught us the value of slowing down. When you’re no longer rushing to beat traffic or meet deadlines, you learn to add more value to your time. Here are some of the things I learned how to do without forcing myself to— lessons I would never have understood if I kept wanting more instead of less:

Learning how to cook

When I first moved into a condo in Ortigas, I promised myself that I would learn how to cook. I bought a stove and some kitchenware, which I only used twice in an entire year. The willpower to get groceries and follow a YouTube recipe would always be overruled by online delivery. In La Union, I had no other choice. Delivery was scarce. Most of the shops closed at 8 p.m. Instead, Mondays and Fridays were market days. We began planting simple herbs. On top of that, Harold was a great cook and I shadowed him in the kitchen until I could be left alone without wreaking havoc.

Cutting down on sugar and other junk

When you start to cook your own meals, you become more aware of what goes into your body. At the same time, surfing demands that you eat healthier so you can make the most out of your time in the water. This was the winning formula that took out pork, MSG, and excess sugar from our diets. Since then, we’ve added more vegetables and fruits. We’re happy to rid ourselves of binge snacking: a feat that was impossible to do with all the city’s fast food.

Becoming more environmentally aware

Living near the ocean opens your eyes to just how much garbage is left behind by people. There are weekly beach cleanups in the most populated areas by the shore, but there never seems to be an absence of cigarette butts and plastic to pick up every day. We also live near a protected area where turtles lay their eggs. We’ve since learned how to be more responsible with our waste because we weren’t just visiting this place— this was home.

Paying more mind to mindfulness

Life in La Union is not without its challenges, but we have learned how to take a step back and see the bigger picture. We were city people with country hearts; we were finally in a place where the pace matched our steps. Only here did we have room for a pet (or three). There was always a reason to spend time outdoors. Early to bed really meant early to rise, and these days I don’t even need an alarm clock. It was hard to do these things in a place that asked you to hustle every single minute. Yes, our lives here seem to have slowed down; but with each day here, we are much closer to our goals than if we lived elsewhere.

Finally seeing a life path

It’s hard to project where you want to take your life when you spend it hunched over your screen. Here, the plans didn’t feel empty. Instead, they held a promise. When you pay attention—and I mean, really pay attention—to the things transpiring in your life, you will notice that opportunities knock, connections manifest, and countless exciting doors will open. All you had to do was choose to let them happen. Like surfing, moving to La Union did not change me. Instead, it only revealed what was already there. Some people thrive in the city; some people don’t. I’m one of those who can’t keep up with wanting more— because I am kinder and happier when I need less.