Why I’m Leaving California
I have lived in California for 21 years. I know this state well. I love it.
But, after 7 years in San Francisco, 2 in Irvine, 8 in Santa Monica, and what will be 5 in Los Angeles next year, I’m out. I’m headed to Portland, Oregon.
Most people who riff on leaving California trash the state (not me) and name not being able to afford a home as the driving force behind their move (also, not me). I’m living proof — you can have an insanely low cost of living and a great life, even in California’s most expensive cities. If you leave here to own a home elsewhere, there’s a good chance your cost of living will increase.
For example, I rent in Los Angeles. I’m frugal. I live on roughly $2,500 a month. There’s no way I could move to the places people tend to leave California for — Austin, Dallas, Portland — buy a home and maintain this same level of frugality. I’m moving because I want to get more for my frugality.
I’ll get more for my frugality in Portland.
Here are the main reasons why I’m leaving. After I list them, I’ll connect them to my choice and the larger issue of being frugal and making lifestyle choices that preserve, rather than compromise frugality.
I want a washer and dryer in my apartment
As I research apartments in Portland, it’s pretty incredible. Almost every one includes a washer and dryer in the unit. In Los Angeles, this is a luxury. If I wanted a washer and dryer in my apartment I’d have to enter $2,000 (and probably $2,500-plus) territory for rent versus the $1,350 I currently pay.
Most sub-$2,000 apartment buildings in Los Angeles have shared laundry or no laundry. I don’t like shared laundry so I send my clothes out twice a month at $27 a pop. I can’t wait to stop doing that.
I want air conditioning
Most renters I know in Los Angeles don’t have air conditioning. For years, we have said we don’t need it. That’s changing. In early September, we had another heatwave. Los Angeles County recorded its highest temperature ever — 121 degrees in Woodland Hills. My neighborhood, East Hollywood, hit 110. These 90- and 100-degree, multi-day heatwaves have become more common.
I don’t really like AC. It dries me out. But it’s brutal to live without it when it gets that hot during the day and stays in the 70s at night.
If you want AC in a rental in Los Angeles, you’ll pay a premium.
I want big windows with a view
I work from home. I don’t like working from my current apartment because the view sucks. There is no view. If I want a view in Los Angeles, it will cost me. I love working out of parks and coffee shops, but I’d like the option to stay in my apartment more frequently.
The apartments I’m looking at in Portland all have nice size windows — often floor to ceiling — with views of either the mountains, the river, or the city. And they’re all in new or relatively new construction.
If your apartment wish list in Los Angeles contains washer/dryer in unit, AC, big windows with a view, and new construction, you need to be willing to pay $3,000 to $4,000 a month or knock one, probably two of these things off of your list to get closer to $2,000 to $2,500. In Portland, you can have all of these things, in a walkable neighborhood, for between $1,300 and $1,600 in a studio or one-bedroom apartment.
So much of the punditry about California lacks real experience with California. Each of these reasons speak to the sacrifices you have to make to have a low cost of living in an expensive city. These things might seem like minutia, but they’re amenities being frugal in Los Angeles doesn’t permit. I want them, however I don’t want to cease being frugal so I have to leave.
I have no choice. If I stay here, I’ll need to exponentially increase my cost of living to get these things. And these are the things that make up your day-to-day. These things matter. In my frugal worldview they matter more than home ownership and all it entails. We’re socialized to subscribe to the dream of home ownership. When we chase it, we pay a premium. I want relatively small things. I can have them, keep my cherished low cost of living, and do it in one of America’s best cities.
I’l miss California, but I’ll have the lifestyle I want in Portland without having to spend more money.