A decade ago, as young marrieds with our first baby, my husband and I made plans to leave Washington DC for the American heartland. We had fun living in the city, but we didn’t want to raise our kids there. We’d grown up in flyover country and our childhoods had been greatly benefitted by living farther from the madding crowds.
Moving was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. It has been good for us financially, spiritually, and relationally. Although in 2020, like all Americans we endured government and population oppression that suspended our constitutional rights, nobody has escaped those effects and they have been thankfully weaker in our red state and region than in other locales.
While local institutions exhibit plenty of endemic identity politics corruption, degrading public libraries, schools, and corporations, there’s less of it and more population opposition. Our police work to prevent riots; our homeless don’t sleep in tents in our neighborhoods; and taxes are relatively low. The public schools are not so good, but our kids never were going to attend them.
As our nation undergoes a “big sort,” scads of Americans are also depopulating locales ruined by corrupt governance, especially as the shift to remote work frees millions from having to live outside major metro areas. Our new economic reality makes that the way of the past.
If you can pick up stakes and move to freer country in the West, Midwest, or South, why not? Here are some lessons we learned that may be useful to those considering similar decisions as many parts of the country become unlivable.
1. Seriously, You Should Consider It
2020 and its aftermath can provide clarity to those willing to pay attention. The National Catholic Register recently reported on Catholic families doing some serious life rethinking after all we’ve been through: “Catholic parents are reconsidering their options — even moving their families across the country in search of a community where faith is respected and nurtured.”
They’re part of a bigger trend. In The New Yorker recently, Cal Newport explored people making significant career shifts due to pandemic aftermath.
The stress tests of 2020 and beyond revealed that many institutions and ways of life we thought were sustainable are not. They revealed that Christians are particular targets of the identity politics regime gunning for the Constitution. And the forecast is for things to get worse before they can get better.
Why allow your children to grow up among pagans and thereby adopt their thinking and ways of life? Why throw away your votes and ability to positively affect your local community in far-left areas that are hell-bent on self-destruction? Please, come to my red state and help light a fire under our still reachable population and local governments.
2. A Good Church Is the Most Important Factor
The Register article noted numerous families deciding to leave compromised churches for orthodox parishes with a strong religious identity, especially those with excellent and faithful schools, which are sadly rare. The headmaster of a classical “destination school” in South Carolina attached to a vibrant traditional parish told the Register, “This started a couple of years ago, but it accelerated once the lockdown kicked in. People began to see the culture for what it was. … People are ready to make radical changes that might have seemed unthinkable before — but now they are thinkable.”
“What’s happened,” he said, “is that people’s sense of the stakes has changed. We’re no longer comparing ‘good’ with ‘better.’ We’re comparing ‘completely unacceptable’ with ‘good.’”
Not knowing really what we were doing when we made our cross-country move, and free to live anywhere due to my new full-time remote job, we ultimately chose where to live based on both broad cultural-political factors (i.e., in a relatively conservative state) and to attach to a specific church that strongly aligns with our faith. While the former hasn’t worked out quite as well as we’d hoped — Republicans are weak, and ours seem especially so — the latter has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
I cannot overstate the benefits of belonging to a vibrant faith community, especially as Americans look to likely darker times ahead. Our congregation shows up for members in need. Living within a community of friends and fellow worshippers who share your deepest values is beyond compare for life satisfaction. It is a thing absolutely worth moving for or working together with like-minded people to create where you are.
3. Realize You’re Taking Yourself With You
All the above said, it’s also important to realize that if you’re in a less than ideal situation with your community or family, moving is not always going to fix that problem. Sometimes your dissatisfaction with your life situation is due to your own vices.
So if your church, neighborhood, city, or group of friends isn’t what you’d like it to be, consider that perhaps it is that way because you aren’t invested enough or willing enough to sacrifice to help it become better. If you move, you can just take those same bad habits with you to a new place where you will also face weaker community ties for years due to the move reducing your relationship capital.
I’m certainly having to slowly pare away my American individualism and self-focus to really enjoy the benefits of our community. One example: My husband sings in our church choir, which punches way above its size in quality of music provided for the size of the congregation. But I found it annoying that his participation required choir practices, which reduce our scant time together.
Then one day while sitting in church about to cry because of the beauty of the music, I realized that getting such benefits from our volunteer musicians — whose music is truly transporting — required me to give up my husband’s time. Otherwise, I was freeriding on other people’s sacrifices.
So be prepared to sacrifice time and money, and to invest in community-building if you want to get the benefits. Honestly consider whether you are bringing problems with you that a move is not going to solve. If you’re not willing to do that, there’s really no point.
On the other hand, if the point of your potential move is to leave a situation that is beyond your capacity to help repair — such as in one-party towns or states, places with no good education options for your rapidly growing children, or communities controlled by leftwing extremists hellbent on cultural arson — that would be a better basis for such a decision.
4. Using Remote Work as a Springboard
Remote work can make people more susceptible to woke employers. The white-collar work more likely to offer remote options is also more likely to be culturally left, because wokeism is a higher-education-driven phenomenon. But at least it allows people to not have to live under woke governments, too.
People with remote work as an option often have the capacity to start their own businesses, and I’d encourage people to do that, both to free themselves and to develop badly needed economic infrastructure that is less controlled by the woke insane asylum. It would harden them against cancellation and give them the ability to hire other people also sick of working in woke corporate.
Those I know who work remotely not at The Federalist often have to keep their heads down and live with more professional risk due to institutional discrimination against their beliefs. But so do red staters who work in offices at nonprofits, education institutions, and most corporations. Remote work can, however, reduce interaction with bigots who might report you to HR for the crime of being a Christian, and it gives you a way to divest your economic resources out of decrepit leftist-run locales and invest them in better-run towns where you are more able to have a say in local governance.
Living in a yucky suburb outside major metro areas is the way of the past. The new economic reality of dramatically expanded remote work frees you to live in better places with lower costs of living that align better with your values. If you can work remotely and move, do it, and then once you get that comfortably under your belt, consider taking it a step further and starting your own company or going independent as a consultant.
5. Live Near Family If You Can, Or Bring Them With You
We did not follow this advice for logistical reasons, but especially if you have young children, the support you get from living near family is unparalleled. Our close friends now fill in like extended family would on all variety of things families do, from helping with home repair to watching our kids on short notice, but it took us ten years to develop such friends. So those were ten years of raising a ton of tiny children essentially on our own. It’s very difficult, so if you don’t have to do it, don’t!
6. Live Within 10 Minutes Of Your Parish/Best Friends
This is advice that Americans do not like to hear. I’ve heard it dismissed both by city people who are used to disgusting traffic and rural folks who are used to driving long distances to just get to the grocery store.
But the plain fact is that if you are moving specifically to be part of a better community, it will take you longer and require more work to develop fulfilling relationships if you have to drive more than 10 minutes to every event, even more so if you have kids. The same is true of committing yourself to activities such as sports that soak up three to five days of the week.
Famous sociologist Robert Putnam was able to quantify the driving effect in his landmark “Bowling Alone,” writing, “In round numbers, the evidence suggests that each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent… it is more important than almost any other demographic factor [than education levels]” in decreasing social capital (emphasis original).
To test this proposition and to get a better sense of where you might like to buy ultimately, it’s often a good idea to rent for your first year or so in a new locale. That way you are also more likely to get a better deal on a house — because friends can tip you off when a neighbor is readying a house for sale, for example, which has been crucial for several people I know trying to buy homes lately — and you won’t get accidentally stuck in a neighborhood that looks great to outsiders but turns out to be rather inconvenient once you move in.
7. Don’t Buy Too Much House
One of the biggest mistakes people make when moving is in buying a house that is too big and too far away. This is not only a drag on your relationship building, as noted above, but it also increases your financial risk and reduces your schooling options.
That’s because Americans pay public school tuition through their property taxes. You can partially unbundle your tuition payment to public schools by choosing a lower-cost house, either by choosing a smaller one or one in a lower-rated school district. This liberates more of your funds for other priorities, such as bringing a parent home to focus on the children or freeing income to put the kids in a Christian school.
If a major point of the move is for your family to be part of a better way of life, you need logistical flexibility to make that happen. Key to a better way of life is the upbringing your children receive. That requires financial flexibility, which you can often get by making a smarter house decision instead of the spendier one your mortgage broker or realtor suggests.
In addition, having a smaller mortgage to pay off will help you achieve financial stability and independence earlier, which are excellent ways to plan for resilience in harder economic times.
8. A Small City Is a Great Choice
The Institute for Family Studies recently put out some recommendations for family-friendly cities. These cities are still too big and too plagued with poor governance generally for my tastes, but living in a town — not merely an exurb or suburb, see “driving distance,” above — within reach of one of these metro areas seems like a good potential option.
I’d look for midsized cities in flyover states instead of large metro areas, which are more likely to be politically and culturally dysfunctional. I mean, Minneapolis? Kansas City? Yikes. Even Columbus and Indianapolis I wouldn’t really recommend. Grand Rapids, though, yes.
Looking for an affordable family-friendly METRO area to move to post-COVID?
You can also peruse dozens of state rankings that examine things like crime, regulatory and tax freedom, homeschooling laws, gun laws, and so forth that offer other ways of looking at where you might want to live.
9. Expect Problems, Just Less Existential Ones
You cannot go into a move like this — or anything — expecting Utopia. You can do all the assessments of gun laws and churches and tax situations, and still there are going to be significant drawbacks no matter where you end up. Those rural communities that receive less government attention are plagued with poverty, depopulation, and lack of infrastructure. Your children might have few good options when it comes time for them to marry.
Those amazingly lower-cost homes can have neighbors who drive around on their loud motorcycles or blaring their obnoxious music to your napping children. Places with low cost of living or a great church may have terrible schools or nobody to make a homeschool co-op with. People will disagree about masks, how to run Sunday School, and what’s the right time of morning to show up on someone else’s porch. No place is perfect, nor ever will be in this life.
No matter how great your community is, people will sometimes have sharp shoulders and tongues, fail to show up when others are in need, and disagree with each other. That’s just how life is. So when conflict and troubles show up, as they inevitably will, plan to invest further to make things as good as they can be, get good at saying you’re sorry and forgiving, and practice gratitude. If you can’t do that, you’re the problem, not your community.
10. It Takes Years to Assimilate
It takes time and a lot of work to build friendships. You need to anticipate several years of being “the new people” who have to make an extra effort. That means you need to invite people over for dinner and playdates, join organizations and show up to the events, volunteer to help people, and whatever other ways you can think of to demonstrate your commitment and develop relationships.
I’m a busy working mom who has been popping out a new baby on average every two years for the last 12, so I have less time to spend on relationship development. I’m also an introvert. So it took me a good six or seven years before I really felt like I was part of our new town.
Your mileage may vary, but still don’t be discouraged if you’re in year two or three and still needing to put forth that extra effort. It’s part of the process. Make friends with an outgoing family as your “wing people” if you can. That can jumpstart your connections.
Pioneers are needed in both situations, and adopting a pioneer mentality has been a helpful frame for me in understanding how much work is needed even when you walk into a good place. Regardless of whether you move or whether you stay, your hands need to be busy doing good.
We left the dark-blue coast for greener pastures, and I thank God constantly for how much it has blessed our lives. Consider whether you’re in a similar situation.