Home for the Holidays: Why Some Return to Their Hometowns

 father and son enjoy thanksgiving dinner together

Quality of Life. Quiet cul-de-sacs. A sense of belonging. After fleeing for destinations near and far, some people choose to return to the suburbs, cities and regions where they once played duck-duck-goose and rode bikes. Around 37% of Americans have never left their hometown according to the Pew Research Center; but others just return later in life.

Kate Henderson grew up moving around as an "Army Brat," but in seventh grade, her family settled in California’s suburban Conejo Valley, where she made friends in middle school and high school drama, choir and after-school clubs. But after high school, she headed out with her husband to places like Pasadena, San Francisco and Ireland for college, life and adventure.

Once really ready to settle down – with two kids in tow – Kate decided to move home to the Conejo Valley. The schools were great, we could afford a house and my parents lived here, so we had free babysitting, she says – always of value to two working parents.

Reconnecting with classmates has been "happy side-benefit," she says, along with providing her kids with an upbringing similar to her own in the "suburban bubble."

Of course, it can be a little odd at times too, she says. When you get away from the bubble you grew up in, it feels like you’ve escaped and are flying, she says, so returning feels like a "step back in some ways, psychologically." She was careful not to fall back too quickly into familial roles or patterns.

Some choose not to move directly back into their hometown or region, but just nearby, splitting the difference of a town they grew up in with the benefits of big-city living. Ashley Sackville was born and raised in a suburban area of Ogden, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City by 30 miles. Ashley attended college in Seattle and had two children there – living in the Pacific Northwest city for 15 years.

But right before her oldest started kindergarten, Utah’s mountains and trails beckoned to Ashley. The timing was good for us, she says, as far as major life transitions go. So just two weeks before kindergarten started, they moved back to Northern Utah, and bought a house in an urban area of Salt Lake City. It took a little while for my son to adjust, but we got involved in activities and kept busy, she says.

Salt Lake City offered the bigger-city benefits of restaurants, walkable areas, and bookstores, while Ogden (and Ashley’s parents) are a short 30-minute drive away. The weather is fantastic here, with four seasons, and we love the outdoors, she says. We live a 5-minute drive from the mountains for bike riding, with seven world-class ski resorts within 50 minutes of our house. Outdoor recreation is right out our front door.

Over the years, Ashley kept in touch with high school friends, and now close enough for regular group lunch dates. There are a few challenges, she notes – Salt Lake City is less diverse than Seattle. "But the quality of life is great with the outdoors and sunshine."

Quality of life also appealed to Boise-born Rosa Urrutia, who then lived in Oregon and Washington State before moving back to Boise with her spouse and children, at age 47. I wanted to live in a place where my kids can run around in the neighborhood and ride bikes into town, she says, plus a more relaxed lifestyle.

Now, Urrutia lives in a closed-loop Boise street where 20 neighborhood kids keep her own busy, and her 9-year-old son can ride his bike to school daily.

One of the biggest surprises – how many others not from the area are also moving here, she says. But then again, she well knows the appeal: "We're surrounded by foothills with hundreds of trails for hiking and biking, and from many people, it's a quick step out the front door."

Although so many are headed home for the holidays this month – for a few days or a week – some may decide to stay on for good.