By Laura Voskamp
What have you been working on lately?
For this period of my life it’s more like, “What haven’t you been working on lately!” In addition to being a Shopify Partner and Expert, I build websites and manage marketing campaigns for corporate clients throughout North America. I’m also helping the Business Improvement Association (BIA) in Stirling get business owners signed up for the grant program offered by Digital Main Street. If that wasn’t enough, I also build and sell online courses to small business owners seeking to enhance their online marketing and eCommerce skills through ShopBoss Secrets, and I’m a partner at the Belleville-based residential and cleaning company, Mommy Mops. Oh, and when we moved we bought a fixer-upper that we’re doing most of the work on ourselves, so I’m also perpetually in the middle of a remodelling project. It’s busy, but it’s good busy.
Have you been here in Hastings County a long time?
Not at all. We moved here from Durham Region last September. Looking for a place to start fresh, we saw 19 homes within a 3-hour radius of where we lived before. Then we found the perfect country escape here in Stirling.
What prompted the change of pace for you?
As much as I’d like to say “We always wanted to live in the country”, or “ We’re free spirits who recognized that we needed a change”, life kind of gave us an ultimatum.
We’d grown increasingly worn out by the isolation of being a youngish couple with no kids living in the suburbs. I was working in my eCommerce business from home which further added to the isolation. It often seemed like everyone around me was working in a corporate job and couldn’t relate to the entrepreneurial dream I was pursuing. When my auto-immune disease flared up and I was less able to continue working at my business, Little Misfits, we had to make a choice. We either stayed where we were and hoped my illness would pass quickly, or we made a dramatic lifestyle change that could allow me to do more computer-based work. As we’re a pragmatic couple, the lifestyle change seemed the smartest.
We’d been talking about moving out to the country “eventually”, and life gave us the nudge we needed to accelerate that plan. Truly, when I lived in the suburbs I got into this habit of always doing the same things, with the same people, and not stretching very far outside of my comfort zone to network or meet new people. As more people started moving out of Toronto to where we were living in North Oshawa, plazas started popping up, crime increased, and it felt like congestion, traffic, and not knowing who your neighbours were, became more of a norm than we wanted to live with. We were looking for somewhere that we could start from scratch.
By moving we felt like we’d opened up a whole new life. In many ways it still feels like that. We’re no longer stuck in traffic. The scenery we get to take in on our drives these days is often breathtaking. The internet works just well enough that we’re still able to binge-watch Netflix, and work reliably from home – yet the locale is so different that work feels less pressured. Working in the business I had in Durham. I used to joke that come August 1, you wouldn’t see me again until March. For the last three years, that was very true – unless something was super important, I couldn’t come.
Before my autoimmune flare-up, I had started a mini-course online, teaching people how to be successful on Shopify and Etsy. It was doing really well, and it gave me an idea.
When we moved here in September, I found myself asking “What’s here? What’s there to do? How can I get out and meet people?”. There wasn’t much that answered those questions at the time. By the time March rolled around, I thought, I’ve got to start networking. I was craving social outings where I could make new friends.
During that time I popped into one of the downtown businesses, The Vintage Junction, and I met the owner, Lisa Duffin-Cooney. We hit if off and at one point, I said, “You need a website!” She agreed. We started working together from there. Lisa introduced me to the BIA and some other business owners in the town and the rest is history. I can’t tell enough people what an amazing change this move has brought into our lives. Things are a lot different here than they were in Durham – we’re never stuck in traffic, the air smells clean, our property is larger, but also the vibe of the people is different.
Growing up where I did in Whitby, there was this local charm. It felt like I knew everyone, and like things were close-knit and community-centred. Fast-forward 15 years and because of increasing demands at work and at home, the collective focus has changed. To be blunt – it lost the warm feeling of community. Now people head out to work fighting traffic, come home fighting traffic, and work ever-increasing hours in between. Due to the time constraints of modern-day suburban life, in their spare time, they’re focused on their own small families and tight-knit friend circles. To be honest, there’s not much time or energy to focus on much else – especially if they have kids.
We wanted out of that grind. We wanted to experience a bit more freedom. Overall, we wanted an enriched life experience.
Here life is a lot more relaxed. As a result, people are more open and friendly. More than that, there are a variety of locally-owned amenities right in town – meaning we don’t have to travel very far to get food, gas, visit the dentist, or get a massage.
It’s suburban amenities set to a picturesque country backdrop.
So you found the right place here in Stirling! What’s it like?
We bought a fixer-upper. The market is so different here! Houses in Durham were going for between $600 and $900k. Out here a bigger house with more land starts at around 300k! In fact, our new place is almost triple the size of what we left and we can make it what we want it to be. Plus, did I mention there’s no traffic?
While we moved in after Summer last year, the friends who’ve come to stay with us since then keep joking that they’re moving in. There’s none of the big city stuff happening here – the air is fresher, the pace is more relaxed, and there are beautiful waterways and nature around every corner. Even the snow looks prettier here! I think it’s because it’s often largely undisturbed.
How has the first year felt for you?
It has felt like the thing that splits time into before and after. My health has recovered, I’ve found it easy to get out to networking events and meet new people, and the range of things to do and see feels endless. I mean, there’s a cider brewery within a five-minute drive, weekly open mic nights at the local cafe, and the draws of Prince Edward County are just a quick drive away.
Plus another pleasant surprise for me was learning how many hubs of entrepreneurial spirit exist here. I used to feel like I was boring people when I’d talk about my business. So many people, my friends included, didn’t understand what it took to launch and grow something from scratch. At networking events in the city, time constraints prevented a culture of connectedness. The people I’d meet were so pressed for time that there was less focus on really connecting with people than there was on creating surface-level connections of mutual convenience.
Here it’s different. Many business owners in the surrounding areas are more collaborative. There’s time to make meaningful connections. There’s space for those connections to grow into meaningful friendships too.
So it’s very different from city living but still comes very naturally.
Definitely. The difference is night and day, really. The thing is, the city is only 2.5 hours away. That’s what many people in Durham spend stuck in traffic driving to Toronto every day. You tell me – would you rather work from home and visit the city for necessary meetings and special events? Or spend 8-10 hours of your week stuck in traffic every day? For me the choice was clear ages ago.
Beyond that, there’s a relaxation that comes with living out here. It’s so quiet at night that every sleep feels like I’m away at a cottage. We’ve given up the hustle-bustle in exchange for a more stress-free lifestyle.
And what about work? How is business out here when you’re self-employed?
It’s pretty great! In my corporate role it felt like the harder I worked, the harder they expected me to work. Workaholism was definitely a quality that got me ahead. The problem was, everywhere I looked workaholism was part of the corporate culture. I was surrounded by people working away their thirties and forties so they could occupy a Director role – that was the goal. I was a Director by 25. Through that experience I realized I didn’t want to spend the next 20 years married to the grind and living for the weekend. I wanted to have nice dinners with my husband a few times a week, go for a run in the middle of the day, sleep in when I wanted, and have enough energy and time at the end of the day to learn a new skill without feeling like I was sacrificing a different important thing in order to do it.
With decent enough internet to work every day from home, my businesses have thrived. In a relatively short time, I’ve been able to grow diverse streams of income and work on a variety of unique new projects. It’s all been pretty amazing.
What does your partner do?
My husband is a heating and air conditioning journeyman. He’s been at it for 10 years. With that much experience in his trade, it was very easy for him to find a job. In fact, he had a job two days after we moved in.
you two do for fun in Stirling?
I really like to visit the local businesses and attend community events. In the Summer we are weekend adventurers! We’ve gone up to the cold springs, the local caves, events at Farmtown Park and PEC, found quaint little shops and restaurants in Madoc, Warkworth, and Campbellford, and have visited a variety of the local farmers’ markets.
In the Winter we are nesters. We curl up in front of our fireplace with a blanket and enjoy the winter scenery. Out here we have a lot more time to engage in things we didn’t have the chance to do before – for example, I’ve tried my hand at photography for recent web projects, and taken a local pottery class, and I’ve sung at open mic nights.
What’s been your most unexpected experience since moving to Hastings County?
The first time we came to view our house, our neighbour called us over and invited us to her place for a roast! We met her that day, and the day we moved in the other neighbours came over and let us know that they’d be there if we needed anything.
In Durham there’s a mentality of “tall fences make great neighbours” but here, it’s the opposite. I can knock on my neighbours’ doors and they’re happy to see me – it’s just a different vibe.
I can’t begin to describe how liberating this move has been. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better sleep than that first week when we moved. In the absence of the pressure and anxiety that the hustle-bustle lifestyle creates, there’s room for so many more experiences that have completely blown my mind.
I truly feel like I’m creating a more authentic life here – one that both intrigues, excites, and stretches me in ways I never knew I wanted. I wish everyone could experience it.