From 'Joisey' to Boise: Why I left the New York City metro area for Idaho, the fastest-growing state in the US

Charles Knowles/ShutterstockBoise, Idaho.
  • Believe it or not, Idaho‘s population grew faster than any other state in the country last year.
  • Here, author Benjamin Rippey details why he and his wife decided to move from an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, to a home in Boise, Idaho.
  • Boise is cheaper, cleaner, and less crowded than New York City. And gun culture is prevalent.

Boise, Idaho. I could scarcely have placed it on a map a year ago. Now I live here.

I’m a lifelong East Coaster. Having spent much of that in Northern Jersey, I speak quickly and in short sentences. I am mostly always in a hurry. I’m cranky and jaded and unimpressed.

How then, as a mid-career, family-planning 30-something did I find myself in Idaho?

I’m still processing that myself.

For my wife and I, living just outside of Manhattan suited us for a long time. Indeed, I can’t say I ever seriously considered anything else. Life was good. We ate well, enjoyed ourselves, made friends and contacts, developed personally and professionally. We had dinner parties and went to shows – comedy, Broadway, et al. We travelled a lot – the kind of travel that puts your life and your own place in the world into perspective.

But years of city life were taking their toll, leaving us tired and frustrated. We began staying home more often, sequestering ourselves from crowds and incidental expenses. Every thought of leaving the house caused agitation. What fresh nightmares will the traffic gods unleash? A $US12 beer? Wait, did we park in a Monday spot?

In short, too many people, with no respite in sight. Amazon’s HQ2 is coming to NYC, with all the familiar side effects – more people, more traffic, higher cost of living.

Cost of living was already a major consideration when we bought our two-bedroom Hoboken apartment in 2012. Overnight, it seemed, we couldn’t afford our own town anymore. When we committed to sell the same apartment seven years later, the new owners paid just under a million. A million dollars for 1,000 square feet and street parking.

After several years looking for affordability within a familiar tri-state top ten list (Westchester, Maplewood, Red Bank, Stamford) and other locales (Maine; Rhode Island; Catskill, NY), nothing left us confident or inspired.

My wife travels for business, with her largest client in Boise, Idaho. After two years of Boise comings and goings, she finally said over dinner, “I love it there. I want you to see it.”

Boise, for all I knew, might have been a waffle house adjacent to a potato farm. I could not have been more wrong.

The traffic is nonexistent, the air is clean, and the city is uncrowded

It’s been less than a year since that dinner, and we’ve been in Boise for a few months. My first impressions? The people are nice. Fall weather is glorious. What passes for “traffic” in Idaho is … adorable. The air is clean. The streets are clean. The city is uncrowded, but active.

Outside of the city, the only real noise is the sound of construction – growing pains from a housing market booming with buyers like us: tired of the expense, the pretense, and the headaches of big city life. Bloomberg recently reported that 29% of those perusing Boise real-estate listings on Realtor.com are Californians, where homes cost five times more than those in Idaho’s capital.


Read more:
Forget Portland and Seattle – people priced out of expensive California cities are buying homes in Idaho for ‘Monopoly money’

They call it the Treasure Valley, and it’s easy to see why. Boise is green – one of its many contradictions. A desert full of trees, supported by the wide and slow-moving Boise River. The river is enveloped by Greenbelt park, the pulse of the city’s activity. And Boise is very active – from skiing to jogging to biking to kayaking, there’s a sport for all seasons.

Boise is a shockingly satisfying place for foodies: farmers’ markets on Saturdays, olive hummus, elk steak, Idaho red wine, specialty coffee, and surprisingly great restaurants.

The business community is also surprisingly (to me, at least) robust. Boise is open for business, with a buzz of free enterprise and opportunity: new shops, new restaurants, lots of new-ness. Big tech has a presence here – Micron and HP among others – supported by a prominent startup ecosystem. With faster population growth than other any state in the country in 2017, according to the US Census Bureau, there’s an optimism here that Idaho’s ascendance is just beginning.

But I still experience culture shock every day

One thing I was unprepared for? Guns. Literally the first piece of mail that came to our new address was a gun advertisement. They are everywhere. You can bring a loaded pistol into Walmart, and no one bats an eye – that is, no one expect one frightened East Coast couple.

And then there’s the politics. “Aren’t you in Trump country?” friends inquire. The answer is yes and no. Like most cities, Boise is solidly blue: eco-friendly, progressive, understanding of people’s differences. But I’d be lying to say that there isn’t a bit of culture shock every day – some small reminder that we live in a deeply red state.

Our four-bedroom home in the foothills sits on a small plot of land on a tree-lined street and doesn’t require two six-figure salaries to support it. All in, it cost us a little over half of what we sold our apartment for, and barely one-tenth of what we might have paid for anything remotely comparable in Hoboken.

Boise is a proper city, with everything city people are accustomed to – just a bit less of it. A place largely free of suburban sprawl, surrounded by protected wilderness. A city, unlike most others, where 12 miles north you’re in the middle of nowhere.

I find myself speaking a little slower these days and being a little less cranky. Boise is still unfamiliar to me. I don’t know the street names. I don’t know our neighbours. But what is familiar is a feeling I had growing up in a small New England town: Work doesn’t consume you, commutes don’t kill you, and status doesn’t define you.

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