Moving. Could It Be a Danger to Your Mental Health?

Moving. Could It Be a Danger to Your Mental Health?

Prepare yourself for a memory challenge when you do a major move.

We hired the tag sale lady, bought the boxes, continuously poured over the paperwork—but moving requires that pound of flesh and more—of your body, your emotions and your mental health.

It was so much easier doing this same exercise sixteen years ago.  Why: 16 years younger, with 16 years LESS STUFF.  And the distance of the move was shorter, the new dwelling having a similar footprint to the last one.  With five previous moves under our belts, there were still lots of surprises.  This last move was a stunner.  So please keep in mind these tips if a major move is looming on your horizon.


The biggest odds against everything going smoothly for a major move is lack of time.    Now when I google moving tips I can either feel badly or just have a good laugh.  There was no time to download Aps!  No time to list everything that went into each box.  I was purging every cabinet, drawer and closet as fast as I could.  We were taking loads of stuff to charities, meeting other charities at the front AND back door as they came to pick up chairs, couches–even a piano.  And with the help of a dear friend, we had a major garage sale one week before the moving truck arrived.  NO TIME.

So: don’t sell your house in one day, like we did;  and if you do, ask for more time.  Sellers still have some power, though in most states it’s the buyers with the power.

Give yourself lots of time to find a new dwelling.  Oh, we were so lucky we found a great place within two weeks of selling our home.  The clock was ticking.  Also, try to avoid a move across the country to a different state, a different time zone under time-limited, lots-of-pressure circumstances.  That’s what we did.  Buyer’s remorse??  None.  But that doesn’t mean it was easy going!

The Mental Health Part of Moving. 

And in retrospect, I don’t recommend it.  Once our moving ball got rolling, it was more like being chained to a speeding train that we couldn’t get off.  The ride didn’t allow meditation, breath catching, calm decision making.  And then my mother died.  (My daughter joked that if I then got pregnant or took on a new job, I would be living through the major changes in life that mental health experts warn about.)  Well thank God no chance of either of those happening.   So what do you do?

  • make lists
  • make lists for your lists
  • stop showering and wearing makeup because there is no time
  • assign one person to deal with the banks, realtors, moving people, etc
  • assign the other person to handle everything else–like what to pack, what to give away and how to keep clothed and fed during this time
  • make huge folders (digital and hard copy) for millions of pages of paper
  • try to sleep at night
  • if you can’t sleep, imagine the completion of all the above and you’ll probably become unconscious regardless

The Mental Health Part of Unpacking

But seriously, you know there’s lots of boxes and packing and upheaval.  You know there’s too much paperwork.  But did you guess at the mental health part?  I didn’t.  But suddenly I am in this new home and I need something.  I cannot find it.  What to do: zero in on the following thought process:

  • I packed it, I know I did
  • I packed it, so maybe the box it is in hasn’t been unpacked
  • I know where it is if I’m still in the old house
  • damn, I’m in the new house, so where is it?

The end of this thought process is a wild racing through boxes that have been opened but are still not all unpacked.  A mess is created as you dig.  The final result it that the item remains unfound.  (This happened with my IPod.  I condemned all the movers for taking it on a whim, when this past weekend I opened a drawer in my dresser and there it was.  WHO PUT IT THERE???  I did.  I am just having a hard time THINKING.

It’s Like a Major Case of Jet Lag

Yes, I’m older this move, but think of all the items I touched in my house back in Iowa, all the items I had to make decisions about.  That’s why Henry David Thoreau was so right: …what should be man’s morning work in this world? I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust.[10]

Well, I did give things away and Thoreau would have been proud.  But I made hundreds of these decisions about furniture, books and files.  The question: can the mind hold it all in perfect memory order?  Does being in a different environment add to the confusion?  Does trying to set up new utility accounts, change address, unpack, fix things in the new place (these inspectors sure don’t inspect that well!!) and continue to be civil to family affect how the mind works??  YES.  It has to be somewhat like jet lag–you have not only gone through a change in time zone, but a change in everything else.  Even where you put your toothpaste.

Lance Kriegsfeld, UC Berkeley associate professor of psychology, is doing amazing research on jet lag.  He writes: “This is the first time anyone has done a controlled trial of the effects of jet lag on brain and memory function, and not only do we find that cognitive function is impaired during the jet lag, but we see an impact up to a month afterward.” Though Kriegsfeld’s research basically applies to people who travel across different time zones frequently, there are similarities.  “Chronic jet lag alters the brain in ways that cause memory and learning problems long after one’s return to a regular 24-hour schedule…”

So I’m going with my theory.  It calms me down.  I can take a deep breath and think more clearly.  Now I can find things!


One final thought.  If you are a Boomer and you are faced with moving, the other thing you encounter as you sort books, photographs, even clothing are memories.  I had my mother’s wedding dress, my children’s baby teeth, a list of the gifts I received for 8th grade graduation and a list of how much our wedding in 1970 cost.  The live 5 piece band was only one hundred dollars.

Memories mingle with lists and duties.  The brain becomes overloaded and you just cannot remember where you put your IPod.  Moving could be a danger to your mental health!  Well that’s my theory and I am sticking to it.

Do you have a different experience or theory??




10 thoughts on “Moving. Could It Be a Danger to Your Mental Health?

  1. You made me exhausted just reading it!! It’s almost behind you!
    Fun to read! (-: Gay

    Sent from my iPad

    • My brother made a similar comment. It’s good to look back on a difficult time and find humor in it. IN FACT, it’s the only way to go. Thanks, Beth

  2. Great tips!! you will make the moving experience much nicer for many people.

    Rose Mar

  3. I just read your most recent Blog and I thought it was one of your best: funny, realistic, both personal and of use to all kinds of people including me since I’m still struggling with jet lag sixteen days later. John

  4. Thanks for your support. We all have to look for the humor in our struggles. It does two things: helps us get through them and helps us remember that we did. Thanks. Beth

  5. I moved from LA to New York and then returned New York to LA seven years later. I am still looking for things!!!!! Moving is just plain stressful, but when you are finally unpacked and looking at a great new environment, it is usually worth it. Bill

  6. Thanks, Bill. We are enjoying our new environment. And things are easier to find in the last week than they were when we first opened the boxes. Now it’s all about adjusting to new roadways, shops, and even the time change. But what a great place to live. Beth

  7. This subject is something I’ve been thinking about just recently. It’s been five years since we’ve been in this house. We’re just now getting around to putting some of our things away. Why? Too many moves, along with age.

    First, we moved many many times when I was younger, so many times. Same area (Northern Virginia) but different apartments there, and once we owned a home. Then we sold that and more apartments. Move move move. Finally, as you get older you stop unpacking certain things – you’re just gonna move again soon!

    Our last stop in Va was for three years. Then we had to make an immediate move out of the area, and came here to Pa to an apartment for a year. We now have a house again. I was 46 at the time, and after years of moving and all the stress, and losing my job and many many things…it was just enough. I didn’t put anything away other than what we needed. The rest sat in the garage. I did need some stuff there from time to time, but it was just too much to go look for it.

    Five years out from our move to this house, and I’m just now getting to do a few things. I was just too tired, and too dis-interested to unpack and put away things. It’s all because I moved too many times.

    We don’t have a lot of room to begin with so what I’ve been doing is cutting things out. I mean a lot of stuff sat in boxes in the garage for years – I could probably shovel it all away and not miss it, really.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to be our last move. Or fortunately! We don’t like it here much, and I look forward to finding where we really just want to settle. So for now, I keep paring things down, so we don’t have as much work and there’s less to unpack when we do move again. Maybe next time I won’t sit 5 years on some of the boxes before opening them and enjoying what’s inside.

    • Dear Lisa,
      I remember from your tweets that things were up and down. You have been through a lot. Maybe the core thing to ask yourself is WHAT you are attached to and WHAT gives you comfort. Obviously the living, breathing people in your life come first. Things are a distant second. But with your photography and your gardening and your computer skills, there must be THINGS that bring a smile to your face. (When I had to move my gardening-loving aunt to a nursing home, I almost put her trowel on a shelf, but then thought it would be too painful.) Yes, divest yourself of things you don’t need. Keep the things that bring a smile to your face–and–unpack them. All you need is a corner or a closet, but you deserve that space to be uniquely yours. As I said in everyone needs their hay barrel. Beth

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