If you can count on me for anything, it's to give you the straight goods on country living. No fluff.
You're not going to find me waxing poetic about how la-de-da wonderful everything is every moment of every day - especially when it comes to the real benefits and challenges of living in the country.
Let me kick this off by making it super clear that I LOVE living in the woods. I've been back here for 3-and-a-half years (after growing up in the area many moons ago), and I can honestly say that (at this point anyway) I never want to live in the city again. Visit, for sure. But to live full-time? Absolutely not.
But I can't help but feel for people who are seduced by books and articles and sometimes friends and acquaintances painting a ridiculously rosy picture of the rural life. I'm sure we've all heard the stories of the city-dwellers who packed up everything and moved to the country, assuming they'd done their research, only to find they couldn't make friends, hated the neighbor's wayward cows, and spent too many hours commuting to their jobs, completely blowing their new found 'quality of life' right out of the water.
So today, I wanted to get my own list of challenges of rural living down 'on paper' (pros/benefits to follow in my next post). If it helps even one person considering a move from the city to ensure their decision is the right one for them, I'll be happy! Country living is amazing, but it's definitely not for everyone. I definitely don't have all the answers - far from it - and I've made a very LONG list of my own mistakes. That said, I hope this helps:
The Cons/Challenges/Drawbacks to Living in a Rural Community
This list is really hard for me to write, because I don't want to sound ungrateful (or like I know it all - I SO don't), but the truth is that for many folks used to city living, country living is a really foreign thing. Very foreign! Sometimes so foreign it drives them more than a little bonkers - or leaves them in tears. Or divorced.
So without further ado, here are a few things I've found personally, and heard from others, about the things they found most challenging the first year or two after moving from city to country:
Feeling like part of a community - Social circles in many small communities can be notoriously hard to break into. I've met a lot of people who have moved to our community from the city who have said it was really challenging to make friends here. The 'old-timers' can be suspicious of newcomers (sometimes with good reason), and a small group of recent transplants want to pull up the drawbridge behind them, shooting resentful rhetoric and angry glances to anyone who moves in after them. I've also heard this is one of the big fears of many considering moving to a rural community. The best way to get through this? Volunteer. Once you're settled, get out there and start donating a portion of your time and services to local social agencies, your children's school, or a food security group. There's no better way to show you want to be part of a community than getting involved.
Getting used to the quiet - and the new sounds - If you've lived in the city for any amount of time, and especially if you've never lived anywhere else, the relative quiet of the country can be enough to make you want to break out the white noise machine. Say what you want about loud conversations and honking horns, but there's something reassuring about knowing there are other people about. Those first few nights are going to be painful - don't count on sleeping much. I spent my first few weeks here in a very sleep-deprived state thanks to all the unfamiliar thumps, bumps and 'woos' out in the black woods. There's really no way to avoid this - your city nervous system will need some time to mellow out. And mellow out it will! Eventually, you'll be able to relax and enjoy the peace.
Not being able to sleep in anymore (or go away for the weekend) once you have livestock - I have to be honest and say that this one kept us from adding chickens to our little homestead sooner than we did. The idea of having to find someone to care for them every time we wanted to go away for more than a few hours sort of put the kaibosh on my self-reliance plans for awhile. But then we found a solution - co-parenting! I guess you could call it co-op livestock. We found friends who wanted to share in the cost and responsibility and voila, we were egg farmers! OK, it wasn't quite that easy, but knowing we've got built-in chicken sitters made the decision a whole lot easier. My parents also help out since my Dad's sawmill is just down the road from us and he's there pretty much every day. We all share in the eggs, and sell the excess to pay for the feed. Win-win all around. Now if we were talking cows or goats, the story might be different, but I can't see why it wouldn't work with the right mix of people and critters.
Distance from medical facilities - This is something a lot of people don't think about. Unless you're a master herbalist, aromatherapist, paramedic, doctor or trained in the military (or maybe even if you are), you're likely going to need a doctor every once in awhile. And if you've got children, elderly parents, or a medical condition that requires regular care, you'll want to ensure you have access to appropriate medical facilities. Every day I read about people complaining about lack of medical facilities in the communities they've recently moved to. This is something you'll absolutely want to check out ahead of time.
Much reduced entertainment opportunities - We're so lucky - we're close enough to the city to have world-class musicians, theatre and other arts performances make their way across the water to play here. We've even got a number of the super famous who actually live in our communities (not that we see them often - they come here to get away from their flocks of admirers... it's a great place for that, disappearing). We've got two movie theatres (in two different communities), a couple of video rental places (because the internet speed can be far too slow - or throttled - to watch streaming video), poetry readings, dances, art shows, galleries, sports teams, studios, top-notch restaurants - there's no shortage of things to do. I remember when we first arrived, thinking, "What on earth are we going to do here?" But that's never, ever been a problem. Smaller communities may not have the huge variety of opportunities, but even the tiniest town has dances and social events, touring musicians and farmers' markets. And if there is nothing - there's your opportunity to start something!
Bugs - I lived in the city for 22 years. And in that time, I forgot what mosquitoes were. There just weren't any buzzing around the townhouse. And then I came back here. Holy moly, those suckers are big! And they're nothing here compared to some parts of the country. What does this mean? We can't eat dinner outside in summer without a screen tent - or some sort of bug zapper that we haven't yet invested in. Great for the chickens and bats, not so great for our social life. Good thing we've got our essential oils now to ward of the blood sucking beasts!
Power outages - It goes without saying that country life means power outages. More trees means more potential for downed or shorted out lines. And less population means fewer available staff, and let's face it, lower priority, when a big storm blows through the region. You can plan for this with alternate power and/or light and heat sources, emergency food stores, and knowing what parts of the area are less likely to experience power outages. Here, we just happen to be on the trunk that goes out every time the wind blows. And no, I didn't check that out before we moved. Wish I would have!
Fending off wildlife - Some areas have more of an issue with this than others, but most rural homesteads will experience run-ins with wildlife. Add livestock, and the ante is upped. Here we have birds of prey (hawks, mostly), black bear, coyotes, weasels, mountain lion and apparently wolves moving back into their historic ranges. Then there are the marauding elk, and the deer (which all of the other predators are feeding on), and the smaller critters like mice and squirrels that can do incredible damage if left unchecked. My own feeling on this is that the wildlife has as much right to be here as we do, and that my plunking ourselves down in amongst them, with yummy-smelling livestock penned and fenced and sitting 'ducks', and warm homes for the smaller creatures to nest in, we're taking on a huge responsibility to keep everyone safe. I know a lot of people will just shoot any predator or pest on their property, rather than work through deterrence programs and securing their livestock properly. I know it won't make me popular to say this, but when you put your family and livestock on a rural property, it's your job to keep everyone safe - and that includes the indigenous creatures (unless they are creatures you can add to your food stores, of course - that's different...). If you keep finding wild snakes in your henhouse, it's time to secure the henhouse, not keep shooting the snakes. Native snakes have an important place in the ecology of your local area. Just sayin'...
Lack of rural living skills - I think it's pretty clear that if you can't split firewood, have a black thumb, or have trouble dispatching a chicken if it's mortally injured or on it's last legs, then homesteading can prove pretty challenging. I say this as someone who still has very few rural living skills, at least compared to someone who has been doing this for years. Sure I can split shakes, pile firewood, wash clothes without electricity, know the habits of our local predators and am taking a Permaculture Design Course - but there's so, so much to learn! I haven't yet had to dispatch a chicken (the coyote did that for me, unplanned, of course), and I've yet to put away a full winter's worth of food in a root cellar, but I fully intend to learn how - and soon. But let's not despair and think it all hopeless - the great news is that there are literally thousands of books, magazines, YouTube videos and websites devoted to exactly this - teaching rural living skills to newbies. I've had the pleasure of experiencing many of them, and I know will be connecting with many more. But the best teacher, I have to say, is experience. We just need to get out there and do it, no matter how freaky it is to our urban sensibilities.
Making a living - When I talk to prospective 'modern homesteaders', this is the challenge that comes up most often. How to do it and not starve. Or without having to give up some of our favorite things. Personally, I've been able to do this in a way that works for us (though I'm still working out the kinks), putting my corporate experience to work in my own web and design business, run via satellite internet from my little cabin in the woods. Others have one partner commuting to a 'regular' job while the other gets the homestead under way. The key here is to be open to new ideas, take an inventory of your skills, and continually invest in your future. If you choose to start your own business, get an experienced mentor, try to do it without too much (or any) debt, but most of all - set the fear aside and go for it!
Moving to the country is a huge step on the way to a more self-reliant life. And it's absolutely not for everyone. But those of us with 'the bug', it's a dream we just can't shake. With this list, we can make sure we've poked and prodded the decision from every angle, so we know in our hearts it's the right one when we do put that down payment on that dream property.
Next time we'll get to the good stuff - the benefits of rural living!
Did we miss any challenges? Do you know anyone who moved to the country but just couldn't take it? We'd love to hear your stories in the comments below - your experiences might just help someone avoid a HUGE mistake! Or better yet, encourage them to finally make the move...