This is my 23rd home in my adult life and my 5th long distance relocation. I have some experience lugging my stuff, my pets and my heart around. I used to lug my family, too, but the kids have grown so this time it’s just me and the one cat who’s outlived the other pets. That made it a bigger challenge than the earlier ones.
A few tricks I’ve learned, for those of you who may be contemplating a big move yourself:
Sadness is part of the deal.
There’s a grieving process in leaving that needs to be given its due. When you’re feeling sad about every heart-wrenching thing you’re leaving behind, people will be asking you if you’re all excited about your big move. It’s OK to say no, because eventually that tide will turn and you’ll be able to say yes and mean it. It’ll turn when you start getting closer to your destination and further from your past. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until you’ve actually left, which is a little nerve wracking. But it does turn.
My eldest daughter drove down with me, which was really helpful in making the transition. And in dealing with the damned cat, who is a terrible traveler.
The stuff is the easy part.
I love that my old stuff looks great in my new house – it makes it feel like home right away – but it’s not the important part of settling. Settling involves finding a place for your memories, your loves, and your dreams. They all have a new context when you start in a different place, and your happiness there depends a lot on where you put them in your own heart. I like to keep mine front and centre. It helps them find their new groove.
Have a friend-making plan.
You need a plan for integrating and creating a social life. It’s like a job search; if you seek out the things you love and are good for, whether that’s volunteering with some local organization or hanging at the nearest karaoke bar, you’ll find like souls and appropriate places to roost. I’m also completely up front with
people: “I need a social life” I say, if I think they’re somebody who’d be good for that. It took some gumption the first time (why are we so reluctant to express need?) but it gets easier with every positive response.
Then work at being happy.
Even in the rush of novelty, being happy about the decision to start someplace new isn’t automatic by any stretch. I’m helping it along with my favourite newishly-discovered tool for being pleased with life: the gratitude list. Here are the things I’m really grateful for in my new hood. You’ll notice a trend:
- People help beyond what you ask. My plumber showed me how to damp my stove properly so it burns slower and hotter, because he noticed the levers were set wrong; the excavator taught me how to weight my wood pile tarps to handle an Atlantic wind because – well, one look and it was clear I needed instruction.
- People help without asking at all. I was stopped at a deserted intersection searching my phone for the community centre address and being misdirected, when a truck stopped and the driver asked if I was lost. My out-of-province plates were his first clue. Dave the Fireman, who introduced himself first (lest I doubt his credibility?) gave me impeccable directions.
- My neighbours care that I’m here and that I settle well. They love seeing lights in the windows and smoke coming out the chimney of a house that had been abandoned for a decade. They find me the wood stacking help I need, and leave me wine, (and better yet come and drink it with me), and bring me house-warming presents.
- When I go to the tiny local farmers’ market at a nearby community hall there’s a guitar player entertaining us. There are incredible, buttery croissants, organic veggies, nitrate-free sausages, home-made breakfast. And people I know – so we sit down and eat together and gab for an hour. I meet more people.
- When a friend hears my wood is a little bit fresh to burn really easily, he loads me up with tinder-dry kindling without a word.
- People walk into your house without knocking. And it’s always the back door. This is only if they know you, of course (although meeting you once counts), and if it bugs you you’re always free to lock the door. But that wouldn’t be neighbourly.
Then there’s the jaw-dropping beauty that greets me every morning when I wake and makes me want to jump out of bed at an hour when I used to be putting the pillow over my head and telling the cat to go away. That’s a lot of what I moved here for. But it’s the people who’re making it totally worthwhile.