Moving From a Big City to a Small Town

By Jason Freely / a few months ago
Moving From a Big City to a Small Town

Alex and I have lived in New York for two decades, but we still daydream about moving to a small town. I’m always fascinated by how different daily life might be and what we’d miss and what we’d love. So! I spoke to nine women who moved from big cities to smaller places, and here’s what they revealed…

Why did you decide to move from a big city to a smaller city or town?

“We were looking for a simpler life. At ‘Mommy and Me’ classes, other moms were already talking about putting their babies on waiting lists for preschools and what schools were the best. It all seemed defeating and competitive.” — Carrie, Chicago to Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

“Living in Seattle was starting to wear on me. I had a difficult time with the weather and experienced terrible seasonal affective disorder. The increased cost of living also caused me stress. It was important to me to buy a place and I knew that would never happen there.” — Lauren, Seattle to Santa Fe

“We felt like every extra minute we spent commuting or working was taking away from time with our family. Money was not an insignificant factor, and we realized that staying in the city meant more work hours.” — Alyssa, Boston to Brunswick, Maine

2) What do you like about living in a smaller town?

“The town feels like a 1980’s John Hughes movie. We have a 4th of July parade, ice cream socials, and a Halloween festival. Kids walk or ride their bikes to school, and I love falling asleep on summer nights to cicadas. Oh, and parking lots! I could have thrown my arms and twirled around like Julie Andrews in Sound of Music when I first pulled into one.” — Carrie, Chicago to Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

“Moving to the island has forced us to slow down. We see our friends not because we make actual plans but because there is only one beach, one brewery and one park. We run into someone on the way out of the grocery store and, because we have no plans, walk to the park with them for a play date. It’s as if moving to the island has put a sense of spontaneity back in our lives.” — Christina, Seattle to Vashon Island, Washington

“I like that when my GPS says it’s going to take me 10 minutes to get to the grocery store, it doesn’t actually take 45 minutes because of unexpected construction and/or one-ways that weren’t there before!” — Alyssa, Boston to Brunswick, Maine

“I value the lack of decision fatigue. Want to try that hip new restaurant that just opened? Great! There’s only one in town. In D.C., I felt guilty about all the things I wasn’t doing. I was constantly living in a state of FOMO, and I never visited all the Smithsonian museums.” — Michele, Washington, D.C. to Rochester, Minnesota

“My commute has gone from an hour and a half each way to ten minutes. Instead of getting home at 7 each night, we are both home by 5:30 and have the entire evening together as a family. When the weather is nice, this means beach dinner picnics or evening bike rides. Life just feels more manageable and we have the gift of time.” — Robyn, Chicago to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

3) What is hard about living in a smaller town?

“I learned I was spoiled growing up in Vegas. Most places are open 24 hours a day, and if I wanted Thai food at 1 a.m., I got it. In Rexburg, I have to plan my Target trips in advance because it’s a 45-minute drive each way.” — Jinny, Las Vegas to Rexburg, Idaho

“We lack the abundance of choices of activities for our son, doctors’ offices, gyms, etc. that we had access to around the city. We’ve had to settle on a few things that might not necessarily be our top picks.” — Alyssa, Boston to Brunswick, Maine

“The lack of diversity. I’m Peruvian-American, and back in D.C., the community was big and inclusive. But in Rochester, I’ve found a lack of a bigger Peruvian community difficult for myself and my family. I often struggle with if my children are ‘Peruvian enough.’” — Michele, Washington, D.C. to Rochester, Minnesota

“I definitely put pressure on myself to recreate a friend community like I had in Chicago. I’m learning to be more gentle with myself and remember that it takes time to feel truly at home.” — Robyn, Chicago to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

4) What do you miss about the big city?

“It can be hard to hear about a fantastic Broadway play or a cool new restaurant opening and know I have to miss out.” — Tovah, NYC to Charlottesville, Virginia

“There was a certain clout that I felt walking around the city and knowing that I belonged there. We still visit often and I feel a little bit like an outsider. We recently took a trip back and when we checked into our hotel the concierge asked where we were visiting from. I said, ‘We live in Maine but we used to live here!’ I don’t know why I felt the need to say that.” — Alyssa, Boston to Brunswick, Maine

“I miss the diversity of ethnic grocers and vibrant cultures.” — Amy, Los Angeles to Bend, Oregon

“The take out is limited. It’s basically pizza.” — Carrie, Chicago to Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

5) What is the community like in the smaller town?

“We moved to Idaho with our three-month-old baby in tow. After an exhausting 12-hour drive, we had a large moving truck to unload, by ourselves, with a baby. This was simply too much for me. I headed to Taco Bell to pick up lunch and figured we’d unload the truck when I got back. I came back 20 minutes later to an empty moving truck! While I was gone, all of our neighbors had come out of their apartments and helped my husband unload the entire truck. One woman even brought us vegetables from her garden.” — Jinny, Las Vegas to Rexburg, Idaho

“Our apartment complex was full of newlyweds and young families. Game nights and shared family dinners happened a few nights a week. There was even a Facebook page where people posted if they were giving away a stroller or if they needed babysitting. I once posted because I needed an onion for dinner and seven people responded offering me onions!” — Jinny, Las Vegas to Rexburg, Idaho

“The first thing I noticed is how nice strangers are. At the local grocery store, people walking by smile, give eye contact and say ‘hi.’ It actually caught me off guard. My ‘hi’ back was always delayed. I’ve been surprised by how easy it has been to make friends.” — Carrie, Chicago to Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

“Friendly and warm. We moved to Charlottesville exactly one month before neo-Nazis and white supremacists rallied here, traumatizing the town. Afterwards, from other white residents, we would hear things like, ‘That is not Charlottesville, that hatred absolutely does not represent our town.’ But from African Americans, the response was a bit more like, ‘Yes, but…’ The silver lining has been the opportunity to examine the legacy of systemic racism that a large swath of the liberal, white community (including myself) was unaware of or ignoring, that may not have been addressed otherwise. It has been humbling and inspiring to watch this community repair bonds and try to improve living conditions here for everyone. There is much work still to be done, but the people here are fantastic.” — Tovah, NYC to Charlottesville, Virginia

“The community here has amazed me. I found it so difficult to make friends in Seattle. The ‘Seattle freeze’ is very much a thing! I find people here much friendlier. I feel like I’m a part of the community here and I’ve never felt that way before.” — Lauren, Seattle to Santa Fe

“I’ve made some incredibly close friendships, especially with a few women who also commute by ferry to work. On Thursdays, we have what we call ‘boat parties.’ Someone brings candy, and someone brings a can of wine that we all divvy up between our coffee mugs. We laugh about what are kids are up to, we complain about work, we cry about hard things.” — Christina, Seattle to Vashon Island, Washington

“When someone faces a hardship, people come to their aid with meals, babysitting, and assistance. For example, there was a devastating fire at a local farm. The community threw a potluck fundraiser to help the farm rebuild. As we watched a local band play in the Agricultural Hall surrounded by community members from all generations and walks of life, our children ran outside with new friends, and I felt incredibly blessed to be a part of this community.” — Robyn, Chicago to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

“It’s like Simplicity Parenting says — when you have too many toys, you don’t play deeply with any. When you live in a small town, you make deep connections with your community. You know that feeling when you have a local restaurant and the owners know your name? Living in a small town is that feeling, (almost) all the time.” — Michele, Washington, D.C. to Rochester, Minnesota

Where do you live? Do you live in a big city or small town? Have you lived in both? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

P.S. Where do you live, and where do you want to raise kids?

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow.)

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