Last year, I did a crazy thing. I decided to live as locally as possible for a whole year. I bit off a little more than I could chew, to be honest, but this life experiment was well worth it. It changed my life for the better in many ways. I have a greater appreciation for my neighbors and town. I’m healthier, enjoy my life more, and now have neighbors that I can count on. I highly recommend you localize your life too, but you can avoid my mistakes. Below is my advice based on some hard-won lessons:
1. Form a team
It takes a village to go local. However, every village, movement, and organization usually starts with a small group. Therefore, start your local adventure by forming a small team of friends, family members and/or neighbors. This will keep things manageable while giving you the advantages of mutual support, motivation, and shared work. Many hands make light work, as they say. If you can’t recruit anyone, don’t worry. Get started and look for people to join you along the way or join a group, like Cool Block or Transition Towns, that will support you.
2. Take stock of local resources and opportunities
Create a list of local resources and opportunities for your new local life. Look for ways to substitute your normal products and activity with more local versions. For instance, do you have a farmers’ or local market where you can buy food from your region? Can you get movies from your local library instead of Netflix? What are the volunteer opportunities at your local nonprofits and government agencies? You can also look for opportunities to fill a community need. Those needs can be the basis for projects to lead.
3. Make a plan and plan to have fun
Use your list of opportunities to make a plan. Prioritize things to do that you’re genuinely interested in doing. Tap your interests and passions. The plan doesn’t have to be fancy. Just get your ideas in a document. I used Google Sheets to create a list. I printed that out, pinned it on a wall next to my desk, and used it to help keep myself on track. Don’t forget to make it as fun as possible!
4. Start small
Committing to a whole year of local living was daunting. You might do better by starting with a shorter period, like one or two months. It also helps to think of what you’re doing as an experiment instead of a permanent change. This will help lessen the psychological resistance to change. This mindset also helped me to find small, discrete tasks that I could finish in a reasonable amount of time. These quick wins built my confidence and often led to other opportunities.
5. Create a schedule, establish a routine
Some opportunities have a schedule of their own. Just get those on your calendar. For other things, create a regular schedule and make local life a new, enlivening routine. For instance, I set aside one hour after work during the week and Saturday mornings for my local projects. I also went food shopping with my family at our local farmers’ market on Sundays. Once I established a routine, I started spending more time on my local life than I planned. That was a big bonus. In any case, it’s really important to set aside time and establish a routine. That will help make it a true lifestyle change.
6. Stay flexible, adapt
As Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Life can destroy your plans, so stay flexible. There couldn’t be a better example than COVID-19. It’s small compared to what others faced, but I had to change my local year plans dramatically due to the pandemic. To stay with the boxing wisdom, I rolled with the punches. I let the closed opportunities go and pursued the ones that opened up, like the chance to do more mutual aid during lockdowns. It wasn’t always easy to adapt, but what else was I going to do? Also, it worked.
7. Track your progress
Some things aren’t measurable, but many are. Track what you can, at least in the beginning. It’s motivating to know how much you’re improving your life, the lives of others, and the local environment. It also motivates your local co-adventurers and can be the basis for more responsibility in your community. For instance, the grounds committee I co-lead gained more responsibility and budget leeway because of the measurable results we got and could show to our community’s board. This has made it much easier for us to contribute work to our community.
8. Enjoy, celebrate!
Once you get into your local rhythm, savor your new life. If you do it right, it’ll be filled with more purpose, meaning, and simple pleasures. And don’t forget to celebrate your local team’s accomplishments, though living well is its own reward!