In a small town, people recognize you everywhere, and this can be challenging for introverts who value privacy.
Four years ago, my introverted family and I left Canada’s largest city and moved to a small rural area up north (you can read the full story here). Since our move came long before the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t help but feel like trendsetters. Metropolitan areas are recording the biggest population decline in decades. In 2021, rural areas saw the largest levels of inbound migration of all region types. And recent studies have found that 41 percent (!) of urban dwellers are interested in moving to the country. Allured by the lower cost of living and ease of isolation during lockdowns, it’s no wonder why.
But, as my family has learned, rural life isn’t without its challenges. While my husband, daughter, and I thought we knew what we were signing up for in moving to the forest (as introverts, we wanted privacy, quiet, and a slower pace of life), we discovered that country living has many nuances for which we weren’t yet prepared.
It’s been a bumpy ride, but the good news is, I’ve gained plenty of wisdom to share about the process — which can come in handy for anyone else who might be considering making the move.
What Introverts Need to Know Before Leaving City Life
1. Far away isn’t far enough.
As a family of introverts, we love privacy. In leaving the city, one of the most important changes we were seeking was space in which to be blissfully alone.
In the city, the houses are packed together like sardines. Looking out the window from my kitchen sink, the brick wall of my next door neighbor’s house was so close that I could have spat on it.
When we first moved up north, everything felt so expansive by comparison. The first house we rented was on a lot that spanned almost an acre. I remember waking up that first morning and finding it hard to believe that all this space was ours! My daughter and I took walks through the property, combing every inch, astonished and beyond pleased.
But after a few months, we realized that privacy and space were two separate metrics. Depending on where your property is located, it could be as big as you please and still be, disappointingly, in the middle of the action. Since our lot was on the waterfront, people could (and did!) wander over to chat all the time, from every angle. People pulled up to the dock in their canoes. Neighbors wandered between our yard on either side. If we so much as poked our head out from the driveway, the guy across the street wanted to talk. Where was the solitude we’d been seeking?
Eventually, when we bought a cabin of our own, we purchased a smaller lot. But since it was located as far back from the road as possible, and surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest, we finally had the privacy we’d longed for.
2. Blurred boundaries are a bummer.
In the city, there are millions of people. While this can feel overwhelming for introverts (yikes — crowds!), there are some distinct benefits. For example, the chances of running into people you know are minimal. You can visit the grocery store in peace, focusing solely on getting the items you need. You can walk down a bustling street and fade into comfortable invisibility, nary a familiar face in sight.
In a small town, on the other hand, people recognize you everywhere. The smaller population means that everyone in your life plays a double or triple role. The police officer who gives you a speeding ticket is also your child’s soccer coach. The therapist who hears about your emotional issues is also the yoga instructor (was she implying that I needed that extra vinyasa because of our session last week?).
And I’ll never forget the time that my doctor sent me for a gynecological ultrasound. You know — the very intimate kind, if you catch my drift. Seated in the hospital waiting area, I heard my name called and looked up to find that the ultrasound tech holding my chart was the same woman I’d made awkward small talk with at my daughter’s theater class the night before. Suffice it to say, we took our relationship way beyond small talk during the course of the appointment.
As an introvert who deeply values privacy, I find this aspect of rural life to be among the most challenging. With no firm boundaries to keep various parts of my life separate, I constantly live with the sense that everyone knows all my secrets (because in many cases, they do). For the folks who have grown up in this small town, I know this is second nature. But as a city person, I find it unnerving.
3. “Basic” isn’t actually so basic.
Living in the city, it’s so easy to take things like running water and electricity for granted. I really didn’t ever give it a second thought that I could flush the toilet or turn on a faucet and wash my hands… until we moved to the middle of nowhere.
Since arriving here, it’s been a comedy of errors. We had a flood that destroyed our furniture, multiple several-day-long power outages, and at one point our well ran dry, resulting in us being without running water for three weeks (no toilets, showers, sink, or laundry). The foundational elements of modern life that we never really think about in the city are actually a luxury that can quickly disappear when you’re living in the country.
As an introvert, I’m naturally observant. But this experience led me even deeper, guiding my attention to noticing lots of things in my life that had previously been unconscious. Which leads me to my next point.
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4. Silence makes room for growth.
One of the things I was most looking forward to about rural life was the silence. In the city, the noise is constant. There’s always traffic, sirens, someone pushing a noisy shopping cart full of empties down the sidewalk… By contrast, living in the forest is… peaceful. Our region is a vacation destination most active in the summer, and this means that by the time Labor Day weekend comes and goes, the population shrinks by about 75 percent. On our street, we’re one of only a handful of year-long residents, making foot and vehicle traffic rare.
Living in such a serene location has provided me the time and space to really take a look at my mental health landscape. In truth, it’s been difficult and exhilarating in equal measure. I went through an initial period where all my skeletons were popping up like whack-a-mole. Past hurts, traumas, and my struggles with anxiety and self-loathing were now impossible to ignore.
I found a therapist. I read lots of self-help. And I leaned into my mindfulness practice. In cultivating equanimity around my “negative” thoughts and emotions, I was ultimately able to transform them into exactly the raw material I needed for healing. It was so beneficial and fascinating for me, in fact, that I eventually gained certification as a mindfulness instructor, and I now share this skill set with individuals and corporate groups.
5. Plan ahead, but prepare for surprises.
No matter how prepared we thought we’d been, our move from the city to the country turned out to be much more challenging than we’d expected. I learned the hard way that living in a place with very few like-minded people can slowly chip away at your heart. Even though we’re introverts and we don’t necessarily want to socialize all that often, I realized that I do want some friends around.
But in life, every challenge teaches us something. In moving to this rural area, we learned a number of things about what we want and don’t want. And while I doubt that this small town will be our forever home, I’m grateful for the time we’ve spent here, and everything that it’s taught us.
Thinking About Leaving the City? Do This First.
If you’re seriously considering leaving the city for a quieter, rural life, my advice is to first sit down and establish why you’re doing it. Is it privacy? Serenity? Connection to nature? You can then use these values as your compass while you navigate all the many decisions along the way.
It’s a big, risky move to leave the life you’ve known and journey to one that’s unfamiliar. But if your introvert instincts are craving more space to roam, why not explore your options? Life is too short to wait on the adventures that tug at your heart. Personally, I’d rather look back at the end of it all and survey a series of lived mishaps than a collection of untouched question marks. After all, what are we even here for, if not to gather experiences like wildflowers?
Feeling indecisive about a big life move? Sign up for my course, Healing Indecision: A 7-Day Program for Intuitive Living!