We both left big cities for small towns. Here’s how we did it (the good, the bad, and the ugly!) and
Hannah and I first met in college a little over a decade ago. We recently reconnected and collaborated on an affirmation project, An Uplift Pass. We’re spreading positivity and light on social media. Want a free download to print off or save to your wallpaper? Click here!
Besides wanting to spread goodness, we learned we have lots more in common. We’re both entrepreneurs and small business owners. We’re both mommas to young kids. We’re both married to men with Disney character names. And, we both left big cities for small Minnesota towns (Hannah’s in northeast Minnesota and Maggie’s in the southern part of the state).
So, we’re going to get really honest about what this journey has looked like (including the fact that UPS drivers can’t always get to Hannah’s house in the winter and spring…and that a WOLF has been opening the packages that are left at the end of their driveway!).
Grab your coffee, snuggle in and enjoy!
What was your jumping-moment…like when you were like yes! Let’s do this! Let’s move!
Hannah: Honestly, I don't know if there ever was one. Though we talked often talked about moving, I never felt like it was going to happen. I was excited to be really close to awesome trails, Lake Superior and not spending lots of time to get to some super fresh air. But I was hesitant to leave the community and place I loved more than I was excited to move. If there was a moment, it was probably in 2015 when we decided to buy our current house.
Maggie: When my husband was getting his administrative license, we had our next steps mapped out: He’d graduate with his admin license. We’d find a job in the Twin Cities area. We’d raise our kids in St. Louis Park. Boom!
After lots of job searching and interviews in 2017, we felt really confident that he secured a job as a dean of students at a middle school in a Twin Cities suburb. But, we were devastated when we learned the job went to a former teacher at that school.
One rainy Wednesday May night, we went to a weekly dinner at a local church. I had been dealing with panic — part postpartum, part job search emotions, part worry about money, and part fatigue from supporting Eric. (More about that journey here) Even now I can feel my heart beat rise! Ick!
I spent a few minutes praying alone in a garden outside of the church. I was crying. I was praying…Lord, why are you putting us through this? Isn’t this what we’re supposed to be doing? A still, small whisper…Why are you not trusting me?
That night, Eric and I sat down and journaled about what our life could be. We let ourselves dream a bit. We got so excited. We envisioned our family thriving in a small community. Eric loving his job. Me, writing. And we realized…we don’t want to be in the city after all. We’re chasing the wrong dream! We got out a map and looked at small towns surrounding the Twin Cities. We began to pray. Lord, lead us to where you want us to be. We trust you. It’s not our plan. (It never was!) Lord, we’re listening. Three weeks later, Eric had an interview in Wabasha.
Once you moved, did you have doubts?
Hannah: Yes, 10,000 of them! I didn't know why we had moved so far away from friends and family to the middle of the woods (we're literally miles from any permanent residents!) with a small child…without any real friends nearby. I left a lot of wonderful friends and a community (La Crosse) that I loved.
Maggie: Ummm…YES! I remember walking in a parade for my husband’s school shortly after we moved and thinking…wait. Did we really just move our family to a town of 2,500 people where we know no one?! What if this doesn’t work out?! But, I kept praying and trusting. And I trusted the sense of peace I felt.
How did you give yourself grace and patience during that transition?
Hannah: I reminded myself that all really good things in life usually take time to discover and develop. I've never moved anywhere and not struggled with the change at first, so didn't expect to feel comfortable and love everything for the first year or two. It takes time to develop community and feel comfortable (maybe more so for me than others?) and I knew going into it that it wouldn't be easy. I also spent a lot of time hiking out on the trails. When my husband was traveling, our young son and I explored lots of the North Shore gems. It brought a sense of peace and gratitude to my life...and it was an awesome way to connect with my son.
Maggie: I think a lot of my grace came in the form of letting go. Letting go of plans. Letting go that life needs to look a certain way. Letting go of expectations. And instead, LOTS of prayer. LOTS of trusting. We were able to move into the church rectory in Kellogg, a smaller town outside of Wabasha, right away. At first I wanted to find our new home immediately. But then I remembered…trust. Relax. Breathe. A few months later, we met friends who introduced us to a young family that was moving. “Do you want to come see our house?” they asked casually. We did and we loved it. We hugged and agreed to buy it a few months down the road when they were ready. It was like the more I could lean back into the process and flow and trust God, the more I saw His work and His plan.
Who was your first friend? How did you nurture that relationship?
Hannah: Our friend, Trevor. We met him at a weekly community pizza night where he was baking the wood-fired pizzas. When he knew what I meant when I said I was building a hugelkultur garden (a raised garden bed filled with rotten wood…Google it!) at our house, I knew immediately that we'd be friends... and he's become one of our best! We're very close with him and his son and we’re so grateful for the opportunity to have had his presence in our lives then and now. He's kind, caring, compassionate and lives his life in such a conscious way that I admire.
Maggie: Two of them! Kathy and Chelsea. I was introduced to Kathy through a mutual friend before we even moved to Wabasha. We both had three kids who were similar in age (she was pregnant with their fourth) and planned a play date the first week we moved in. We clicked right away. I met Chelsea about a month after moving to Wabasha. She was hosting a softball clinic for preschool-aged girls and I signed our daughter up. I knew I had to be friends with this girl. She loved being outside, loved exercising and loved the Lord. We scheduled a play date (are you sensing a theme here?? I love play dates!) We’re still great friends today. I am so grateful for both of these women.
Let’s get real...what was it like being HOURS from Target and Starbucks? ;)
Hannah: Um, really freaking hard. For much longer than it should have been. I'm embarrassed to say it took me three years to get over not being able to just get simple things when I wanted. But, now I totally scoff at the old me. It’s much better this way. The transition has helped me focus on the things I actually need, I support small local businesses more and really appreciate having options when there are some. And, in all honestly, I can take advantage of ordering things online when needed (though there are lots of unexpected challenges that have come from that - like, UPS drivers can't always get to our house in the winter and spring and A WOLF has been opening the packages that are left at the end of our driveway lately). With all of that said, I wouldn't trade it for anything (except maybe to be a bit closer to some of my friends and family...but they should just all move up here anyway). But, now when I'm in the Twin Cities or places with lots of people, I find myself longing for the north woods and the awesome community here in Cook County.
Maggie: Hard. We lived four blocks from a Costco and were within walking distance to two Caribou Coffee shops. At first, I did all my shopping in Winona where there were larger chains. But then I started going to local stores and really loved seeing people from town. Grocery shopping became a social outing! I now go to Rochester once a week (ish) and while I love that (and getting fancy coffee, strolling through Target and stocking up at Costco), I only feel my shoulders truly relax once I get back to Wabasha.
Tell me about your house like?
Hannah: We're a couple miles from any permanent residents. We live in a small, off-grid house (with running water and a flushing toilet, so we're really not that hard-core like many people around here are) near Lake Superior. We’re surrounded by countless acres of woodland, lakes and fresh air. We live in a large stand of maples and have a maple sugar operation called Hoaglund Homestead that keeps us really busy during the spring.
Maggie: Like I said, we fell into the house we’re in. It’s in a quaint and quiet neighborhood. We’re just a mile or so from school. But the best part? We are literally one block from the city pool (closed this summer). Last summer, we’d walk the kids down for a swim around 6:30 p.m. and pack jammies. We’d swim, put on PJs and return home for a quick snack and bedtime. I love those memories!
How have you changed during this process?
Hannah: Oh geez. What a good question. I can better distinguish what I and we need and what I want. I know it's super taboo and uncomfortable to talk about, but we've really learned a lot about managing our finances up here. It's expensive to live and wages are really low, so I took a huge pay cut when we moved up here. The first year or two was really hard for us financially. But, it forced us to figure out what we value and what material possessions and experiences add to our lives...it forced Sven and I to learn and really work together in a way we never had before. Even though it was incredibly hard and it wasn't pretty, I'd go through it all over again if given the option to learn what we have learned. I have also learned the value of supporting locally owned businesses in a new way, especially since owning a business of my own and again in a new way once COVID-19 hit.
I have also learned to mange my time really well. Having to travel 45 miles to get to the grocery store and daycare (there's nothing available closer for us), a lack of daycare, and simply having two small children has forced me to plan ahead and be very intentional with my time. I try to work on the most important things when I have time to work. I’ve also gone through burn out and learned how important resting is too.
More than anything, I think I've learned how to be grateful. Grateful for what I have and not focus as much on what I don't have. Life has changed drastically as my perspective has.
Maggie: I’ve become less reliant on myself and my plans and more trusting in God and His. The more I relinquish that need for control and settle in, the more peace I have.