Anne Helen Petersen resides just three hours north of Seattle, Washington, on a remote island with a population of 900 people. About an eight-minute ferry ride to the mainland, Lummi Island has a small bodega-like grocery store, a couple of restaurants, and an abundance of greenery. Without even a gas station, the quiet is just what Petersen likes.
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Her home is where Petersen works closely with HGTV on a new podcast titled Townsizing, all about people who downsized from large cities to smaller communities. Moving to more remote areas became trendy during the pandemic, as both renters and homeowners were fleeing condensed spaces, especially since many no longer needed to live where they worked.
"People who watch HGTV think a lot about the home and what would happen if they changed their environment," Petersen tells Hunker. "What would life be like? How would this change the way I relate to the world? If I moved to a smaller area, maybe I could afford the house I can't afford in the city."
Petersen was one of those people who "townsized," making her the perfect person to host the conversation. Plus, she has lived in many small towns in various states throughout her life, including Idaho, where she was born, Montana, Vermont, and Washington.
She began her stint in the workforce as a nanny, but really honed in her career after an education in media studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She became a professor there, teaching the same subject in which she received her degree before making the transition over to journalism. The writer gave her last final in the spring of 2014 and, the next day, hopped on a plane to New York to write for Buzzfeed News.
After convincing her boss to allow her to cover news from other locations back in 2020, Petersen moved with her partner to Montana. Interestingly enough, this is when her newsletter "Culture Study" began to take off, racking in about 20,000 subscribers at the time, leaving her with enough of a fanbase to quit her day job.
At this point, Petersen was traveling back and forth with her partner to Lummi Island, since a friend lived there with her children. The couple fell in love with the community, prompting them to pack their bags in Montana and migrate to the tiny town.
After moving many times throughout her life and chatting with others on the podcast, Petersen has learned a lot about relocation — especially when it comes to developing a community and having a new place feel like home.
"You don't move somewhere and suddenly find community," Petersen explains. "It's work and you have to keep showing up again and again. It takes time. The other thing that people realize is that in a lot of places, it might be really easy or natural to move to a place if you're a white person and a straight person. There are complications if you're not white or straight. One thing we've tried to do [on the podcast] is think of all those factors."
Townsizing has seen a lot of success so far and has elicited some important conversations. Petersen has interviewed HGTV stars Ben and Erin Napier, plus has had open conversations with other individuals about what it's like to date in a small town and what it's like to make the jump. She even conversed with a couple who moved out of New York City to garden in a small town in Tennessee.
"I hope that people see the joy and texture of living in smaller places," says Petersen. "One thing I've talked about with a lot of people on the show is that you can't think of a small town as a place that you get to move to and extract its value. It's more like, 'How can I be part of this community? How can I give to this small town?' Thinking of it as extractive can be harmful, but also difficult, too. When it's more symbiotic, it changes your relationship."
Petersen has made quite the career for herself from a remote island. In addition to Townsizing, the personality works on another podcast called Work Appropriate and has built up the subscriber base of her newsletter to over 100,000 people. The writer is also the author of four published books, including one with her partner, Charlie Warzel, called Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home.
With such a packed schedule, Petersen still makes time to play with her two dogs, garden, and ski. You can listen to Townsizing on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you consume media.