I’ve moved more than you have. Seriously, I’m sure of it. Every single year for the past 15 years, I have moved into a new place (usually throwing in a new city, state, or even country for good measure…I mean, if you’re going to move, make it count, right?).
It’s sort of hard even for me to believe, and I’m the one who did it. But starting at age 19, I moved into a new dorm room every year throughout four years of college in Iowa. That’s pretty normal, OK. But then came my rented room in Chicago. Then an apartment in Ann Arbor. Then my parents’ house in East Lansing. Then Apartment #1 in China. Apartment #2 in China. Apartment in Bolivia. Cabin in Petoskey. House in Petoskey. In-laws’ house in Harbor Springs. Apartment #1 in Germany. Apartment #2 in Germany. Yup, that’s 15. 15 years, 15 moves.
And you know what? It hasn’t gotten any easier. In fact, it’s gotten harder, because now I have two kids under three, which means that every task takes at least five times as long as it ordinarily would. I haven’t gotten better at organizing, packing, selling, cleaning. I’ve gotten worse. To those of you seeking advice for how to cushion the blows dealt by moving, the only advice I can offer is to avoid it in the first place.
The irony is that while I’ve moved more than most people, I also seem to hate moving more than most people, certainly more than my husband, who previously never seemed to care whether he was living out of a tent, house, suitcase, apartment, or van. I, on the other hand, find moving so emotionally jarring that it almost drives me insane every time. I blame my wrinkles on moving, which is certainly convenient.
Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about whether or not I’ve enjoyed living in the diverse places I’ve called home. I’m a richer person for it, and so on. I’m just talking about the physical act of assembling and disassembling stuff, the discomfort of transitioning between one place and another.
A New York Times editor wrote an essay in which he explained the toll that his “serial moving” habit had taken. “For someone who hates to move,” he writes, “I’ve moved a lot: six times in the past 14 years.” Many of those moves, as I read on, happened within New York City. My first reaction was, “Please. I’ll see you six moves in 14 years and raise you nine moves plus three continents.” My second reaction was, “Now, why am I not in The New York Times?“
It was a great essay, of course. The writer pondered our connection to “stuff” (granted, moving would be so much easier if we didn’t feel compelled to take it all with us, right?). “I like my stuff,” he writes. ”Not all of it is freighted with significance, yet much of it — books, snapshots, drafts of novels, short stories — gives me clues about who I was, who I am now and where I’ll go from here.”
And it’s not just the trappings of materialistic adulthood. When we sold our first item in preparation to move, my three-year-old, whom we had dutifully been prepping on the plans (“First we will move out of our apartment in Germany. Then we will fly across the ocean to Michigan. Then we will drive to Vermont.”) threw himself on the ground and screamed: “Where is my coat rack?!” His reactions have softened since then, but I think that initial distress represented some basic urge to have predictability, everything in its right place.
Not everyone has this luxury, of course. For plenty of people, moving is a part of life, not up to choice as it has been for us. Hats off to these folks, and my sympathies. It’s hard. I think there’s a reason psychiatrists count moving as a major life stressor. We humans might crave adventure and excitement, but we also crave stability.
Even my husband, the former van dweller, has now finally reached his “moving max.” He is done, he says. He knows how I feel. No more moving! he declares. This. Is. It!
I believe it is, but not everyone is so sure. As my mother-in-law pointed out, “You do have a track record.”
Point taken. Check back with me in a year!