Moving Well: A Guide to Lightening Your Load
Have you ever moved halfway across a continent? Further? Heck, have you ever moved at all? Did you enjoy it?
Moving is pretty universally hated by the folks I’ve spoken to. Packing up all of your things and hauling them from one house/apartment/condo/trailer to the next is not typically seen as a fun exercise. So, when it came time for me to pull up roots and leave Colorado for the first time, I went a slightly different route. It went so well, I want to tell you a little about the process and why I highly recommend trying it the next time a major move is staring you in the face. I also recommend a major move from time to time, but let’s stick to the topic at hand: How to move.
Traditionally moving entails weeks or even months of preparation. Sorting, wrapping, packing, labeling, and then physically carrying every material item in your possession from one domicile to the next. This is then followed by what is typically an even longer period of unpacking; living out of boxes, some of which never actually get unpacked. Have you ever moved a box, still packed from the last move, into a new home, unopened? I have.
All this labor, for what? The endless accumulation of things? No where else in our lives is the cliché that “the things you own, own you” proven more visceral than in the process of physically hauling these things from place to place. There is a better way. And no, paying someone else to do it for you isn’t that way. I’m talking about getting out of the box, not padding your cage with cash.
I was lucky. I was primed for a new approach. I’ve been forced to look at possessions through a new lens. Around five years ago I divorced the mother of my children. Among many ramifications, one of the outcomes of this was giving away the large house I had bought for my family, along with most of its contents. Possessions I had built up over a decade or more, the very things I was using to help me define myself, were suddenly not mine anymore. I was forced to face myself, naked and alone, and learn who I really was. I learned how to define my self in terms that didn’t include the square footage of my home or the price of the car I drove. I was also forced to confront impermanence, which ultimately is mortality. Tyler Durden had just rigged the gas line in my beautiful home and from the fire and ashes, the real me began to emerge.
Over the following few years I built up a new romantic relationship, and a new pool of things. And then, a bit over a year ago, it all came crashing down again and I gave all the stuff away again. Ugh. That great juicer, that awesome rug I picked out, tables and chairs, plates and bowls…
So, as I said, I was lucky and I was primed. But what does any of this have to do with moving to New England? These experiences, and the understanding they brought, led me to view my impending move with a totally difference perspective than I would have been capable of before. Instead of wrapping, packing, and hauling all of my stuff across the country I said “fuck it” and decided to start over again. Here’s how it went:
I still had to do the sorting. But instead of deciding which box to stuff things into, everything was split into four categories:
- Things to take. This pile had strict requirements. Only as much stuff as I could fit into two checked bags and two carry ons, mostly clothing. I cheated and shipped about 200 Lbs of stuff via FedEx, mostly books but also some irreplaceable mementos and art, plus a few extra shoes and some winter coats, etc.
- Things to sell. This was the biggest pile. My truck, my bike, my couch, my speakers, my bed, all my camping gear, my skateboards, most of my art, the house plants, the list goes on.
- Things to give. Everything that wasn’t readily salable but had some value. Lots of clothes. Almost everything in my kitchen (pots, pans, plates, bowls, etc.). A truck full of geeky stuff for the local hacker space. A stack of backpacks. At the end of the sale, things that didn’t get bought ended up here too.
- Things to leave behind. The smallest pile. There were two boxes that I didn’t want to ship but couldn’t toss out. Photo albums (younger generations won’t have this problem). Newspaper clippings and school projects from when I was a kid. A yearbook or two. Other stuff my Mom had collected. This stuff is in “storage” at her house.
Instead of renting a moving truck, my girlfriend and I bought one way plane tickets. The flight departed Saturday morning. On Tuesday morning I woke up and realized I needed to do something about this whole cross-country move thing. (Note: I highly recommend giving yourself more time. I could have sold more things, for a better price, had I not procrastinated quite so hard.) I created a Facebook event and invited a bunch of my friends in Denver to come to my house and buy my stuff. I posted pictures and explained the situation – fire sale, everything must go, now!
Instead of paying to have all of my stuff moved, my friends came to my house and paid me to move it for me – to their own homes. This was absolutely amazing. For one, I got to see a bunch of people one last time. For four days people poured in and out of my apartment, saying goodbye and buying or taking what they needed. Another advantage is that I’ve left reminders of myself with my friends all over Denver. A chair here, a couch there, a stack of sunglasses somewhere else. Rather than surrounding myself with stuff, I’ve surrounded stuff with myself – and sprinkled that stuff over the city I love, in the care of people I love. I broke down my materialist connections and built up an amazing network of human connections at the same time.
Instead of filling our new home in Cambridge with artifacts of our lives in Denver, we bought all new stuff. This also has a few advantages. First, we got to pick out new things that fit the space we live in – both physically and mentally. The new furniture reflects the dimensions of the rooms and the emotions in our hearts. A corollary to this is that being forced to buy new stuff provides the opportunity to upgrade. My old stereo system was amazing but I absolutely love the Sonos system that has replaced it. I loved my green shag rug, but not as much as I love the new cow hide patchwork one we picked out together. The list goes on. And all at a net cost that is really favorably comparable to the cost of simply moving the old stuff. More importantly, it really feels like a new beginning; the sense of freedom is tangible.
Among the things I gave up were multitudes of gifts and joint purchases. No longer is my home full of reminders of the past. I’ve thrown off the shackles of past relationships, past decisions, past patterns of behavior in a really physical way. In the process I’ve more fully accepted the impermanence of this world, this life. We are who we choose to be today, and there’s no reason to allow objects to nag at us about who we chose to be before.
So if you want less work, more human contact, and an opportunity for real progress in your own life; stop moving stuff and start flowing through it.
This post also appears on Medium.