A Wanderer’s Guide to Moving. {We’re moving, and I need advice!}

A Wanderer’s Guide to Moving. {We’re moving, and I need advice!}

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My family is moving tomorrow (!!!), and when we started making firm plans I reached out to Jenn at A Simple Haven for advice. For better or worse, Jenn’s a pro: she’s moved approximately twenty times more than I have, and her tips made me feel so much better I asked her to share them here on the blog. Please join me in welcoming her, and go grab her free guide Loving and Sharing the Home You Have when you’re finished here.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American will move 11.7 times in their lifetime. So unless you’ve already met your quota, chances are you’ve got one coming.

I logged eleven moves in my first eight years of marriage and nine before I turned 18. I’m not sure if that qualifies me for an award or counseling services.

Be assured I’ve taken advantage of the latter.

Mild PTSD aside, all of this uprooting and replanting has taught me a slew of life lessons: that leaving a place with deep sadness is ok—even good.

That with some paint, sprucing up, and dinner guests, almost any new house can feel like home.

That “blooming where you’re planted” requires real work but yields the very best of gifts.

So the next time you find yourself amidst piles of boxes—or getting settled in a place that still doesn’t feel quite like home—here are my best tips on leaving, settling in, and planting roots.

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Our beloved Dallas home that we remodeled then lived in for a whopping ten months.

On Leaving

Enlist help.

From what I hear, moving is the third most stressful life event after death and divorce.

Make it easier on yourself and ask for help. Invite a friend over for coffee and packing kitchen stuff. In a crazy-busy season of life, it’ll be an easy way to hang out and check off some to-dos.

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Going away party three of four. It was a good one.

Have a party.

A party is never a bad idea. But the going-away kind is super practical: it gives you an opportunity to say goodbyes and anything else that needs saying.

In my experience, the best goodbye parties are full of laughter, encouragement, and even prayers. There’s nothing better than being sent off with the love and support of friends and family.

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When my walls are covered, it feels like home. 

Plan to grieve.

Even if you’re not going far, moving can be seriously hard.

I tend to experience emotions pretty intensely (the whole HSP thing), so my grief used to freak me out a little. Was I going to feel this sad forever?

Experience has taught me: no.

But I have to let myself feel all. the. feelings. if I’m going to get through a hard season in a healthy way.

And that grief? It’s probably a sign that I’m leaving behind deep relationships and a rich life.

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On Settling In

Cover those walls: with pictures, paint, whatever. The sooner you personalize your space, the sooner it will feel like home.

Balance getting it done with getting it done well.

Nothing says “settled” like conquering that mountain of boxes. And yet it may take time to find a workable place for everything.

So I tend to unpack like the wind, putting obvious stuff in its new home right away—while chucking the “who knows what to do with this?” stuff in a pile.

The pile then goes in the basement or garage. The rest of the house is in order and I can go through the randoms as time allows.

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Thanksgiving dinner in one of our many apartments.

Invite people in.

Fill your home with guests as soon as possible. While it’d be wonderful if everyone extended invitations to the new kid in town, such is not always the case.

If you meet someone you connect with, take the initiative and invite them over for coffee, a play-date, or dinner. (And while you’re at it, use your fancy stuff.) A house (apartment, etc.) feels much more like a home when it’s full of friends-to-be.

Embrace your new home.

Even before it feels like home, act like it’s home. Get a return address stamp with your new address. Plant some flowers or a garden.

Unless you know for a fact you’ll be moving in less than a year, do permanent-feeling things.

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On Planting Roots

Put yourself “out there.”

This may simply mean introducing yourself to neighbors or other parents at your kids’ school. Or it could mean attending one of those awkward speed-dating-like-church-small-group-finding functions.

But if relationships are what make a place feel like home, the effort (and awkwardness) is worth it.

Those friends you left behind? Call them. Email. Facebook.

It may be awhile before you feel loved and known in your new town. In the meantime, an old friendship can be a real comfort.

Give yourself grace.

Remember: moving is hard. Don’t expect to feel settled or to stop feeling weepy right away. Give yourself time and space to adjust.

Your new home isn’t perfect. But it can be good.

Please share your best moving tips in comments. Goodness knows I need all the help I can get! And thank you. 

Jenn is the mommy of two small children + one obese cat and wife to The Hubs. She enjoys making pretty things out of random bits, filling her home with guests, and elevenses. She is not afraid to lead a one-woman crusade against the rampant misuse of the apostrophe. Find her blogging at A Simple Haven, and grab her free guide Loving and Sharing the Home You Have right here.

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43 comments

  1. Some of the best tips we ever learned was from some friends that are pastors:

    1. Label every box with the room that it is going into, not coming out of necessarily. You can then label the rooms (that are not obvious) in the new house so that your friends (i.e., helpers) easily know where boxes go without you having the stress of directing all the traffic.
    2. While packing each box, buy a cheap notebook to keep notes about what’s in each box. This takes a little more time to pack, but not that much. It makes it a little easier to settle in, or at least less stress because then you know which boxes are priority. ( You number each box on your list, add well as on the box so they correspond. For example, Kitchen 1, 2, 3, etc.)
    3. Pack a “necessity” box! Cleaning products, sheets, towels, clothes, toiletries, toilet paper, shower curtain, etc. Anything you might need the first 24 hours in your new place.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I always end up stashing the aeropress in my tote bag (aka makeshift necessity box extension) on moving day, along with some beans. That’s totally normal right?

        I’ve got a similar moving count under my belt and it’s pretty tough every time – although the logistics of moving is getting a bit easier. I think the saddest move I’ve made was just 4 months ago from Asheville. It was hard to leave that gorgeous – and incredibly foodie friendly – place.

        • Anne says:

          Hey, I’ve put my aeropress (and beans) in my purse before. Sounds totally normal to me. 🙂

          I’ve never been to Asheville, but I’m scheming to get there this fall. I can imagine it would be a tough place to leave!

  2. Shannon says:

    Congratulations! I don’t know how far your are moving or how much of change in will have the kids’ social lives but my mom has an adage about transplanted plants I’ve found really useful with my girls after we moved two years ago. “The first year they sleep, the second they creep and third they leap.” I’m watching this come true as we put down roots, settle in and begin to flourish in our new community.

    As for practical tips, hire movers if you can. Its was the absolutely the best money we spent moving – we did all the packing (I’ve heard stories of them packing up full trash cans!) but to have a group of strong guys move those boxes and furniture was an absolute life/back saver. Freed us up for settling the kids in faster and tackling that pile of boxes. Oh! Keep your bed linens right where you can find them first. Even if your mattresses are on the floor its nice to have the bed made that first night.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for the tips! Especially on the bed linens–spending the first night sleeping on hard floors definitely doesn’t say “homey” to me. 🙂

      We’re transplanting some plants, so I’m grateful for your mom’s advice. I don’t exactly have a green thumb, and now I’ll know I didn’t kill my plants after we move them (or at least, hopefully not!) but that they’re just in the “sleeping” stage.

      • Shannon says:

        The adage has worked for our kids too ~ the first year, my oldest sort of hung back, taking friends as they came. This second year she knows the kids she wants to be friend with and is actively pursuing that. I have a feeling she will truly blossom next year as she is firmly rooted in our community. Its a great reminder for me that these things take time and to be patient with the whole process.

    • Yes to all! And if you can get the movers to help set up the beds, even better.

      And movers make all the difference in the world. We’ve done a couple corporate moves where they even packed all of our stuff. Now I’m totally spoiled :).

  3. Molly says:

    Robert’s #s 1 and 2 saved me a couple years ago. I didn’t move into an empty space but into my fiance’s house, so labeling the boxes helped me quickly see what needed to be unpacked and what could go in the basement and be looked at later. He already had two coffee makers so that wasn’t an issue.

    Since I was moving into an occupied space the experience was a bit different that previous moves. My advice though would be similar-don’t be afraid to put your stamp on the space so that it feels like yours as well. For me that meant organization first, decoration second. He let me choose which closet and dresser drawers I wanted. Over the course of a few months I worked my way through the house reorganizing the kitchen cabinets and drawers, cleaning closets, and making things more workable. Slowly I started adding things to the walls. A non-digital clock here, a wall hanging there, mantle decor for the season, that sort of thing. I did it slowly over time because he gets easily frustrated with quick drastic changes, but this place feels like home more because he is there than because my furniture is in the living room (it’s not).

  4. Kristin says:

    As an Army brat, Air Force vet, and current wife to a diplomat, I’ve moved (and will move) a LOT. I totally agree with all of the recommendations above! One thing I appreciated that my mom did when we moved (and that I do with my boys) is to make unpacking and setting up the kids’ rooms one of the top priorities – perhaps only after the kitchen. It can be stressful for kids to have so many of their things packed up and out of sight, so getting them to feel more “at home” and letting them start settling in can go a long way towards making the move more exciting/happy and less sad/stressful. We also take pictures of the “old” house and their rooms, so we can look at them and remember favorite things as we talk about what we love most in the new house.

    Also for kids – letting them loose with markers/crayons/stickers on the boxes (avoiding labels, of course) can make it really fun when the boxes arrive at the new house. And those boxes can make EXCELLENT forts, houses, mazes, cars, stores, etc. when they’re emptied again.

    Get a library card as soon as possible (amazing how that makes a new location feel like “home”), make it a fun mission to explore all the nearby parks and playgrounds, be proactive about meeting neighbors, introducing yourself to people. Unpack as quickly as you can and get things put away – even if it means you’ll be going back and reorganizing kitchen cabinets in a week or two (of course, if you can know in advance where you want things, that’s even better!) And absolutely hang things on the walls and make it feel like yours right away.

      • Anne says:

        Yes to the library card! And thanks for the tip to be proactive about meeting neighbors. I need the nudge–especially when I know we’ll be in the midst of moving craziness during our first days. 🙂

        • We reversed the cookie idea when we moved into our new neighborhood a couple years ago. We took a half dozen cookies to two neighbors on each side of us plus the five across the street. We also made moving cards with our names and address and phone on it. We attached these to the cookies with a ribbon so they wouldn’t have to remember our name. Also, by taking just one at a time we were able to go back to our house and write the address and names of our neighbors in our moving book.

          We cooked a dozen cookies. Packaged them and took them right out of the oven. Another advantage of taking cookies to one neighbor at a time is that if they invite you in for a visit you can spend a little time with them. Plus one dozen a day, or two neighbors at a time is not so overwhelming. By the end of our second week we had met nine of our neighbors.

  5. MelissaJoy says:

    How exciting! There are many strategies when it comes to moving but the outcome is the same: evacuate the old space and populate the new one. Other commenters mentioned numbering systems and list taking which are all invaluable when we are moving and I would like to add color coding as another option. Not only do the color dots make me happy but I am more inclined to know a room by color rather than by number when helpers/movers are rushing past you in a sweat wondering where this box should go. We have also done many (many) corporate moves and I have learned that it is most efficient to be in the action with the inventory list so movers/helpers know where they need to go while you check off the box. Staying put with your beverage, snack and a happy face will make it go really well for everyone. Speaking of food, make sure there is enough to drink and eat for your help whether they are paid help or not. It sends a message of gratitude.

    When your boxes have populated your new space there is a lot more work to be done and giving yourself a goal of a room or how many boxes to unpack in a day or specific chunk of time helps my head not spin off my neck. We usually try to keep our frying pan available so 1) we don’t forget how to fry an egg (earlier moving experience), and 2) to make one skillet meals so your family stays nourished and energized to unpack more boxes!

    Moving is a big, huge deal and managing the transitions is a big part of making it successful especially when you have little people to help work through the trauma of change. Pad your days with something “normal” to ease the rush of the move, too.

    We have never “met” but you are a highlight in my morning blog reading. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about books and life.

    Happy moving day!

  6. Kim says:

    Having just moved just 9 months ago from NH to TN, I agree with all these tips. Goodbye parties? Absolutely! It’s such a great way to make sure you get to see just about everyone before leaving. Grief? Oh, yes. Even though we love East TN, it is hard being far away from our family.

    We used free web based software Evernote for the first time for this move. I use it extensively for my life and my writing, too. We labeled our boxes as others have suggested, and noted the contents in Evernote. The list was available wherever we were because Evernote syncs across all platforms. All I had to do was a keyword search to find the item and box I wanted.

    I kept other related information there as well: apartment address and contact numbers, DIY moving truck contacts, costs, etc, and general research on the area. It was priceless to have that on hand wherever I was!

    • Kim,
      Great suggestion on Evernote. I use it for other things as well, however I didn’t even think about using it for noting the contents of each box so that it’s searchable. Brilliant! Hopefully, I will not have to use that tip for quite some time since we are in a house we absolutely love.

  7. Breanne says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Jenn about having a goodbye party- for me, I need to say goodbye to our home, our places and our people. I am that person saying goodbye to each room and the memories that we made there.
    The permission to grieve is so wise. I haven’t before and then months later, still found myself in the same rut unable to move on. Grieve and remember and then take an action step.
    Find a new library. Create a new coffee/tea routine. Make it homey.

    Cheering you on in this new adventure!

  8. Karlynes says:

    Invest in a pack of sharpies and then you can label each box with not only the room it belongs in, but what actually is in the box! You can even label your book boxes that way: “authors A-B”, e.g. Oh, and use small boxes for books…

    Don’t let the box with sheets and towels (with bathroom cleaners) out of your sight. And put the coffee necessities on the front seat of your car.

    As a veteran of a zillion moves (seriously, we moved over 35 times before I graduated from high school!), the first thing to do is get the beds ready and the bathrooms clean and ready to use! Fluff those pillows and hang up those towels!

    And, most important and most difficult, try to have fun!

    • Anne says:

      35 times?! Holy smokes.

      I won’t let the sheets and towels out of my sight! That’s a good one–I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed in the new place, and taking a good long shower, but I wouldn’t want to do either without linens. 🙂

      • Karlynes says:

        To my amazing mother’s credit, I don’t remember ever losing them even once. But, as an adult, I’ve always placed them as #1 on my list, so maybe I was traumatized as a kid and sub-consciously am taking good care that it never happens again.

  9. Ingrid says:

    Completely agree with the comments about labelling the rooms and corresponding boxes, and also about the coffee maker/kettle! Have each kid make up a “book bag” with a few favourite toys and books (as you might do if you were going on a long car journey) so that even if their stuff doesn’t manage to get unpacked right away then they still have something to stop them getting bored. If you have professional movers in make sure you offer them plenty of refreshment and breakfast/lunch/dinner and they will be guaranteed to take extra care of your belongings!

    • Anne says:

      Thank you!! We do have pro movers and I read this *just* in time. I have an hour to run out for donuts, and the kids are very excited to head out to lunch with their favorite babysitter–and we’ll make sure they bring back lunch for all.

  10. Rachel says:

    These are great tips. We always label boxes with the rooms they go in and the boxes go straight to that room. As for Uhauls, if you are debating between two sizes, get the bigger one. You don’t really realize how much stuff you have until the Uhaul is 3/4 full and your house isn’t 3/4 empty!

    • Anne says:

      “You don’t really realize how much stuff you have until the Uhaul is 3/4 full and your house isn’t 3/4 empty!”

      I get this. I seriously had NO idea how much stuff we’d packed into our basement built-in storage until the time came to pack it up and move it out!

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