Have you ever read the statistic that says that moving is the third most stressful event you can endure, following death and divorce? I’m always stunned by this statement. Let’s take a moment to digest this: Death, divorce, moving… Wow. Clearly, for it to rank so high on the list, the stress cannot possibly be solely due to the practical aspects; it doesn’t equate that packing up one house and moving to another location would trigger this level of emotional response. But in the worldview of Conscious Transitions, it makes perfect sense. Furthermore, the level of stress that moving typically instigates is equivalent to the level of healing that’s possible when we approach this transition consciously.
Like every transition, there’s a practical element and an emotional piece. Moving, like the wedding or preparing for a baby’s arrival, certainly comes with a host of items that need to get done. But when we only focus on the practical elements to the exclusion of the emotional realm, we miss the real work that needs to be done and risk sending ourselves into emotional chaos. The culture tells us that if you stay organized and follow your timelines and checklists, you’ll avoid the stress and chaos. While it certainly helps to stay organized, this alone will not prevent the emotional upheaval that moving often activates.
Moving is so stressful for several reasons:
1. Moving forces us out of our familiar and comfortable habitat. At the core, we are creatures of habit and we like the safe and the familiar. We like knowing where the spatula is. We like being able to drive to the supermarket on auto-pilot. We derive a deep sense of security from the predictable and knowable aspects of our lives. When we move, chaos is unavoidable. Our ability to surrender into chaos is tested. The more we can ride the waves of chaos and remember that it will end, the easier it will be to manage.
2. Moving triggers our deepest issues around control and loss. All transitions are fundamentally about learning accept feeling out of control, but because moving includes the piece of moving out of your physical space and comfort zone, it’s particularly triggering. Again, when we can remind ourselves that it’s normal to feel out of control, it’s easier to surrender to the wave and allow it to tumble us around for a while until we’re eventually tossed onto solid ground.
3. In dreams and the world of the unconscious, the house is a symbol of Self. When we move, we shake up our selfhood to the core, like a self-imposed earthquake. In this vulnerable stage and encouraged by the act of sorting through our stuff which may span back to childhood, we often find ourselves immersed in old memories which can trigger layers of grief and loss that need release. With the veils peeled back, core issues emerge which you can either sideline as you quickly move onto the next task or sink into and thus relieve a bit of pressure.
4. Moving activates a return to the child or infant self. Stripped of the familiar external trappings of our life and rendered to a state of vulnerability, we’re as raw and primal and as we can be. Without support, guidance, and a context within which to makes sense of this experience, we attempt to fill up the empty spaces and barricade against the rawness with the practical aspects of the move. It’s scary to be in this stripped-down state, but with the right information and approach it’s bearable and, eventually, fruitful.
As always, having an emotional roadmap and context can ease the chaos considerably. When you understand what’s being activated inside of you, you can address it and move through the move, so to speak, more fluidly. As with every life transition, our culture only offers advice for how to manage the practical aspects. An internet search on “moving stress” will provide immediate suggestions for how to deal with externals, offering checklists, timelines, and step-by-step protocol on how to go about moving. While helpful, these suggestions do nothing to address the emotional undercurrent that fuels the majority of the stress. Do we really believe that the stress is about packing and unpacking? Sometimes the superficiality of this culture really irks me…
Popular and habitual thought tell us that the more quickly we zip through our checklists, the happier we’ll be. Actually, the opposite is true. Let’s imagine you’re cleaning out a box of old papers and you find some journals from high school where you wrote about your parents’ divorce or breaking up with your first boyfriend. A wave of grief swells up inside of you. You can either ignore the grief and keep going, as advised by our culture, or you can take a few extra minutes to pause, let the grief swell to full release, and cry. Like all transitions, moving provides a powerful opportunity to heal layers of ourselves that often don’t emerge unless we’re in the midst of a transition. When you release the grief, you release pressure inside of you which will give you more internal space and energy with which to continue the external tasks. On the other hand, when you bottle it up, the pressure builds until you end up snapping at your partner or yelling at the moving company.
Here’s the emotional context and roadmap:
Moving follows the three stages of transition (which you can read about in depth here): letting go – liminal – new beginning. The transformational potential of moving lies in our ability to utilize the practical tasks to access the emotions inherent to each stage.
1. Packing up and Letting go: In stage one, we pack up our old life, sorting through what we no longer need and putting everything into boxes. What a perfect metaphor for this first stage of transitions! In sorting through what we no longer need on a physical level, we also activate aspects of our emotional selves that we’re ready to relinquish. When you come across letters from an ex-boyfriend, you may feel a wave of grief about that relationship and then decide to let them go (both the letters and the grief). Packing provides countless opportunities to heal layers of old transitions and losses if only we pause long enough to allow the feelings to surface and release.
2. Liminal (in-between): With the house packed up and furniture moved out, there’s usually a day or two when the house is empty. There are few things in life as emotionally empty as standing in a freshly packed house. Not only does it trigger grief, it triggers memories. Suddenly you see the spot where your partner proposed to you. You see your children running around chasing each other. You see the corner that used to hold your favorite comfy reading chair. This is the moment to let your tears flow. A good cry will transform a melancholy emptiness into a bittersweet one so that you can find the sweetness among the sorrow.
Disorientation is one of the key hallmarks of the liminal stage. The literal emptiness that surrounds us on either side of the move mirrors the internal emptiness which easily disorients us. We’re fundamentally creatures of habit, and when our routines and physical signposts are removed, disorientation is inevitable.
3. New beginning: When we unpack and reorient physically, we also have the opportunity to unpack and reorient emotionally. We organize the kitchen and we organize our internal structures. We learn a new city or a new neighborhood and we access new resources within ourselves. With the emotional de-cluttering that occurred in stage one, we have more internal space which allows for new qualities that we consciously and intentionally invite to emerge.
Ritual is important when moving, especially if children are involved. It’s always hard to say goodbye but especially so when it’s a home that you’ve loved and has sheltered hundreds upon hundreds of memories, positive or otherwise. I’ll be writing more about moving with children soon.
Thank you for this Sheryl. Perfect timing for me to read and help me reflect. My family is preparing for an unplanned move- our landlords surprised us with a termination of our lease. And with this outward push to move and lack of control thrust upon us, I have experienced many emotions. I know there are many layers to this and I am trying to give time to each of these layers in order to heal from past memories that this brings up and to fully process this stage of our journey together. I want to fully embrace this and be present. It is definitely not a linear process I have been experiencing for sure… more fluid, bouncing from different feelings to practical aspects ( like the fact that we have to move in less than 2 months and still haven’t been able to find a place suitable…)
We are planning an exciting move in the next few years to a smaller community that has the only Waldorf school in the Atlantic provinces in Canada, but not all of the pieces are in place for that move yet. So now we are looking at more moves within these next years. Not ideal, but it is what it is and we will get through this.
In the short 3 years that we have lived in this home, we have gotten married and hosted our wedding, I spent most of my laboring journey here, and our darling daughter has spent her first 2 years here… so a lot of beautiful big life has happened here.
Our daughter is very aware and verbal for her short years and I am wanting to be very conscious how I deal with the stress I feel right now with this and how we handle these next 2 months. I am curiously awaiting what advice you are going to offer in your promised upcoming post about moving with young children. We are planning to have her involved in the moving process and also have some meaningful good bye/beginning rituals surrounding this time of switching homes.
Thank you for your continual words of wisdom regarding transitions.
Shannon – Thank you for your thoughtful and honest comment and I will definitely be blogging about moving with children this week. Your artwork is beautiful, by the way.
I just read this post and the tears are flowing. I searched for your words on this subject knowing you would understand. We moved house 2 days ago and the tears won’t stop – sadness, feeling lost and so vulnerable, doubts about the new house…..overwhelmed by the amount of work to do, it doesn’t feel like home. Worry also for my sons’ immenant move to a new school. I’m breathing in the loss, sadness and fear of the unknown and breathing out peace, calm and love to the new neighbourhood. I’m holding my husband and children close and pray for strength. Thank you Sheryl and God bless you.
Many thanks to you, Sheryl. I used your Conscious Bride book less than two years ago when I was preparing to get married. My husband and I really went for the transitions when we got married, moved across the country, sold a business, started a new business, and he started law school, and we got pregnant all in August 2008.
Now, two years later, we are moving into my mother’s house to save money for a year. So the move has layers with it, for sure. Moving with our one year old son has certainly been a challenge. With so many personal shifts since our last move, I also find myself really letting go of things that represent another me. (high heels, short skirts, hipster tight jeans) It feels like a powerful letting go, and your blog really highlights the underneath significance in shedding our old belongings and moving on.
I know we’ll be finding blocks and toys in just about every box, as my son is proving to be very “helpful” in the move. So I look forward to your next post. WE move Saturday. I’ve already had a few good cries, and you are right, they actually make me MORE productive.
off to pack!
I saw that you had to go through a lot of transitions during the year that you were getting married. How was your engagement experience with all of the other stuff going on? I’m also going through a lot of transitions right now and I’m also getting married in less then a month.
Katie – Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve actually found that getting married is often accompanied by several transitions – often moving, a job/career change, and sometimes getting pregnant.
I think we’ve actually met once or twice before in Boulder, and I just read on your site that you lived in Santa Monica, so our paths have crossed more than once. I look forward to crossing paths again – and blessings to you on your move and processes of letting go.
Thanks again Sheryl, we are all settled in. I actually found it to be one of the most “grounded” moving experiences I’ve ever had. I think because as a mom, you just don’t have time for your own story sometimes! I look forward to crossing paths again as well! Bring your kiddos into my studio sometime! (Yo Mama Yoga in Boulder) I’d love to thank you in person for all your great writings.
Janelle, thank you for asking. I found my engagement process to be quite intense actually. Much harder than being married! Partly because of all the transitions, and partly just my own journey to letting myself be fully loved. I also found myself “testing” my husband, making sure he would love all the sides of me, the messy, the young, the selfish sides, all of it.
I had a wise teacher who said that the engagement period is the time that you “engage” with the issues of being married. That was certainly true for me. My husband and I just celebrated our 2nd anniversary, and these two years (as far as our marriage) have been much easier than the year we were engaged. Good luck to you!
This is one of the most astute and fulsome accounts of the moving journey that I have read. Thank you so much for your collected thoughts and wisdom on this subject. Since I was a small child, I imagined living on 20 acres of waterfront property that my grandparents gave me where I designed and built a passive solar home in my twenties. It was my dream home. It is situated in a small town and when my partner and I separated we did so amicably but I was caught in a work situation with him as my boss and his lover as my subordinate. She was very threatened by me and made my work life uncomfortable so I left this home with my almost three year old daughter and came to the city where I bought a run of the mill townhouse that I lived in for 28 years. I’ve raised my daughter here and established a wide network of friends and professional connections. It certainly feels like home. In the past twelve months, five people in my social circle have died and it has catalyzed a move back to my precious passive solar gem in the center of this twenty acre water front property and most of my stuff is already there. I feel like I haven’t really lived the dream there and it isn’t really a sellable property because it is really a family estate. For all the right practical reasons and some dream related ones too, I am going back. In fact, I’ve been purging, packing and sorting stuff in preparation for the move for years. It was always a part of my retirement plan to sell the city town house and move back to the country. I’ve been ruthless and content in getting rid of stuff I don’t need and only the bare essentials remain at the city townhouse. Investments have been made to stage the townhouse and a realtor is in the wings waiting for me to sign the paper work but in the past week I’ve been hit by a MAC truck of emotion, crying daily about leaving, wondering if I am making the right decision and if I will be lonely returning to the country solar gem. It is really an uncontrollable feeling and has sort of come out of left field. These past three months of intense renovations here in the city and there have taken their toll on my stamina and resolve. My determination, clarity and emotional slant to the move have all changed. I’m not sure if I’m reacting to being tired or the reality of the imminent move or the fact that now that everything is off the walls and gone in the city and the country place is not yet set up, that it feels a little like homelessness might feel. I am convinced that it is not in my self interest to maintain two properties for another moment and there is a housing shortage in my city that is likely to catalyze a bidding war on the city property. I could really cash in and have so much more time and financial freedom but I would also be a two hour drive from my only daughter and although I have friends and family at the new location, I question if I will find my ‘tribe’ there. I didn’t anticipate this, I can’t seem to make it go away and I’m as resourceful as the next gal but any insights or solutions from anyone are welcomed.
Thank you for sharing your story and your struggle, Kim. I’m curious how holding this context of transitions may change your experience, as it sounds like you’re in the liminal phase and that you’ve been questioning the intensity of your grief, which is causing you to question your decision. The grief is normal and necessary, as you will learn as you delve further into my work, and when you can allow it to pass through you without going too much into your head, the transition will unfold with more ease. It won’t be easy, but the pain will make sense, and without the constant questioning you’ll be able to transition into your new home and enter this next stage of your life, which will be a rebirth, indeed.
We are moving in 2 months. I am so nervous, allready ordered your book to help me through transition but as a hsp very wel known with anxiety attacks its a trigger. What if i cant get used, what if i regret, what if it is the wrong thing. What if it too much,. I try to navigate with compassion and love. To let the emotions run through me telling myself that i am allowed to be scared, that i can handle transitions. I even try to let the anxiety be there. Sit with it. And choose trust over fear without pushing fear away. But the what ifs my mind comes up with are loud in the midst of panick. I can do this. Calm always comes back
I love that you found your wise, compassionate voice by the end of the comment. Keep accessing this part of you. The book will help :).
Going through this!!
My boyfriend and I are trying to map things out…engagement, who moves to be with who.
We both see the perks of where we live – our families, our jobs, our friends. But it has certainly hit him hard (and me). The lack of control, the unknown, the fear of leaving what is familiar. I thought we had talked it out and that he would move to be with me, but about two weeks ago he vented that he felt all of it was on him (getting me a ring, moving, getting a new job). He also found out his rent was shooting up 30 percent and he had to renew or move out by the end of April. So, he’s renewing. It’s not that I’m opposed to moving – I just didn’t think that was the plan we had worked out. I’m trying not to be mad or selfish. There may be opportunities near him to remain in my job field but I told him I won’t move for lower pay, to which he agreed. So, we’ve been exhausted emotionally and mentally by this. I get that it’s fear. I really do. I just don’t want fear to drive our decisions. I’m praying to be open minded and not let fear or selfishness drive my decisions.
Then of course the ROCD on top of it all makes it worse – am I sacrificing to be with him? Is it too much? Is it worth it? Am I giving up everything for something that may not work out? I’m really trying to be objective.