Home Making the Urban-to-Rural Transition

Making the Urban-to-Rural Transition

user profile picture joemanc Dec 26, 2010
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My transition began in the fall of 2008 during the financial crisis. I had watched the Crash Course earlier in the summer, and as the crisis unfolded, I began to take the initial steps, or Step Zero, as has been mentioned on the site before.

How I Got Here

In 2008, I was living in a condo in a city of about 50,000. I began to wonder whether living in a condo was the way to go, or to find a house and/or land. I knew the housing market was horrible and that it would get worse. Ultimately, I decided my best bet was to buy a house with land in a small town. The key was getting to that point.After several months of pondering what to do, in April of 2009, I decided to sell my condo while I still could easily and at a higher price, and to rent for a year or so while the market cooled off and properties became more affordable. Earlier this year, a very nice home became available and I jumped on it. Looking back, I've noticed property prices in my former residence have dropped from where I sold. I made the right decision.

What I Looked For

As I mentioned, I was looking for land or a house with some land in a small suburban town. My goals were:

  • to be near my family
  • to be relatively close to a train station
  • to be near good farmland and water

What I didn't want was to live by myself in the middle of the woods. Nor did I want to live in the midst of millions of people. I wanted people around me, just on a smaller scale. A MUCH smaller scale. I ended up going from a city of 50,000 to a small town of 7,000. My only tradeoff is that I now live 50 miles from work, instead of 30. I do live 5 miles from a train station that gets me directly to the doorstep of work. Living in the Northeast, it is very hard to get away from the population centers, which was a priority for me. I think, and hope, that I ended up with the best of both worlds. I'd like to think that a small community will be easier to handle a post-Peak-Oil world — I figure that the local townspeople and elected officials will be more willing to listen to and work with their own neighbors to prepare for whatever the future demands.

A couple of other things about my new town that drew me here: There is a 5 mile long paved greenway that runs through the town. It used to be a trolley line originally, before the automobile came about. It is a great way to get around town by bike, and for me, another good reason to locate here. The town is also heavily wooded. Firewood is renewable energy and a great heat source. There is also a Land Trust that tries to preserve land in town as open space.

What I Have Done, So Far

So far, a lot of painting!!! Okay, besides that…on just my 3rd day of home ownership, I met with a local permaculture designer so she could survey come up with an outline for my property. And it just so happened that her husband was a solar installer, so on that same day, he measured my house and property for solar. I'm looking to do that next spring. In the meantime, I have been getting a handle on my energy use so that I can get the right sized system. A local solar installer told me 6-12 months of utility bills is ideal. I borrowed a neat little tool from my friend called Kill-A-Watt that measures the energy use of an appliance, and discovered my 8-year-old fridge was using twice as much energy as my dad's 3-year-old fridge. So off I went to the nearest appliance store to get a new EnergyStar fridge. In early October, I installed 3 square-foot garden beds, and am planting garlic and onions this fall for harvest next spring/summer. My local utility has a program where they do an energy audit of your home for a very reasonable fee. As part of the audit, they replace any incandescent light bulbs, run an air blower test, seal or caulk any leaks from that test, and give recommendations on what else you can do to save energy. I'm also going to insulate the attic before the year is out. I replaced my torn and tattered gutters with new ones and worked with the installer to easily allow for the use of rain barrels. My plate is full, safe to say.

Before I moved, I made a list of things I needed to do to the house and a shopping list of things I needed to buy (tools, etc). I also got a list of contractors lined up and ready to go as soon as I closed. I even had a contractor visit the house before I closed! That definitely helped. I also started scanning the newspapers for tag sales. I have found some fantastic deals on things. One thing I should have added to my shopping list was Band-Aids. I have sustained many a scratch, cut, bruise, you name it. It certainly goes with the territory. A good pair of work gloves and boots are must-haves as well.

I started canning earlier this year. I did some applesauce in February, yes, February. I had a day off to experiment and I figured I would try my hand at making applesauce and found that it was a cinch to make. Practice makes perfect, as they say. I've also canned peaches (not so good the first time around) and pickles, which came out excellent. And earlier this fall, I canned applesauce again, but this time with apples picked from a local orchard. I even got my family involved this time, washing and peeling apples, etc.

I think it was Chris who mentioned it takes a minimum of two years to transition to a more sustainable/resilient lifestyle. He's right, it does. I'm learning so much that I never knew and that I would never know if I still lived in an apartment or condo. And some of it may be an experiment. For instance, I live on a hill at an elevation of 800 feet. As of mid-November, there has been one night below freezing. But I have gone a half-mile down the valley, and there have been too many frosts and freezes to count. I just may have a longer growing season than the valley below. Everything is a big learning curve for me, and it's also very time-consuming. I used up three weeks of vacation and most of my weekends to paint, help with my move, paint, clean up the yard, paint, etc. and I still have a lot left to tackle. But I'm not stressed by the commitment at all. Things will get done, and then more things will get done, and eventually I can "relax" for a bit this winter (not likely), and then crank it up in the spring again. I remember someone said this is a marathon, not a sprint. It sure is.

Lifestyle Changes

This has been both a relatively easy and difficult transition to make. I used to travel for pleasure quite a bit, watch live sporting events, ski, golf, you name it. What I was able to do was slowly cut back on each activity at a slow and steady clip, so I really never noticed not playing as much golf or skiing, etc. I found other productive things to do with my time, such as reading books on gardening and home improvement, hanging around my dad's garden, canning, or attending Green trade shows. That's not to say I have entirely stopped traveling or skiing. I've only cut back, and I still enjoy those things every so often.

When I initially began my transition, one thing I did was to get rid of stuff. It is amazing, if not startling, how much stuff we accumulate in life. But this made my two moves in the past year much easier. I had a lot less stuff to lug around. If it's something you haven't touched in say, five years, ask yourself do you really need it? Keep the stuff and tools you need and get rid of the "junk" you don't need or use on eBay, Craiglist, or Goodwill.

Some of the more difficult aspects have been the transition from a city lifestyle to a more urban/rural lifestyle. I have never, never, never been a fan of snakes. This is something I am going to have to get over. I’m happy to report, no snakes, yet! And I'm sure I will deal with some other wildlife that I have not encountered in the past living in a city. This fall, Chris Martenson invited me to his house to process chickens. I would have never done this before. I would have been too queasy to do this. But I got myself to go and I managed just fine. It was quite the experience, actually!

One other thing that has required some adjustment on my part is the lack of streetlights, and the darkness around my house and in my neighborhood at night. It was a bit startling at first. I had trouble coming home at night and finding the correct keys on my keychain to open the doors. It's an adjustment that I may not have been able to make in the past, but I have.


As I mentioned, I have a tight knit community. In late August, I happened to have the day off so that I could be around for contractors, and a neighbor saw that I was home and personally came over to invite me to her neighborhood picnic that night. It was a Thursday night, at 6PM, and there must have been 50 people there. I was impressed. Since I was the new person, I was thoroughly interrogated, but I got to meet nearly everyone in the five-street area that I now live in. From what I hear, there are neighborhoods all over town that have block parties each year. Now that's a community! 

Several times during the summer, before I moved in, I was working outside in the yard on whatever it was, and I would always seem to get "interrupted" (for a half hour to an hour sometimes) by a neighbor who wanted to introduce themselves. That was awesome! I lived in a condo/apartment for nine years and never had anything like that. My neighbor across the street owns an empty plot of land next door and told me I could dump my leaves or rocks (I have a lot of them) back there. He probably has 50 or so oak trees just in his yard, and many of those leaves end up in my yard. You better believe I am taking advantage of that! The relationships within my neighborhood are starting to build already.

One other thing related to the summer picnic. The previous owner of my home had some personal issues and apparently literally terrorized the neighborhood. The neighbors were thrilled when the house sold; hence the long introductions I mentioned before. Anyway, the previous owner installed a six-foot tall white fence around the backside of the property to the middle of the house, and another section that runs along the property line along the street. That piece was to shield himself from the next door neighbor, who had a run-in with the law, i.e, the neighbor. Now, I like the fence, as it will help to keep out some predators out of the backyard when I put in a garden/trees/etc. At the picnic, several people asked me if I was going to take the fence down because it was so out of character for the neighborhood. They were serious. I was a bit taken aback by those questions, but they were absolutely right, it is out of place. My compromise is going to be to keep the fence around the back of the property and remove the piece on the one side and try to hide the remainder of the fence with trees and shrubs.

What's Next

Once I finish up my interior house work, I plan to move on to the outside. We'll see how much winter cooperates. In the spring, I will put in solar for electricity and hot water. Improving my soil is also at the top of the list. Planting an orchard with different fruit trees. I also will begin the process of getting my immediate neighbors and ultimately my community on board with the idea of a different future. I might take up Sager's great idea and start a First Friday at my house.


If you're looking to make a similar transition as I have, now is the time. It takes a while, as my own experience shows, but it can be done. I'd like to thank Chris Martenson. I used Chris' one-on-one consulting service last year. He was a BIG help to me in my process of transitioning. I also want to thank all those on the website who have helped me on the threads or in private exchanges with my questions – you were a BIG help. This community rocks!!! It's a one-stop shopping solution for any question you may have.


This What Should I Do? blog series is intended to surface knowledge and perspective useful to preparing for a future defined by Peak Oil.  The content is written by readers and is based in their own experiences in putting into practice many of the ideas exchanged on this site.  If there are topics you'd like to see featured here, or if you have interest in contributing a post in a relevant area of your expertise, please indicate so in our What Should I Do? series feedback forum.

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