I am preparing for my 21st move. Since graduating high school, I have changed my address 20 times, for durations ranging from 3 months to three years. For reasons ranging from school, to work, to deployments, to marriage, I have packed up my belongings, changed addresses and started a new life. In just three short weeks, I will do so again.
You would imagine that it has become easier as the years go by, but it hasn’t. After college, I packed up everything I owned – it all fit in the backseat of my neon, and headed off to begin my first job. Two weeks from now, we will have a team of three movers in our home for three days, packing our life into boxes, filling a moving truck, and heading towards a new adventure in Italy.
There are so many moving parts to a move, even more so when that move is international. There is no way to eliminate stress completely, but over the years I have found a few ways to control it – at least a bit.
A good plan is essential to keeping on top of everything. Well before we receive orders for our next move, I begin planning. I may not know where we are going, but I always know what services I need to cancel, and what I will need to do in order to keep on top of everything before it overwhelms me.
Some items, like passports and visas are often outside of your control. When we moved to Germany, we required no-fee passports. Although we submitted the forms as soon as we had orders – which was the earliest we could submit them, it wasn’t until I made a phone call to my congressional representative that we received them, and even then, it was only a couple of weeks before we moved.
For this move, we needed another passport, which we received in plenty of time. The tricky part has been securing the visas, which, with any luck, will occur this week.
Once you know the when and the where, you can fill in the details of the plan. Here in Germany, most contracts require either a three-month advance notice for cancellation, or three-months before the end of the current contract. They will require this in writing. As soon as we had our move date, I sent out cancellation letters.
Although we do know where we are going, because it is in a different country, I can’t set things up before we get there. When we moved from Baden-Württemberg to Bavaria, I was able to transfer our services before we arrived.
In my calendar, I include all hard dates, and what I want to accomplish on any given week. This sense of order amidst all of the chaos gives me some semblance of calm, and ensures I don’t leave anything out.
Write it down
I have a million thoughts each day about what I should do. To contain these thoughts, I jot them down on either the dry erase board on my refrigerator or on the list of things to do in my moving binder. Every thought I have gets written down in one of these two places. Getting them out of my head, even if I don’t end up doing that particular item gives me a little sanity. Completing something and crossing it off gives me a great sense of accomplishment. Even if it’s just a small item.
Take care of yourself
With so many details to take care of, it’s easy to forget to eat well, to overlook exercising, and to lose sleep. This was something I really had to work on for this move. Since Easter, my husband has been travelling for work. For the better part of three months I have been doing this on my own. When it’s just everyday things, it’s no big deal. When you factor in preparing for a move on top of that, it’s a lot of stress. I make sure that I get a walk in every morning after I take the kids to school. Walking on the path through the fields and the forests to a neighboring town calms me, and allows me to prepare for whatever task I have that day.
Take some time for yourself, especially if you are going it alone. I try to take some time during the week and watch a movie or read a book. I need some time to recharge, when I am the only parent in the house for an extended period of time. This is even truer during the months leading up to the move, when everyone is experiencing big emotions. It is draining to handle everyone’s fear, anxiety and excitement. You need time to shut down.
Talk about it
Everyone has their own preference in letting their children know about the move, and to what extent they involve them.
We knew when we first arrived here that we would only remain for two years. My children knew that, and as soon as we were certain of where we were moving we included them.
We’ve read about the place we’ll move to. We’ve visited our new hometown, our new apartment, our new school. The uncertainty is reduced, but there is still anxiety. Anxiety about making new friends, leaving old friends, learning another new language, about starting at another new school. It is a scary, emotional time for the children. It is for the adults too. Acknowledge it. Talk about it. My kids know that they are not the only ones who are experiencing conflicting emotions about the move.
It’s not always the move that brings up the big emotions. We recently lost two of our beloved cats. The children were devastated about losing their furry best friends. It was something I had tried to prepare them for, the cats were 18 years old, and beginning to decline rapidly. Even so, when that was added to the confusion, anxiety and heartbreak of the upcoming move it was more emotion than anyone wants to deal with at once. We talked about it, we cried about it together.
It is important to allow the kids to say goodbye to the friends that they’ve made and the places that they’ve come to love. It’s important, but it doesn’t mean it will make it any easier. When we left our home in Baden-Württemberg, we were saying goodbye for over a week. Heartfelt farewells were given at the Kindergarten, at work, in the neighborhood, and with friends before we departed. We did the goodbyes the right way. What we didn’t do was leave our hometown behind us. We were attached and couldn’t let go of the connections we’d forged there, making it difficult to establish new connections in our new home.
Find something that gives you a little control
There are so many things that you don’t have any control over during a move. I like to find something that I can control. I systematically go through the house and group like items together. While we still end up with kitchen items in the bedroom boxes, this gives me a feeling of creating a little order in preparing for the move.
I also take time to measure all of my furniture. Since I will arrive in the house before our furniture does, this allows me to stage the furniture before the movers arrive with it, lightening the burden ever-so-slightly at the other end of the move. If I have the house measurements beforehand, I will actually plan each room on graph paper. This move, I have pictures of the new apartment, and I’ve seen it, so I’ve done a rough estimate. It’s not the most important thing I have to take care of, but having it accomplished makes me feel like I’ve got one small thing that will be easier on the other side of this move.
Forgive yourself, and others
You are going to make mistakes, you will forget something. Usually it’s the small items, but when you’re already stressed, it becomes magnified, and your response is often exaggerated. I showed up two hours late to a dentist appointment this week, because in my stressed state I mistook 1400 for 4:00 pm. The dentist was kind enough to see us anyway, and laughed when I explained what happened.
What do you do to ensure a smoother move? I’d love to hear from you!