We're about to move for the tenth time this weekend, and while we are NO EXPERTS, we have learned some things along the way. That doesn't mean it's any easier, but at least I know what we're up against these days. Sometimes.
So far Maddie has lived in five states in her lifetime; Gracie claims five as well, while Bridget comes in at four states in seven years. Don't let this sweet photo fool you: this was the move in which Gracie acted like her Muppet equivalent (Animal) for hundreds of miles from Colorado to California while the rest of us were reeling from food poisoning.
1. The unexpected will happen, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Everyone wants to believe that a move can take place without incident if only you follow every single one of Martha Stewart's or Buzzfeed's or U-Haul's tips/checklists for moving, but I am here to tell you: there is no perfect move without incident. The unexpected will happen, and there's nothing you can do about it. It might be food poisoning in the middle of the desert, or the worst ground hornet sting imaginable while escaping from a realtor showing, or 35 library books specifically marked DO NOT PACK that get packed and hauled across the country, or a couch that won't fit through a doorway and must be sold for a fraction of what you paid for it to the moving truck driver, or a shower door that explodes into 23,000 shards of glass when you're getting ready to move out, or wildly painful emergency dental procedures the same day the packers arrive... it will happen. The only thing you can do is laugh. Because if you don't laugh, you will cry. And there's a pretty good chance you will do both, so the sooner you accept that some crazy stuff is about to befall you, the better.
Related: it is OK if you show up on someone's doorstep and burst into tears because something pushed you over the edge. If they're worth their salt they'll give you a hug, or invite you in and call for pizza, or show up at 10 pm at night with a vacuum cleaner and a good attitude.
2. Make a Moving List of Doom and keep it in a centralized location.
And regularly add things to it that you've already completed. It's the only way.
3. Put like things with like things.
The more of this you can do the better—from Legos to paper clips to books to tools... you name it. I didn't really do much of any of this when we moved from California to Virginia in 2007, and I ended up paying for it the next year and a half or so. Biggest fail: our closing papers from selling the house in Colorado Springs did not get put back with other financial papers in California and did not turn up again until they were found in Wyoming stuck in a box with Matt's clarinet music. This cost us some money the year they went missing at tax time. SERIOUSLY.
Sometimes your driver will be great and sometimes your driver will take your household goods to a sketch countrywestern music festival in Arizona for a few days before hitting the road. Just try to go with the flow. Things usually show up in one or two pieces no matter what.
4. Say yes to help.
What is it about people? We honestly love to help our friends when they need it—I am often despondent when I'm hundreds of miles away and cannot provide the help I know a friend might desperately need—but when it comes to accepting help... that's a lot harder for some reason. When you're moving, though, SAY YES. A friend offers to help you finish cleaning your basement? HERE'S A BROOM. A friend offers to take your wild monkeys for the afternoon? YES AND YESSER. Do not turn down these kind offers of help, because fairy godmothers (and fairy godfathers) don't just exist in books. And turning down help is a surefire way to crack your sanity right in half. I mean, it's probably going to happen anyway, so you might as well have a friend nearby to hold your hand. You will no doubt replay the favor when it's their turn to move.
5. Be strategic.
Moving is basically a game of strategy, with the goal being to not fall over from stress at any point along the way. If this means a strategic plan to throw away a few of one's belongings after they've ceased to be useful in a cross-country move involving airline travel (yes, that was me throwing away pillows in the Oakland airport in 2007) then that's what you do. If it means you have to cook with absolute whack-job ingredients for a few weeks so you end up with zero food to give away, so be it. If it means taping off your no-pack area with crime scene tape to prevent the packers from packing it all up anyway, go buy some. (I haven't done this yet, but after I had to dig through a ton of boxes last night for all the things that were in the no-pack corner, I might try it next time).
6. Invest in all sizes of Ziploc bags.
Ziploc bags are the Duct Tape of the moving world. There are regular old snack, sandwich, and gallon storage bags, but Hefty also makes great 2.5 gallon bags (perfect for putting all the contents of one's nightstand or junk drawer in for ease of dumping it again once settled)(because let's be honest, no house is home without a junk drawer) and Ziploc has Large, Extra-Large, and Extra-Extra Large bags that are perfect for everything from light bulbs to school papers to bedding. Home Depot and Lowe's often carry the full range of sizes vs. Target, which only has one or two.
I have never looked lovingly at my possessions when they're stuffed inside one of these Ziploc bags, but I still think they are a good idea. Not a good idea: putting ice skate blades on the bottom of a plastic Ziploc bag.
7. Have a project!
You might think that you can't handle one more thing during a move, but I disagree: it might be the only thing that sees you through. My moving projects are generally of the photography variety, for obvious reasons; I'm currently participating in the color/colour challenge on Instagram organized by fellow Phone Photography Project instructor Andrea Jenkins and her friend Xanthe Berkeley, and it is providing all of us a much-needed distraction from moving details. It doesn't have to be a big project (like, I don't really recommend the having-a-baby + finishing up writing a book project as your "moving project") but it really can help you survive a move when you have some creative thing to cling to.
8. Do what it takes to protect your sanity.
Buy a few new items of clothing at Target. Grab a few fiction books you know good and well you don't have time to read. Allow yourself two grocery store frappuccinos in a row. Whatever it takes to protect your sanity (within the limits of the law)(yes, moving makes it important to emphasize this point) is worth it.
An unedited photo that Maddie took today of the storm that blew through at lunchtime; I thought it was a nice metaphor for what moving does to one's soul if you don't work hard to find the sunshine and protect your sanity.
9. It's only money.
Moving is expensive, and no one wants to waste money during an already expensive process. It's not really wasting money, though, if spending some makes your challenges a little less daunting. For example: sometimes we suck it up and do the final cleaning ourselves to save money, and sometimes we happily hand over the cash for a hired cleaning service to do it. When we moved from California, I hired a woman to do the big stuff. She brought a friend. She charged $75 less than what I had paid to get a "guaranteed pass" cleaning on our way out of base housing in Montana seven years prior, when cleaning a house while finishing up the teaching school year would have assuredly put me in the loony bin. I gave the California lady and her friend a $75 tip and probably would have given her more had I been able to find my checkbook or had more cash on hand. Because it was worth it. There is a great deal of cost-benefit analysis involved in moving, I think.
Also worth it: treating your packers/movers to lunch every single day they're in your home. And stocking water in the fridge. So what if you spend close to $200 on lunches in 3-4 days? Budget for it and get them what they want. Packing 19 million book boxes is no treat, and it's the least you can do.
Oh, this is the most important one. It can be read at least 10,000 ways for us. At the end of the day, the struggles and frustrations of moving boxes and people touching your stuff and water-damaged bookcases and more really does fade away, because if you didn't have to move somewhere in the first place, you would never have had the experiences or made the lifelong friends that new geography hands you. I couldn't even begin to choose a photo for it, because really? All the photos are because of it.