“The Decision Was Bittersweet”: 12 Millennials on Their Decision to Stay in or Move Out of NYC

millennials leaving nyc

John Steinbeck once said, “Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.” And it’s true...or at least it was, until Covid-19 upended our lives and so much of what we love about this great city (museums, galleries, bars, restaurants, Broadway) is either gone completely or changed drastically. So, perhaps it’s no wonder that many New Yorkers are packing up and heading out of town. We tapped 12 of them to find out how they made their decision to stay or go—and whether or not they regret it. 

1. The 29-year-old assistant director who wants to support his city

 “I’m staying because I feel an obligation to support my city even when it’s difficult. New York is my favorite place in the world. It’s my home and I want to be there for it when it’s suffering. Why would I go anywhere else? I am happy with my decision to stay. Seeing the city come together over the past few months—from everyone social distancing to the 7 p.m. cheer for essential workers—has been amazing and reinvigorated my love for the city. Plus, with the traffic down I was able to swerve through lanes in Times Square on my bike and make it all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge at 2 p.m. without seeing another soul.” 

2. The 34-year-old human resources worker who’s thinking about her growing family

 “My husband and I (plus my growing baby bump) left the city in March when there were rumors of a NYC lockdown, and we were fortunate to have a place to escape to in New Jersey. Since relocating, we have gotten back to basics (more cooking and less delivery, casual clothes all of the time, no makeup, etc.) and are enjoying the change of pace. Things have been put into perspective—there is no more rat race, conspicuous consumption or keeping up with the Joneses. Priorities have shifted in the right direction—to family time and helping others. We have decided this is a better and healthier lifestyle for us as we raise a family and have decided to plant roots in the suburbs.”

3. The 31-year-old mom who wants to expose her kids to diversity

“I decided to stay in the city for two reasons: money and diversity. People always cite the cost of living in NYC as a reason to leave, and that makes sense. Those are people who have the means to do so though. We just don't have the savings required to make a major move or the resources to execute one. But more importantly, as soon as I moved to NYC when I was 18, I felt inspired and moved by the incredible diversity; how our city brings people from such different backgrounds together, even just in a physical sense. When I think about leaving NYC with my two small children (ages 3 and 5), I lament what they will lose—this exposure to diversity is an invaluable experience that I think will make them better humans. I’m happy with my decision to stay, although the idea of having more space (particularly outdoor space) is appealing enough that I continue to explore a potential move for the future. I also think that for the rent we pay our apartment building should be maintained a hell of a lot better!” 

4. The 29-year-old financial analyst who left for his mental health

“I decided to get out of the city and move back in with my parents when the Covid cases started to spike. This was not only for my physical health but for my mental wellbeing—instead of being quarantined in a small apartment, I now have a house with a yard in New Jersey. My girlfriend and I rented a car to avoid taking public transit and we haven’t been back since. Thankfully, my work allows me to be remote and maintain the same level of output. I’m definitely happy with the decision. My parents’ house is by the ocean, so for the summer it has mostly been business as usual with us spending lots of time at the beach and seeing friends outdoors. To be honest, unless all the features and benefits of living in a city return, there really isn’t a reason for me to be back there.”

 5. The 23-year-old executive assistant who let his dog decide

“I moved back home in March because my parents wanted me to, but I regretted it most of the time I was there. So I drove back out to New York City in July as soon as I had a ride and I’m very happy to be back. I got a dog when I was home and I think he prefers to be in the big city. I’m also just much more comfortable with my life here than I am with my parents’ at home. I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future and won’t be leaving so rashly during the next pandemic.” 

6. The 31-year-old senior editor who’s saving rent money

“Back in March, when we all thought the pandemic would require a few weeks of hunkering down inside (LOL), I planned to ride out quarantine by myself in my one-bedroom apartment. But entering month two, things felt more dire. So I rented a car, packed up my dog and enough things to last us a few weeks and fled to my parents' house outside of Boston. I immediately felt a sense of safety, because it’s easier to social distance there and I wasn’t completely alone. Before I knew it, I was home for two months and started to see the benefits of living rent-free. So I made the decision to not renew my lease at the end of July. The decision was definitely bittersweet, but New York just didn’t feel the same to me as it had back in January. So many of my friends left for the same reasons and being there just felt kind of sad. After the move was said and done, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted, so I know it was the right decision. Sure, I may feel like I've regressed back to age 18, living with my parents in my childhood home, but things could be much worse. I'd love to return to New York someday in the future but now that I’m saving so much money, it’s hard to think about throwing half my salary away on rent. But who knows. New York has a way of pulling you in, because there’s truly nothing else like it.”

7. The 33-year old director of audience development who decided to move in with her boyfriend

“I was living outside of the city pre-pandemic and had a really cushy set up in the suburbs: a backyard with a grill, parents who cooked and did laundry, tons of space...but I opted to move into the city a couple of months after lockdown. My boyfriend and I had gone three months without seeing each other because my parents are in the high-risk category. We managed to find a unit in his current building with two bedrooms so we could keep our sanity while working from home together. We also weren't sure about offices reopening, but we wanted to try and limit our commutes if we needed to go back to our offices which made living in the city a better choice. Would it have been easier and probably safer staying at my parents? Probably. It sounds silly to have technically gone back to the city for a boy, but I wanted to be with my person. When you're in the middle of all this chaos, it just made me feel safer (no offense, Mom and Dad). Also, I highly recommend buying a bike if you're in the city—it’s been a great activity for us on nice days to get out of the space.”

8. The 27-year-old associate managing editor who planned to go away for  a weekend and then stayed for months 

“Honestly, I think we unknowingly decided to move out back in March. The Covid cases in NYC were starting to rise and work had sent us home to finish up the week remotely. That weekend, my fiance and I were traveling back to my parents’ house in New Jersey to visit some wedding venues. We packed for the three-day trip, convinced we’d only stay the weekend and ended up living off of the same clothes for almost two months. As the pandemic worsened, we knew we had to make a choice. Stay in the suburbs at my parents’ house or brave the city and work side-by-side in our 400-square-foot studio apartment. The latter was a tough pill to swallow. We’d have to take conference calls in the bathroom, mask up just to step outside for fresh air and constantly be at risk whenever we used the elevator. For us, it wasn’t worth it, so we chose to stay in New Jersey. As for why we're moving back? NYC is our home! This hiatus from the city was always only supposed to be temporary, lasting to September at the most. When people ask, I always tell them ‘I'm not done with the city,’ and it's true. There’s still so much I want to do, see and explore and I'm confident that'll be possible in the future.”

9. The 33-year-old creative director who feels safest in NYC

“My wife and I are staying in NYC because we bought our place and can’t afford to pay our mortgage as well as another rent—as much as we might have wanted to pick up and leave when things were really bad. But, surprisingly, we’re actually happy with our decision. Nearly six months into the pandemic, after a couple trips back and forth to the Midwest to see family, NYC almost seems like the safest place to be. People are respectful of wearing masks, keeping distance and overall just being patient with each other.”

10. The 23-year-old assistant editor who wanted to be near family

“I left NYC back in mid-March once I learned I'd be working from home indefinitely. My parents live in the suburbs in Rhode Island and said they didn't mind driving to pick me up, so it seemed like a no-brainer to get out of New York (where numbers were already spiking) if I could do it safely. I figured I’d only stay at my parents' for a couple of weeks, but I’ve ended up staying through the summer—save for a quick trip back to get summer clothes from my apartment in June. I’m really happy with my decision. It was comforting to be with family during the beginning of the pandemic when everything was new and scary. And being in the suburbs has made it a lot easier to get fresh air and exercise without worrying about being too close to others like I would've been in the city. As of now, I'm planning to move back in mid to late September. New York seems to be doing really well in terms of case numbers, and I'm ready to have my own space again—living in your childhood bedroom for six months definitely takes a toll.”

11. The 24-year-old analytics representative who has three siblings 

“I don’t have a great space at my parents’ house to live in—I’m the oldest of four kids so when I moved out, my room was given to another sibling. That combined with the fact that my two roommates and five of my close friends all stayed in NYC made the decision easy. I'm happy I stayed—this time has allowed me to build better relationships with my friend who also decided to stay.”

12. The 29-year-old fashion director who’s enjoying a quieter pace of life

“Iresidewith two roommates (who I really love living with), but our Brooklyn apartment can start to feel a little claustrophobicwhen everyone's there all the time—something that happened so infrequently pre-Covid. When the pandemic first hit NYC, I made the decision to head out to my childhood home on Long Island because I knew there would be more room (not to mention, I already had a desk and chair out here for a comfortable WFH setup). Once the weather started warming up, I also realized just how lucky I was to be able to explore the area's mostly empty nature preserves and hiking trails, plus having the opportunity to go to the beach as often as I liked, once the summer finally arrived. To be honest, I'm so happy with my decision. I've always loved the slightly hectic vibe that comes with living in NYC—because it also means you have endless food, drink and entertainment options. Now that I'm living a much quieter, more lowkey life in the 'burbs...I'm shocked to find that I'm actually enjoying it all and hardly missing my previous life. Also, it turns out the best way to end a stressful workday is with a walk on the beach (not a cramped happy hour in a dingy bar!).”

How COVID-19 Has Changed NY Real Estate

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...