It happens every time I go out of town for a conference or large event.
I tell people I’m from Paducah, Ky. I tell people we left our lives in D.C. to move back to my small hometown. I tell people I live without a Target and food trucks and sky scrapers.
Then, the questions start to come.
They ask how I like it, what we do for fun, do we ever miss the big city. There seems to be some expectation that I will confess our small town existence is only temporary or complain about how bored we are from lack of museums or fancy restaurants.
When instead I state plainly that I wouldn’t move back to the big city - any big city - for love nor money, there is always shock followed by something that sometimes shocks me.
Interest. Curiosity. Even envy.
Often in hushed tones, I hear how the person has thought about leaving it all behind for a small town. I hear how they’ve often wish they lived closer to home. I hear that there might even be plans currently in place that they’re not quite ready to share.
Big cities are great. They are exciting and diverse and offer endless career opportunities. Let me tell you what else they are and is - hands-down - the most often heard complaint I hear from people interested in my small town life.
Big cities are expensive. Insanely expensive.
From housing to food to transportation, everything is more expensive. I remember the first month Nicholas and I lived in Paducah. We would come home every day with questions for our new favorite game - GUESS how much this cost!?!? From haircuts to meals, we would sit and regale each other with one purchase after another and how little we spent on it.
The money that constantly flowed from our bank account in D.C. had become our normal. We had forgotten there was another way.
Now, if you are independently wealthy, then high cost of living isn’t too much of a concern for you. However, if you are staking a claim in the ever-shrinking acreage of middle class America, then a $3,000 a month rent versus an $800 a month rent is nothing short of life changing. Not to mention, cheaper milk, cheaper clothing... cheaper everything.
Money you have to earn means you have to take the time to earn it and, no matter what economic class you are in, all of us have only a finite amount of time every day. And since so many of the people I talk to our parents, the increasingly difficult task of earning money takes them away from another labor-intensive and time-sucking job - parenting.
When there is a little person (or people) who needs feeding and cuddling and plain old raising, time suddenly becomes very valuable. And it’s not just that cities require more time at work, everything in a city takes more time. I’m always a little bit surprised every time I return to a city and am reminded of just how complicated everything is. Complications that require time.
Traffic. Avoiding traffic. Mass transit. Reservations. Parking. Parking reservations.
It all just makes me so tired. I would estimate I spend approximately 1.5% of my energy capacity on all of those issues combined. Maybe less. It takes me approximately seven minutes to get everywhere in Paducah. There is generally one way to get there and plenty of parking (free parking - there is no paid parking anywhere in Paducah) once I arrive.
Now, I completely understand that small town life is not for everyone. I would never claim it is. Small towns are filled with human being and just like everywhere else where we reside there is drama and prejudices and problems we seem destined to create.
However, I strive for simplicity in my life. Often, I feel guilty that I fail so completely on a micro-level. I fill my days with responsibilities. I take on too much. I abandon everyday routines that contribute to calm and choose play and people and projects that often end in chaos.
But when I return to the big city, I remember that I’ve chosen simplicity where it really matters - on the macro-level. Four years ago, I turned my back on the city with all its complications and complexities and chose the simplicity of small town life.
It’s a decision I have never regretted.
What do you love or hate about where you live? Are small towns the answer to a stressful life or do big cities and all they offer win out?