Moving-the practical bits

We moved into our apartment in Washington, DC one year ago today. It was a good year-a honeymoon year-like most of our first years in a new place. The enjoyment and exploration was outweighed by the hassles of moving and any pangs of adjustment.

I’ve moved roughly twelve times in my adult life, living in nine states, the District of Columbia and abroad. In our family, there is dispute on proper accounting methods: moves versus homes, whether and how to count moves within a city or temporary apartments or the summer secondment in London. But no matter how they are counted, I like both moving and making a home. These are two separate tasks. They impact each other, but require separate skills to accomplish.

Moving is the practical bits, the hands-on work with boxes, tape and lists upon lists. It’s messy at times, but it is the quicker and simpler task. I’ve learned a few lessons on how best to move and get settled in a timely fashion. For eight of the moves, we had packers and movers, two or three guys who do the packing and heavy lifting. It helped eliminate hours of packing, but there was significant prep work. I created a staging area-a counter or corner of the house where I put our important papers, jewelry, and other belongings that will go with me when I drove or flew to our new home. And I clear out anything going to the trash or goodwill before the movers arrived. I had a set standard to determine if a possession was going to get junked. When I moved to DC, it was if we hadn’t used something since we moved back to the US (six years and three moves) then it went. Invariably there were a few items that were overlooked, over-emphasized, or didn’t fit in the new space that I toss out after the move during the unpacking.

I appreciated my movers dearly, offering to buy lunch and a supply of drinks. (Mountain Dew was the drink of choice decades ago, then Gatorade and now water) These men touched all our possessions, including the china my beloved immigrant granny brought back to the US on her first trip home to Scotland after being gone for decades. And rather than request extra care, I show it to them and tell them its story. In all our moves, not a piece was broken.

When I’ve done the packing myself, I spend the money on proper supplies-boxes, packing paper and moving tape. Used boxes don’t always hold up and newspaper ink can wreak havoc on dishware, creating more work. I label several sides of every box, especially if it is a box for the top of a load. And just like when I have movers, upon arriving at our new home, I scout out a staging area/room, a space to put the boxes in each room, not where furniture would go, and do the unpacking myself. I learned in my first corporate move that movers simply unwrap items and place them on any available flat surface. In a matter of minutes every counter in the kitchen was covered and I was overwhelmed. Thank goodness I stopped them when only three of ten boxes were unpacked.

When the kids were at home, the first order of business was to set up their rooms. Before the move, I would determine what was going into their room and where. Once the truck was unloaded, I would insist their beds were the first assembled and immediately made them. Knowing you can go to bed, whether for the night, a nap, or with a book to escape the mayhem, gives a sense of order and reassurance especially necessary for little kids. The kids enjoyed setting up their rooms again, getting to touch everything had a little bit of a Christmas morning feeling to it. They noticed and appreciated things again. I never minded if they got lost in play, it was the start of making the house our home. Generally, I had the toys and books, back on their shelves and the room set up minus the pictures on the wall by the end of the first day. I didn’t worry about our room so much, except for getting our bed made; we, too, need a place to escape in comfort at the end of the long day of moving.

Within two weeks, I had all the boxes unpacked, everything put in its place and Dan hung the pictures. I’m not trying to make moving sound easy, it was work, but it is specific, doable work. At some point, I would have a ‘raging at the wind’ moment, swearing like a sailor for a minute or so, but then it was over and I was back to the task at hand. There were a few broken items, furniture that didn’t fit as well as hoped, and the frustration of redundant work. Occasionally I wanted to pull my hair out because I had yet another cable technician in yet another home working on TV and internet setup. And there was the year I had to teach a first grader three different addresses because we moved during the school year and spent Christmas in temporary housing. After a few weeks or a few months, in a temporary apartment, we always were ready for move-in day. And once the move was over, the real work began-making a home.

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