a little bit of grace: moving midwest to west

Illustration of M in our new home in California

I remember the day so clearly — I was 5 months pregnant, working at an interior design firm in Chicago when my husband called midday, something completely out of the norm unless urgent. I stepped out to answer and he eagerly told me that he was presented with the opportunity to move to Napa, California!

Having grown up in Southern California and spending many years in Virginia, New York, and Chicago, I’ve always been a huge advocate for living in completely new environments. Before I knew it, we agreed to do the cross-country move and figure it out as we go (much to the surprise of everyone around us, as we both err on the not-so-spontaneous, type-A, planner side). My only condition was that I wanted to give birth at my hospital in Chicago, but every other decision I was willing to navigate along the way.

Moving is never easy but this one in particular had so many logistics coming into play at the same time, especially because we own a home in Chicago. Finding tenants, looking for a new home in Napa, coordinating the actual packing and moving cross country, not to mention actually having the baby and navigating life with a newborn as first time parents…it was a lot. I recall one of the strangest feelings being in nesting mode and wanting to have the home feel completely ready for the baby while simultaneously packing everything away and prepping to leave — so counterintuitive. Regardless of all the hurdles, we managed to move our new family of 3, with our little M just shy of 2 months old!

M & I at one of my favorite places, Scribe Winery, in Sonoma

Looking for housing in California was an entirely different challenge as it’s so much more intense than imaginable, particularly when considering a space that suits a family with children. After searching remotely, flying out to Napa, and having our agents consistently show us properties, we were still unable to find a place we were comfortable with renting. Fortunately, the timing aligned almost magically where our family residing in the Bay planned a sabbatical for the first three months away from home, so we were able to temporarily reside at their place while taking our time to find the right house.

Perks of house hunting in Napa: gorgeous rose bushes garnishing every neighborhood

So many of the homes we looked at were shown with groups of no less than 10 people, and many times applied for/taken on the spot. It was a bit unnerving as the weeks seemed to vanish, but after about a month of searching – while M and I were out of town no less – my husband found a newly renovated ranch house that wasn’t officially listed yet. After exchanging photos, we realized we uncovered a gem and felt the urgency to secure the space immediately. I told him to push our application through without me seeing the space in person, as daunting as that was, but I trusted his knowledge of space and our needs. My first time seeing the home was on moving day, but we managed fit majority of our existing furniture and pieces in the space regardless!

Photo of our dining room

Through this process I’ve realized that one of the crucial aspects in finding a home is to figure out what your most important needs are in the next space you’re moving into. Whether it’s in a city, suburb, apartment or freestanding home, if you can identify the few core desires that you have, you can work around many of the other obstacles along the way to achieve a home that works for your lifestyle and needs. For us, this meant being able to walk to the grocery store (aka “stroller friendly”) and having an outdoor space with enough patio and grass for an active toddler. Living in California means that we spend nearly 10 out of 12 months outdoors, so having a backyard that works both for our family and entertaining friends made a huge impact on the quality of life and sanity that we feel on a daily basis. Investing in outdoor furniture and pieces to enhance the backyard experience definitely deserves its own post another time — coming soon.

I hope that sharing a little bit of my story about going from Midwest to West gave some insight into the possibilities of moving to a completely new environment, be it cross-country or within a city, even with a 2 month old baby. Although there were definite moments of uncertainty, letting go of the need to control the outcome gave me the ability to trust and mold to the circumstances much more freely — resulting in an outcome that has been so incredibly full and rewarding.

x GLL

Published by graceleelim

Designer - Creator - Mother

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