Moving to another state where you have no ties, no job, nothing but a dream, is a risky move. Risk taking is scarier as you get older, but you know what is even scarier than taking a risk? Staying someplace that doesn’t make you happy, doesn’t fill your soul with joy, doesn’t give you the feeling that you can make your life what you want. Making the move to Bellingham wasn’t the easiest thing I have ever done, but it is one of the best. Sometimes in life it is important to just make the changes you want to see in your future, to TAKE the RISK!
I made the decision to move to Bellingham on New Year’s Eve 2017. On that fateful New Year’s Eve, I was alone, with my couch and my Netflix. I was depressed, and pretty desperate, for change in my life. I was 47 years old, living my 30th year in Arizona, a state that I chose to go to college in in 1988 when all I knew about ASU was it was considered a “party school”. (Yes, that really was part of the way I chose my college, please do not tell my parents). Finding love and a great job teaching right out of college happened, and I found myself sticking around in a state I never really loved. I was a school teacher, then a stay at home mom, then a real estate agent. When my marriage failed it did not free me to move to cooler grounds, but rather kept me in a state I didn’t love to raise my children with their father in the picture. Once my kids were done with high school it was time for me to start over in a place I had spent many a sweaty, hot day dreaming about.
I chose Bellingham as my destination for many reasons. To list in no particular order: the urban trails, the mountains, the bay, the proximity to the San Juan Islands, the proximity to Seattle and Vancouver, Canada, Mount Baker, the liberal leaning city, the charming houses and neighborhoods, the interesting history, the edgy downtown, the picturesque Fairhaven, the four seasons it experiences, and lastly, the fact that my daughter was attending Western Washington University. To be clear, the fact that my daughter was attending school in Bellingham was also a big reason I almost didn’t relocate here, she was less than thrilled to have Mom follow her off to college.
I bought my house in Sudden Valley because the neighborhood felt like I was living in a forest, and more so because real estate was a lot less expensive than in Bellingham proper. As a real estate agent I knew it would take time to build a business in a place I only knew one 19 year old person.
I have learned a lot since I made the decision to uproot my life, my well established business, and everything I knew to move further “out west”. After I made my decision, moving became easier as it was finally clear to me what I should do, but I had no idea HOW right of a decision it was, and what living in Whatcom county would bring to my life.
What I’ve Learned Living in Whatcom County
Shopping locally owned shops is everything. I have never been a clothes horse by any means, but I had always had plentiful shopping options available to me before moving to Whatcom County. Whatcom county doesn’t have many of the staples I had come to rely on like Nordstrom’s Rack, DSW, or Tilly’s for the kids. How was I to build up my PNW wardrobe? Online shopping is always an option, but I try to stay away from Amazon, and I find clothes really difficult to buy online. Luckily, in my early days of exploring my new city I walked by Sojourn, Fringe, and the plethora of second hand stores that have more than met my needs for whole new wardrobe. Also, not eating at chain restaurants, and supporting the local business owners in the area has been such a wonderful, small town feel, cool experience. I love making someone’s day when I shop at their store, eat their food, or use their services. This is never more true than when it comes to using a LOCAL LENDER if you are competing to buy in Whatcom county. Listing agents want to know who they are working with, and most know the local lenders.
Marijuana Yes, Washington may have been one of the first states to legalize marijuana, but that doesn’t mean everyone here uses it. Right? Right. But a heck of a lot of people do, of all age groups and socio-economic statuses. Feeling anything but accepting of recreational marijuana use will be a challenge in the Bellingham area. I suggest you do as the hamsters do!
4 Way Stop Signs are a Place of confusion. Driving slowly in and around Bellingham is something I have written about before. One thing that still makes me laugh, (or drives me crazy, depending on what I am doing and if I am running late) is the 4 way stop sign. Depending on who arrives first to the intersection, is supposed to be the first person to go, then continue in the order of arrival. If everyone happens to arrive at exactly the same time, the order to proceed is in clockwise order. RIGHT? People in the Bellingham area don’t seem to know this, and for me 4 way stops are a lot of waving people on, false starts, and long waits.
Canadians The border hasn’t been fully open since COVID hit, but it is possible to cross the border now with a negative covid test. Canadians aren’t flocking over the border, but once the border opens, that will change! One pro tip here: If you are waiting to get gas at Costco, and a Canadian with multiple huge gas cans is in front of you, find another line to wait in.
Homelessness Homeslessness in Whatcom county, like homelessness in many parts of the nation, is a real problem. If you walk through downtown, Maritime Park, C and D streets, Cornwall Ave, behind Walmart, etc. etc., you will see many homeless people. Homelessness remains a large issue in both city of Bellingham and Whatcom county. There is only one shelter that is open nightly to the hundreds of people that live on the street, and that shelter has a list of banned people for past behaviors that is very long (in my understanding). The list is also very long for the number of people that weren’t banned, but refuse to use the one shelter for a number of reasons. This leaves many, many people on the streets, all year long. There was a committee, Homeless Strategies Workgroup, that had members of both the city and the county, which was shut down last year with little explanation, and no one is currently doing the work that committee was doing. For those of us that volunteer with the homeless community this is a huge disappointment. There have been some changes on both city and county council though, so hoping that change comes soon.
Nothing NORMAL about the WEATHER! Weather is something people ask about all the time. Many people are choosing to move to Bellingham, or Whatcom county without ever having been here before, or maybe after visiting one summer. They have seen the lovely long days of summer with beautiful, sunny warm days…but not the days of rain, days of cloudiness, the chilly days. I used to be able to describe our summers as warm, but definitely doable without an air conditioner, then we had the summer of 2021. I used to say that our rains were light with afternoons sunshine, but then the flooding of 2021 happened. Lastly, I would say it snowed just the right amount….then December of 2021 happened. Read more about our weather craziness HERE.
LaFeen’s Donut shop at 1466 Electric Avenue in Bellingham makes their donuts the night before, so if you go in around 8pm you can get whatever donuts are hot at the moment. May I suggest glazed donut holes? Truly a mouth watering treat that can easily turn into a bad habit!
Life has changed so much in these mere 4 years I have lived in Bellingham. Love found me, I got married, and we are now buying a house in the Alabama Hill neighborhood. Living just outside Bellingham has taught me so many things about myself. I’ve learned that people want to help others, they want to feel connected, and often helping others makes people feel connected. Bellingham is a wonderful place to live and I love to support that place by shopping locally as much as possible. I have learned how to manage a community Facebook group, Bellingham Living, and that has taught me so much about what people are looking for when they relocate here, and why the locals stay. I have learned the history of a small fishing/logging town from badass women through Bellingham History Tours