The Joy of Moving Out of the City To The Country: Why I Did it, What I miss, and What I don’t

By Ingrid Fetell Lee
The Joy of Moving Out of the City To The Country

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I used to think I would never leave the city. It’s a common attitude among New Yorkers, who seem to live and die by their status as natives. Even though I grew up just outside the city and my memories were threaded with trips to the Natural History Museum and Zabar’s and the playground outside my uncle’s place near NYU, I wasn’t a real New Yorker until I moved there in my late 20s.

Even then, people told me it took ten years before you could officially consider yourself a New Yorker.

By the time I’d attained that milestone, leaving seemed unfathomable.There’s no city quite like New York, and its extremes breed a kind of clinginess among its residents. Where else am I going to get a real bagel? How will I live without having three bodegas within walking distance of my apartment? What would I do if I couldn’t order Nepalese takeout at 2am?

New Yorkers like to tell themselves that other place could measure up. Other hometowns seem too slow, too calm, too complacent when compared with the city’s relentless pace and capacity for novelty.

And maybe I wouldn’t have left if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, and specifically the timing of the pandemic, when I was five months pregnant and already displaced by the renovation of our apartment, awash in change and facing an unknowable reality. In that storm of change, it felt strangely natural to be out of our regular surroundings. Everything was suddenly up for discussion — why not question where we lived too?

Moving Out Of The City To The Country

So our weekend place in East Hampton, NY became our full time home. (Caveat: if your knowledge of the Hamptons comes mostly from Real Housewives of New York or photos of fundraisers captured in Vogue, this might not seem much like “the country.” But rest assured, my daily existence involves very few champagne towers and trendy restaurants. Though I have occasionally spotted Jerry Seinfeld in the parking lot at the local coffee shop!)

We sold our Brooklyn loft and moved out of our tiny cottage to a house that overlooks a creek, five minutes walk from the water. We traded our memberships in coworking spaces for a membership at a local farm, where we pick vegetables and flowers in the summer. And we gave up dinners at buzzed-about restaurants and brunches at sidewalk restaurants for bike rides to the beach and poolside hangs.

I get a lot of questions about our move: Are we glad we made the change?

Is it really possible to be happy elsewhere after leaving New York City? Don’t we miss our friends? (Quick answers: Yes, heck yes, and of course, but in retrospect, our city lives were so busy we spent more time trying to schedule get-togethers with our friends than actually seeing them.)

Moving from the city to the country can feel like an almost impossible leap. It’s a huge change and a big investment, and I think many people living in the city put it off because they’re afraid they might regret it. So I thought I’d share a perspective from someone who has no regrets! Ultimately, for us, moving out of the city was a move toward joy. So in this post, I’m going to share my experience with our move and talk about the benefits I’ve felt, what I sometimes miss about living in the city, and what I don’t miss at all.

Reasons for Moving From the City to the Country

Reasons for Moving From the City to the Country

Choosing a place to live is personal, and everyone has their own reasons for wanting to live in the city vs. the country. That said, these are some of the reasons we decided to make the switch:

Proximity to nature, especially the water

We had been splitting time between the city and the country for several years, and we noticed that increasingly we felt better when we were able to be closer to nature. Tons of research bears this out, showing that having nature close to where you live improves mood, reduces risk of anxiety and depression, increases overall health and well-being, and has benefits for creativity, memory, and attention.

Being able to take breaks in the garden, breathe in fresh air, and have a nature preserve walking distance from my house has brought a great deal of peace into my daily life.

Less noise

Ever since writing Joyful, I had been worried about the effects of noise on our well-being. Several studies suggest that chronic exposure to environmental noise, such as traffic or aircraft noise, can increase stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Noise can increase our sensitivity to other stressors, and may have a cumulative wearing effect on us over time.

We lived in a particularly noisy area of New York: DUMBO. The neighborhood is flanked by its namesake Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, as well as the BQE. The proximity to the water (good, because nature!) makes the sound carry, and our apartment jangled every few minutes with the sound of the Q train rumbling over the Manhattan Bridge.

In the quiet, I sleep better, focus better, and feel calmer.

Slower pace of life

When I was in my 20s and even my 30s, this would have been entirely unappealing to me. But during the pandemic, I realized how much time I had spent rushing around. One coffee meeting in Flatiron would mean that I’d have to spend time packing up my stuff, taking the subway or an Uber, waiting in line, finding a seat. If I had two meetings, I’d have weird slices of time I’d need to while away in a café. Too short to get meaningful work done, I’d often end up just scrolling on my phone.

Living in the countryside, I have a built-in excuse for declining coffee meetings. I don’t live in a hub where people are always passing through. If people want to meet, we meet on Zoom, which requires no travel time and no rushing around. With the extra time, I can go for a walk or make myself a nice lunch. Win/win.

The Joy of Moving Out of the City To The Country

Live like we’re on vacation

One of the things we notice about people who come out in the summer is that rude behavior is on full display. I don’t just think it’s city people acting entitled. I think it’s actually scarcity mindset. People who come out here for one or two weeks a year feel like this is their one shot at a summer vacation. They need to maximize every beach day. If the farmstand is out of peaches, they’re going to be pissed because they can’t come back next week.

When we thought about it, we realized that our vacation weeks in the country were our best times. So why not live that way more often, if we could do it? Why put joy on hold most of the time, reserving it only for a few weeks a year?

One of the advantages of living in the country is that the vacation mindset is always available, if we’re open to it.

Spend our leisure time differently

When I was younger, my favorite weekend activities included wandering around the city from a yoga class to drinks with friends, finding a spot in a park to journal, and checking out new exhibits at museums. But as I’ve gotten older, where I really want to spend my time is in my garden. I want to be able to swim every day in the summer. I want to be able to run by the water and bike ride with my family to the beach. And while I wish we had more restaurant options, I’m happy to trade those long meals for the joy of picking my own greens and turning them into magic in the kitchen.

School environment

Our big decision point for determining whether to make our move permanent was Graham starting school. We realized that if we didn’t want to live in the city long term, it might be hard on Graham to switch once he’d formed a bond with his classmates and we’d become enmeshed in a community. (In fact, most families we’ve met out here who had kids in school in the city before the pandemic ended up moving back. It’s only families whose oldest kids hadn’t yet started school who considered staying.)

We visited a number of online info sessions for private schools in the city, and while there were some incredible programs (poetry in preschool!), one thing kept jumping out to me. These classrooms had few windows, and some were in basements. In Joyful, I wrote about the advantages of daylighting and nature exposure on childhood development. In particular, one study found that students in classrooms with more natural light scored as much as 25% higher on standardized tests compared to students in classrooms with less natural light.

The preschool we choose has bright, serene classrooms flooded with natural daylight. They also have a garden where the kids can grow flowers, veggies, and herbs. We’ve also been able to take advantage of parent and child “farm classes” at Amber Waves Farm, where activities include planting seeds, making collages out of plant materials, feeding the chickens, and identifying plants in the fields.

Having more space

A tried and true reason for moving to the country. While I once loved my little railroad apartment in brownstone Brooklyn, I’m now grateful for a little more space. A little more room in the kitchen meant I could finally get a stand mixer. Having my own home office means I have room to make videos and do other creative projects, and spread my writing notes out all over without taking up the whole dining table.

It’s also nice to be able to afford to have a guest room for family and friends to visit. And I won’t complain about having a pool where I can swim laps in summer evenings after putting Graham to bed.

Emotional Benefits of Moving to the Country

In addition to these more obvious benefits, there were also a whole bunch of less tangible effects of moving to the countryside. Here are a few I noticed.

Mental clarity

Without the noise and grind of the city, I feel much more clear-headed. I can process my emotions better and I feel like it’s easier to sustain a line of thought. My ideas feel sharper.

Feeling grounded

In the city, it was often hard to feel settled. There’s much activity and swirl all around. But here, with my garden out my windows and the few neighbors I see every day, I feel more rooted.

fresh flowers at home
More space for creativity in our home

As I’ve become more interested in the home, having a bigger space means more room to play with our decor and see how it influences our life.

Feeling more in tune with seasonal rhythms

I’ve gotten to know exactly which varieties of daffodils will come up in which order, which neighborhood tree will be the first to flower, and when the osprey come back each year. I feel much more tune with the landscape around me, and more connected to my surroundings.

country living
Family closeness

Without all the rushing around, and with fewer friends in our immediate area, we’ve been able to spend a lot of time together as a family. While ultimately it’s important for all of us to make new friends in our new location, the move has made us feel like a very close little unit, and that has been a joy as we’ve made this transition from two to three.

family country living

Without some of the conveniences found in urban areas, I’ve had to get better at doing certain things myself. We can’t order Thai food on a whim, so I’ve found myself learning how to make Thai and Vietnamese style dishes. I don’t want to drive 15 minutes to get a matcha, so I experimented until I figured out how to make a good one myself. Now, I strongly prefer the version I make to any I can get in town.

Advantages of living in the city

All in all, the move has been profoundly positive for me. At the same time, there are definitely advantages to living in a large city, from job opportunities to access to culture to proximity to friends. Still, I actually miss less than I thought about big city life.

I don’t often miss all the takeout options or walking down a busy street, or being able to run out and get something on a moment’s notice, or being able to see big museum exhibits — things I once thought I couldn’t live without. Here are few things I really do miss, though:


This is the biggest one. It does not feel great to walk down the street and see all white faces. Worse, to notice that your community is functionally segregated, with mostly white people patronizing certain institutions, and mostly Latinx people patronizing others. Living in this homogenous, divided community flattens our experience, leaving out a wide range of perspectives.

It’s definitely not ideal for raising a child of any race, but it’s especially problematic for us as a multiracial family. It’s frustrating for my child not to see any families who look like ours. The incidence of microaggressions (and honestly, just straight up aggressions) is much higher than when we lived in the city. Our hope is that over time we can make a more diverse friend group and help nudge the community along, but that is definitely not an overnight shift.

Abundance of services

In the city, you can choose from thousands of hair stylists and hundreds of acupuncturists. You can try a bunch and find one that fits. Out here, you have a much more limited set of options. I still go into the city to see my hair stylist and several of my doctors, though I do primary care locally.

The other thing that has been very hard is childcare. Many rural areas have a dearth of affordable housing, and that can lead to a shortage of care providers. Unlike in the city, where there are many potential candidates, it can sometimes feel challenging to find the right person to support your family.


I really miss being able to walk around the corner to get a smoothie or a little pastry for a snack. And I miss looking at my phone and realizing I walked 12,000 steps without even thinking about it. Those are advantages of living in the city that just can’t be replaced in a rural area.

Having old friends nearby

We miss out on things. Birthday parties, celebrations, weekend hangs. We’re just too far away to come in for all those events, but it does really feel like a bummer when we only get to see our friends once a year.

Only in New York moments

I miss people-watching and seeing all the wonderful, weird stuff they do. And I miss seeing big dogs and small dogs trotting alongside a dog walker. I miss running into someone you haven’t seen since lower school, and I miss the way you’d somehow run into the same random person in three different parts of town three times in a year but never see other people at all. The city is a creative font and I love that.

But it’s still there to visit, even if I don’t want to call it home.

How to decide whether to move to the country

How to decide whether to move to the country

So, if you’re thinking about a move to the country, how do you decide?

In some sense, deciding where to live is like any major life decision. One resource that can help is this post about figuring out what you want.

Think about where you are in life

One big consideration is lifestage. It’s important to note that I moved out of the city when I was 40, and that this decision wouldn’t have been right for me at a different time of life. When I was younger, the job opportunities, ability to network in-person, proximity of friends, and the broader pool of potential mates weighed more heavily. Now, with an established career where I can work remote and a child at home, I’m much happier having space to focus on the things that are important to me.

Focus on your values

What’s really important to you? Make a list of 5-7 criteria that matter in a place to live. Then rate your city and country options based on those criteria. You can download this tool, my decision-making template, which uses weighted averages to help you score the different places based on your answers. I use this tool often when making big decisions.

How do you want to spend your time?

Lastly, I would ask yourself, How do I want to spend my time?

If you dream of surfing every day, but live in the middle of the city, maybe it’s time to get closer to the beach. If you imagine writing Mary Oliver-style poetry but the only wildlife you see are pigeons, maybe you’d find more joy in a cabin in the woods.

Often we feel the urge to move when we want to get away from something: a job, a bad relationship, a set of toxic patterns in our life. But just as important is what you’re moving toward. So think hard about what kinds of activities and experiences you’d like to bring into your life.

Ultimately, no place has everything. You just need to find a place that feels like home.

Reminder: Sign ups for the 5 Secrets to Designing a Feelgood Home are now open! Check the schedule for this year’s free live workshop here.


Beyer, K. M., Kaltenbach, A., Szabo, A., Bogar, S., Nieto, F. J., & Malecki, K. M. (2014). Exposure to Neighborhood Green Space and Mental Health: Evidence from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin. International journal of environmental research and public health, 11(3), 3453–3472.

Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L., & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLoS ONE, 7(12), e51474.

Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207–1212.

Heschong Mahone Group. (1999). Daylighting in Schools: An Investigation into the Relationship Between Daylighting and Human Performance (Report No.). Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Jimenez, M. P., DeVille, N. V., Elliott, E. G., Schiff, J. E., Wilt, G. E., Hart, J. E., & James, P. (2021). Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(9), 4790.

May 18th, 2023


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    Discussion (4 Comments)

  1. Carol on May 20, 2023

    Great post! I was surprised at the “New York or Nowhere” attitude that grew during the pandemic. The greatest thing about New York City, as you say here, is the diversity of people and experiences. I know the slogan is meant to display city pride, but asserting you’d have to live in “New York or Nowhere” sounds very small-minded.

    I grew up in the country (way out in the California desert) and never want to live that far away from a city again. In the next few years, I plan to move back to my home state, to Pasadena, CA. For me, it has the best of both worlds: it’s situated at the base of the gorgeous San Gabriel mountains; streets are lined with old trees, and it’s only 15-20 minutes by train from Downtown Los Angeles.

  2. Linda on May 20, 2023

    There is one thing you did not mention which is the only factor making our decision – we do not own a car; in fact, neither of us has a driver’s licence. We made a choice long ago that living where we could walk, bike, use public transit was the only sustainable, Earth-friendly way to go. Our kids walked to school and the public library, rode to swim lessons and beaches, skated at local rinks. We took the train to visit out-of-town family. Unfortunately, no car equals no way to live in the country, unless we relied on neighbours to take us shopping and to medical appointments (and that is bit of an ask!).

  3. Christine on August 10, 2023

    What a great read. I have lived in the city of Chicago for 35 years, my husband for 39. We are moving to a small town on the western coast of Michigan, that we have been visiting since our children were 5, 3, and 1. The oldest is now 31! We’ll be on 25 acres, two minute drive from Lake Michigan. As much as we are looking forward to this change, I also struggle with leaving the city I have called home for decades. I can relate to everything you wrote about in this post! All in all, we consider it an adventure, and I know we’ll learn quite a bit about ourselves, and of course, experience more joy. I realize we can incorporate that anywhere, as you have adeptly taught all your readers, but it will certainly be an interesting and fun change. I found you sometime this year, and I enjoy your work on joy immensely. In fact, I sent your article in today’s newsletter about being gentle with yourself to all the women in my family. BTW, our daughter has lived in NYC for over two years now, I absolutely love that city. Thanks so, so much!

  4. Klay on February 7, 2024

    This post beautifully illustrates the journey of moving from the city to the countryside, highlighting the peace and contentment found in nature. While embracing the advantages of rural life, the author candidly acknowledges missing aspects of city living, like diversity and walkability. As someone considering a move from New York to Los Angeles, this reflection provides valuable insights into the decision-making process.


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