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How to Unpack Your Bad Habits the Next Time You Move
Assess your tendencies and make a plan for a less stressful moving day
As someone who’s moved four times in the past four years, I tend to agree with the expression “Change your place, change your luck.” To me, moving always feels like a new beginning, an opportunity to shed the past and start fresh. But even as I’ve left cities, homes, and furniture behind, I’ve found that it’s not as easy to say goodbye to old habits.
We all have different moving styles — some people spend hours planning and organizing, while others might haphazardly throw everything in boxes — but almost all moves have one thing in common: They’re stressful. And often, moving feels like a vicious cycle of aggravation. The stress stirs up those latent bad habits, which, in turn, just make everything worse. Still, regardless of your moving style or the old patterns you fall back on in challenging situations, there are ways to offset some of the stress and tension that moving brings.
Recognize your habits
When most people hear the word “habit,” they think of something like smoking or nail-biting — a behavior that’s easy to spot, even if it’s not so easy to quit. But we all have habits that we’re unaware of, even as we carry them with us throughout the day. A habit could be as discreet as leaning more on one leg while walking or subconsciously holding tension in your jaw.
Over the years, I’ve come to recognize one of my own moving-specific habits: I put everything off until the last minute, then let myself get incredibly stressed. So when it came time for my most recent move two months ago, I was finally ready to address it. Rather than fall back into my typical procrastination, I got started early. For someone concerned with making efficient use of time, it felt counterintuitive to be spending so many hours on the moving process so far in advance, but I knew that doing so would help me stay calm and avoid my other stress-induced tendencies.
Divide and conquer
I have a history of taking on too much at once, which often sets me back in whatever I’m trying to do — moving included. I can get overwhelmed when I have too many things going on, and often, I’m just not good at every task I put on my plate.
When we each do what we’re better at, we work together more easily and move forward much more quickly, eliminating needless angst.
It’s helped me to realize that some people are better equipped for certain tasks than others. For example, my husband is great at packing. He has his own method for organizing that’s logical and efficient. I’m great at unpacking and have the patience and desire to put everything away in a practical space. When we each do what we’re better at, we work together more easily and move forward much more quickly, eliminating needless angst.
Ask for help
I’ve always liked doing things on my own. Asking for help has never been my forte — in fact, refusing to do it could be considered another bad habit of mine. But as I’ve come to accept that I’m simply not skilled or patient enough to handle every task alone, I’ve learned to lean on others.
For example, my mother is gifted with incredible organizational skills. She can look at a drawer and instantly see the potential for compartmentalizing, and she thrives on the mundane planning that comes with setting up a home. During our last move, I wrestled with whether to ask her to handle something that seemed up her alley, but that I’d been dreading doing myself: lining our kitchen cabinets with parchment paper. I knew it needed to be done, but for whatever reason, it loomed as a huge task in my mind, and the thought of actually tackling it overwhelmed me.
After some internal back-and-forth, I finally picked up the phone, called my mom, and asked if she could help. Without even hesitating, she said, “Sure!” She even sounded happy to be asked. The following week, she came over and lined every corner of every cabinet in the house.
There isn’t a word that could adequately describe the relief I felt. It wasn’t until it was done that I understood how much of a burden this task had been: Just thinking about needing to do something that I loathed was adding undesired tension to my body. But once it was completed, a huge weight was lifted — and creating a new, positive habit of asking for help made me feel lighter still.
A move doesn’t need to be painful, if you know when to let up.
Asking for help can also mean bringing in a professional. A few years ago, my husband and I moved back to the U.S. from overseas. We had 10 years’ worth of junk to sort through and pack up in a matter of weeks. We also had kids under 2. I contacted a professional organizer for help, and to this day, I still think it is one of the smartest things I ever did.
I’ll never forget her method for decluttering: She took out a box of my stuff from a hall closet, dumped it all on the floor, and said, “You have 30 seconds to pick up everything that you want. What you don’t pick up goes.” Yes, it was extreme and a little harsh, but she also helped me understand how to prioritize what was most important to me.
Pay attention to your body
I teach the Alexander Technique, a practice that helps people recognize undesired habits that cause pain, and relearn how to use the body with greater ease and efficiency. I’ve had quite a few students come through my door with aches and pains after a move, usually for the same reasons: They’re rushing around, either having accidents or just generally putting strain on their bodies.
It can be a habit to ignore the body’s signals in times of stress. But moving is a demanding physical activity, with heavy things to lift and carry, and it’s important to pay attention to any warning signs that something isn’t right. A move doesn’t need to be painful, if you know when to let up.
It’s a principle that applies beyond the physical, too. This move was the easiest and smoothest one yet, because I approached it at a gentler, more thoughtful pace. Instead of trying to power through as usual, with all my bad habits in tow, I took the time to clearly recognize when I was falling back on my undesired habits. And in doing so, I finally learned that moving doesn’t have to be stressful, as long as you can identify your triggers, pause, and allow yourself to choose a new direction.