Matthew Hoagland and his wife in downtown Yanceyville, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Hoagland)

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You can still achieve the authentic, meaningful, and sustainable life you want. You’ll just have to move first.

Let me explain.

In July 2015, my wife sprang a proposition on me: She wanted us to move from the famously trendy Asheville to Yanceyville, North Carolina. 

“No way,” I thought. I was very reluctant.

Asheville is a city of 92,000 in a metro area of 425,000. Yanceyville is a small speck on the map of about 2,000 residents. 

Asheville is a very attractive town for millennials like us. Its culture has been compared to Austin. It’s been referred to as the “San Francisco of the South.”

But her family’s farm was in Yanceville.

Today, maybe it’s not family, but Covid-19 that has you contemplating a similar move out of a big city. 

“Should I leave this place I’ve been since college?” 

“I’m working from home now, couldn’t I just take my job with me?” 

“Is life in such a crowded place worth it anymore?” 

These are questions a lot of my city-dwelling friends have been asking themselves lately. That was the tone of a recent conversation I had with an old college friend. Myles lives in Chicago with his fiancee. “We’re looking at getting the hell out of here and moving to Montana,” he texted me in early June.  

When shutdowns began in spring, many of our peers were stuck in downtown apartments, unable to go out or even use the gym in their buildings. Meanwhile, my wife and I actually had more time to enjoy the sidewalks, greenways, tennis courts, and mountain biking trails in our town. 

Though living somewhere as small as Yanceyville might not be for you, I can assure you from personal experience that you can be fulfilled and even make an outsized difference in a more rural setting. 

In 2017, we paid about half the average cost of a modern wedding by essentially creating our own venue on a farm that had been vacant for eight years. After that, we bought a 3,000 square foot, 1929 Craftsman style house for just $39,000. 

Yep, $39,000! 

Even with a $75,000 renovation loan, we still paid well below the average price for a home almost anywhere. 

My wife started her own flower farm business. I was hired as our county’s planner despite having no prior local government job experience. Our home’s downtown location also allows me to walk or ride my bike to work and many other amenities. 

Though we do without some conveniences, living such a low cost life allowed us to honeymoon in Costa Rica, take a road trip to Utah in 2018, and take yet another road trip to Montana in 2019. This was after I paid off all my student loan debt. 

When my wife established her business she became the number one florist in our area. Overnight! Through my job, I’ve made great strides toward internet connectivity, cell tower coverage, and innovative zoning policies for our county. 

Barring special circumstances, these are not the types of impacts you can have in a major city. 

As life gets back to “the new normal,” ask yourself: will your life be better than before the virus hit? Will you be able to finance a wedding, buy a house, pay off student loans, or start a family? 

All of these things are much more within your reach in the low cost environments of rural America. Not only that, but the new friends and neighbors you’ll make by moving to a small town will welcome your youth, talents, technological prowess, and desire to be part of meaningful change with open arms. 

I know because I’ve lived it. 

Matthew Hoagland is the author of the new book, “Think Small: A Millennial’s Guide to Building a Meaningful Life in Rural America” and works as the director of the Caswell County Planning Department in Yanceyville, North Carolina.