The perks of rural living

Life in the country is cheaper and has fewer distractions

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    Volunteer Sarah Riddell, 12, of Staunton, holds a basket of wool at the English Farm on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, in Staunton, Va. Is life better in the countryside?
    Pat Jarrett / AP
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This past weekend, my family traveled to visit several members of our extended families. The are we traveled to was decidedly rural. Statistically, it’s a below-average income county in a below-average income state.

I know a lot of people near where we live who couldn’t imagine living in such an area. They complain about the educational level of the people there. They complain about the lack of services available. They complain about the lack of entertainment and “culture.”

Yet, every time I visit this area (or areas like it), a large part of me wishes I lived there. Such areas provide a lot of economic and social opportunity if you’re adequately prepared.

Here are some reasons why.

The cost of living is stunningly low. While we were visiting, we purchased two lovely decorated cakes from a local cake decorator. We assumed that prices would compare to those in our area, so we had our wallets out. The total bill? $15. We were so amazed that we left $5 extra as a tip. Take that, Ace of Cakes.

The prices at the grocery store were lower. The prices for buying food at local farmers’ markets was lower. The cost of buying land was lower. The cost of a 2,000 square foot house was much lower. The property taxes and insurance was much lower, too. Water bills were lower. Almost everything is less expensive than where we currently live – and we don’t live in an expensive part of the country. We live near Des Moines, where the cost of living is below average for major metropolitan areas.

The ability to focus is much higher. There are simply less distractions. It’s no owner that novelists and book writers often retreat to rural areas to write. There aren’t cars going by constantly. You don’t hear the constant beeps and noises of urban or suburban traffic. You don’t have the regular interruptions that come even with living on the edge between a town and the country. You can just buckle down and focus on what you need to accomplish.

The lack of distractions makes it easier to focus on the task at hand and focus on your goals as well.

Day-to-day life lacks urgency. So much of my day-to-day life feels urgent but, frankly, not really important. I have to get my children to a soccer practice. I have to run to the store to pick up two items. I have to answer the doorbell only to find it’s some door-to-door person looking for something unimportant.

It’s a wonderful ideal to toss those things aside, but so often, these “conveniences” of a urban or suburban busy life interfere. In a more rural area, you don’t have people ringing your doorbell or loitering in the apartment hallway. You don’t have a store a mile away, so you plan more carefully for your groceries and just use what you have. You don’t jump back and forth between activities constantly. Instead, you have the time to explore other things in your life.

What about culture? There are very few areas in the United States that aren’t a drive of a few hours away from a city of at least some magnitude. This gives access to things like museums and other cultural events on a very regular basis. I’d happily day trip from the rural part of a state to a large city once a month or so to go to museums, attend a concert, or participate in something along those lines.

We absorb ideas from things like exploring nature, reading books and articles, listening to music, and other such activities, each of which is perhaps better experienced in an environment with fewer interruptions and distractions.

What about the people? There are “good” people and “bad” people anywhere you go (defining “good” as being people you want to associate with and “bad” as people you’d rather not). I have never been in a place or explored a culture where the members of that culture or the residents of that place matched up universally (or even in significant number) to the stereotypes given to them.

What about education? Aren’t schools in such areas just terrible? Again, that’s not always true. You just have to do your research.

Most states offer online tools that allow you to evaluate school districts as compared to state averages. You’ll often find that suburban schools tend to do very well, but you’ll also find that if you’re looking at the top quarter or so of schools in a state, a lot of rural schools appear there.

Why? I think there’s one reason that really stands out. Quite often, rural school districts have a much better teacher-to-student ratio than suburban and urban school districts, which is one of the key identifiers of a successful schooling experience. Some schools in our area – good, reputable schools – jam 30 or more students into a single high school class, while comparable rural schools have 10 or 15. At the rural school I attended, for example, my high school Physics I class had six students. Physics II? 3 students.

Simply put, I yearn for a life with fewer distractions and more opportunities to dig deep into the things most important to me, and I also yearn for a life with a lower cost of living and a lower need to earn a mountain of money. A rural environment provides all of these things.

We may just be living in the country before too long.

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