Monday, July 23, 2012

Moving Adjustment

My ‘favorite niece’ Carrie recently asked me to share some advice I had given her when she made her first big move across the country. Her friend is anticipating relocation soon and is anxious about it. So here are some suggestions gleaned from a number of moving experiences:


Moving is hard enough without being unable to locate the toilet paper or light bulbs the first night in your new home. So I created a system for managing all our stuff. (And we’ve ALWAYS had a LOT of it!)

Label each box as you pack it. Get some colored stickers and designate a different color for each room. (For several of our moves we have actually had floor plans of the new places. We made copies and put the designated sticker on each room. When the movers arrived at the new place, we’d posted a copy of the identification on the front door. It made the move go much smoother. Especially in our move to Japan where we didn’t speak Japanese and the movers didn’t speak English!)
Number each box. Once you’ve decided on the color designations, add a number. The first kitchen box would be K-1. The first Master Bedroom box might be MB-1. The first box for the next  bedroom might be B2-1. Etc.

Make a list for each box. As you pack each box, make a list of exactly what you put in it. Put a colored sticker on the list and write the box number on it. Copy the list. Then put the copy in the box before you seal it and keep the original in a folder or on a clip board for reference once you arrive.

Place the furniture. If you have a dimensioned floor plan, you can do what Larry did when we moved to Japan. The consummate engineer measured each piece of furniture, then made cutouts so we could place each piece on the floor plan. (Today he would probably do the same thing in Visio.) We taped the layout to the door, and the movers knew exactly where everything went.

For the first six weeks or so, you’ll be busy with settling in and getting to know your new location. This is the honeymoon phase. It will feel a bit like a working vacation.

The Japanese have a great tradition I’d suggest. Don’t wait for your neighbors to greet you. As soon as you can, take them a little gift (cookies, a little plant, something from your home area—whatever reflects your interests). Introduce yourself and your family. (In Japan, the gift to your established neighbors was usually a roll of paper towels or bathroom tissue. Not personal, but it broke the ice!)

If you have children, you’ll have less trouble making friends. Generally, your kids will do so for you!

You will have planned for the big changes, but the little ones drive you nuts. You need something in a hurry and have no idea where to find it. In your old town, you’d know exactly where to go. Now you don’t.

Join a church or other religious institution. “Shop” for one until you find the perfect fit. Join a civic group or other organization where you can make friends. (Our church in Kobe was our lifeline during our stay there. Shortly after we arrived, a cap came off my tooth. The folks at the church told me exactly where to go. Otherwise, I’d have had no idea. Of course, I got lost finding the place the first time, but that’s a story in the book.)


Around six weeks following the move, you will wake up one day and realize it’s for real and it isn’t just a vacation. Be prepared! You may experience a bit of depression or anxiety.

If you’re prepared for it, you’ll manage much easier. Unfortunately, we were the first ones to relocate to Japan, and I thought I was ready for the funny farm. Seriously. I thought I was going crazy.

I finally read a book on the expat experience and realized what I went through was in fact, normal. Subsequent conversations with others who had lived abroad confirmed it. This is the most important part of your adjustment, and you’ll manage much better if you know it’s coming.

It is the time to do something you really enjoy. Treat yourself to a day at the movies, long walks in the park, etc. But don’t berate yourself. Be gentle. Talk about your feelings with others. Take care of yourself.

With email, IM, Facebook, Skype, etc. you will be more in contact with those you left behind. So reach out to them. Just hearing a familiar voice and seeing a missed face can remind you that you’re not completely alone.


Somewhere around six months, however, comes the big crash. In Japan, mine came about four and a half months after our arrival, but we had been out of our house in California for nearly six months. I had a complete meltdown. I cried. I moaned. I said I just couldn’t do it for one more day. I was frantic. I felt cut off from everyone and everything in an alien world where I couldn’t even communicate.

Email and telephone didn’t help. (No Skype then.) I just wanted my old life back!

If I had known it was coming, I might have dealt with it better. But I didn’t. (We were the first ones there, remember.)

Fortunately, we were scheduled for a holiday trip home. After we returned, I realized that it wasn’t really so difficult.

The next arrivals began to experience the same anxiety, frustration, anger, etc. shortly after we returned. That’s when the light bulb went on. I started to see a pattern. And I informed all the rest to watch for it. A number of times, team members would slam into my office saying , “You know that six month ‘thing’? Well, I’m there. I’m going crazy!”

I’d talk them through it and assure them it would pass. Sometimes it took several conversations.

Others would become hermits. Because I recognized the signs, we made a point to take them a pizza or get them out of the house for a little break.

A short vacation or trip home to see family is the best cure. Just sharing the feelings with others who have been through it can help immeasurably.

I remember greeting a friend at church shortly before we came back for our vacation when I was at my lowest point.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“I HATE this place,” I answered.

She laughed. “We all feel that way from time to time. You’ll get over it.”

Her reaction was perfect. I didn’t need or want sympathy or to just be told it would get better. She said just what I needed to hear, which was that I wasn’t crazy!

After about a year, some people really start to feel at home in their new surroundings. That didn’t happen to me in Japan, but I know several friends who were reluctant to leave when the time came, including that friend from church.


Even if you have professional movers and lots of support and help, you are being uprooted from your familiar environment. You may be leaving family for the first time. And you will be leaving friends.

But, in hindsight, our moves enriched our lives and exposed us to so many wonderful places and new people we’d never have known otherwise. Heck, our move to Japan even resulted in our first book!

Have you ever made a major move? What advice helped you the most?


  1. It's been a long, long time since I moved. And right now I'd hate to have to do it. First would come tossing a lot away since I'm married to a pack rat. Good, helpful post.

  2. “Moves are hard.” I am definitely with you on this. Aside from the fact that we have to deal with the emotional stress of moving away, we also have to worry about finding a new home. In light of this, it would be a good idea to go scouting for a new home almost a year before you make the move, so you would be able to decide carefully. After that, it’s just a smooth process of making the deal with the mortgage company. It may take you a while to adjust, but you will definitely learn to love your new place in time.

    Richelle Jelsma

  3. I also agree with that, Richelle. Moving from one place to another is definitely hard, especially for our young ones. It may take some time before they can adjust. But if they become comfortable with the place, we shouldn't worry about them anymore. Just make sure they have playmates in the neighborhood you're moving in. Yes, it may be hard to think about moving, but everything will be okay in time. :)

    Carmen Monrovia

  4. Very well said, Richelle! As moving entails adjustment to another culture/neighborhood, you have to be as flexible and friendly as you can. However, you can always look on the bright side. Think of moving as an exciting day that’s open for new adventures. =)

    - Javier Bonnell