The Psychology of Moving

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No matter how often or how far you move, relocating is a major, often emotional, life change. Here on some tips on how to deal.

Who moves to Minnesota?

The question took root in my brain earlier this month as I packed up my belongings in Washington, D.C., loaded up my Subaru and began a 1,000-mile road trip to Minneapolis. These four words banged around in my mind as I cut through Pennsylvania and across Ohio, languished in Chicago-area traffic, caught my first glimpses of autumn frost in western Illinois and drove through Wisconsin, a blaze of red and orange foliage visible in my rear view mirror.

Who moves to Minnesota?

I do, apparently.

I was no stranger to relocation when, after three years working as a newspaper reporter in D.C.,  a new writing gig at Experience Life presented itself.

My first big move happened when I was just 5 years old, when my family left Sweden, where I had been born, for the United States. My childhood memories were forged in various towns in northern New Jersey. College, grad school and my work as a journalist took me cross-country and abroad.

And yet, none of it really compared to moving to the Midwest; this journey felt farther than I’d ever gone before. For the first time, there would be no friends or family nearby; there was no predetermined time limit — such as a three-week reporting trip in the Middle East or two-year graduate program in northern California — before I’d return “home,” wherever that was, or journey on to a new city.

As a result, I arrived in the Twin Cities feeling very on-my-own. Some would say I was finally growing up. Mostly I felt kind of alone.

“Moving is a major life change,” says Elizabeth Stirling, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based psychologist. “It’s very heavy and can be very, very hard. We get caught up in the minutia of the transition,” such as starting a new job or finding a new dry cleaner. “But moving can be very emotional.”

Stirling, a Washington, D.C., native who describes her 1994 move to Sante Fe as “the most radical change that I had ever made in my life,” offers the following advice:

Establish a support network.

“Get support either from where you had it or find it where you’re going,” Stirling says. She recommends staying in touch with friends and family who can lend a sympathetic ear.

At the same time, it’s important to create a new network. Continue old hobbies, or pursue new interests; houses of worship and recreational clubs often have a built-in sense of community, she adds.

Embrace change.

We don’t always have control over major life changes — someone may move willingly for a new job or be forced to move to care for a sick loved one, for instance — but we do have control over how we react.

Regardless of your reason for relocating, Stirling says, “decide what kind of life you want to lead and create it for yourself.”

Take the opportunity for a little self-reflection.

Stirling also recommends examining your moving habits. Do you, like Stirling, move only rarely (or even never)? Or, like me, do you find yourself in a new locale every two to three years?

There’s no right or wrong, Stirling said, but recognizing habits could prove enlightening.

Tell me: Do you find that moving takes an emotional toll on you? What’s the hardest aspect of moving? (Aside from finding a volunteer to help you move your things. Why do mattresses have to be so unwieldy!?) Leave a comment on our Facebook page or tweet us @experiencelife.

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