Call to Prayer & Action for Ukraine: See here for periodically updated information, prayers, liturgy, and action points.


Issue 07

Loving Where You Live

Kristin Tovar

Kristin Tovar is the founder of the movement (and shop) Why I Love Where I Live. For more information visit or Instagram: @whyilovewhereilive. Photographs by the author.

Growing up, we moved around a lot. We remained in the same region, but due to life circumstances we lived in many different houses and apartments: over eighteen by the time I left home at that same age. As a child, I had little control over those circumstances, but somehow I realized I had control over my perspective, even at a young age.

When we got to a new place, I would look for all the positives. One house had stairs; another had a park within walking distance. One house had a giant walk-in closet that doubled as a fun hideaway; another had a pool. One place was just down the street from my grandparents, and another had green spaces and a beautiful path to walk to get to the mailbox. One house was close to my school and friends; another had sidewalks great for biking and roller-skating. I never knew how long we would be in one place, so I held onto the good of each one. I did my best to soak up everything that made each place unique. Partially it was in my nature, and partially it was how I coped amidst the continual change.

My childhood experiences created tyre tracks in my mind that have endured into adulthood. I first noticed this when I travelled. Even inside hotel rooms or places I would stay, my mind veered back into those familiar grooves of making the most of what each location had to offer. From small things like the scents of the lotion in the bathroom to bigger things like the view from the room, I was aware that each place I stayed in had a particular set of features. Their different combinations created an experience that had something to offer me, like a gift waiting to be discovered and opened by someone to enjoy at that moment. This awareness led to one of two things: gratitude or curiosity.

The same happened with places I visited. I remember going to New York City for the first time and discovering all the different pockets of neighbourhoods in close proximity. Each had its own texture and flavour reflecting its residents, history, architecture, businesses, and food and smells that flowed into the streets. My friend and I now laugh because I kept going around and saying, “I love this neighbourhood!” and then ten minutes later saying, “No, but I really love this neighbourhood,” on and on, as we made our way through each different part of the city.

It has been ten years since I started the “Why I Love Where I Live” Instagram account as a personal experiment. I took photos of things I found interesting, beautiful, or that simply caught my attention. Each photo became part of a collection that over time, gave me new perspectives. Seeds were planted in the soil of my life long before there was anything to show above ground. When I first came to Tucson for college, I truly felt at home. Over time things changed, and as I saw more of the world, I began to see what was lacking rather than what was already there. My childlike heart of wonder became atrophied when it wasn’t used regularly, as it had been in earlier parts of my life. The decisive moment came when I realized this. It was just weeks after I married a native Tucsonan when things started to settle in that not only had I committed to him, but in consequence, I had also (half-heartedly) committed to a place. In my opinion, that’s no way to live! My next step was to find a way to grow that muscle again.

Before I started taking pictures and sharing them as a record of my journey, there was tension in me that I wanted to settle or eliminate altogether. When I realized my location would not change, I knew what remained that I could control – my perspective. I had to find that heart of gratitude and spirit of curiosity inside myself once again to settle the tension. In reality, the very surrender to my circumstances would leave me forever changed. Staying put became an unexpected blessing that has been one of the most formative and shaping things in my entire life. Commitment changes us. When we know certain external circumstances in a part of life are fixed, it allows us to surrender to what is. It opens things up to a new kind of freedom that initially feels the opposite of what we would consider “freedom.” The gift is that I can always choose a life-giving perspective no matter where I am and where I go. There is always beauty to celebrate. There is a gift in each moment waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed by whoever will choose to pause and delight in it.

When I started the account, I was hoping to just barely move the needle on my discontent. As much as I believed in the magic of gratitude and changing perspective, I was simply trying to figure out how to find even small sparks of joy amidst the mountain of disappointment I continued to wake up to each day. Even having those thoughts is a kind of luxury most people in the world do not have. At the stage of life I was in, and among my peer group, however, it was not uncommon to move far from home, leaving family and friends in order to pursue job opportunities and a greater sense of satisfaction elsewhere. I cannot offer a blanket statement about what one should or should not do in terms of what opportunities to take or not take in a highly mobile culture, but I will say: I believe I can be happy in any place because I have the tools and framework to find beauty anywhere and everywhere.

There is a reason why the phrase, “The grass is greener where you water it” resonates with so many people. The more we love a place, the more we invest in it, and therefore the greater our affection becomes, creating a life-giving cycle of benefit to ourselves and the world around us. Living this way has connected me to a community of like-minded people and has become my primary vocation. The discontent I once felt transformed into something bigger than my own personal story because it matters that we invest in our relationship with place. We have a relationship with the places where we live, work, play and inhabit, just like our other relationships at work, at home and in the public arena. When we tend to and cultivate that relationship with place, we are better equipped to handle the disappointments and challenges that will come in any place we invest our lives. As much as beauty is an unstoppable force, brokenness is always visible too. It’s the beauty we hold onto that helps us face the brokenness and truly commit to love where we live.