I’m 54 and I’ve moved 23 times in my life. The moves are split pretty evenly between my early life and my married life, 11 and 12 respectively. I’ve lived in this house for 11 1/2 years, which is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere and we are definitely going to be moving again at some point. I am very familiar with the details of moving and the stress it can create. Half of all those moves were complete relocations – new town, new school system and in a few cases, new state. So I know a thing or two about the process – practically and emotionally.
We talk a lot about grieving the death of a person or pet here, but we don’t talk much about the other kinds of losses that can create grief for us. Moving is absolutely one of those. In my case, all of the moves were for education or employment, either for my father, my husband, or my kids. Never once have I moved because I made the decision to move. I agreed with every move in my married life and suggested a couple for our kids’ education, but none of them were directly for me. I say this not because I feel resentful – I don’t!! – but because the circumstances of the move can add to the stress. One particular move was hard to swallow…
For six years we lived in the married student housing at a university while my husband finished all his degrees. I knew that when he was done our income would be such that we could build THE house I wanted. It didn’t exactly work out that way, but the house we built was still my dream home. I spent years dreaming about what it would look like and that helped to get me through those very lean years. About a year after we moved into my dream house, my husband’s dream job was offered to him. It would mean we would have to sell the house and move to another state, not far from where he went to college. I can tell you I really really struggled with that one! It was my sister who put it all in perspective for me. She said “It’s just a house. You’re taking your family with you.” And she was right. Once I put the house AFTER my family and not before, I settled into the idea and was fully on board. So….how does one navigate a move – whether they want to move or not. This is in no way a complete and comprehensive list of all you need to know and do before moving, but a few tips on making the transition a little bit easier for you and your family.
1. MAKE LISTS. Lots and lots and lots of lists. One for children. One for pets. One for the paperwork/records you will need to have access to easily (make a special file folder for this stuff). One for you and your partner. One for needed moving supplies. One for who to contact (post office, newspaper, cable company, telephone, magazines, etc.). Do this last one for both ends of the trip. Start doing this as soon as you know you will be moving. You will think of more and more things as time goes on. Trust me on this. If it’s written down you won’t have to worry about forgetting to do something. And you’ll be able to sleep at night!
2. FAMILY MEETING. Put your whole family in one room and discuss the move. Even if it’s just you and a partner. Make sure everyone is aware of the time frame, the details of the move as you know them. Determine who will do what and when. Have several of these meetings over time to check in and see how everyone is handling things — including yourself. If you need more help – or less help – let everyone know. If you are doing things solo, enlist the help of one or two supportive, helpful, reliable people to assist.
3. COLLECT PACKING MATERIALS. Boxes – more than you think you’ll need. We always bought a bunch from a moving company and supplemented them with boxes from liquor stores. And I’m not above using garbage bags for soft things like linens, stuffed animals, even clothing. Packing tape – the good kind. Don’t skimp on this stuff. Good tape = gold. Sharpies. Some people use different colored sharpies to distinguish rooms. Kitchen gets green, living room gets blue, master bedroom gets red. Or they’re all the same color and you write the room on the box (which is what I always did). Scissors. Packing paper or old newspapers or bubble wrap. Etc…
4. START EARLY. If you are moving in a year or less, start going through stuff now. Like right now. Like as soon as possible. We all have storage areas that could use a little clearing out. Start with the basement, utility room, garage, little used closets, etc. You’ll think it’s no big deal to pack up a house or apartment, but trust me, it always takes longer than you think it will. Besides one benefit of starting early is that fantastic yard sale you can have to make some money!
5. RECOGNIZE THE GRIEF. You will likely grieve on some level due to the memories created while you lived where you live. It could be the people or the place or the town. You will have days where this feels really wrong and your emotions are a mess and you will have days of good energy and excitement for what lies ahead. Let the emotions flow. Seek support. Be open about your conflicting emotions.
6. BE RUTHLESS. When going through your stuff, if you haven’t used it or worn it in the last year donate or sell it. Of course you’re going to keep things that are sentimental to you in some way, but everything else is fair game. Get the kids involved by going through their toys and clothes and books and donate them together. Or put them in the yard sale and give them the money. You’ll be surprised by how much stuff you collected over the years and how much you can pare down.
7. THROW A GOING AWAY PARTY. It is absolutely exhausting to think about saying goodbyes when you’re already stressed about the move and bone-tired from packing and cleaning. About three months prior to your move, throw yourself a going away party. This gives you an opportunity to gather everyone in one place for a big goodbye. Of course, you’ll likely see these folks before you move, but you’ve had the grand exit and can now focus on the move. Added advantage: people will undoubtedly say that they are willing to help. Let them. Ask them for something specific. “You know, Margaret, it would be great if we could use your pick up truck to go to the dump when we clean out the garage.”
8. RESEARCH THE NEW AREA. Whether you are moving across the state or to another one, research that area as soon as possible. Doctors. Dentists. Schools. Parks. Libraries. Historic sites. All of it. If you belong to any kind of organization, contact the local one and ask for advice and/or resources. Check out Facebook for local pages. People are usually very willing to offer assistance and information. Before I moved to this house, we needed a place to stay. I contacted a church here that was the same denomination as the one I was attending in my previous area and asked if they knew of any short term apartments available. Not only did I hear back from them, but within 24 hours we had a place to stay (for free!) and furniture to tide us over for the month. A woman in the church had already moved and didn’t like leaving her home empty while it was on the market. Win-win.
9. TAKE BREAKS. It could be for an hour or a week. It’s important to make sure you are getting enough rest and equally important to make sure you are getting enough fun. Moving is stressful. We’re saying goodbye to all that is familiar to us. Our neighborhood. Our home. Schedule time off from the moving game. Have fun. Laugh. Enjoy. Try to see the humor in every situation.
One last thing: If you are grieving the loss of someone or something (death, divorce, transfer, job loss) while you are also relocating, or it is the reason for the relocation, it will be that much more challenging to navigate the already stressful process. I’ll post about that next time….
As always, if you are facing challenges that are producing feelings of grief and loss, email or call me to set up an appointment…
Copyright 2015 Lisa B. Wolfe, Translating Grief, LLC