A boomer left California for West Virginia and fell in love with small-town living: 'The stress has gone out of my life'

A boomer left California for West Virginia and fell in love with small-town living: 'The stress has gone out of my life'
Jan Pfrimmer recently moved from a suburb of San Diego to Shepherdstown, West Virginia.Georgina Burrows
  • A boomer moved from a suburb of San Diego to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, which has 1,500 residents.
  • The cost of living is much lower and it's much more peaceful, though there's a lot less going on.

Jan Pfrimmer, 72, has lived all over the place. She traveled the US as a flying trapeze artist, lived in Mexico City for a year, dealt cards in Reno and Tahoe, and lived in a city just outside of San Diego for a decade where she worked as an accountant.

Pfrimmer, who has spent the majority of her life in California, was ready for another move. This time, to a small town of 1,500 residents in West Virginia called Shepherdstown.

Pfrimmer said there was little left for her in California, as her husband died 10 years ago and most of her family moved out of state. She moved to West Virginia in May to be closer to her family and to get away from the rather pricey hustle and bustle of California.

"It's cool to be able to slow down and really enjoy the stuff that money can't buy like the trees turning colors, or the leaves and bird songs," Pfrimmer said. "The stress has gone out of my life, and I think everybody in California pretty much lives with a certain amount of stress since it's fast-paced. There's no getting around it."

West Virginia is not a particularly popular destination for former Californians. Of the approximately 818,000 former Californians who moved to other states from 2021 to 2022, just 879 moved to West Virginia. On the flip side, just 42 former West Virginians moved to California.


Many Californians have been leaving for states including Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky in search of a lower cost of living, better weather, and a slower pace of life. Still, some residents in areas where many out-of-staters are moving have been priced out and thus have to look to other states.

'There's nothing left for me there'

Pfrimmer said she didn't want to stay in California anymore, but she wasn't quite sure what her next move would be.

"It was just very expensive to live there, I don't know how people do it," Pfrimmer said. "I think they have to sometimes choose between paying their electric bill and getting food."

She said for years she's contemplated leaving because of wildfires, especially as more and more home insurers are pulling out of her area of California. Her commute at her accounting job, she said, was sometimes an hour or two each way.

"Until you've had a fire come down into almost your backyard, you have no idea how scary that is," Pfrimmer said.


Overall, though, the weather and nature kept her glued to California. She lived 20 minutes away from the coast, and she said within two hours, she could drive to a desert or snow. But this alone wasn't enough to stop her from moving, especially as she came to view the people in California as not very friendly and with different approaches to life than her.

"People are just striving for more money, more of this, more of that, and it kind of gets out there into the universe, at least in California," she said. "I'm finding in West Virginia it's just everybody's been wonderful, and it's slower, and I can breathe."

Weighing the pros and cons

Pfrimmer's move from California to West Virginia was so smooth she suspected it may be "preordained." The moving team was thorough, she found a home that fit her wants, and she rather quickly acclimated to the new community.

The cost of living is much lower in Shepherdstown, from taxes to utility bills. She sold her 1,200-square-foot California home for $630,000 that she bought for $151,000. She said it later sold for nearly $900,000 a month and a half later. In West Virginia, she bought a 1,700-square-foot townhouse for $285,000, and she installed a new roof for only $5,000.

The median listing price for a home in Shepherdstown is $572,500, whereas it's $747,400 in Santee, the San Diego suburb where she previously lived, according to Realtor.com estimates.


She said car insurance, registration costs, and taxes are also considerably less. She estimates she's paying around a quarter of what she paid in California for monthly expenses.

She said she likes how Shepherdstown is a university town with younger, more liberal students. Still, there's less variety for shops and restaurants, and she said the quality of produce is worse.

Additionally, she said the healthcare she receives in West Virginia is better than in California — she said in West Virginia, medical facilities often respond within minutes to emails and have short wait times, whereas in California, facilities have many more patients.

Still, public transportation in her area is scarce, although everything she needs is located less than five miles away. She also said living in such a small town can sometimes get a little too quiet.

"If I were in my 20s, this probably wouldn't be the place for me because you'd want to have access to concerts and places to go dancing, see a movie and plays, and there isn't a lot of that happening here," Pfrimmer said.


Ultimately, for Pfrimmer, the simple parts of life in West Virginia are the most poignant.

"I find the sound of the trains going through town comforting, I don't know why," Pfrimmer said. "I find something everyday in nature out here, and that brings me a great deal of joy."

Have you recently moved to a different state? Reach out to this reporter at nsheidlower@insider.com.