It’s part of our culture’s accepted wisdom that moving is one of life’s most stressful events — right up there with divorce and losing a job. Yet every year some 43 million of us, or 17 percent of the total U.S. population, will pack up our homes and move.
If that’s not scary enough, consider this fact from the Census Bureau: The average American will move about 12 times in his or her lifetime.
And while we’re tossing around fun moving facts — if the word “fun” can ever be applied to moving — according to Mayflower, the average interstate shipment tips the scales at 6,900 pounds, about the same, they have calculated, as 345 average-size watermelons.
Nice Stuff — Till You Have to Pack It
For reasons that are patently clear to some folks — and clear as mud to others — I recently moved my own tonnage of watermelons. After two decades in the same garden duplex in Brooklyn, NY, I pulled up stakes and relocated about a mile and half away.
I knew I’d amassed a lot of stuff over the years, and knowing that I’d move one day, I actually started the arduous process of deacquisitioning a while ago. There would be quarterly runs to the charity thrift stores, informal giveaways on the street and weekends of indoor weed-wacking. But all that didn’t amount to a hill of beans, relatively speaking.
The downside of having a decent amount of space is that over time, you tend to acquire an indecent amount of stuff. It wasn’t until about two weeks before moving day that my son and I started packing in earnest, and that’s when it hit me: I had way, way too much stuff. And then another epiphany struck: I’d be damned if I was going to waste hours of my life packing it all up and then paying someone to haul it to yet another place.
I hadn’t allotted enough time to properly dispose of everything, but I consoled myself by saying (and meaning) that having to pack and move it would be my expensive lesson and that I would dedicate the next year to doing the job right.
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Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go
I know people who have given away most of their worldly goods, seemingly unconcerned with the lost value. I’m not one of those evolved minimalists. I don’t need to get money for everything; I just can’t bear seeing perfectly good objects wind up as landfill when someone could derive benefit from them.
Case in point: I save clothes, because I either believe one day the style will come back or my body will. I have finally come to accept that neither is likely, and I can always get something newer and better. I’m also a collector of books — yes, even in the digital age. Plus, in the belief that I’d one day own a big old country house, I’ve accumulated a houseful of dishes and linens.
But in the past week, aided by my able-bodied son, I packed up the equivalent of two dozen watermelons in clothes, accessories, sheets, blankets and towels and reading material and delivered an SUV-ful to a women’s shelter. I was equal parts delighted (at their delight) and horrified (at my excess) as we unloaded the car.
8 Benefits to Moving
Over the past month, I’ve spent considerable time trying to find a silver lining attached to the onerous cloud of moving. Excluding the obvious, like rightsizing, moving to a more desirable location or making a huge profit, I came up with this list:
- It’s a forced opportunity to declutter. Even if you’re one of those minimalists, you’ve probably got more stuff than you need or want. As I experienced, the realization that you’ve got to pack it up and pay to schlep it (or store it) is a great motivator to get rid of it.
- You’ll be left with only things you love. We all have things we no longer really like but keep out of a sense of guilt (Mom gave it to me!) or just inertia. The process of deacquisitioning actually builds its own momentum; once you start, it gets easier (and quicker). One decluttering tip is to have a box, or a room, where you put the stuff you’re considering getting rid of. After not seeing it for a while, you lose your connection to it, and it’s easy to say buh-bye. What you’re left with are the things you truly care about.
- You can give meaningfully. Of course you could fill 100 contractor’s bags and haul the loot to the dump, but with enough time, you can find charities, schools, libraries and organizations that directly help the impoverished. A wonderful feeling comes from knowing you’ve given a homeless family clothes, blankets or toys in their hour of need. And who knows what seeds will be planted by the books you donate to open minds.
- You get to redecorate to your current aesthetic. It’s incredible how quickly, and subtly, our tastes change. (Just ask anyone who’s ever painted her bedroom.) Making a wholesale move gives you free rein to wipe the slate clean and restyle your new place in a way that pleases the current you.
- Your new place will be super-clean and organized. If you do it right, you’ll get to wash, dust and vacuum everything before you move it. And once you move into the new place, you can set things up in a conscious, deliberate way. No more frantic searches for winter boots or a colander when the pasta’s done.
- You’ll make unexpected discoveries. Ah, the things you’ll find in the back of closets and bottom of drawers. A friend told me that in his last move, he found his childhood autograph book, which he thought was long gone. Among his cherished rediscoveries: A signed personal note from Martin Luther King, Jr.
- You can break physical and emotional patterns. Home isn’t just where the heart is; it’s the place where we revert to our most conditioned behavior. There’s a lot of comfort in that, but also a lot of what psychologists call “stuckness.” If you want to make major changes in your outer life, nothing will shake things up like a move.
- It’s a bridge to your next avenue. Whether you’re moving across town like I did, across the country or retiring to Panama, you’re free to reinvent yourself, what you do and possibly whom you do it with. A move, and all the letting-go that comes with it, is liberating and inspiring. Provided, of course, you live to tell the tale.