transitioning from city to country living
I often hear back from people how lucky I am because they have always dreamt about moving to an off-grid homestead, but X or Y had prevented them from doing so. Or they had done it, but their expectations didn’t match the life they ended up living. After a few months/years, they eventually came to regret their move to a rural setting and moved back to a city. This blog post is about what we have learned in our journey away from a city and into rural Vermont.
You might find some bits of wisdom for preparing yourself for a similar move to the countryside.
You finally have had enough of city life, and you have decided to move to the countryside. The dream is to slow down, grow your own food, and finally be in control of your life outside of a fast paced world dictating every minute of your schedule. You would live well within your means but your life would be meaningful, a life you wouldn’t need to take a vacation from. Your kids would run outside barefoot, eating wild berries all day. Your house would look like one of those beautiful houses featured in Country Living Magazine and your daily menu would be inspired by Taproot Magazine. You would bring in daily baskets of fresh veggies to feed your body, and beautiful flower bouquets to feed your soul. You would learn a craft or produce enough food to sell at local farmer’s market, making it possible for you or your partner to quit your daytime job and live off the land. You have a solid plan, mulled over daydreaming sessions, google searches and accounting spreadsheets, and you envision your life to be this dream by next summer.
This is exactly what we envisioned our life to be when 7 years ago, we dreamt of a simpler life. Even though we have made progress towards it and see glimpses of this future in our daily life, we are still far from the dream. We have learned to embrace every step of the journey; I hope you can find tidbits of useful information in our experience to make your move smoother.
Our little farm stand: the surplus of veggies from the garden. We hope to one day have enough to sell at markets.
How to get there
It was one of the hard realization of the journey for us. We couldn’t afford the dream farm with the rolling hills. We have learned to accept that living within our means is actually a good thing and part of the lifestyle. It has allowed us to craft our own house, and even though it might not be the beautiful farm we had envisioned when daydreaming, we get to deliberately choose what we focus our construction efforts on.
Finances & Job
Living in the country is not cheap. Food and gas are more expensive. Job opportunities are also scarce. I highly recommend one of those “compare cost of living tools” you can find online before deciding on where to live.
It took us about 7 years of savings to be where we are today which is still far from our dream of living off the land. We worked several jobs to finally be able to downsize to only one full-time job last year. We are also now aware that we will not “retire” for the next 20 years: projects around the homestead cost a lot of money (from building a house to planting trees, buying equipment, caring for animals, etc.). Property taxes are also a huge factor to consider. You can find information about property taxes on town websites in Vermont. In other states, a call to your local town clerk will answer your questions about the rate you would be paying for land.
I often call our life ‘simple living’ but the past daily stress of city commuting and living in close quarters with other people has shifted to worrying about storms and wildlife wanting a bite out of our chickens. We also worry about wood, finances, the car not starting up to get places. We still drive our kid to school every day, and other activities. The novelty of living off-grid wears off fast, and it just becomes a new routine that brings the same daily stressors a ‘normal’ lifestyle in the city would. This is not a life completely relaxed, and something/someone always needs fixing. This is especially true in the first phase of pursuing the dream in which a lot of projects need hard work to become more self-sustaining later on.
Family & Friends
If you are close to your family, moving away is hard. When we moved to a rural area, we were already far away from family. We only visit them in Europe every couple of years, and we had been ok with this arrangement. Vacations and long trips when you have a homestead are tricky. A downside of living off-grid is that it is very hard to leave the homestead unattended for extended periods of time. We never leave during spring or summer, the growing season being short and busy. Fall is the peak of harvest season, making it impossible to travel anywhere. And in the middle of winter, all the harvests we canned would be put in jeopardy with no automatic heating system to keep the house above freezing. Finding care for animals is always challenging.
Family and friends will stay with you because there are no hotels or bed and breakfast around. Depending on how off-grid you are, this can be off-putting to some (we don’t have a regular bathroom for example, and showers are taken outside in the summer: not everyone will react well to these arrangements). Add to this daily chores, such as hauling water from the well for showers and daily use, and some family members might skip visiting you.
Expect loneliness in the beginning. The first year was brutal. We were alone, our routine consisted of taking care of a newborn, we were tired, I was unhappy, he was unhappy, and we were so far from our homesteading dream. We lived in a suburban condo we picked as an intermediary step to help us transition. We knew we wanted to live in Vermont, but that was not the Vermont we had pictured. He has also found me many times crying over the years, exhausted or overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the future.
After 6 years, we have daily visits from neighbors, and we have decided to limit our social events to one evening a week, once our social calendar got overwhelming. We came to realize pretty fast that we rely heavily on others not only because we are social animals, but also for knowledge. We had no idea what we were doing in the beginning and started learning from scratch.On the other side of the issue, if isolation is something you seek, even if you buy a lot of land, noise travels far. We can hear the cars on the road, and if the wind carries in a certain direction, we can even hear the interstate 2 miles away and the trains. We often hear parties and the usual kids screaming (to be fair, our kid probably scream ten times louder). Add to that tractors, mowers, animals, and the noise level is pretty similar to the daily ruckus of a city. In the evening, however, everything quiets down, and you can finally hear your heartbeats and the crickets.Unless you move to an area where 1000 acres surround you, you cannot and should not leave society behind.
Patience is key
It took us six months to find a job in the state we thought we might have a chance to find an affordable homestead. We moved and lived in a condo near my husband’s job for a year, far from the homesteading dream. We wanted our transition to be gradual: living in an environment similar to what we were used to but close in distance to our possible dream seemed the best option for us. On weekends, we would take reconnaissance trips in the neighboring towns. After a year, we moved to the countryside but still renting. We did so for 3 years in the town we thought might be a good match to our aspiration. And we waited, and waited, for a piece of land to be available at a price we could afford. We went out of our way to get to know the townsfolk, learn from them and talk about our dream. Someone needed to sell 50 acres and was happy to see it go to a young couple pursuing a dream, rather than maximize every dollar she could have gotten from it otherwise. With a nice piece of land and no way to live on it, we waited another year, taking on 4 jobs, to save enough to build a ‘house’ (by house, see my other post about our minimal living arrangements). These life changes certainly don’t happen overnight.
Our bedroom: unfinished walls, tight space, little privacy. Our living arrangement is not easy every day, but we are working on improving it.
The countryside is not a place where happiness is waiting to be picked. I am the happiest I have been in my life, and even though the surroundings are helping calm my inner turmoil, it is not what is fueling the contentment I have reached. What brings me joy is having found a place I belong to, it is having found like-minded friends who have become family, it is having found a purpose, it is seeing my partner happy. It is also seeing my child thrive in an environment we created for him. It is feeling pride in the projects we undertake with little to no compromise in our values. But it comes with…
I often write in my blog posts about tasks that are hard but pleasant. Wood chores are for the most part a fun event unless the temperature is 10 degrees and the chore still need to be done. Or when you are sick but water still needs to be hauled in. Or when you are awakened at 2 am because your chickens are under attack. Or when we are building a house, but your kid had the worst stomach bug the night before, waking you up every hour.
Our muscles ache at the end of the day, and even though it is good work for the body and soul, it is nevertheless very hard work, all the time, in all kinds of conditions.It has become vital for my soul. I was doing laundry this morning, with my huge pregnancy belly, the sun beating on my back, cold water dripping down my legs. Puddles of mud forming at my feet, and cold well water on my hands. I could feel my back muscles, and my arms getting numb from the cold water. It was hard and disgusting (6-year-old underwears are no joke) and satisfying at the same time. All of it, each moment was all of it. And I stopped for a few minutes to listen to the birds and watch a butterfly fly by.
Doing laundry can sometimes be nice.
But it never really stops to be hard. And I cry often that I hurt or am overwhelmed, ponder often why we have chosen this path. And the next morning once rested, my body is usually ready for more. And my body feels great, satisfied from the hard work it has evolved for until it hurts again.
One of the most interesting aspects of this adventure has been finding ourselves in gender roles we thought we would never conform to. After 2 years of living off-grid, we have both ended up in our traditional and patriarchal gender roles. My husband is building, haying, logging, doing the bulk of the manual labor that has been associated for centuries with males. I cook and bake, tend the house, take care of our son (and growing another human being), tend the garden, do daily laundry, doing the bulk of the ‘caring’ labor that has been associated for centuries with females. We are both feminists and believe that defined gender roles are irrelevant in an urban environment, yet these roles come rushing back when one moves to the countryside.
We both learned to recognize our differences: our roles are discussed and chosen based on our interests and abilities. We are both fine with this arrangement, but we were taken by surprise by this aspect of the lifestyle. Friends often ask me with great concern if I'm ok with this lifestyle. My husband is asked with equal concern how I am doing with this arrangement, adding that their wife would probably never agree to such discomfort. Nobody has ever asked me those questions about my husband, assuming that he is having fun all the time. Which leads me to...
Marriage (marriage advice warning)
If you are doing this with a partner, make sure the both of you are very much on board. I often read stories of divorce because of resentment following such a drastic move. If you are moving to please your partner, you will be resentful. This is not an easy life. If you are unhappy with your current life and try to persuade your partner that this will make you happy and therefore will make you a better partner, it will not. Your partner will resent you. I cannot emphasize this enough: make sure that the dream is a shared one, and the expectations are discussed. This adventure definitely made our marriage stronger, because it made us individually happy first.
After all these anecdotes and advice, I hope I am not discouraging you from pursuing the dream. I simply want to caution you to take it a day at a time and to keep in the back of your mind that it is not a pure bliss adventure, all the time. But it is a grand life, and you should try if for no other reason than to not have regrets later on in life.
If you have transitioned to a rural life from the city, please comment below. What would you add to this list? If you haven’t transitioned yet, what questions do you have?
You can read all my stories at dailyUV.com/VeryVermont. If you want to see more pictures of our adventures, you can follow me on Instagram. And you can sign up for email updatesHERE (disclaimer: I also write about news from my town in Vermont, not just living off-grid). If you have questions or suggestions for another article, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org