Yes, we do exist: Millennials choosing the platteland over city life
When this journalist first moved to the platteland several years ago, most of my friends were flummoxed. Why would I willingly choose to retire in my late twenties to some desolate, dusty knoll that no one had ever heard of?
The town only has, like, five streets and at the time only one of them appeared on Google maps. Are there restaurants? A bar? How will you live without Woolworths? Are you ready to give up the comforts of the modern world to become a subsistence farmer wearing only dungarees, permanently twirling a sprig of straw between your teeth as you gaze across your patch of pumpkins and beets?
What most of them didn’t realise was that I was then already part of a growing trend of millennials choosing the platteland over city life. Don’t get me wrong – the city, with its myriad of glimmering restaurants, sophisticated festivals and shiny people, affords a thrilling lifestyle that seems impossible to give up. But since moving to the platteland I haven’t once worn dungarees (yet), grown a pumpkin or even seen a straw.
Instead I discovered that the neon sparkle of city lights can’t compare to the scintillating wealth of stars in the Karoo sky, the glamorous allure of high-end restaurants isn’t half as entertaining as the intrigue of a small-town bar, and the hazy mess of a busy festival isn’t nearly as enriching as a gathering of close friends beside the slow meander of the Orange River. But most importantly, I found myself unexpectedly freed from the trappings of modern life which so many millennials are finding ever more stressful to contend with, and in its place an easier, cleaner, and more sustainable way of living.
The Social Network
In a platteland town the social network delivers information at a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps converted to time in skinder. And skinder is possibly the most important commodity with which you can trade around here. I can’t count the number of fine wines I have earned in gossip and swapping a salacious story for a few glasses of ruby merlot. Seems like a fair trade to me. And you know how we millennials love our fair trade.
But before you give our small-town tattle the side-eye, the innocent intrigue of the neighbour’s latest faux pas isn’t nearly as vicious as the outright hate found in the comment sections of nearly every social network on the internet today. Most surprisingly, this love of skinder is mixed with equal parts concern and regard, so that the same neighbour whose life was being briefly analysed the night before is today being helped with anything they might need, and with the type of generosity you’d be hard-pressed to find in the anonymity of the city.
The Amazing Affordability
The increasingly impossible price of living has long been a trending topic for millennials. Who can forget that millionaire who preached to us, apparently the most entitled generation ever, that we could afford to buy a house if we stopped spending all our money on avocado toast? This completely warped perspective, of the current state of the global economy, caused most of us to snort derisively into our craft beers and artisanal coffee. Truth is that the bulk of our salaries are swallowed by rent alone, never mind the impossible prospect of the mortgage price.
Not in the platteland. The look of shock I see on the faces of my friends when I tell them the price of my three-bedroom house, with two bathrooms, wooden floors, antique fireplace, stately front porch and rambling backyard, never gets old. Especially since it can be rounded off to the cost of a weekly grocery run at Woolworths, avocadoes included.
This is a somewhat visceral point, I know, but the freedom of life in the platteland is something I have never experienced anywhere else, not in the cosmopolitan culture of Cape Town, or the endless opportunity of Bangkok.
The freedom to just be. From the outside, small platteland towns might appear conservative, but scratch the polite surface layer and you’ll find a microcosm of humanity, from artists, to writers, professors, interior decorators, entrepreneurs and activists. This is a creative’s dreamscape, fertile ground for the enterprising spirit that has defined our generation. And the cost of living makes it a great place to establish that start-up, pursue that online content gig, or complete the project that will define your career for years to come.
The Platteland Affords a Rich Life that is Easily Earned
Wealth – the meaning and distribution thereof – is an important topic for our generation. Many of us entered the job market just as the global economy fell into recession, and ever since then it has been a daily grind to live in an overpriced apartment with almost zero savings. This state of things has caused many millennials to question the meaning of a quality life, seeking it in minimalism, or nostalgic re-inventions of a seemingly better era (commonly referred to as hipsters).
Life in the platteland has given this millennial journalist a life rich with meaning, nights spent with friends stargazing after a dinner of philosophical gossiping, meetings with fearless entrepreneurs full of ideas, all interspersed with antique bookstores, delightful thrift shops, and interesting local restaurants.
Add to this an affordable space, with the time to establish a career away from the corporate machine, and the freedom to rediscover the creativity that was lost in the consumer-driven chaos of the urban dream.
So, while my choice, like that of many other millennials, to choose life in the platteland, might seem strange and daunting to those who are still worried about giving up the creature comforts of city life, I can safely tell you that life in the platteland is all that and a bag of avos!
Editor: Anchen Coetzee
Written by: Naomi Roebert