The Costs and Benefits of Living in the Middle of Nowhere

It’s not flashy but it’s home

Dead Man’s Burden

I have a lot of friends who are also early-career millennials who graduated from college during or after the financial crisis who live in big cities. When I get more than one of them in the same room, I tend to hear about the expense of rent in their chosen cities: bedrooms in Bushwick going for more than $1000 and commuters having to take public transit for over an hour to get to where they work.

After college, a lot of my friends who had savings or family support moved to big cities. Through the combination of marriage and where I went to graduate school, I found myself making a different decision, without ever wanting to do so, since I think cities are romantic and exciting. In my late 20s, I own a house in the middle of nowhere with my husband. To be fair, it is an actual town, but it is not very flashy and it definitely doesn’t boast the cultural variety of Brooklyn or Boston.

I did a few calculations to figure out how much it costs me to have this big old four-bedroom house that I don’t particularly need. Between utilities and taxes and mortgage and insurance, I figure we pay $800. Maybe $900, if we crank the heat or air conditioning in a particular month. I know that’s insanely low; no one is competing for our particular town’s real estate.

One friend who lives close to the center of Boston spends $1800 a month for rent on a very small 1-bedroom apartment. (Maybe that includes utilities? We’ll just say it does.) If so, this gives us a $1000 discrepancy.

Benefits of living in the middle of nowhere

  • Around $1000 dollars in extra purchasing power. We spend that money on events to try to meet people, and on eating out, and on starting a retirement account, and sometimes on getting a little ahead on payments for the house. Sometimes we daydream about someday moving to a city for a year or two, if someone paid us to move there for work, and renting our place to keep up payments on it.
  • Space! So much space. I have always lived in smaller places before this move, and I marvel at even the tiny yard we have, the ability to garden, the ability to let my stuff pile up all over in a room that is used for nothing else.
  • Somewhat pleasant drive on my commute. No traffic, just farmland.
  • Multi-generational acquaintances. I know so many kids, grown-ups, and senior citizens because they are my neighbors and there aren’t a lot of other young childless couples around here. It’s pretty enriching to have them in our lives.

Costs of living in the middle of nowhere

  • So much harder to make young friends. Husband and I throw ourselves at social events, but nothing seems to beat the group-house phenomenon in big cities or the cohorts of young employees at exciting start-ups. Obviously, this is outside looking in, but it sure seems exciting. My husband and I tried out an “open mic” at a coffee shop in our town recently, and let me tell you: no people showed up, only high schoolers behind the counter, and nothing but an indie music playlist playing. Fun, relaxing? Yes. Social? No.
  • Lack of mobility in other ways. The nearest airports are more than an hour away, which is actually pretty good for middle-of-nowhere, but that means that we really aren’t on anyone’s way to anything. When old friends happen to be on road trips, we’re not convenient, even though we now have the spare bedroom to host them. Sure, some folks make special efforts to come see us, and we love it! But we aren’t being pestered by friends couchsurfing their way to the Big Apple. I wouldn’t mind our door being beaten down by old college buddies in need of a snooze spot.
  • More effort to plan fun times. This is not nothing, because my husband is the kind of person who loves to walk out of his front door and have excitement waiting right there. He loves exploring cities and being surprised by what he finds. I also experience a similar delight, but as a person who likes to plan, this one hits him harder. I see the weekend as a nice kind of challenge: how will I get us out of the house? Will we be going to a corn maze? Who knows?

Moving to the middle of nowhere has had a lot of unexpected perks, and that makes me think that some of the satisfaction I get is from the fact that you don’t expect to be excited by your town when it’s a small rural community. The big city gets billed highly, and from what my friends say, it generally lives up to the hype: exciting weekend plans tend to happen when the density of population is so high and the creative-dream energies of a whole generation are channeled toward a location. Rural life seems to delight chiefly by not living up to the quiet you expect: there are more unusual events, more wacky neighbors, and more surprising conversations than movies about moving to a small town tend to discuss.

What might seem like the worst of two worlds — the unfamiliarity of moving somewhere where you don’t know anyone, combined with the lack of opportunity/quietness of a small town — is honestly a great fiscal decision, for me anyway, but it does make me wonder: how much would you pay to stay in your hometown? To move to the big city? In contrast, how much would you have to be paid to take on this life I’ve chosen, the small town life in a place where you have no roots? If it keeps getting harder to find creative work in big cities, I wonder if the next big move might be to the towns again. Maybe then there will be some people at open mic night.

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