Living a small town life in a big city.

Living a small town life in a big city.

We are living through a massive population boom and time period where cities and metro-areas are seeing a surge in people moving inward toward urban centers rather than rural. The reasons are many, including opportunity, education, jobs, healthcare, quality of life, amenities, and affordability as well as changes in economic shifts around the globe.

Whatever the reason, more people are moving into metro-areas and the towns and suburbs on the outskirts are finding themselves right in the middle of the growth explosion.

It is certainly a change and many cities are finding their longtime residents saying, “we want to stay small and keep our hometown feel” even though they probably haven’t been a small town in quite some time.

Mansfield Texas

My hometown of Mansfield, TX is one of such cities. Settled around a new grist mill in the 1850’s, Mansfield has doubled in population every 10-15 years since the 1960’s. It’s located about a 20-30 minute drive from Downtown Dallas, Downtown Fort Worth, and DFW International Airport. It’s a 20 minute drive to a Dallas Cowboys or Texas Rangers game. The city sits in 3 counties at the intersection of a new major toll-road and the longest highway in the United States. Housing prices, even in the craziness of 2022 real estate, start around $200,000 and grow up over $2 million with a median price point around $450,000. Roughly 1,000 new houses are being built and sold each year with an average price of $650,000. In 2000 the population was 28,031, which isn’t a small town by any means. By 2010 the population had doubled to 56,368 and today in 2022 the population of the city is around 80,000. It’s the 3rd largest city in Tarrant County, which is one of the fastest growing counties in the Country, and surrounded by thousands of acres of developable land in other major cities like Grand Prairie, Arlington, and Midlothian, TX.

The reality is, Mansfield, TX is currently a big city that is going to be a really large city and economic powerhouse for the region in the not too distant future. But we also have a tremendous number of people that lived here in 1985-2005 when we were “small” that want to keep that feel.

So how do you keep that small town feel that everyone loves and craves while still being in the middle of a massive population boom toward being a large city?

The Small Town Life

Here’s what I’ve found to be true. We all remember our hometown most fondly from a perspective of our own past. We think about high school and how we knew everyone on campus, or at least those in our social circles. We think about the parties we attended or the community events at a park. We remember the places we hung out as a teenager with our friends after the Friday night football game. We remember helping Mr. Smith get his tractor out of the mud. We remember running up the street to the corner store where we were likely to bump into someone we knew and strike up a conversation. We knew we’d see all of our friends at church on Sunday morning and likely have a potluck for lunch after service. We played sandlot baseball from morning to dusk all Summer with our friends in the vacant field nearby. We met with our neighbors to help clean up litter from downtown. We joined together with others to paint a park bathroom or to build the volunteer fire station. We attended the elementary school play, held a PTA meeting, and fellowshipped with the other families in our kids schools afterward.

Small town life for most of us is remembered from a time period where we were active participants in that small town life. Our schedules were consistent. We did the same thing every day and every week. And we were actively around the same groups of people, often just by happenstance.

But as we’ve grown older – as our small towns have grown into cities – as a new generation has grown into adulthood – and as we’ve each added on other personal responsibilities in this more complex and hurried life we live now in 2022, WE have become less active participants of small town life and become more a consumer of our city. We’ve built entire neighborhoods and communities that allow us to isolate ourselves from each other, park in our garages, never go outside or bump into a neighbor, easily commute out of town for work, and avoid all interaction with anyone else that lives in our community if we don’t want to. The small town life has not left our cities as they have grown larger. We have personally removed ourselves from shaping our communities and as a result left it up to city professionals and a small group of public servants to try and meet our individual needs and desires.

The Disconnect

I regularly hear that phrase, “we want to stay small and keep our hometown feel.” But my personal experience is that I live in a really great place with a really great hometown feel. This disconnect really jumped out to me a few months ago at our annual Volunteer Appreciation Celebration.

Several years ago, rather than constantly issue code violation citations to residents that couldn’t afford repairs to their property, let alone a citation, Mansfield started the Mansfield Volunteer Program to help address these code issues. We partnered with community organizations to solicit help from volunteers and businesses in our community to clean up landscaping, fix broken fences, repair houses, and more. The program was a huge success and has grown to have over 55,000 hours of donated sweat equity annually. We’ve won dozens of awards as a City for this innovative program. Each year we celebrate and honor the volunteers that help make our City great.

As I was shaking hands and passing out awards it became abundantly clear that I know each of these people. They’re the ones that serve on our Boards and Commissions at the City. They’re plugged into their church groups. They serve in other community organizations. I see them weekly in a coffee shop or restaurant. Our kids play sports together. They host their own community events and meetups. It’s the same group of people that are plugged in and actively engaged in our community and we all know each other. We’re all friends. And we all love serving the people of this city together. I get to experience that same small town hometown feel with these people because we’re all active participants in small town life, even though we’re living in a 36 square mile – 80,000 population – fastest growing region in the Country.

But the other thing that jumped out at this event is that those who are most vocal about their negative views of our city – those who are most vocal about wanting to keep our city small and to keep a hometown feel – the ones that push back against every new development for growth or any city initiative for improvement – they were nowhere to be found at the event. They are consumers rather than active participants in shaping a hometown.

Getting Involved in a Small Town Life

I believe any of us can experience a small town life regardless of the size of the city where we choose to live. But it does take being intentional. This doesn’t just happen. You are going to have to make some efforts here to get involved and engage in shaping your hometown. Fortunately, these areas are easy and the opportunity is great! Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Engage in your local church: Weekly church services, especially post-pandemic, have become a place where it is easy to be a consumer of church rather than actively involved in serving others. But your church needs help! Volunteer to be a greeter, help in the parking lot, serve in the children’s ministry, chaperone a youth group trip, join a small group or Sunday school class. Your church is also a built in community for you to know and be known. Your pastor can find a way for you to get plugged in to an area of weekly or bi-weekly service and help you connect with others that live in your city.
  2. Become a regular: Go to the same coffeeshop the same day each week. Visit the same local restaurant for lunch on the same day each week. Stop in the local candy store with regular frequency. Get to know the owners. Sit down long enough, frequently enough, and the other regulars will naturally interact with you. “You wanna go where everyone knows your name.” Then go to the same place regularly and interact with those around you and you’ll soon find that to be your reality.
  3. Reach out to your local leaders: You should know your local City Council Members, School Board Members, and if possible your City Manager and Superintendent. These public servants would love nothing more than to find ways for you to engage and serve the community. Their email addresses are typically posted on the school district or City website and they are usually very accessible. These are often the most dedicated people that love your city. They know just about everyone in town and can get you connected to programs, organizations, and resources anytime you may need them. Introduce yourself by email and let them know you’d love to meet them and see if they can help you get plugged into the community.
  4. Join a local community group: You probably have a rotary club or similar in your town. These groups are full of leaders that love to give back to their community. It’s a great opportunity to know others that serve and volunteer to help others.
  5. Serve at a food pantry, clothes closet, or mission center: There are people in your community that have food instability. There are kids in your community that don’t get new clothes at back-to-school time. Someone has to help provide for those needs. Fortunately, your community probably has organizations nearby to help. They just need volunteers to make the logistics work. You can fill that need!
  6. Work where you live: I know that this isn’t always simple as we often move to metro areas because the job opportunities are abundant in the entire region. But as someone who spends 90% of their time within 2 square miles of their home putting few miles on vehicles and wasting time on a commute each day, working in the city where you live is one of the fastest ways to feel connected to your entire community.
  7. Coach your kids sports team: Few people step up in this area, but it’s a great way to create small communities of families that will be together for an extended period of time each week, possibly for years. As the coach, you can help keep that team and group together for years.
  8. Walk Places: This isn’t always easy, because we’ve built neighborhoods in favor of vehicles instead of pedestrians. But when and where possible, you should get out for a walk. Get to know your neighbors. If you can, walk to the corner store a few days a week and engage with the clerk. Walk at the park at the same time each day and you’ll likely bump into other people who are doing the same thing.

Keeping Small Town Life in a Big City

The bottom line here is that YOU can keep small town life regardless of how big the city is where you live. You can make intentional choices to build relationships in your community, serve the people around you, and shrink your own circles so that you regularly are bumping into people you know and shaping the community where you live. If you do this well, it won’t matter how big your city grows or how many people move to town. You will still be able to call it your hometown.

The Money Lesson I Learned From Spring Cleaning.

The Money Lesson I Learned From Spring Cleaning.

Getting a house ready to sell is really not a fun process. I walk my clients through what to do all the time and it’s never really impacted me to show them the places they need to paint or the closets that need decluttered. But we are now selling our current home and I took my own advice.

“If you’re moving anyway, you might as well start packing and get rid of stuff you don’t want to take to your new home.”

So in the Lewis Family, we’re not hoarders. We don’t have a ton of extra “stuff.” When we went through our financial collapse years ago we sold pretty much everything that we owned in order to pay bills. Since then, we’ve replaced furniture with bargain deals on Craigslist that I refinished. We don’t spend money on physical things very often.

So I expected this de-cluttering process to get our house ready to sell to be quick and easy.


The truth:

  • We donated 5 trashbags full of baby clothes to our church.
  • We gave my sister another 4 bags of baby clothes since she’s having her first baby in July.
  • We gave a pastor at our church 2 bags of little boy clothes as they have a 1 year old son.
  • We sold dozens of our kids toys on Facebook buy/sell/trade sites.
  • I threw away at least 30 old t-shirts and pairs of jeans.

On trash day of the week we listed our house, there were 15 bags of “trash” out on our curb, along with an old office chair, a broken dining room chair, and some other “stuff” that had just been sitting in our garage.

Oh, the garage. Yeah. This list doesn’t even mention the landscaping supplies and old toys and extra paint that were in the garage.

We truly don’t have a lot of things around our house. We’re fortunate to have everything we need and most of the things we want. Over the years we’ve learned contentment and how to say no to most frivolous things, and most of the stuff we do own is second hand or given to us.

But as I stared at this stack of 15 bags of “trash” I couldn’t help but think that at one point that stuff had value. At one point, we thought it necessary to exchange money we had worked hard to earn so that we could own something that now sits on a curb destined for the city dump.

Thousands of dollars in purchases spread out over the years was being thrown away, and for good reason. They were unusable, old, worn out, broken…. trash.

We think we need that new shirt or pair of jeans or shoes, but the reality is we have a closet full of clothes we don’t even wear. We think our kids need that new toy, but the reality is they have a toy box filled with toys they haven’t touched in years.

Here’s what I know. I remember why I spent money on a trip to Disney World, or for season passes to the zoo or museum, or for dance lessons for my daughter, or for a baseball season for my son. I remember why I spent money to take my wife out to dinner. I remember why I give money to various ministries and organizations.

And the money I’ve spent over the years on things like that… it doesn’t end up on the curb.


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Take Your Generosity To A New Level This Year.

Take Your Generosity To A New Level This Year.

It never fails that during Christmas season I freak out about who to put on my gift list and what I’m going to buy them. Some people just naturally know what to buy for their friends and family, but I’m not one of those people. I procrastinate. I think about what they’d like entirely too much. And then we get to Christmas week and I just buy a bunch of gift cards that say, “I don’t really know who you are as a person but felt like we’re close enough that I should give you some gift on Jesus birthday.”


And I do the same thing on birthdays. I do the same thing on my anniversary. I’m really terrible at gifts but I want to be really great at it. I want to give the people I know and love the perfect gift that causes tears and hugs and a flood of emotions. And I bet you do too.

So I’ve come up with a 3 step plan for to take my generosity to a new level in 2016. You should try this too and we can check in with each other on December 26.

Step 1:
Create a digital file system using your phone or some cloud notepad. I’m using the “Notes” app on my iPhone that syncs to my laptop in iCloud. I created a folder that is called “Gift Ideas.”

Step 2:
Start a list. I know right now who I’m going to buy at least one present for this year. I’ve got the usuals like my wife, my parents, my mother-in-law, my sister, my brother-in-law, and my kids. So inside of my “Gift Ideas” folder I’ve created a new Note for each person I intend on buying a gift in 2016. This list will grow throughout the year as I come across different friends and clients that I’d like to add into the giving mix.

Step 3:
Pay attention. Throughout the year your friends and family will drop hints about things that they like. They won’t even realize they gave a hint, but when they do you need to store that gem of information in your digital gift locker. A good example is a friend of mine commented last week about a certain type of potato chip that is their favorite. Guess what is on their gift list?

Step 4:
Pick a present. If you pay attention all year to the people you care about you’ll likely have 2 or 3 or 8 different items on their list. Pick the right gift for the season, give it to them and be prepared for the hug and tears to come because you just nailed it!

One thing I want the Lewis Family to be known for is how generous we are. I don’t want that to be limited to just our finances or our time, but I really want those gifts to communicate to the people that we love that we actually love them.

What do you think? Are you going to try something like this in 2016?