Is stress stopping some of us from moving house?
If you asked me this question before my recent move I would have answered ‘no’.
Why wouldn’t you move to get a better place? Or change locations to suit a new lifestyle?
The last time I moved six years ago I was miserable, but I attributed that to my separation. Which is why I was surprised I was stressed, anxious and sad during my recent move.
I felt like there was something wrong with me. Maybe it was because I wasn’t choosing to leave but rather my landlord was renovating and I had to vacate.
But my flat was too small for me and my growing child so why was I struggling?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics also revealed that between 2013–14, 10 per cent of households reported they would like to move house but were unlikely to move in the next 12 months. Of these, 23 per cent couldn’t afford the expenses associated with moving and 19 per cent didn’t move because it’s too much effort.
Psychologist Meredith Fuller explains that not only has moving been ranked one of the top five most stressful life events, but that our house is symbolic of ourselves, our safe haven from the outside world, which is why it is so hard to leave and start all over again.
People dread the idea as they know that it involves a major disruption to their lives.
“People dread the idea as they know that it involves a major disruption to their lives,” Fuller says. “It means going through our stuff, boxing it up, letting go, throwing out, saying goodbye to who and what we know, losing our favourite café, our dog park etc. We have to do awful things like deal with our mess, our junk, and when we have to sort the ‘stuff’ we are triggered into memories of our past.”
Grieving the loss is an important part of the process. I had a lot of tough years in my flat – finding who I was after my divorce, grappling with being a single parent.
“Make some rituals, take farewell walks, say goodbye to people, places, memories,” Fuller says. “Go back on weekends for a while to enjoy your old café or friends, and gradually transition.”
Fuller says that while we are affected by the loss we should also consider the gains and creating new memories.
In my case, I didn’t have a backyard and now I would be gaining one. I also saw the move as a new phase in my life I had been avoiding for years, of moving on from my post-divorce home into a more mature and more comfortable sense of self.
At the time I was resentful of my landlord, but now I think maybe it was just fate’s way of giving me a push. Having said that, landlords and real-estate agents should consider that tenants are not just dollar signs but people, so decisions to strip them of their home, shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Managing the move
In the past when people have told me they’re moving, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. Today I am much more empathetic.
It was interesting the people who helped me in the end weren’t the people I thought would. “Some people move a lot and have it down to a fine art,” Fuller says. “Others find it too hard and will ‘disappear’ until you are firmly ensconced in your new home.”
Fuller advises not to expect friends to assist, although you could provide a list of tasks your friends can choose from, being specific. Let them know why you are asking: eg. “Hey Kate, I am wondering if you could help me wrap up my glassware? I know you are clever with that.” Or, “I know you have a bad back and I don’t want you to pick anything up, but I would love your company and making me a cuppa while I do.”
I’ve still got boxes around and it’s almost been a month since I moved. I don’t beat myself up about it even though I desperately want an organised home. Fuller advises not to try to do too much all at once, but to take rests and explore nearby shops so you can find a nice local café to relax.
Book friends to come over for meals so you don’t feel lost and try not to latch on too quickly to neighbours because you’re grumpy and tired. Be cautious until you know how close you want to be.
“It take time to adjust – expect MONTHS before you feel ‘right’,” Fuller says.
“You might feel weird waking in the night and not recalling where the bathroom is – no you are not losing it, this is normal! Be grateful you did the big cull. Gradually you will start to enjoy the new and embrace it.”
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer, poet, filmmaker, theatremaker and the author of Love and F**k Poems.