Taking the Pain Out of Moving

If there’s one thing in life I’ve perfected, it is the art of moving. I’ve moved…a lot. I’ve moved house all totaled a little over 30 times. It started fresh out of the womb. Not long after I was born, there was a major earthquake in LA, damaging the Hollywood garden apartment building my parents inhabited. They then decided to move to Orange County. We moved 5 times before I was 11 years old and I think it’s not a stretch to conclude that all those moves indelibly imprinted me.

My teenage years were stable, boring even, in middle-class Huntington Beach. It was one pleasant valley Sunday after another and I dreamed of roaming free. So straight out of high school, I hit the road and didn’t look back. But while I wanted to travel, I also wanted to get to know different regions and towns, learn what made locals tick, so I would set down roots for 6 months to a year or more before moving on (is it any wonder I majored in cultural anthropology in college?).

Over the course of my life, I’ve moved crosstown, from state-to-state, cross country and abroad. In all my moves I have learned some things and I’d like to share the benefit of my experience with you (Note: the following tips are for people on a budget. If you’re independently wealthy, move right along. There’s nothing to see here).

1. PARE DOWN – Even though I’ve moved a lot, it was oftentimes incredibly stressful. But I can tell you in a word the one thing that will always make it more stressful and that is STUFF. I’m talking about furniture, TVs, desks, washer/dryers, books, etc. The more stuff you have to pack, the more stressful and expensive your move will be. If your move is within town, go ahead and take all your stuff. But if you’re moving out of the city/state/country now is the time to ruthlessly cull your possessions. And be brutal. Sell off your couch, your TV, even if they are newer. Because you will either have to pay to have these items shipped to you or you’ll have to ship/bring them yourself and either way, it’s not worth it. Shipping/moving vans are costly and the more miles away you move the less worth it is to bring items that can be easily replaced in your new town. Think about what is meaningful to you and hard to replace. Bring that original Picasso but sell the microwave. Now’s the time to hold a garage sale or sell stuff through Craigslist or Nextdoor. Pare down to the bare essentials for living and that which is irreplaceable (this goes for cars, too!)

2. DON’T LET THE MOVE DESTROY YOU – Obviously, the more time you have to plan and prepare for your move, the better. But if you’re pressed for time, remember to take care of yourself! It’s easy for a move to be all-consuming, to spend every waking moment fretting about the details. Unless you’re under the gun and have to move immediately – which is a whole different ball game – try to relegate working on your move to certain times of the day, for your sanity’s sake. If you’re working full time, then give moving prep an hour or two a day and then LET IT GO. By scheduling the time when you work on moving plans and prep, you free your mind and body for your present life. You can’t worry about it all day, every day. You need moments of recreation and decompression.

3. MAP EXERCISE – In the event that you have to move but are unsure as to where to go, here is one helpful way of thinking about where to move. Print up a map of the general area, then X out all the places you know for sure you don’t want to live, or can’t live in (parkland, lakes, etc.). Next, research the places that are left. Check out real estate listings, climate forecasts and Niche.com for demographics, crime info and reviews. Watch YouTube videos of the area. As a result of your research, you’ll then wind up crossing more places off the map. When you narrow it down to a handful of places, then take a trip out there. Your list will then get whittled down further once you’ve experienced them in person. When you’re down to the top 2 or 3 then you go actually stay in those places for a few days, to get a taste of what life is like there. Try to act less like a tourist and more like a resident. Go to the post office, the grocery store. Take a walk or jog around the neighborhood at the same time of day when you normally would at home. Remember that while you may love it now you may not love it at the height of summer or the depths of winter. In my experience, it takes at least a full year to get to know a community, to understand the rhythms of the seasons. But most of us don’t have that much time for moving prep. So next…

4. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS –  Repeat after me – “there’s no perfect place.” Try not to succumb to tunnel vision and idealize a place through rose-colored glasses so much so that you forget to look at the big picture. You’re not going to turn into a different person just because you move into the house of your dreams. Wherever you go, there you are. We all have our criteria –  affordability, safety, access to shops and malls, proximity to job to lessen a commute, etc. The chances you’ll find a place that ticks off every single one of your boxes is slim to none. Not to sound cynical, but really, people, there’s no perfect place. Trust me on this one. You can move into a fabulous historic villa in Tuscany and find you have a bat problem. There’s no perfect place! You might move into that charming cottage by the lake you’ve dreamt of your whole life only to have your face eaten off by mosquitos every July. There’s no perfect place! You might purchase a house near the river only to have it swell and overflow its banks next year, causing you to evacuate. There’s no perfect place! You might move into that cute Hollywood bungalow only to have your neighbor across the street install a 10 foot “Putin 2020” sign across his garage door replete with blinking red lights. There’s no perfect place!

OK, so that about does it. I really can’t stress enough how much paring down household items will relieve the stress of the move and bring down the costs. But if you absolutely can’t bring yourself to cull, then may I suggest a storage unit?



Downtown Los Angeles viewed from Torrance. Photo by A. La Canfora