Everyday Thaumaturgy
(It's a Miracle If I Get Anything Done Around Here)
a blog by William S. Statler

Relocation after retirement, Part 1: How to decide?

Mon, 13 Jul 2009 19:00:00 PDT

My wife will retire from her chemical engineering job some time in the near future, perhaps as soon as two years from now, and we're thinking about whether we want to stay here or move. ("Here" is 5 acres of barren hillside west of Richland, Washington. That's in the very very dry corner of the state, for those of you who think Washington is entirely green and drizzly. Annual rainfall about 7 inches, all brown grass and sagebrush and tumbleweeds.)

"Here" is really a pretty satisfactory place to live, in a lot of ways. The Tri-Cities area (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco) has most of the desirable city amenities (medical care, shopping, employment, and so on) with few of the typical big-city problems (violent crime, overcrowded roads, etc.). And our homesite is pleasantly rural but only 500 feet from a paved county road. Still, there are a few things that are getting on our nerves.

First of all are the wildfires. In the 7 years we've lived in this house, we've had two major fires that came quite close to our property, plus a number of smaller ones. Yes, our house is protected by a cleared area, but it's still unnerving.

Air quality also leaves a lot to be desired. We don't have city smog, but we're in the Columbia Basin, which frequently suffers an inversion which traps stagnant air in a layer about 3000 feet thick. And when we don't have stagnant air, we often have gusty winds and a lot of blowing dust. This isn't an acute health problem for either of us, but my wife has mild asthma and we both have typical allergies, and who wants to be on medication if we could just avoid the causes?

And anyway, it would be nice to move just for a change of scenery. If we could also end up close to friends who share our eccentric libertarianish attitudes, that would be a big plus.

We do like rural (or at least low-density suburban) areas. City life is not for us; a few hundred feet between our walls and our neighbors' walls is what we need to maintain our sanity. High population density means overstressed infrastructure, easy transmission of infectious diseases, noise, pollution, expensive real estate, and no room for a garden.

So we're considering a number of possible new locations: half a dozen areas in Washington (or just over the border in Idaho or Oregon), some spots near the Kansas/Missouri state line, the Alaska panhandle, the south tip of Hawaii... the Antarctic dry valleys... Well, taking this beyond daydreaming requires establishing some criteria for making a selection:

Necessary services. Grocery stores, gas stations, and the like, definitely. We aren't into wilderness survival as a daily event. The homesite itself should have water, electricity, and Internet access. Beyond that, though, we anticipate needing medical care. We'll be 55 or older when we move. We're looking to stay at our new location for at least ten years, maybe twenty if we're lucky. So we'd really like emergency medical care within a half-hour drive (preferably closer), and an assortment of specialists within, say, an hour and a half. And a local ambulance/paramedic service. And plowed roads, if it's an area with snowy winters.

Fire protection. Some rural areas have no organized fire department. That would be unacceptable from a safety standpoint, plus it would make homeowner's insurance expensive or unavailable. It would be nice to live in a spot that is naturally resistant to wildfires. Lacking this, the homesite should have a wide firebreak, and this must be easy for a couple of old farts to maintain (e.g., no steep hillsides to mow).

Recognition of liberties (by governments and the public). We aren't happy in areas that are overwhelmingly of one religion or of one political viewpoint (unless it's a libertarian viewpoint, and there are few such areas). As long as we suffer under a somewhat-democratic government, letting a single group have majority control is very likely to lead to laws restricting liberty. And even if it doesn't, the social climate may be very uncomfortable for people not of the majority way of thinking.

We insist on the right to defend ourselves with firearms. We insist on recognition of our right to privacy. We don't want to live in a place where we'll be ostracized if it's discovered that my dad is a Jew, or that we are not Christians. We don't want a local council that tells us what color to paint our house. Although we have no personal interest in the government school system, we'll avoid a place where religion is taught as science, because that demonstrates misuse of government by a too-powerful sect.

Low crime and minimal gang activity. What I wrote about self-defense with firearms... that's not because we want to be superhero crimefighters.

Good air quality. In a rural area, the big air quality issues are things like: smoke from wildfires and agricultural burning, emissions from large industrial facilities (smelters, chemical manufacturers, etc.), blowing dust, smelly feedlots, tree and grass pollen, and so on. Being in a basin amplifies any existing problems, so we'd like to avoid this. In addition, hot summers and cold winters both result in very dry indoor air from air conditioning or heating. This is not great for health or comfort, so a mild climate would be very welcome.

Scenery and amenities. I hate to focus exclusively on what we want to get away from. Yes, we do expect that the US economy will be in a crappy state for the next decade or two, that there is a chance of civil unrest and plagues and food shortages, and that it's a good idea to try for partial self-sufficiency in a safe out-of-the-way place. But we want to have some fun, too. Moving to a beautiful location would be really nice. Access to city amenities (restaurants, art, an airport) within one or two hours' drive would also be good.

I think these are the major issues we're considering. We expect to be doing a bit of gardening, but probably nothing like a mini-farm, so most locations will have adequate soil and water for our needs. We also really like our peace and quiet, but there are a few ways to achieve this (lots of land, an underground house, a single large room built of concrete, etc.). These minor issues don't have a big effect on where we choose to live.

I haven't addressed the issue of employment at all. That's because it's such a big unknown in our planning. Ideally, my wife's pension and Social Security, on top of our savings, ought to give us enough if we're fairly frugal. But if inflation comes — as seems inevitable — we'll need extra income. There's also the question of health insurance: currently it's quite expensive to obtain except through an employer, but with healthcare reform at the top of the government's agenda, it's impossible to forecast how things will look in a few years. It's just too dismal to try to make plans and take all these worries into account. So, for the moment, we're just picking our ideal locations. Later, we'll figure out if we can survive there.

I will be posting a series of occasional articles on specific locations we're considering. First up: Klickitat County, Washington.

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