Two and a half years ago, I lived in a mountain home I owned in Colorado with a husband, two kids, two dogs and a horse.
Today, I live alone in a beautiful Southern plantation-style home I rent in Florida. I will spare you the twists and turns, but, briefly, a much-wanted job, a too-big, too-remote house, a marriage that needed a rest, and kids going off to college were all forces behind my new solo situation.
Suddenly my full, rambunctious home became very, very quiet. Thirty months later, I can say that as scary as that cross-country move was, it was the right one. It allowed me to reboot my career and send my daughter to a better high school.
Moving – whether up, out or on – is never easy, says life-change expert Russell Friedman, co-author of four books, including “Moving On.”
“Even when you’re moving for positive reasons – a better job, a better house, better schools – moving is a major grief event,” said Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute, in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He defines grief as “the conflicting emotions caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”
The point is that a home – and I don’t mean a house – must be elastic. It must give, expand and contract, while helping you hold it all together. And when it no longer does, it may need to go.
Although my compulsion to nest is stronger than any bird’s, a home’s job is to support those who live there, not enslave them. When where you live weighs you down like a boulder, it’s time to roll that stone.
Friedman heartily agrees: “Many people don’t make changes at home they need to make because they’re afraid of the feelings they will have. They’re fearful, so stay stuck in an unrewarding place.”
Moving is difficult, agrees Paula Davis-Laack, an attorney turned resilience expert, and blogger for Psychology Today. The longer you’ve lived somewhere, the harder it is. “Our brains often work against us, providing lots of evidence for, and reasons why, it makes sense for us to stay,” she says.
To help those who are home stuck, Friedman and Davis-Laack offer these factors to think about when deciding whether it’s time to move:
Has your home become a burden? Strongly consider moving if your home is keeping you from pursuing goals, from furthering your career, or from a lifestyle you want.
Has the family has changed? Kids come, grow and go. Elderly parents move in; couples separate or retire. If your home can accommodate all that, terrific, but if it’s no longer a fit for those who live there, a new place might be better.
Can you afford to move? That’s the question most people ask. But the better question is: Can you afford not to? Run the numbers, but get creative. I thought I was trapped by a big house that I didn’t want to sell in a down market. But renting it out and selling half the furniture freed me tremendously.
Face the feelings. People avoid moving and making changes because they’re afraid of being sad, but sadness is just a feeling, says Friedman. Don’t dodge it. “It does feel bad when the familiar is missing. People want to live on one side of the line, but if you don’t feel sadness, you can’t feel joy.”
Acknowledge the losses, celebrate the gains. Yes, I miss having my family around the dinner table, and the clamor and laughter and tumult. But I can work late, sleep in, not make dinner if I don’t feel like it and know last night’s Chinese takeout will still be in the fridge when I get home. Meanwhile, I’m heartened to know that my daughters are off thriving at college, and will be home in two weeks for Thanksgiving, and that they know we are family wherever we are.