Most people think of moving as being one of life’s most stressful events – up there with death of a spouse, divorce, loss of a job or limb. But according to one of the official stress-ranking systems (Holmes and Rahe stress scale), moving is actually Number 32 on their list, after “Revision of personal habits” and “Trouble with boss.”
It doesn’t feel that way, now that I’m in the middle of moving! It feels like Number One (and I’ve survived death of family, jobs and marriages).
Why is moving so difficult? I think it’s because it turns our lives inside out and upside down. It’s mentally exhausting. It’s actually more work mentally than physically, although the physical work is bad enough.
Traveling can turn our lives upside down too, requiring constant vigilance, but we know all we have to do is pack our bag and get on a plane or a boat and be home to normal life soon.
With moving, we are packing our bag over and over again and we never seem to get everything in and there is no normal in sight. Our normal routine has been blown out of the water. And if we work, take care of family, exercise (not to mention eat, poop and shower), we know we still have to pack that bag into the wee hours.
Make lists that never end. No sooner do we cross off one item when two more appear. Call mover. Call carpet cleaner, call junk man. Pack all silver. Oops, forgot tarnished family heirlooms and old china. Call cable company. Pack DVD player. Oops, remember to draw diagram of connections before I yank out DVD player, router and modem. Call gas company. Remember to tell them neighbor shares meter so they don’t shut off her power. Order boxes, buy boxes, borrow boxes, drive down alleys and grab boxes in dumpsters. Buy packing tape and markers. Raid the free newspaper stands.
And then the fun begins. Pack, pack, pack! I work into a rhythm. Need music. But I packed my stereo already! The physical work is not too bad. It’s the mental fatigue that sets in. It’s the decisions. Constant decisions.
Do I give away that old heirloom, or carry it with me yet again to loom in the back of a new cupboard? I have the perverse thought that I could bring a box of these family treasures to my sons. They might as well deal with them now as after I’m gone.
Do I sort through my files – business, household, taxes, medical – or just transfer the whole outdated mess to a file box? Do I give away books? I do manage to cull out a few. But what if I really do re-read all the Greek tragedies or Camus and Sartre (in French) or take up juicing again?
How about my grandmother’s cookbooks? Will I ever make Scottish mince again or have an English holiday party? Will I ever use my Spring-themed dishes, crystal glasses and shell napkin rings?
And who will ever read my 20 plus years of journals? Newspaper clips of old stories, frayed college papers and essays?
And clothes, don’t get me started. Will I ever wear those dresses again I bought for my high school reunion and my son’s wedding (and I can, I haven’t gained weight)? Will I ever totter in the red heels or strappy sandals? Now that I work at home, my usual attire is jeans and a nice top. I could probably survive just fine whittling my closet space down by three quarters. But I don’t dare give away some outfits. Just in case.
I’ve moved many times in my life (at least 12 in 40 years) so I’m far from being a hoarder. I must make from six to ten trips a year to the Good Will, regularly discarding items. I store very little and actually park my car in my garage.
So it’s amazing and appalling to me, when faced with going through it all, how much I do have. And how much work it will take to decide to let it go.
It’s tempting to give it all away and move into a studio.
And maybe that’s what I’ll do. Next time.
While packing my books, I came across this treasure from E.B.White and I’m taking him with me:
For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly goods to go out again into the world. During September, I kept hoping that some morning, as if by magic, all books, pictures, records, chairs, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach. But this did not happen. My wife and I diligently sorted and discarded things from day to day, and packed other objects for the movers, but a six-room apartment holds as much paraphernalia as an aircraft carrier. You can whittle away at it, but to empty the place completely take real ingenuity and great staying power.
“Good-Bye to Forty-Eighth Street,” 1957, Essays of E. B. White