This week I moved house. It was only a few blocks away which was great because I really wanted to stay in the same vicinity however, the effort didn't amortize well over the short distance. As usual, it was exhausting. Researchers have declared moving house a stressful life event and here are all the reasons I could identify…
The financial cost of moving is high. You may need to buy packing materials (though banana boxes from Woolworths work well), removalists aren’t cheap, the professional cleaners required for a friendly handover are costly and you might need to pay for storage for a time. I often buy takeaway food during a move because my cooking things are packed or I’m too tired to cook, and it's time-consuming to pack all that stuff, time you’re not earning a living. The financial outlay is tough.
The physical effort adds-up. When you move it’s not like everything else in life stops...the effort you make to pack and carry boxes is on top of the usual activities you need to complete. Perhaps you can forgo an evening out or a gym session but, most things just have to get done. Also, moving isn’t a weekend event; in my experience there is at least a month of additional activities like sorting, packing, trips to donate things, collecting boxes, exploring cupboards or corners of the garage you don’t usually visit, disposing of broken things, etcetera, etcetera - it’s a marathon! And then there is just the sheer exertion of picking-up each item you own, wrapping it, placing it in a box and repeating that hundreds of times!
Losing your den is stressful. Most animals have a home; birds, fish, even single cell organisms make homes to protect themselves. Humans go to massive lengths to create a place we can control, makes us feel safe, reflects our personality, interests, values and social status. When we leave that place, even if it is for something that seems better, that sense of security and familiarity is lost. Not having a safe place makes us vulnerable and worried.
An amoeba's microscopic home of sand particles.
It’s complicated to organise everything. Ending a rental agreement or selling a home requires intellectual effort; there are forms to sign, contracts to read and understand, decisions to make about dates and money that will impact on what happens to us next. Vital utilities have to be disconnected and reconnected. This takes time on the phone or online, checking boxes and completing forms, not all of which goes smoothly; I once found-out 24hrs before moving that the electricity account I organised had not been actioned by the supplier! A mad scramble ensued to find another who would supply electricity to the new place so I wasn't sitting there in the dark the first night.
Every decision is weighing the risk of getting something wrong or right, a mental effort literally requiring energy inside the brain, ten times the energy required of the body; the brain is 2% of our body weight but demands 20% of our energy.
“Experiments with both animals and people have confirmed that when neurons in a particular brain region fire, local capillaries dilate to deliver more blood than usual, along with extra glucose and oxygen.”*
When you realise that organising a move is a mental task with physical demands for energy from your brain, then add the physical demands on the rest of your body PLUS, you’re probably not eating well or hydrating because you’re busy, the stress is obviously compounding. But, I think the worst is...
The emotional associations attached to all your stuff. Each item we own has emotional associations attached to it...a feeling we have when we pay attention to that thing. It can be pleasant or unpleasant and come with a memory of when we acquired it or what has happened since. A book reminds us of the garden we wanted to build but didn’t. The vase was a wedding present from a friend who's now gone. The sofa we remember laughing with family on. A painting that was a gift from a parent who’s since died. Normally, these items are background objects to our lives but, when we move house, they are thrust into the foreground again as we handle it, wrap it, place it in a box or bag. And all the feelings and memories attached to the object are triggered again in our mind, the mind already dealing with the organisational challenges of moving house.
For me, this is the most energy demanding part of moving. Being reminded of a lifetime of good and bad times, wins and losses, hopes and disappointments each time I move. The things I have kept with me are still here precisely because they have important associations...almost nothing is a frivolous, hollow object. And each time I move I downsize so, sometimes there is grief - I lose something that matters to me.
The final challenge/straw is repeating all of the above upon arrival at the new place; costs, decisions, tasks, emotions to the power of 2 in order to settle somewhere new. Meanwhile, there are new things to learn...how the hell does the oven in this place work??? (I never figured this out in my last place). And although the newness can be exciting, each new sound and sight requires attention and evaluation; was that creaking noise a burglar or just how the stairs always sound at night?
It’s the last day of my move as I write this and the first day of at least a week of unpacking. I have lost weight, my back aches a little, I’m grumpy and I feel blurry. Next week will be better but, for now, there are lots of boxes around me to unpack and lots of naps required. Take care of yourself when next you move house.