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We moved from California to Iowa and thought it would be way cheaper. We stayed less than 2 years before returning to California's sunny weather.

Erin Snodgrass   

We moved from California to Iowa and thought it would be way cheaper. We stayed less than 2 years before returning to California's sunny weather.
  • Wendy and Kurt Meyer moved from Mission Viejo, California, to Washington, Iowa, in 2022.
  • They thought the Hawkeye State would be cheaper than it was, and they missed California's sunny weather.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Wendy and Kurt Meyer, a 65-year-old manufacturing manager and a 59-year-old toolmaker, who moved from Mission Viejo, California, to Washington, Iowa, in early 2022. They stayed about 20 months before moving back to Mission Viejo in December 2023.

Wendy: I'm a native Californian, born in Los Angeles. My parents were from Iowa and moved me to Iowa when I was in high school. That's where I met my first husband and had two children.

When I got divorced, I came back to California and met Kurt.

Kurt: I was born in Germany. In 2001, I was sent to Long Beach for business by my company. That's how I met Wendy.

Wendy: We'll have been married for 22 years this year.

We planned on retiring and spending 50% of our time here in California and the other 50% in Germany. But Kurt just loved California so much that in 2019, we sold our home in Germany. The intent was to stay here in California.

We lived in Mission Viejo in Orange County. Our lives were awesome. We had great jobs. My daughter and grandkids were here. We had a good friend group and a great church.

The weather was perfect. I do half-marathons, and I could train year-round at the beach. On Sundays, Kurt and I would go for a walk in the water. Everything was in place for us.

Kurt: The only thing we didn't like was the traffic.

We started contemplating a move in 2021

Wendy: My daughter and her husband and two kids traveled to Iowa to visit family. When she came back, she announced they were moving there. She's a native Iowan and wanted a better lifestyle for her kids.

My son also ended up moving to Iowa. He retired from the Air Force and moved back there.

We had no intention of moving. None. We had even talked about how we would never live in Iowa.

But then we saw their moving truck pull out. I could almost weep, even now.

Within a week, I contacted a real-estate agent. In October 2021, we started preparing to move.

Kurt: I was nervous.

Wendy: I was, too. There are as many people in Orange County as there are in the entire state of Iowa! Only about three million people.

But my cup is always half full. During the pandemic, I had started missing Iowa, where I raised my kids. I missed that lifestyle, with the farmers market, the four seasons, the simplicity of everything.

So, we bought a home in Iowa. We got a utility trailer and hauled all of our stuff ourselves across the country.

The town we picked was very small. It's called Washington, Iowa, about half an hour south of Iowa City.

We told ourselves before we left that we would give it one year. After one year, Kurt and I would sit down and do a pros and cons list.

Our plan was to retire once we got to Iowa. That's what we told ourselves. And we tried. But we didn't really want to retire.

Kurt: It's boring.

Wendy: I think we were both so involved in the leaving process and the starting over process that we never thought about what would happen once those processes were done.

We discovered retirement was so boring that my husband went and got a job at the University of Iowa Hospital in the engineering department. It was the best job.

We got this beautiful ranch-style home on half an acre. We found a great church. I worked part time.

We loved how much space there was in Iowa.

Kurt: There was plenty of space.

Wendy: I also felt extremely patriotic there. People wear their patriotism right out in the open, and I loved that. I loved seeing the farmers in the field.

It should have been perfect, right?

Kurt: But it just wasn't our cup of tea.

We knew Iowa wasn't right for us

Wendy: I didn't feel like, "Oh my god, I love this!"

People have this perception — and we did too — that Iowa is way more affordable. It's not. There are certain things that are more affordable, like the cost of a house.

But the utilities weren't more affordable, because Iowa has such extreme shifts in the weather. I was shocked at the extreme fluctuations in the weather. The seasons roll right into each other. I don't even remember fall.

Kurt: And our property taxes were twice what they are in California.

Wendy: Gas is cheaper, but you have to drive further. We had to drive 40 minutes to get to a Costco.

In Mission Viejo, we had concerts we could go to every summer. They don't have that in Iowa. I like to speed walk and do races and there were hardly any races there.

Kurt: And we had moved half an hour's drive from where Wendy's daughter and her family lived, but we didn't see them very often.

Wendy: They're busy with their own lives.

I kept actually saying to myself, "Why can't I like this more? What is it?" And then, one day, I remember telling Kurt, "I don't want you to feel stuck here."

Kurt: I felt very uncomfortable.

Wendy: I didn't realize I felt that same way until one day, I got a text from my boss at our old jobs in California who said coming back was always an option. It made me realize we seriously had the opportunity to get our jobs back. I couldn't turn my back on how I felt in that moment.

And I swear, as fast as we said we were going to Iowa, we decided we were going home. In total, we were in Iowa for 20 months.

California just feels like home

Wendy: We came back to where we had previously lived in Mission Viejo, literally within two miles of our old place.

It's just crazy how we were able to pick right back up. I started a part-time job this week. We've been very blessed.

We miss the kids. But we Zoom with them. And they come to visit. I go there too and hang out with them.

We're young at heart. We weren't ready to retire. We're very active — way more active compared to others. We have a lot of life left in us, and we really appreciate everything California has to offer.

Kurt's favorite saying is: Every day is paradise. We never vacation because why would we?

Kurt: I see California with new eyes after this experience.

Wendy: We see ourselves staying here in California for good.

Kurt: Until the bitter end.

Correction: March 18, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misstated when Wendy and Kurt Meyer moved. They moved to Iowa in early 2022, not late 2021, and moved back to California in December 2023, not December 2022.

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