One of the fun things about midlife is we often have the opportunity to move for the first time in a long time. Maybe the kids have finally left home, or you’re retiring from a job or career, or planning to start your own Internet business so can finally live ‘anywhere.’
Whatever your reasons for longing for a small town, here are some assumptions to check out before you make the big move:
IT'S CHEAPER TO LIVE IN A SMALL TOWN. Well if it’s Daphne, Alabama, yes, but if it’s Grapevine, Keller, or Fredericksburg, Texas, no. Go here to check out house prices all over the country: http://houseandhome.msn.com/homes/homesoverview.aspx. And remember, low housing costs generally mean lower incomes.
THE SCHOOLS WILL BE BETTER. Or safer, more disciplined, or less drugs. Do a reality-check. Some rural schools are poorly funded. And if your children are out of school, you may still be expecting the sort of excellent community education you had back home. When the schools are bad, the libraries usually are too. Does this matter to you?
'RURAL' MEANS 'PARADISE'. The Chamber of Commerce in one rural community in the Midwest provides scratch’n’sniffs of manure for people considering moving there. They’re tired of people complaining once they move there about two things common to farming communities – animal smells, and people revving up their tractors at daybreak.
JUST LIKE WHERE YOU LIVE NOW ONLY SMALLER? In Lillian, Alabama, population 4800 , the median age is 56.6.
IT'S SAFER. Look up the crime statistics here: http://houseandhome.msn.com/pickaplace/nfOverview.aspx. Talk with someone who lives there—and not a member of the Chamber. Crime stats need interpretation. The crime rate in San Antonio, Tx is high, for instance, but localized mainly in one part of the town.
THE TRAFFIC WILL BE BETTER. This is a favorite fantasy that needs a hard knock on the head. In semi-resort Baldwin County, Alabama, suddenly you’re on a county road with a 35mph speed limit, stuck behind a tractor with no passing lane. If it’s a burgeoning retirement area, road construction may not have kept up, and those charming dirt roads … well imagine them during hurricane season … that’s right, hurricane season. Think like a resident, not a tourist.
One couple I know who’s looking books a motel in each location they’re investigating and stays 2-3 days to really get the feel of “life” there, not just “visiting.”
I WANT TO LIVE IN A RESORT TOWN. My clients who “retired” to Hilton Head Island, SC lasted 5 years. Tourism has grown every year and it didn’t remain such a “small” town for long.
THE PACE WILL BE SLOWER. And you’re thinking this is a good thing, until you need new flooring and the only person in the county who lays tile is booked for months. Moseying down the main street with a stop sign on every corner is charming the first two times, and try waiting 2 days to get a toilet fixed. Don’t forget to check on cable too; it isn’t available in some rural locations, and cell phones … iffy.
THE PEOPLE WILL BE FRIENDLIER. Not necessarily. Small towns can be cliquish. And suffocating—the same 30 people at the church, at the football game, and roaming around main street. How long can you go without meeting someone new? And, as my Grandmother used to say, “Everyone knows your business in a small town."
SHOPPING. You may be taking it for granted there’s a convenience store on the corner and an office dept a mile down the road. If you’re really out in the country, it may take you 20 minutes to go ‘pick up’ a gallon of milk, and you may have to drive to the next “big” town for a WalMart. Will the Internet do for shopping? Supplies can be over-priced in small towns, and services limited.
HOW CLOSE IS THE AIRPORT? If you move to Rockdale, Texas, pop. 4000, it’s an hour to Austin, a peripheral airport, and 2 hours to San Antonio International.
HEALTH FACILITIES. When my in-laws were in their 70’s they moved off the Lake in the country they’d been living on for 10 years because the nearest ER was 70 miles away, and the phones went dead every time it rained.
IS IT JUST A PRETTY FACE? You’ll be most satisfied if you give the decision time and look beneath the surface. When I asked my friend who moved to Bermuda for a change of scene how things are in paradise, she says, “Close, small stifling, and those hurricanes …” They would’ve been happier remaining in Montreal and traveling to the Caribbean, she says. Also being allowed to work there isn’t a ‘given,’ so check that out too. Her husband found a new job there, but she hasn’t been able to.
ROOTS. Be particularly observant if you’re ‘returning to your roots.’ My client who moved from Malibu, Ca to Comfort, Tx, where he’d grown up, was out of there in a year. The Nubian goats on his ranch were no longer making up for … Malibu?? v. Comfort, Tx?? What was he thinking? Often we find we ‘can’t go home again’ because it was the people, not the place, that made it ‘home.’
THE JOYS OF COUNTRY LIVING. Perhaps you’re expecting less lawn care and that may be true, but my client who lives in Jamul, California is sick of the dirt, bees and fires, and my client who moved to Keller, Texas is alarmed at the web worms, Nile-fever-carrying mosquitoes, maggots, and other Texas country critters.
THE CHOICE: Many people move happily to small towns and are pleased; others are surprised and unhappy. If you do the research, you can avoid being in the latter group! Use your Emotional intelligence to feel out the situation and make a good decision.