KIM & SHANE
QUILTER/ARTIST & MUSICIAN
New York City to Kiel Wisconsin
Kim and Shane Konen were living an urbanite's dream in New York City. They lived in a rent-controlled apartment in a hip area of Brooklyn. Kim worked at Etsy’s headquarters, developing training programs and managing relationships with shop owners and Shane worked in music production, along with playing in several bands. When the couple welcomed their son Orion into the world, something had to give. Kim found herself coming home from long days at the office feeling depressed that she couldn’t spend more time with their new baby. Their apartment felt much smaller with Orion’s arrival and they started dreaming of space, homeownership, access to affordable schools and green space where Orion could play. They were priced out of New York City, and surrounding boroughs, so they began looking for places in Shane’s home state of Wisconsin. Kim, having grown up in Texas, couldn’t wrap her head around the long and frigid winters but when they stumbled across the listing of their now home, she didn’t think twice. They bought their house from the original owner who built the place himself for him and his wife in the 1950s. Kim and Shane bought it partially furnished, including an incredible 1960s style basement hangout space that doubles as Shane’s home office. Shane was able to keep his job and work remotely, allowing Kim to stay at home with Orion and work on pursuing and perfecting her passion for quilt-making. Now, instead of helping other makers navigate Etsy, she runs her own small business selling handmade up-cycled and custom quilts and children’s accessories. While the initial move was stressful and they were worried if they would be able to adapt to their new environment, they have found that their small, tight-knit community immediately welcomed them. With less than a year under their belts, they couldn’t imagine going back to living in the chaos of New York anymore. Each morning, with coffees in-hand, Kim and Shane take a walk around the block with Orion, waving to their new friends and neighbors. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
Kim: In the city, everything seemed just right; friendly family to share a nanny, a wonderful caregiver, two great jobs, healthy baby boy and going on our 11th year together in Williamsburg (so we had awesome rent). But I was becoming increasingly unhappy missing out on so many hours in the day from my baby. Also, the desire to follow through on my creative ideas was overwhelming. At some point in my early 30’s I came to terms with being an artist, something I’d resisted for lack of confidence. My job at Etsy was to help other artists build their creative businesses, but I was ready to step out and build my own. Before we officially decided to leave the city, I let fear and anxiety take over and kind of lost myself. I lost my funny and messy: my happy and spontaneous; my creativity and wander. I chalked it up to 'being an adult in the working world.' But frankly, I didn't like who I was becoming. I’d fall back on cliches like “your problems will follow you wherever you go.” And you know what? Our problems did follow us. But the difference now is that we have time to deal with them. We have space to be messy, creative and wander. Here, we can face our problems and work on solutions together in person, rather than email or instant message. It feels like we have more control over the life we’re making together. My mom always told me to look inward and trust my intuition from the time I was a small kid. So I got really quiet and still and asked myself if it was time to leave. And it was. I am ready for the stability a small town offers.
Shane: I think I always planned on moving out of the city someday. I think I’ve always planned on moving back to this area maybe, deep down inside, whenever I was ready. As a teen and in my early 20’s here in Wisconsin, I wanted more of everything; NYC gave that to me in abundance. So, after crossing the 15 year mark in NYC, the birth of our son, missing family, and a general feeling of NYC burnout, I had the beacon signal that this was the time. When my day job allowed me to go remote, that sealed the deal.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Kim: Letting go of the city. I love that damn city; every brick and bridge. I loved the chaos, the closeness and the convenience of everything. I moved to Brooklyn on my own at 23, three days before the blackout of 2003 and stayed for 11 years. I’m proud of that. After a few bartending jobs and several creative endeavors, I landed a job at Etsy in 2010. While pregnant, I was really into the idea of being a full-time working mom in Brooklyn but after giving birth and a 3-month maternity leave, my reality was far from the “she’s got it all, she can do it all” misconception I’d tricked myself into believing. It was more like crying in bathroom stalls at work when I’d get a picture of my son from the nanny and constantly worrying about the rising rents or whether our landlord would decide to sell the building. Quitting Etsy was difficult, because I believe in the company’s mission, but it was time to go. As the company grew, so did challenging working relationships.
Now that we’re here, the challenge of cooking healthy meals and growing our own food have been the most awesome problems, yet.
Shane: Logistically, moving is kind of a nightmare, especially when you have 15 years of roots in Brooklyn, including an apartment and separate music studio...and a 10-month old child. I’ll spare the details because we all have to move when we’re ready, but in hindsight it would have been so much easier to move before our son was born. For anyone who has tried to pack around a crawling child, or to pack and tape boxes in a tiny apartment while your baby sleeps - you’ll understand how difficult it is to meet your looming deadlines this way.
Getting my family and employment situation worked out was relatively easy. It was a little harder to break the news to the two bands I was playing with in New York. There’s a brotherhood that forms between band members, I think especially when the bands are at a grassroots-grind-it-out-in the clubs level. If I could take the bands with me I think I would have, but of course that wasn’t possible. Band break-ups are tough and sometimes messy; fortunately everyone was super cool and understanding about me leaving.
The immediate post-move challenges snuck up on me. I’m working at my makeshift desk in the basement, during this first collective Wisconsin winter. Alone. In the basement. Days go by without leaving the house. All work and no play make jack a very dull boy. But seriously, I came to realize the importance of fresh air, interpersonal contact, and putting on real clothes everyday.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
Kim: People remember you! And they stop to say hello and talk about the Packers, the Brewers or the weather. I know this was a generally accepted behavior but I got used to peacefully ignoring people in the city, even the people you know. In New York, there is an unspoken understanding that when you see an acquaintance on the subway, you keep to yourself. Maybe it’s because the commitment of talking with someone, trapped in a small train car for god knows how long, is just too much on your work commute.
Everyone here knows each other. The woman at the post office is a friend of my in-laws. It’s a warm feeling when we meet someone who says “Ohhh yah! We heard you moved here from New York! How do you like it?” At the local hardware store, we hear stories about the man who used to own our house from the shop owner. He says, “Ohhh that Merlin was so fussy about his house.” Which is pretty obvious, he built a damn fine house.
Shane: Living in the country is not new to me, I grew up on a 90+ acre farm from age 1-11. From age 11-18, I lived in the next small town over from here. Much of it is as I remember; small towns tend to change a bit slower than the big ones, I think. That said, so far the biggest surprise is how my preconception of this area is not entirely accurate. The people I’ve kept up with have been living full lives and are great to be around. The new acquaintances we’ve met have been way more progressive and active than I remember. Maybe it’s the internet or whatever, but everyone is a lot more informed than I remember, which is great.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Kim: How hard it is to slow down. Have you ever tried to mindfully walk slowly in New York City during a morning commute? It’s really fucking hard - or stupid, I don’t know probably both. It’s so easy to get caught up in the pace without realizing it. I used to get up very early to exercise or be the first to reply to emails from my manager and thought I would be happier doing these things. I needed to change my lifestyle completely. Slowing down is a life changing turn and the first step was moving out of New York. Out here, we’re busy but it’s a different kind of busy. We’re busy making a home, making suppers and lunches, making friends, working on our creative projects and visiting with our family. It’s comforting to know that when I finally learn how to slow down, this small town pace will be waiting for me.
It felt good to be a part of a collective understanding that everyone you pass on the street loves that city. I miss being an anonymous being in a big old sea of humans.
Shane: A few things I’m adjusting to include - lack of food choices and 24-hour-convenience. And as a musician and recording enthusiast, well, New York has it all, and our town has very little in the way of live music and a music/recording community. You have to do a bit more travel to plug-in to something bigger. It takes a little more work to find it I guess. I knew this going into it, it’s just that knowing it beforehand and living it are two different levels.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Kim: I can’t imagine I would, at this point in my life. I recently overheard a high school senior talk about his summer trip to New York City. He had that spark in his eye and strength in his voice when he said “We made no plans for a 4-day trip and I loved it. I took the subway to the Bronx.” I was flooded with the memories of the anticipation I had when I showed up at my first sublet on Metropolitan Avenue. The city was full of that magic that gave me confidence to explore, observe, engage and feel alive. While that magic has dissipated for me, I was so very pleased to hear that spark in his voice. It felt like a bit of closure. I mean, where would I be without New York City? It may not be my hometown, but it’s where I grew into an adult.
These days, I'm a little messier and a whole lot happier. These may be a symptoms of having a toddler, but I feel so much better! Out here, in a small town surrounded by family farms and under a big sky, I am able to make beautiful things and make mistakes - two things I didn’t have much time for in New York.
Shane: I don’t think so. I mean, at least not for a long time. In my mind, leaving NYC was really more than a decision to change the scenery, it was a decision to get closer to family, and to nature. I don’t think we were feeling that in the city. If a move to an urban area were to happen, the reasons would have to be very compelling. I think our family is meant to be centered somewhere like this; close to relatives and open air and more peace than chaos.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Kim: Being at home with our son every day. I’m grateful that I got to make the choice to be at home with him and doing it in a small town is really cozy. Every morning we can walk outside in our pajamas and follow him around the block leaving the house unlocked with the garage door open. In a small town like this, neighbors look out for each others' homes and kids. We can all have lunch and dinner together. We can drop off our son at his grandparent’s house down the street and go have dinner at a family-owned Wisconsin supper club with locally sourced farm fresh food and signature cocktails. It’s more Brooklyn than Brooklyn, sometimes!
I also have time to learn new things. I’ve been teaching myself how to quilt and challenged myself to make a quilt each month this year. I’m documenting the process on my Tumblr page and posting progress photos on Instagram. I’m learning to cook, taking yoga at the local church and I’ve signed up for classes on square foot gardening and backyard composting. It’s not that I couldn’t have done these things in the city, but I don’t think I would have had enough time or enough money.
Shane: Friendly, helpful people and the ease in which daily tasks can be executed. I don’t really care for shopping or post offices or many of the day to day tasks we all have to do. Where we are now, these things are easy and sometimes downright pleasant. I’d like to think that it opens up more time in the day to do other things, but really it doesn’t. It does keep one’s aggravation level at a comfortable low so that your daily outlook isn’t shot to hell from the morning commute or whatever debacle you endured at the grocery store. And that in essence creates more time, more useful time anyway - more time spent at peace and open to the call of whatever you feel like doing - or our son’s call.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Kim: It’s not an easy decision to make, emotionally, financially or logistically. But give yourself an out. Tell yourself that you can always save money and move back to a city down the road. Life is all about experiments and your reactions to them. You can be your own mad scientist and while you can’t fully predict how incredible change can be, you do have control over your reactions, which I find pretty comforting.
Shane: Make sure you excel at doing nothing! Being able to truly relax and enjoy the simple things, and/or create your own entertainment is important. Conversely, make sure you’re good at doing a little of everything. An interest in self sufficiency and minute details is definitely a plus if you’re going to go rural. A realistic plan B and financial outlook are also important, I think. In the city folks swing from job to job pretty easily; in the country there are just way fewer jobs to choose from. A backup plan or pickup gig can be harder to come by.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Kim: Walk around a lot. Ask friends to meet me at our old haunts. Then I’m getting Thai food, iced coffee from the Cafe Capri, and pasta from Il Passatore. Then a beer at Harefield Road. I think that’s seven.
Shane: If we’re talking NYC/Brooklyn, then probably Thai food, loud rock shows, and imbibing with friends without having to worry about operating a motor vehicle.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Kim: All I needed was time. I love making beautiful things that take a long time to create, so quilting is perfect for me. I like to get lost in my thoughts. I usually have a sketchbook nearby to keep notes on my ideas. I am attracted to the traditional craft of quilting. My neighbor told me about the local quilting guild she is a part of that meets at the library once a month. Hopefully I’ll work up the courage to go meet these women who have years and years of experience. There is also the Wisconsin Quilt and Fiber Art Museum nearby.
I’m pretty happy looking at the river that flows through town that also doubles as an ice skating rink in the winter. If you drive five minutes in any direction, you’re in the country surrounded by big family farms. Some are still functioning, others are hanging on by a thread, either way they are spectacular to look at and help my creative flow.
Shane: My environment and people I’m surrounded by, which was completely in flux. I’ve spent 20 years mostly being a bass player in other people's bands. It was a great time - but I’ve never had the time or energy to really do much of my own thing when it comes to music. I’m really looking forward to this new vacuum, to see what I’ll do to fill it. Maybe it won’t be music at all...I’d love to do some woodworking, home improvement projects, photography..it’s really too early to tell what’s happening right now. The important thing was to get away from the constant din of the city and all of the obligatory engagements like band practices and bar gigs. I think maybe I’ll do a little better with the limiting parameters of the small town/country than with the wide-open chaos of everything that is the city.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away from the city?
Kim: Yes! For the nearly five years I worked at Etsy, every position I held was an opportunity to help sellers discover and follow their goals. I was writing education and providing coaching for sellers. More and more I thought about how badly I wanted to take my own advice and be an Etsy seller and community member. Out here, it’s not my job to help, it’s simply a desire to help and for some reason that makes it much more rewarding. I’ve teamed up with local sellers to give shop critiques and I’m currently helping to plan a summer selling event in Sheboygan. I think I needed to create a balance between helping myself and helping others. In New York, I couldn’t figure out how to help myself, or it was too expensive.
Shane: Yes, I feel a little more responsible and responsive to my family. I feel like I can finally truly relax. There’s something really great about buying your own house and slowly making it your own - without the nagging fear of having to leave it abruptly because of a rent hike or something beyond your control. After so many years in the city, it feels great to put down some serious roots here.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
Kim: The sun rises in the front of our house, so we catch the sunrise, make coffee and eat breakfast together. We like to walk over to the river and sing songs while Orion points at every leaf, bird and shadow. There is an old abandoned mill over there that we walk around. We watch the water flow over the dam. It’s a refreshingly simple act that helps us connect with each other. During his naps, I work on quilts or simple bandana bibs for my Etsy shop. I’ve become very obsessed with the art of quilting and spend much of my time either reading about it or trying out new patterns.
Shane comes up and has lunch with us most days and we have dinner together every night. We both get to read Orion books and sing to him before he goes down for the night. Bedtime is fun because we can stretch it out...if we start at 6, we can read books and sing for an hour, which is awesome. It doesn’t compare to the city. It’s not even a 180, it’s just a different life; slower, quieter and more peaceful.
Shane: We wake up in the morning to the sound of our son finding his words, talking gibberish, and let that play out for a few minutes. That ritual is pretty much the only one that is the same as when we lived in the city. Now, we get to ease into breakfast or even a little playtime before breakfast if he’s into it. In the city, it was a rushed juggling act to get us all ready and out the door and to the nanny share family’s house by 9am.
After breakfast and showering/getting dressed I make the commute down 13 stairs to my basement office, where I work 8-9 hours per day with a few breaks upstairs for lunch and sometimes a few outside errands. I get to see my wife and son throughout the day, which is huge. There’s a lot of give and take - if I’m a little late to the office in the morning I can make it up at other times without issue. It’s a pretty great set-up. In the city, we dropped off our son a few blocks away in the morning, then I took the subway 20 minutes to Times Square, which really got on my nerves; that’s way too much humanity for me. After a day in the office I’d come home, we’d feed our son and put him to bed, then usually I’d rush out to a rehearsal or gig. Now I’m home a lot more, I get to be with my family a lot of the time, and that is a great thing.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Kim: Owning a home and having a big garden. It’s not that I wouldn’t have tried it in the city, but it would have been really difficult time-wise and financially.
Shane: Homeownership. Thinking about gardening. Possibly going fishing on weekdays. Stargazing. It’s all here.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Kim: I am daydreaming about camping and lake swimming this summer! Everyone tells me that “up north” is so beautiful, by Lake Superior. Shane and I decided in 2007 that someday we’d be “lake people.” Down the road, we’d love to have a little cottage near some water, but until then we’ll swim and camp at the many lakes Wisconsin has. That’s where I feel inspired, on a lake, near the trees, with my family, a fire and a few beers.
Shane: Having moved here in the winter, we’ve had a lot of indoor time. I’m looking forward to getting out more now that it’s spring and finding those inspiring places. There’s a lot of peaceful little lakes around here I used to fish when I was a kid, I’m looking forward to getting back out there.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
Kim: A common misconception is that people stick to themselves and aren’t welcoming. So far, the people I’ve met out here are the friendliest bunch of folks. Unlike anywhere else I’ve lived (the west, the south, the east and the middle of the country) Wisconsinites are both friendly and real on the whole. I like it, it suits me well.
Shane: A question we were commonly asked was, “aren’t you going to get bored?” The answer is no, not if you like where you live. In the city, at the end anyway, I often felt like I was trying to wrangle a wild animal or tap the brakes on a roller coaster. Out here I feel relaxed but also energized; I look around and there are things I want to explore and do.
Also, a misperception that I had from 20+ years ago that small towns are these slow moving, unchanging, blue collar places that can be out of touch with “what’s really going on.” I’m not saying we’re anywhere close to cutting edge here, but since moving back, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Kim: I’m going to make a whole lot of quilts, hopefully grow some basil, a few tomatoes and play with our son out in the yard as much as possible. Mostly, I’m excited about initiating new traditions for our family. In New York, we’d eat breakfast for dinner at a diner every year when the first flurry fell. Maybe out here we’ll huddle up by the front window and turn off all the lights every time there’s a night time thunderstorm or spend the fourth of July at the lake we got married at every year.
Shane: I’m looking forward to putting some work into our house and welcoming our family and friends over for beers and brats this summer. I’d like to buy a boat and get back into fishing so I can show my son the ropes when he’s old enough. Explore the state with my family, get into a groove. Find the next music project to work on. Play guitar more. “Sleep a lot, eat a lot, brush em like crazy. Run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy.”