Calling Northern Midwesterners for input about moving there

I’ve been in Northern California for 31 years and am thinking of moving to Duluth, Minnesota in order to get away from the drought, wildfires, earthquakes, etc. and would appreciate any thoughts you might have on the area. I’ve never lived in the Midwest. Being in my early 60s, this may be the last large move of my life.

I’ve been thinking of Minnesota in general for a year or so, but recently narrowed my thinking to Duluth for cultural and geographic reasons (small city, lots of trees, no farmlands, LGBTQ culture). I’m a nature boy and need to be around less people than I am now. I know it snows (a LOT), but I grew up with snow and went to college in northern Vermont, so I know what snow and cold weather are like. I think I can adjust.

I’m on the autism spectrum and my brain doesn’t think of things that most people would think of when thinking about things, so I’m asking other people (like yourselves) for input to help fill out whatever holes there might be in my thinking. Thanks in advance for any thoughts you can toss my way. Maybe there won’t be any. Maybe there will. Just thought I’d check.

Random thoughts so far:

  1. Lower cost of living, but higher heating costs.
  2. Will need snow tires for my car.
  3. I’m handicapped. My sanity will be largely dependent on finding a fitting caregiver who can come to my house 15 hours/week to help with basic life stuff. I have a fiduciary here who will work on getting me social services and a caregiver there.
  4. I can keep my fiduciary and therapist - I’ve already been having virtual meetings with them for 1.5 years.
  5. I’ll have to stop saying “No way!”, “Dude!”, and “Awesome!” and learn a new accent. :wink:

I lived in Wisconsin, Oregon, Sacramento and Michigan. MIchigan has a milder climate than Duluth. Lake Michigan mitigates the weather.

Grand Rapids, Lansing/East Lansing and Ann Arbor are LGBTQ-friendly cities in Michigan. Of those three, I think the Lansing area has the best cost of living ratio.

I don’t know anything about Duluth, unfortunately, that’s further north than I tend to go (I live in Central Northern Michigan).

Good Luck!


I would consider Michigan, but I’m afraid there’s not enough nature and too many people for me. Ann Arbor looks really close to Detroit, which scares me. Those three cities look like they’re in farmland and I’d like to be more in forests.

Come to think of it, with me being a shut-in who only likes to go out into nature, I guess the local culture isn’t as important as I stated. With Duluth, I’d get LGBTQ culture in the city, with forests 5 miles out of town, but perhaps I should look at Northern Michigan. I suppose the other issue to think about is the possibility of finding a caregiver who fits with my cosmic hippy, deeply spiritual, magical, improvised, non-binary way of being.

Thanks, @juulz. That was very helpful! I am scared about the weather in Duluth.

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I’m guessing that would be a problem in Northern Michigan or Northern Wisconsin. Does that sound right to you, @juulz ?

Hi ribbit,
I am from central Minnesota, it’s about a 2.5 drive NE for me to get to Duluth. It’s a big small-town.

  1. Cost of living is much lower compared to California. I lived in So. Cal. a long time ago.
  2. All season tires work great. No need to change tires for seasons. We do salt our roads, so you will not get as much use out of a vehicle before undercarriage parts rust and corrode.
  3. Lots of folks that do home health care and assisted living
  4. N/A
  5. We say all of those thing ;), but you will have to learn to say oof-da and you-betcha
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Mosquitoes the size of helicopters!!! :wink:

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Love the Duluth Trading Company.

Drought, lot of water where there is snow. But look at water management. California’s biggest problem is not building more reservoirs. Only one reservoir in progress, the Sites reservoir and its budget was cut by the governor during Covid when it has already been downsized and delayed. Even with record snow cap California doesn’t have enough water because it refuses to capture the snow melt.

I think the best answer is your own well. Water is better and you own it so you don’t have to pay the city for your water.

Fires, there may be less fire risk in Minnesota but the smoke from fires burning cities down in California, Washington and Oregon is toxic and goes everywhere. It’s not just wood smoke, it’s rubber, plastic metal, chemicals, silicon…and unfortunately as we’ve seen this year, the smoke has gone as far as the east coast and even now is going across Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and up into Canada.

A smaller house is easier to keep the air clean with purifiers and check the HVAC system to see if it is drawing air from outside the house or recirculating it from inside the house.

Earthquakes, I don’t know about Minnesota but check to see where the earthquake zones are and see what the soil is like. Almost all of the bay area in California is liquefaction soil which means when an earthquake hits the soil reacts like water. Consider a house on the flat low land as opposed to something on a sloped hillside. Check with your insurance agent to see what they know about earthquakes and the risk where you are buying.

I just moved to Idaho for many of the same reasons. I’ve lived in the bay area since 1972, I am 55 and this is the last big move of my life as well. California is too unstable a future for retirement planning. Idaho is 20% lower cost of living across the board without any one thing making it jump off the map on national surveys for great places to retire ( IE no property tax, no state tax etc).

Sales tax is 6%, state tax caps at 6%, primary homeowners tax exemption is 100k, utilities are less, water is well managed, land is well managed, the smaller governments throughout the state are accessible, friendly and helpful, it’s a true four season state (although now we have a smoke season too). Idaho runs itself well and doesn’t want to change that. For my retirement that’s a future I can plan for.

So for cost of living I suggest looking at the big picture more than worrying about one thing, and seeing how stable the future of the most standard needs look. When times get tough it’s the simple things we need the most. What are your options for heating? Gas, electric, wood burning stove? Before you buy you can ask what the utility bills are. I find houses in the north can be well built for better insulation with thicker walls so check the structure too.

Outdoors, well Idaho is about as gorgeous, breathtaking, accessible and affordable for the outdoors as anyone could ask for. I am a composer and want to spend my later years writing more music where the past 15 years in California have been too much of a rat race for me to have the musical life I’d like to have. I’ve had a cabin in the mountains for the past ten years traveling there and back from California in my motor home spring, summer, and fall. I love the stars, the forests, the mountains, the valleys, the lakes, the fishing, the hiking, the rich culture of its rustic old west history. Idaho has it all and anything more you could think of when it comes to the outdoors. It refreshes and deeply invigorates my creative spirit.

I’ve never been to Minnesota but was born in Milwaukee and know how beautiful the north can be, Duluth is on the water so I imagine there’s lots to take in and enjoy there. I love to travel in my motor home and still want to visit as many states as I can that I haven’t yet seen so Minnesota is still on my bucket list. I’ll come by Duluth some summer day to pick you up and have you show me the sights.

Caregivers, good ones are hard to find. If the winter is difficult it can make it difficult for them to get there at times. As your needs for assistance grow the caregiver’s job will become more intimate and difficult. If you can find someone now who you like, talk to them about how much more they are willing to do as your needs grow. It’s very difficult with agencies who repeatedly put a different caregiver in a home where the care is intimate but always being administered by someone new.

Private caregivers are hard to find but if you can find someone who can take care of you long term and you treat them well it will be a relationship you will both grow to appreciate relying on.

I have a lot of experience having taken care of my mother for the past seven years in her own home across the street from me, and working with good and bad caregivers and fiduciaries. California is particularly difficult in that way too. I have learned much and made it a point to make sure I set myself up where I want to be for the rest of my life so I don’t have to rely on others to do it for me later. It’s not easy and I’m still working on my move but very happy with what I am working on and looking forward to good years ahead of me.

But don’t forget about the doctor too. Private practice doctors cost a little more but spend more time with appointments, can see you more quickly, and may be able to provide more service at their office that can help keep you out of the hospital. Most doctors in California are so busy they can’t see patients within a day or two and then send them to the emergency room instead. They best way I found to look for a good doctor is call some of the independent and assisted living facilities in your area and ask them if they have referrals for private practice doctors or doctors who see residents at their facility. More rural areas tend to have clinics that can be good but may have a physicians assistant who sees you right away while seeing the doctor may take an appointment much further out.

I hope you find what you are looking for and get well settled in the way you want to be.

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Western Michigan has few farmlands… Grand Rapids area may be what you need without the severe winters of Northern WI/MN. I grew up there and it is still a great city. The cost of living is not as low as Duluth, though. There are small towns in the metro area that may be what you are looking for, though.

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What are the State and property taxes like? Also school tax. I remember a lot of land back in Texas ran me around $450 / year just with the ISD (school) tax alone.

Sales tax : here in the bay area (San Jose) sales tax is (basically) 10%.

Fuels : Gasoline is $4.80 gallon everywhere and $3.90 at Costco but I’m guessing you already know that. So what are the electric and gas costs on average for homes there?

Just a couple other thoughts on questions you might want to look into.

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Interesting thread and I’m glad I stopped by as I’m very familiar with Duluth, and the parts of Michigan mentioned. I’ve been living in Mid Michigan again for the last decade +

It sounds like you’re bringing money and benefits with you so you wont have to worry so much about income. That’s key for moving to many parts of the midwest, especially less urban and going for the more forested areas. Finding competent caregivers is going to be more challenging since you’ll have a much smaller pool to choose from.

Duluth: I used to love the city, but it’s not the place it once was. The petty crime and just overall nastiness of the people and experience there is not great. Outside the city is a largely conservative and not LGBTQ friendly population. That’s not to say you wont find good people. The weather is more brutal there, and along the north shore, than many areas along the south shores of Lake Superior.

WI: There’s a great small community about an hour from Duluth that fits everything you’re talking about, Cornucopia, WI. There’s wonderful small communities along the shore there, and a decent hospital 20 min away in Washburn. If need to be in proximity to that, Washburn and the outlying area, is also quite nice. The LGBTQ community is establish, and coexists well from what I can tell, and hear. There isn’t a lot to do in these rural communities, but if you can network well, you’ll find a lot of good people… and like anywhere asho** too.

MI: I don’t know as much about the tolerance in the area, but branching out a half hour from Marquette or Munising in the UP would provide you with very very affordable options and a good selection of providers.
Grand Rapids: I love this area and will likely move back around there if I decide to stay in MI much longer. You can find a great balance of nature, city, lakes, etc. It is generally very conservative, but I can’t say how it is otherwise these days. It’s a vibrant area and has held up well.
Lansing: not a fan…
Ann Arbor: $$$ but holy wuh it’s a great area! It gets affordable moving well outside of the city though. Lots of farms to drive by to get in there, but also plenty of places within 20min that would give you enough of a nature setting. You’ll be by PREMIER medical facilities and your options for caregivers will be spectacular.

Northern LP of MI: There’s all kinds of great communities and areas around Traverse City as well. They range from $$$$ to $$, but you can find your niche. I can’t speak to the community you’re looking for, but I know the area is political diverse, albeit not so much ethnically.

If you’d like any more info on any of these areas feel free to message me. I think I’ll get notices to replies in thread now, I’m not sure.

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parts are, but as long as you stay away from the southwest areas (Jenison, Grandville) it’s very tolerant. I grew up in GR and graduated from Kentwood and Calvin…

the east side and Lowell, especially are great… the biggest pot stores are in Lowell.

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Thank you so much, everyone!! This is wonderfully helpful. Lots of new info to sort through and integrate.

Something I forgot to mention: I’m disabled (mental/emotional) and am on disability. I’m a renter, not a buyer. Gotta keep things simple for my poor little brain.

I’m using the satellite image on google maps to see what’s forested and what’s farmland.

@Chamir - I would seriously consider Idaho, but I’m concerned about drought and wildfires there. The National Fire Situational Awareness map shows the state currently on fire. Scary. I hope you’re safe.

What I know about Duluth. I was married to an AF pilot and we were stationed in the UP which at one time was considered an ‘unaccompanied remote tour’ with no family allowed… like south korea etc. But even so, Duluth was the most dreaded of all places to be sent. Our squad leader got assigned there and there was much expressed sympathy for them. So I guess it is worse than where we were and our seasons were june july and winter.

Nevertheless, I would go there in a heartbeat to escape the Southern heat and humidity and some other problems that I will not go into.

The OP called Duluth a “small city”. Size is relative, but if Duluth is considered small Cornucopia would give new meaning to that term. Hehe. They have a population of only 100ish folks and their main street is like 1 block long. Also, there is no hospital in Washburn. Assume you meant Ashland, around 30 miles from Cornucopia. Ashland hospital is OK for somewhat minor and routine things, but many people end up having to drive to Duluth (1.5ish hours away) for more medical options, or just more timely appointments. I have been living in the northern WI area around 10 years now.

I have been living in the northern WI area around 10 years now, and am around 1.5 hours away from Duluth. I only go there like 1 or 2 times a year (some years, like last year and so far this one, I don’t go at all), usually to get my motorcycle worked on or for the airport (generally only to catch a “van shuttle” near there for a ride direct to the Minneapolis airport). I don’t know much about the city, beyond: they have a mall, an Indian restaurant and other things people would associate with a mid-size city. Also a port with some big lake freighters. The WI city of Superior is right across from Duluth, over a bridge that can be rather scary in the winter (as can the windy long hill in Duluth going up to the mall). Superior has a neat little WWII museum, named the “Richard I Bong Veterans Historical Center”.

I can’t help you with Duluth, Ribbit, as my own similar search a couple years ago went towards WA, OR, and AZ, but don’t neglect healthcare considerations beyond just your mental health care.

I chose to move to a small city (43k) in the AZ mountains. It’s beautiful, fairly cheap, and has lovely weather, but the tradeoff was the healthcare is so-so and the politics very conservative. If/when I end up needing specialized healthcare, I’ll probably either have to go 100 miles to Phoenix, or flat out move.

What I found in my own research is that nowhere is perfect. You just have to decide which compromises you’re willing to make. Weather/scenery, cost of living, pace of life, natural disasters, local politics, state and local taxes, healthcare, local food & culture, and walkability are all things to consider.

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Thanks for all the responses. Turns out I don’t have as much money as I thought, so I have to stay put until I finish my book, get it published, and rake in the dough. Hopefully any apocalypse will wait till after that. And thanks for such a complete list of things to consider, @mosselyn. I had most of those, but that helps.